Posted in Uncategorized by nanshi on January 20, 2008
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BoA fans, BE WARNED. DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU CANNOT OR ARE UNWILLING TO READ/ACCEPT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. You have my assurance that there are no excessively bashing comments of ANY nature towards BoA, but just some of my comments towards her singing and possibly some general compliments about her dancing/stage presence and overall ability as an artist, but YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. I don’t want/expect any bashing comments because you are “unhappy that I expressed my opinion in the public.”

* * *

Now, it’s not really a secret my feelings towards this Asian super/popstar. But just to throw it out there…

I am not a fan of BoA.

Needless to say, that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy her work, it’s just that BoA’s voice is not something I find particularly special nor inspiring. I do not pass any judgments about her personality or her social skills. Furthermore, I think she is an incredibly hard worker who really gives pride to a lot of Asians for being able to make such a name of herself. Subsequently though, I also argue that it is because she works 24/7 and has the magnificent and not-inconsiderable backing of SM Entertainment that has managed to make her so incredibly successful.

The reason I’m bringing this up now is because of a bout of nostalgia/inspiration that came upon me as I was surfing AF (asianfanatics.net/forum)’s “BoA Critic’s” thread in which people who are non-fans (or anti-fans, I suppose) of artists can go to express their opinions in a neutral ground (because main threads are usually reserved for fans). This brings up a delightful little dilemma because most Asians are pretty hardcore in their love/hate (see, no middle ground; it’s either love or hate) of a particular artist. Other fans that are outside of said-respective countries in Asia (I hate to generalize and whatever: but primarily English-speaking countries) seem to be vaguely more open and general about expressing their less-than-love opinions. I have done so countless times to TVXQ (yes, believe it or not) and Super Junior… CSJH has not given me any real fodder yet (except for the possible “severe lack of appearances anywhere” problem) … so yes. I am quite proud in my ability to set aside biases and examine even my !fangirly! groups with a hint of equality and a critical eye.

With that said: still, I don’t like BoA. I did not always NOT like her; in fact, I was actually quite a big fan of BoA oh-way-back-when… (I think this was like eighth or ninth grade, so virtually an entire childhood ago, really). I still have utmost respect for BoA for being an incredibly hard worker and a very stout trooper and putting up with a lot of crap that SM Entertainment dishes out… but still… talent wise: I think BoA is indeed lacking.

For starters, I think BoA is a mediocre singer. Now, I have had the unfortunate happenstance occur to me when a user that I was exchanging a mildly (gross understatement) civil conversation about BoA with when I seemed to uncover the rather veiled fact that she/he did not know the meaning of mediocre. So for all intents and purposes, I will give you the definition of mediocre as according to MSN’s Encarta encyclopedia: failing to meet a standard of quality, ability, or achievement. You can type in “define: mediocre” on Google’s search engine and you should get the same exact answer. So look, I am not finding some obscure and buried answer in the Land of Far Far Away in order to warp it to my own opinions/views (as some other people may be apt to do).

With that set in mind: yes, I still think that BoA is a mediocre singer. Now in layman’s terms, that basically means: “I do not think that BoA is an exceptional singer.” To further expand this point out, it basically insinuates that: BoA sings just like every other girl. That is, I do not think BoA has an exceptional exceeding amount of talent. I think that virtually everyone can sing decently. Certainly not everyone can go onto become a recording artist, or even receive frequent compliments. Have I expounded this enough? Or need I go further. I think if I go further, I would really be excessively pushing the point further and further home to the point of exhaustion and useless repetition.

((And just to clarify: I am not claiming to be better than BoA, but rather the fact that I think BoA is a fairly normal singer and that there are loads of people out there just like her and that she is just an extremely lucky little girl… well, back THEN when she was picked))

But BoA’s voice has always been consistently “normal-sounding” to me. It doesn’t have any uniqueness to it to my ears; well, perhaps it does have “uniqueness,” but that unique flair sounds more like flailing to me rather than anything remarkably substantive. BoA’s voice was coached out of her in her young years of training. Back then, her voice had an extremely flexible and pliable quality. SM Entertainment has an exceptional skill in being able to cross genres with a single voice. Yay for SM Boot Camp..!! But as BoA gradually began to develop more as a singer, you’ll notice her voice starting to “stick” to a particular tone and style which she eventually coached into her own. I think it really just amounted to a great deal of training and experience. But even back then, her voice sounded a bit clogged; like SM was trying to make it seem a lot deeper and soulful than it was really capable of doing.

Now, BoA sings with this “modified belt voice” as I like to call it. It’s almost exclusively chest voice, which is a fairly difficult mechanism to be dealing with. If your voice is strong enough to sustain it, all the more power to you. Safe to say though, I am not BoA and therefore I don’t really know how exactly she is singing, all I can say is that when I hear her voice, it seems like her chest voice. Whether or not it is… only she can really be able to distinguish and tell. Regardless, I still find her voice a bit grating and as a singer myself (although no where near professional caliber… yet), I cringe for her everytime because I can just feel and sense the strain. Nonetheless, it is part of her “artistic flair” and “personal style.” Doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.

What makes it special is the fact that BoA is such a “powerhouse” singer (yeah, right) to come out of Asia. Uh, no. She’s the most well-marketed one. But I am starting to leave the realms of calm and peaceful criticism into full on BoA disliking. Okay, I’ll stop.

Anyways, YES. BoA’s voice does seem to be very trained and very forced to my ears. Granted, she is a much better performer and has much better stage presence and charisma than Jang Ri In, but I find that Jang Ri In has that naturally strong voice that BoA tries to fake. Well, she may not be trying anymore; I think she’s probably actually succeeded. But see my point here? Her voice is a “feigned” strong that has evolved into a “real” strong, but only probably because BoA can’t figure out where she’s going wrong either, she’s been singing like this for so long. Trained this way from the beginning, practiced this way from the beginning… that’s her future from now on.

Of course, I could be drastically wrong, but… that’s the way I see it. Her voice just doesn’t sound very “open” to me. Compare it to other singers that she tries to emulate (like Mariah Carey or Christina Aguliera) and you can probably hear a difference. Her belt voice is NOT effortless.

Moving on…

I do think that BoA is probably one of the most charismatic little powerhouses out there. Everytime she gets up on a stage, she really just lights it up and owns it. She is never pwned by her backup dancers… and I think BoA REALLY can dance. THAT she’s got some major talent in; she should be known for THAT instead of her “voice.” (similarly how CSJH-Stephanie is known more for her dancing than her singing even though Steph can sing too!). So for that, I think BoA IS really awesome; and oftentimes, charisma and onstage presence can make up for everything that your talent lacks, no joke.

I do think that SM made a huge gamble and were insanely lucky that BoA was so successful, but I think a lot of her initial success must be credit to the fact of originality. She was the only girl out there at that ripe young age that was able to stretch that far and “show the world what she can do.” If BoA was to debut NOW with the talent/skill that she showed back then (like in the late 90s)… she would hardly be considered unique; in fact, people would probably be like, “Uh… what?” when you have the likes of popstarlets like Wonder Girls and SNSD showing up and such. But with SM pulling the strings of the entertainment business other there in S. Korea, it’s no surprise that BoA has gotten so tremendously popular despite initial setbacks (her initial debut had really low album sales all things considering and it wasn’t until SM took her to Japan and came BACK with her that she began to rise to present popularity).

My speculation is that during the time period SM was seeking for a “BoA-like” star (I use BoA-like, because I’m sure they had a lot of potentials at the time), they probably got a lot of trainees that met the qualifications. They were all young, pretty, peppy, upbeat, could hold a tune (which most people can, so it’s not an incredible achievement, calm down), and seemed to have some degree of stage charisma and loads of potential. But SM is known for their notorious training procedures (to cite allkpop.com for a moment: they said that maybe one in 100 trainees will actually make it out of the training process and onto debut) and intense militaristic like style of coaching a trainee that perhaps BoA was the only one that was able to make it past all that in order to become a soloist. She showed the most resiliency and didn’t break down and eventually was able to climb her way to the top. Never more true in the showbiz is the saying: It’s 99% attitude and only 1% talent. You have to be oozing self-confidence to make it in the showbiz. The audience can see that; critics can see that; fans can see that… and they are ultimately the ones who matter if you’re trying to become famous.

Her image was carefully crafted and “notes” were dropped long before BoA actually did debut, and I think that had a lot to do with her subsequent success. Not only is attitude super important: marketing is as well. Having marketable assets or a marketable image; having a catchy, marketable, and “signature” song (Wonder Girls “Tell Me,” SNSD’s “Into the World,” TVXQ’s “Hug,” Super Junior’s “U,” BoA’s “No. 1,” etc etc). And SM is known (among other things) for their HUUUGE marketing ability and influence in the Korean market. The rumor is that “if you can’t make it in SM Entertainment, then you can’t make it anywhere in Korea.” and look at it: it’s true. A lot of Korean stars have tried to export outside of Korea. Bi/Rain, Se7en, SS501, etc… but which ones have made it the farthest in terms of recognition and overall appeal and fandoms? DBSK and BoA. Because SM knows what works, and they will do anything to get to the top. There are many rumors out there — and rumors tend to be founded in truth, especially when they’re as harmless as these — that cite SM bribing or buying artists away from other companies/recording companies/management agencies in order to maintain their monopoly on the market. Lest an artist rise to the top that ISN’T one of Lee Soo Man’s little pets.

Yeah, I don’t like SM Entertainment. It’s a tough call to make because the majority of my favorite Kpop addictions artists belong to SM, but I hate their training procedures and the abuse — be it psychological or physical — that they put their artists through (I have a pet theory that all the SMers seem to be persistently humble because they are consistently degraded and demeaned by their management despite all of their achievements), and I DON’T LIKE how they manipulate the public (UH HELLO???!?! I love DBSK and SuJu, but there’s no need for 2332685699872310 releases of the same album)… But I think I’ve written enough.

Ja ne.

*and breathe…


4 Responses to 'BoA.'

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  1. vinyabarion said,

    Let me start a list of things I disagree with and agree with, which maybe long. But as this is public, as you stated, mine are neither rude or inconsiderate, but, they are informed:

    1. Voice training is the most fundamental and important steps of being a vocalist. Neither Mariah or Christina just had that voice, they worked their butts off for it. They may have been born with the natural talent, but training made them who they are. Just as BoA did, they both worked for their voices and sang until it was second nature, if not first.

    2. Forced? Most likely, I hear it too. But the most important thing is that she’s not hurting herself. Her voice has not suffered since her debut.

    3. You never stop trying to improve, ever.

    4. And who’s belt voice is effortless? Belting is not a natural way to sing in anyway. In fact, belting is very bad for your voice. Projection, yes; belting, no.

    5. (And this a big one) Thanks for the blantant self-promotion. I won’t say anything truly mean, but it was very juvenile.

    6. You’d be surprised how many can’t or do it well (carry a tune, I mean).

    7. God forbide a company entice promising talent. Ever seen an artist switch labels? Britney? Madonna? Michael? yeah…

    8. And in the end, you had hardly made a point about BoA… SM Entertainment is a large, powerful label. But so is Avex, and MCA… training is part of making a star, ask Beyonce or especially Madonna? BoA worked and overcame anything anyone put in her way (I know you agree), but the voice is strong, unique, and has a great range. She can dance, and act personable. She’s a International Popstar, soon to be (crosses finger) landing on your shores.

    Patrick M.

  2. nanshi said,

    Thank you for being civilized, but this is an extreme conundrum that I usually find whenever I run across a great deal of fans of BoA’s. I am not saying that she isn’t a hard worker, nor do I wish her the worst of luck or anything bad to happen to her. Perhaps I should’ve made this more clear, but the main point of my post was to point out how overrated I think BoA to be and the fact that her success ought to be credit to a lot more outside factors than a lot of people usually take into account. To reply to you point-by-point.

    1) No doubt. But I feel that Mariah Carey and Christina Aguliera (and tons of other singers out there) were born with more natural talent than BoA. When I hear BoA sing, it still sounds very “normal” and “usual” to me; a “typical” voice, if you will. The kind of voice that I hear fairly often. Not bad, but not quite recording artist caliber. With a little training and polishing, it certainly could REACH recording-artist level, of course. But again, one of my theories about SM’s trainee-selection process is that the ‘judges’ look at more than just talent; they look at everything (and a LOT of people have confessed that SM is known for being a ‘beauty first’ company as well, so it’s not just me). A lot of other singers in the showbiz are like that though (especially if you look at some that come out of Hong Kong or Taiwan), so I don’t particularly hold that against her, but I do feel a lot of credit is given towards her where credit is not earned (similarly to Britney Spears and other singers of that ‘type’).

    2) If BoA’s voice has suffered, I don’t think we’ll ever know. If she has had to go for vocal therapy or vocal surgery, SM is certainly powerful enough to keep it quiet. Regardless… [read onto #4]

    3) Yes, this is true. Have I said that BoA has ever plateaued? In case, I didn’t specify it, I DO believe that BoA HAS gone beyond her original status as “popstar queen” and has flourished into her own style of music/singing. Doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it, but yes, I do acknowledge it.

    4) By “effortless” belting, I mean a voice that DOESN’T sound forced. You confessed that you “most likely” hear her forced belting voice as well. When I hear singers like Celine Dion, Charice Pempengco, Christina Aguliera, Whitney Houston, etc etc belt, it doesn’t sound forced to me. And yes, belting is not a natural way of singing, but some people do have natural techniques of belting which cannot JUST be acquired without sounding false to the ears (well, at least my ears). Maybe I just hear “forced” differently than you hear forced. That’s fine.

    5) Blatant self-promotion? You may think so; granted yes, I did sneak in a bit of self-flattery, but only to emphasize the fact that I don’t think BoA is such a special/good singer if there is are a few other singers out there, who aren’t recording artists, that could probably out-sing her. If you question me, go look up Brett Manning’s Singing Success program where he has a few Before/After clips of singers after they have gone through his program. In fact, it WAS Brett Manning’s Singing Success program that convinced me that you CAN make a good singer, and you don’t necessarily have to be born with excessively blessed vocal talent. I am a firm believer of the fact that becoming famous depends a lot on personal luck as well. Yes, you do have to work hard, but becoming discovered? A lot of it is luck. a lot a lot a lot…

    (( Also, I am not nearly as bad as another acquaintance of mine who claims that anyone who is not tone-deaf is a better singer than BoA, period. I think BoA has some degree of talent, but I feel that it is exaggerated and overrated because I find her voice annoying ))

    6) Like I indicated with Brett Manning’s “Singing Success” program, yes, many people can’t carry a tune… but many people CAN be trained to carry a tune.

    7) Oh, I have no issues with a company enticing promising talent. The thing with SM Entertainment is that they entice talent NOT BECAUSE they really wish to develop artists, but the fact that they wish to maintain a monopoly on the Korean pop-music market. And then once they have the talent under their broad wingspan, they are able to control the person… so while under another company, that person could’ve gone onto become a really really great singer and performer, SM refuses to release any substantial rivals, so they are forever kept under wraps.

    8) Yes, in the end I hardly made a point about BoA. And? It may not have been the most tactful thing, but this is a blog. Not a newspaper article or a critical editorial for some musical journal out there… If I feel like making rash and uneasy transitions about how I express myself, I hardly feel limited to doing so.

    Finally, It’s fine that you think she has a strong and unique voice with great range. That’s FINE. I would assume that it’s fine that I disagree as well? She DOES have a strong and unique voice, but I find her range isn’t quite that “great” and her “strong and unique” voice is not the kind of “strong and unique” voice that I like to hear.

    And for reasons entirely unrelated to BoA (and more on the general Asians-crossing-into-America spectrum), I don’t think she’ll be exceptionally successful in America and that it wouldn’t be wise to make her debut overseas at this point in time.

    Let’s agree to disagree, ne? You have your opinion and I have mine. Thank you for the meaningful debate, and I apologize if I have offended you excessively, but this is my opinion which I believe I have a right to defend, likewise, I find it perfectly fine that you decided to express your opinion as well.

  3. vinyabarion said,

    1. But you said that her voice sounded trained? I might add that some of her vocals in songs such as Girls On Top and LOVE LETTER are top-notch, and not just because of a vocoder. I also find comparing anyone to Britney an insult, she can’t even dance anymore…

    4. I think what you mean to say, and I don’t mean to be presumptuous, is that you don’t like BoA’s belting voice. Not that it’s bad.

    5. Of course being famous is luck. And of course there are better singers out there. It’s about drive, luck, and an overall look. Especially for a popstar you have to be beautiful. There’s no denying that. SM is a pop label. There not looking for just a voice.

    You have not offended me. At all. Period. I just thought I’d chime in. One point to set straight though, is that I am not a huge huge BoA fan. I like her, but I like Namie and Koda and Utada better…

    In the end, whether or not you like BoA won’t hurt me at all. I just would hate someone to not at least try her. She deserves success, just like everyone does that works like she does.

    One the blog, I feel blogs should at least be cohesive and well-formed. But I write a musical critique site, so… whatev… 😀

  4. nanshi said,

    Well, I’m glad. You have no idea how many times I’ve come across many users who get some seriously bad impressions when I just give a detailed critique. They act as though I murdered BoA, her family, and the innocent little puppy nearby just for fun. It baffles me most of the time, actually. And a lot of my ill feelings towards BoA are embedded in my intense dislike for SM Entertainment. That colors my opinion a great deal. And in case you didn’t notice at the end– I sort of lost steam for awhile. I usually start strong, but end up fairly weak because I really can’t be bothered to make neat conclusions. But just to point out, I’m not the only one who has compared BoA to Britney Spears; that’s the title that she was given… over in Korea. Granted, yes, I think BoA has gone eons beyond what Britney has ever done, so no, I think a comparison there is weak, but hopefully you still see my point?

    And yes, and yes (see the exhaustion part kicking in?). And I agree with you wholly on your last point as well. I don’t like people forming opinions about an artist/singer without first having heard his/her work. But do know that I HAVE heard BoA’s songs (and have even enjoyed some of them) and I still arrive at this conclusion. I’m not just blindly forming opinions or conclusions.

    And yes, blogs should be cohesive and well-formed, but thankfully, this isn’t a blog of actual critical insight or “intelligence” so to speak. If I was actually writing a paper about this, I might make more of an effort to “wrap around” my rant about SM Entertainment and make it more related to BoA, but alas, I was too tired to do so after having written so much already (it was like over 2500 words, which is insane). ick.

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