"My Sweet Devil" deserves attention on its own, but today I'm talking about "Lipstick," not for the singing per se, but for the rhythm (which of course includes the singing). In my mind, "Lipstick" is the fulcrum, or the apex (or something), of what I'm going to call the Austral-Romanian Empire. I figured this out when, over at the Jukebox, most everyone else was identifying "Lipstick" with "Mr. Saxobeat" and Europop, while I was hearing trot and "We No Speak Americano." Now, however, I'd say that "Lipstick" is drawing on all of those. Not that Orange Caramel have ever played a true trot, but they've been veering towards it, especially on the two "Asian"** singles, "Bangkok City" and "Shanghai Romance." Trots tend to move light and quick, emphasizing the offbeat almost as much as the downbeat, adding embellishments while running right along. In contrast, the Romanian beat sounds more like it's circling in on itself, a clippity-clop to trot's trot. (Or a clip-cloppity. Anyway, busier. It isn't as if there's a specific trot beat, or a specific Romanian rhythm — though maybe there is, and I'm just not perceptive enough to locate it. Maybe you can do a better job.)
I'm not really putting "trot" and "Romania" at contrasting ends of a spectrum, since trot's only tangentially in the picture. "Lipstick" is in the middle, with the "We No Speak Americano" beat (Australia) on one side and "Mr. Saxobeat" (Romania) on the other. Actually, no speak americano isn't a beat so much as a tendency for a synth riff or accordion riff (or something) to push along the music, as opposed to the Romanian predilection for having a sax-synth-etc. intertwine with the rest of the rhythm. Yeah, I know, this is still vague, and some of you may doubt that there's really that much of a difference between "push along," on the one hand, and "intertwine," on the other; I made myself a playlist that might illustrate this better. But bear in mind that it's all fundamentally similar. Both ends are willing to emphasize the pah as well as the oom.
The order isn't order of preference but rather a continuum: on one end, the two tracks that do the most emphatic "pushing along" and "running forward"; on the other, the track that "intertwines the most" and "is busiest." "Lipstick" lands in the center, doing both. 1 In-Grid "Tu Es Foutu." 2 Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP "We No Speak Americano." 3 Da' Zoo "La La La (Hot Girls)." 4 Bueno Clinic "Sex Appeal (Max Farenthide Remix)." 5 Gangkiz "Honey Honey." 6 Orange Caramel "Lipstick." 7 E.via "I Know How To Play A Little." 8 DJ Sava ft. Raluka "Money Maker (Extended Mix)." 9 Celia "D-D-Down." 10 Alexandra Stan "Mr. Saxobeat." I've also added, as number 11, LPG's "The First Train," which isn't part of the continuum but is a good example of trot, LPG being my favorite modern trot act. (Appropriately enough, they've done their own version of "We No Speak Americano," but it's their least good track.)
Here are the links, if you'd like to imagine the "playlist" yourself. (I want to get this post up rather than spend time making an actual YouTube playlist. But I may eventually make one, if I get motivated.) I've embedded three of the four Korean tracks (embedding's disabled for "The First Train"), but I do hope to someday give the Celia video its own post, for the edifying zither strum and the hand (not hands) stand. If you don't have time to listen to all of these, I especially recommend "Money Maker (Extended Mix)."*** And, of course, "Lipstick."****
1. In-Grid "Tu Es Foutu" (Italy 2002). I'm starting in Italy — and therefore in French — rather than Australia, since Mat identifies "Tu Es Foutu" as a progenitor of the no speak americano syndrome. (The Gangkiz thread over on the SNSD Free For All was an inspiration for this post; that and Hyomin.*****) For further listening, I recommend "One More Time," with versions from both Italy and Korea.
2 Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP "We No Speak Americano" (Australia 2010)
3. Da' Zoo "La La La (Hot Girls)" (Puerto Rico 2011)
4. Bueno Clinic "Sex Appeal (Max Farenthide Remix)" (Poland 2010). Hyomin brought me here.
5. Gangkiz "Honey Honey" (Korea 2012). For reasons I don't get, this track engendered instant rejection and massive hatred in the YouTube comments.
6. Orange Caramel "Lipstick" (Korea 2012)
7. E.via "I Know How To Play A Little" (Korea 2012). Interpolates you-know-what, but the rhythm is no speak americano with a Romanian twist (though I don't know if that's where she got it from).
8. DJ Sava ft. Raluka "Money Maker (Extended Mix)" (Romania 2010).
9. Celia "D-D-Down" (Romania 2011)
10. Alexandra Stan "Mr. Saxobeat" (Romania 2010)
11. LPG "The First Train" (Korea 2009)
[UPDATE: I'm adding new tracks to this imaginary playlist as they come along. Miss A's "Time's Up" would go right before "Honey Honey," and Solbi's "Ottogi" ft. Jiyoon comes right after "Lipstick." The first is late August, the second is late October.]
*I listened to the Japanese versions of "Magic Girl" and "Shanghai Romance," which presumably were recorded later than the original Korean releases, and in "Magic Girl" the singing is marginally more confident and less strained than in the earlier version, and in "Shanghai Romance" the difference is similar but stronger; except on neither is it strong enough that I'd have noticed if I hadn't been looking for it and hadn't decided in advance that that's what I was going to hear. On the new Korean album, Lipstick, "Bangkok City" is labeled "2012 New Recording," but on a couple of listens it sounds identical to the 2011 version. I've yet to pull out my microscope and examine it. Over on the recent Maxi Single† of main group After School (Orange Caramel being a subgroup comprising the three then-youngest members of After School††), Nana of Orange Caramel sings lead on the best track, "Eyeline." I wouldn't say she does anything special. In fact, I might again call her merely adequate. But she's right for the drama of the song; or the drama of the song carries her. Whereas the sparkle written into "Bangkok City" and "Shanghai Romance" shows up the nonsparkle of the singing; and vocal sparkle is what does show up on "My Sweet Devil" and "Lipstick." So, I don't know.
**I'm aware that Korea is already in Asia, but if you listen to "Bangkok City" and "Shanghai Romance," you'll hear what I'm getting at: those two tracks sound like what an Italodisco producer would have created had he wanted to signify "East Asia."
***I don't like the single version nearly as well. Not only is it missing Raluka, it's too irritatingly in-your-face and sexlessly sexy. I'd assumed this extended version with Raluka (posted by someone on YouTube in January 2011) was a remix, but it may have preceded the hit version (DJ Sava ft. Andrea D & J Yolo), which doesn't seem to have been released until April 2011, at least as a single. There's a live clip of Sava and Raluka performing this in November 2010.
****Apologies to Mat for not including Inna, but being a compelling upfront melodic presence, she gets in the way of the phenomenon I'm trying to illustrate.
*****See, I can work T-ara into almost anything.
†I'll be damned if I can tell you the difference between a five-song Maxi Single and a five-song Mini Album, the latter of which there are plenty of in Korea. In my parlance, either one is an EP.
††Raina, Nana, and Lizzy. Since then, After School have added two younger members, and three of the older have "graduated."