Morning Countdown #16 (8/2/09)


Wow, it’s already August. The weather’s been getting hotter and hotter here in Seoul, mixed in with intermittent rain; the humidity is a killer here. Still, I’ll always love summer more than winter. The bulky clothes; slippery, icy roads; thermal underwear; freezing down to the bones; ugh, no, thank you!

My second week of Camp Tommyland (for 5th-6th graders) went by in a breeze. It was a sweet group of kids–no Devil’s spawn among them. Now I have one more week (for higher-level kids), and then it’s… well, I don’t know! My future lies before me, a dusty road, a blank canvas, a horizon before me of my own making. And somewhere out there, the light of the Eiffel Tower beckons me, as does the smell of Quarter Pounders (they don’t have ’em here in Korea, only Big Macs; d’oh!).

But before the future, the present. A lot’s been going on in the world of sports and entertainment. Uber-divas Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Madonna have all released new songs, and my reactions have been “forgettable,” “good song, but shame about the worn-down voice,” and “not her best, but still kind of fun, and I love the laugh,” respectively. Michelle Kwan made an offical announcement that she won’t be competing in this Olympic season. It’s sad in a way, but I do think she made the right decision. Michelle is classy, beautiful, developing a promising future in international relations, healthy, and not exactly starving; all of that adds up to a whole lot more than an Olympic gold medal; to keep chasing it would have seemed desperate more than anything. Besides, she said she’ll still be skating in exhibitions. In fact, she’ll be skating in Korea in a couple of weeks! (I’ll be watching it on TV; I considered going, but the hefty ticket prices seemed a bit much considering I’ll be an unemployed bum after next week)

Okay, let’s move to the Countdown:

1) Pocketful of Sunshine – Natasha Bedingfield
2) What About Me – Shannon Noll
3) The Main Theme to “It Happened In Bali”
4) Love Story – Taylor Swift
5) Cold – Crossfade

The countdown starts with perky Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine.” It’s definitely catchy, but I actually want to talk about Natasha’s other hit, “Unwritten.” I didn’t really like that song until I recently went on a “Hills” watch-a-thon last week and heard it as the opening song about thirty times (at that point, I gave up all resistance and downloaded it onto my Cowon S9). Here’s what happened. There’s a cable station here called OnStyle that plays all kind of American reality shows, and I happened to catch a few episodes of “The City” about a tall, young woman named Whitney who moves to New York and works for some fashion company, and I found it quite watchable in a mindless, brainless kind of way (My favorite episode was when that Mischa Barton-look-a-like bitch Olivia totally stole credit for something Whitney did; it was totally bizarre, though; didn’t she consider the fact that all her scheming lies were being taped???)

After watching “The City,” I learned (thru Wikipedia, where else?) that Whitney was originally a minor “character” on another reality show called “The Hills.” Well, that rang a bell, because I remember coming across it while channel-surfing when I was in the U.S. But at that time, I had no idea who all those girls were or why the heck I was supposed to care, so I always changed the channel. Well, last week, I made up for lost time in a major way, watching all of Season Three (I had heard that it was the most dramatic) in a span of about three days. So now I’m all caught up, having learned that Lauren, while not a genius, seems genuinely likeable; Heidi has serious issues, while Spencer is just an a-hole; Audrina is the most boring person on the show, and her guy Jason is a jerk in his own right; and as it turns out, Whitney, like several other people, was on the show pretty much just to ask, “Really?” and “And THEN what happened?” Anyhow, reruns of “The Hills” are my current favorite form of McEntertainment, and I’m not ashamed to admit it (though I probably should be).

The next song in our countdown has a reality show connection as well, as Shannon Noll was apparently a contestant on the Australian version of American Idol (Australian Idol, naturally). “What About Me” is actually a great, rock-inflected ballad, and the guy delivers it with emotion to spare. I don’t really know anything about Mr. Noll, but apparently, he’s huge down under, so that’s good to hear.

Now it’s time for more TV talk, thanks to “The Theme to ‘It Happened To Bali,” (aka “Memories of Bali”) which is exactly what the title says it is. In case you aren’t familiar with Korean TV dramas, let me update you. “It Happened in Bali” was on TV here a few years ago, and it remains my all-time favorite Korean drama. Its basic storyline isn’t all that different from a slew of other dramas. There’s a love triangle, as two men (one poor but hard-working guy and one rich, spoiled brat) fight over a travel guide they meet in Bali. The travel guide, played by Ha Ji Won, is a young woman who’s had to struggle all her life. A modern-day Cinderella figure? Not at all. She’s admirable in many ways, but she’s also got some serious, serious issues. That’s the thing about this drama that set it apart from all the cliched, you-can-see-the-ending-from-an-orbit-away ones out there. All the characters are deeply, deeply flawed, and all struggle with inner demons of their own. It’s easily the darkest Korean drama I’ve seen (it’s even lit dark most of the time), and I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say you won’t be alone if the ending blows your brains away. It’s a real shocker.

swiBut there’s nothing dark about cute, country crooner Taylor Swift and her sweet “Love Story.” I’m not a huge fan of country music, but I love the song. It’s really more pop than anything else, a young girl singing about falling in love for the first time, and Taylor keeps her voice just understated enough to not come off annoying or cloying (listen up, Miley Cyrus). Speaking of Miley, Taylor actually sang “Fifteen” (another good song) with her at some awards show, and the juxtaposition between Taylor’s cool confidence and Miley’s shrieking was bizarrely engrossing in a train-wreck-can’t-look-away kind of way.

Finally, we end things on a rocky note with Crossfade’s “Cold.” It’s straight-up rock in the Creed vein, but fortunately, it’s served up a whole lot better, as I can’t stand Creed.

So in this varied group of songs, it’s time to choose a winner. And it’s a pretty close call, Taylor beats out Shannon to get the happy ending she sings about.

Winner: Love Story – Taylor Swift

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