Saturday, December 26, 2015

My Favorite K-Pop Beauty Moments of 2015

As I've mentioned before, k-pop is a visual genre as much as it is a musical one, and makeup is a crucial part of its visual impact. In this post, I've rounded up my favorite looks from k-pop music videos released this year, as well as some quick honorable mentions. If you're as tired as I am of hearing about Adele's contouring game in the "Hello" video, read on and get some new celebrity inspiration!

I've listed the videos not in order of preference but in the order they were released this year. However, several of my favorite songs from 2015 have ended up on this list, which makes sense: if I hate a song, I'm not inclined to watch the video more than once, and a single viewing doesn't usually allow me to take note of interesting makeup.

1. Nine Muses, "Drama"

Every k-pop comeback is an elaborate affair: the eager public gets a slew of teaser images and videos before the actual music video ever drops. Nine Muses hyped their January comeback, "Drama," with images of the eight (yes, eight) muses in pastel makeup with contrasting short wigs. But the pastel wigs and faces never made it into the official MV, because it emerged that the stylist had ripped off a W Korea editorial from March 2012, and W Korea denied that they had given permission for the "homage." Here's an image from the original shoot:

And here are Nine Muses posing for the jacket photo of their album (from this video):

Yes, the wigs and tulle draperies are blatant copy-paste jobs, but the makeup is actually very different. W Korea's makeup features heavy contouring and bold, jarring color contrasts: a turquoise wig with orange eyeshadow and purple lipstick, or a lime-green wig with emerald eyeshadow and red lipstick. The Nine Muses members, on the other hand, wear smoky brown eye makeup and matching pastels (pink, lavender, coral) on lips and cheeks. It's a softer, more wearable look, and it's a shame that the stylist couldn't have kept the makeup and come up with something more original for the hair. But this sort of imbroglio is par for the course with k-pop, and the real wonder is not that Nine Muses' agency copied a fashion editorial but that more agencies aren't caught copying fashion editorials.

Don't be sad, Sungah, you look great.

2. Lizzy ft. Jung Hyung Don, "Not an Easy Girl"

By contrast, the solo debut of Lizzy, a singer from girl group After School and its much more popular subunit Orange Caramel, couldn't have been more impressive in its originality. MV wizards Digipedi green-screened Lizzy into the 1961 film Seong Chunhyang, a retelling of the 17th-century story Chunhyangga. Lizzy plays a lowborn but virtuous young woman who falls in love with a district magistrate. They marry secretly, but he has to leave for Seoul, and in his absence she must resist the advances of another magistrate. The corrupt magistrate sentences her to death, but her husband arrives just in time to save her life. It's rare to see k-pop videos exploring traditional Korean culture, which "Not an Easy Girl" does not only visually but also musically, with a modern spin on the 20th-century trot genre. Lizzy's makeup is also modernized: I doubt that women in the Joseon Dynasty wore smoked-out eyeliner, glossy coral lipstick, or sparkly nail polish, but the look works well with the vivid colors in the original film.

I don't think Joseon women had multiple ear piercings, either:

But you know what? I love the shameless (and obviously deliberate) anachronism. Lizzy is singing about designer bags and reminding her suitors that "love is not a supermarket," so why shouldn't she be wearing coral lipstick with her hanbok? Anyway, the song and video are both fantastic and deserve so much more attention than they've received. Definitely one of my top three songs of the year.

3. Red Velvet, "Ice Cream Cake"

You'd think a music video featuring a creepy abandoned diner, a giant white cat, and light-up furry jackets would also offer some distinctive makeup looks, but that's not the case with "Ice Cream Cake." The makeup here is kept fairly light and natural, the better to highlight the decidedly unnatural effect of the girls' strawberry-blonde dye jobs and blue contact lenses. Of more interest to me are the confectionery-inspired manicures:

I'm not a 19-year-old k-pop idol, but I still want to paint each of my nails a different color. This is a dangerous and unprofessional impulse.

4. Stellar, "Vibrato"

Stellar—or, more properly, Stellar's entertainment company—is notorious for inviting media buzz with provocative music videos. "Vibrato," just like last year's excellent "Marionette," kicked off the nth debate over the morals and ethics of "sexy concepts" in k-pop. Idols have little control over their public images, to say nothing of their songs and the concepts of their videos: all that is the purview of their company. At the same time, most idols have entered the entertainment industry by choice and have spent years pursuing stardom. So when the members of Stellar appear in a video like "Vibrato," are they expressing their sexuality, or are they performing someone else's sexuality?

The thing about "Vibrato" is, it's not really sexy; it's a reductio ad absurdum of the "sexy concept." Every other shot features vaginal imagery or blood. The video cuts rapidly between close-ups of disembodied limbs. The singers perform in a panopticon-like configuration of glass boxes with cameras everywhere. My favorite take on the "Vibrato" issue comes from blogger Arcadey, who argues that "anybody that understands Stellar’s meta lyrics and concepts knows that you’re supposed to feel a little bad after watching their videos. It’s the whole point."

I'm probably also supposed to feel bad about ignoring the debate in order to screencap the Stellar members' makeup: watercolor washes of bright pink and orange over the eyelids and out to the temples, with a flick of black eyeliner to set off the colors. The rest of their makeup is fairly understated: soft pink lips, lots of highlighter, no blush to speak of, and those straight eyebrows that are still trendy in Korea for some reason.

The manicures are pretty great, too. I like that the little eyes have eyebrows, and the eyebrows are different from the actual human eyebrows we see in the video.

Oh, and there's a song by veteran k-pop producers Sweetune, and it's fantastic. I'm a sucker for disco-influenced k-pop, and Sweetune always delivers (see also Nine Muses' "Figaro").

5. Wonder Girls, "I Feel You"

Speaking of retro-influenced pop, the Wonder Girls' "Reboot" album was unquestionably the high point of k-pop in 2015.  Yes, that's just my opinion, but this is also my blog, so whatever. After several years out of the spotlight, faded superstars Wonder Girls returned with their "Reboot" album, a fantasia of '80s-inspired synthpop. The opening screen of "I Feel You" even places the video in 1987, my birth year, so I'm going to go ahead and assume that the song is a personal gift from producer JYP to me. Thanks, man.

The makeup is very '80s as well, and more Western than Korean: heavy contour and bronzer, smoky eyes, and bright coral lips.

The Wonder Girls returned with a "band concept," which in this video translates into playing instruments in one-piece swimsuits and heels. The neon lights below remind me of the laser-beam backgrounds for school photos in the early '90s (the fancy backgrounds cost extra, of course, and I usually ended up with the basic gray).

 A closer look at the eyes:

Honorable Mentions:

The purple lipstick that Jiyoon of 4Minute wore for "Crazy" promotions

The "Crazy" music video is in black and white, but for 4Minute's live performances on music shows, Jiyoon (left) wore a bright pink-purple matte lipstick that reminded me of MAC Heroine or Urban Decay Bittersweet. I think I might need Bittersweet for spring.

The Karlie Kloss lookalike in royal-blue lipstick in GD&TOP's "Zutter" MV

I wonder if G-Dragon and Wonder Girls' Sunmi got their lip-print shirts at the same store. Also, both GD and TOP look really attractive in this video, just saying. And I think I'll always regret not seeing Big Bang in New York this past October, ugh.

EXID's "Hot Pink" MV

I don't care for the song (with the exception of the line "I like the way you pink it"), but the fuchsia eyeshadow is cool. 

Girls' Generation's photoshoot for The Celebrity magazine

Each member played a role of her choice (e.g. surfer, film director, ballerina); you can see a behind-the-scenes video here. My favorite is Taeyeon's "rebellious teen" look, though her explanation for it makes me sad. Now 26, she reflects that she spent her teenage years training for an idol career and never had a chance to rebel: "I honestly don’t feel old even now. I feel like a teen. I don’t think I experienced adolescence either." (Read all the interviews here.)

Finally, some trends I noticed throughout k-pop in 2015:
  • monochrome pastels: the same color on eyes, lips, and/or cheeks
  • bright coral lips—Korea has yet to jump on the mauve/greige/taupe/brown lipstick bandwagon
  • colored contact lenses, usually blue or green (why)
  • smoked-out cat eyes
  • strobing! lots of highlighting, not much contouring
  • green hair (as seen above on Jiyoon of 4Minute and Hani of EXID)
I hope you enjoyed this roundup! I'll return soon with my favorite and least favorite beauty products of 2016. Happy miscellaneous winter holidays to you all!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Topshop Mini Lip Bullet Pyramid in Motel

Despite my no-buy, I've somehow managed to acquire a new lipstick. My boyfriend teaches in the UK and asked me if I wanted him to bring me anything when he came to visit this month. He was actually the one who suggested that he might surprise me with some makeup from Topshop, and who was I to say no? I told him that I liked the Lip Bullets and asked him to pick one out, and he obliged with a mini version of Motel, a warm light brown, packaged in a pyramid-shaped holiday ornament. I'd actually been looking at Motel online, so I was very excited to try it out.

In all its ornamental glory (and yes, that's a hot-pink daruma). If only I had a tree to hang it on...

When I finally brought myself (after five days!) to wrestle the lipstick out of its pyramid, the cap popped off and the bullet got nicked. So if you find yourself in possession of one of these, maybe try not to be a clumsy ass.

Here's Motel next to a full-sized Lip Bullet:

This would make it appear that the mini Lip Bullets deliver about two-thirds the regular amount of product, but the size of the tube is deceiving. At just 1 gram each, these mini bullets are very mini indeedthis is all the product you're getting, bitches:

Believe it or not, the mini Lip Bullets are the same size as the ColourPop Lippie Stix (just shorter and wider), but they're half the size of the Tom Ford Lips & Boys (2 grams), and one-third the size of the regular Lip Bullets (3 grams). The mini versions are sold in pyramid form for $8 in the US and £8 in the UK, and in boxed duos for $16 here and £10 in the UK. The full-sized bullets are a much better deal at $10/£8 each. You read that right: in the UK, £8 will get you either three grams of lipstick or one gram of the same lipstick in a flimsy plastic pyramid. I don't mind having the mini version, though: I own so many lipsticks that using up even a sample-sized one will be a challenge.

Motel is a warm terra-cotta brown in a satin formula. There's a hint of peach to it, but also a hint of plum. It's the sort of color that's widely (if not universally) flattering.

If you're a lipstick enthusiast with the slightest desire to conform to the trends of 2015, you likely have at least one similar shade. Personally, I have four. L-R: NARS Last Tango (LE), Maybelline Crazy for Coffee, Topshop Motel, Revlon Pink Truffle, Milani Matte Naked.

The closest color matches are Crazy for Coffee and Pink Truffle (though Motel is more matte and opaque than either of these), while the obvious outlier is the cooler, grayer Matte Naked. To my eye, Motel also resembles MAC's much-coveted Whirl lipstick, though Whirl might be a bit cooler and pinker. However, Motel certainly pulls pinker on my lips than it does in arm swatches.

An Instagram pal compared it to the NARS Audacious lipstick in Jane, which I think is exactly right: it looks like a deep pinkish nude in cool natural light, above, and a rich caramel brown in warmer artificial light, below. A year ago, I would have dismissed Motel as too brown, too warm, too '90s; what a difference 2015 has made.

Motel is my first non-matte Lip Bullet (I also own two matte ones, Get Me Bodied and Plastique). It goes on opaque and creamy; the texture fills in my lip lines, smooths over imperfections, and generally makes my lips look plumper and healthier. The formula is odd, though: slippery but also somewhat grainy, as if there are tiny particles of sand scattered throughout the lipstick. The color never quite sets on my lips, and it transfers easily and fades within a few hours, especially if I eat or drink. I love the color, but I don't think I'd repurchase Motel in a full-sized bullet; I'd rather find a color dupe in a less slippery formula.

For Motel's maiden voyage into the world, I paired it with a cool-toned eye: two shades from theBalm, a lavender taupe and a matte dark plum (top left and bottom right in the palette below). I also used a bit of Illamasqua Zygomatic blush and ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter.

In my view, a turtleneck is the ultimate complement to brown lipstick. I felt like a grad student in 1995:

And here's the look I wore this morning: just Motel and concealer. I call it "oh shit I'm supposed to make biscotti for my professors today and I forgot to get eggs at the store yesterday, so I guess I have to run back out." This photo is more color-accurate than the ones above, which lean a bit too warm. Also featuring the Warby Parker glasses that make me look like a writer for Playboy in 1967:

You thought I was exaggerating, didn't you?

Know this: I never exaggerate.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Because It's Not 2016 Yet: NARS Lip Pencils in Cruella and Rikugien

Odds are good that if you're reading this, you fall into one of two categories: either you've already collected the 2015 Sephora birthday gift, or you don't have access to Sephora and are annoyed to see the millionth review of the 2015 Sephora birthday gift pop up on your feed. In fact, I'm tempted to skip the review entirely and instead give you a detailed account of a dream I had last night, in which the entire city of Rome was disintegrating due to various apocalyptic circumstances and I had to enlist the financial backing of Big Bang's TOP (a noted patron of the arts) to rescue Rome's most important cultural artifacts and house them in a colossal climate-change-proof building. But this blog is also a personal makeup diary, a chance for me to record my purchases and my impressions of them, so I suppose I'll continue with the review (after all, it will be even more useless in 2016). You probably don't want an exhaustive tour of my subconscious, anyway.

2015's birthday gift for Sephora Beauty Insiders was, in my opinion, a vast improvement on 2014's (minuscule samples of a mascara and a dated-looking pinkish brown lipstick from MUFE). This year, Beauty Insiders got a duo of mini NARS lip pencils in Cruella, in the Velvet Matte formula, and Rikugien, in the Satin formula.

The first lip pencil I tried was Rikugien. Each of the NARS satin pencils is named after a different park or garden; Tokyo's Rikugi-en (六義園), pronounced "ree-koo-gee-en," was constructed between 1695 and 1702 and designed according to the six () principles () of waka poetry.

The lip pencil is a soft, sheer brownish rose with a subtle frosty finish (I used the pencil before taking these photos, sorry). It looks almost mauve below, but in swatches and on the lips, it pulls warmer and peachier.

Most makeup lovers will already own at least one lipstick similar to Rikugien, and I can't help wishing Sephora had chosen a different shade from NARS' Satin range. What about Het Loo, a very on-trend medium brown, or Yu, a vivid fuchsia? I know, I know: Rikugien is probably the most "wearable" of the satins. But it's just so generic-looking, as witness the comparison swatches below. L-R: Revlon Pink Truffle, Rikugien, NARS Dolce Vita, NARS Last Tango (LE).

Rikugien and Dolce Vita are almost identical to each other (and to my natural lip color), except that Dolce Vita is shiny and Rikugien is frosty. My lips were especially dry when I first wore Rikugien, and I found that the shimmer emphasized my lip lines and dry patches, as this photo makes painfully clear:

The satin formula goes on smoothly and feels lightweight, but it dries down to a slightly gummy finish. The stickiness helps Rikugien last longer than your average MLBB, but I hate anything sticky on my mouth (hence my distaste for most glosses), and I find Rikugien to be a bit drying as well. I also don't think it does much for my face. Granted, I'm wearing minimal makeup here, and Rikugien is the sort of lipstick that begs for a smoky eye or a bold blush. Maybe next time.

I prefer my neutral lipsticks cooler and less shiny, but Rikugien is a good lip color to keep in my purse in case I have to abandon my clown lips at a moment's notice. I certainly won't be dashing out to buy a full-sized Rikugien, though.

I was much more excited to test Cruella: it's rare that I meet a dark red I don't like. But Cruella surprised me in a couple of ways, first by its slight sheerness, which is most apparent when I swatch it next to other mattes in the same color family. L-R: MAC Eugenie (LE), NYX Alabama, Cruella, NARS Mysterious Red.

This is one swipe of each lipstick, and you can see immediately that Cruella is sheerer than Mysterious Red, another shade from the Velvet Matte line. Other than that, Cruella and Mysterious Red are similar colors, though Mysterious Red is brighter. And here's another surprise: Cruella looks a lot warmer on my lips than it does in pencil form or an arm swatch. I was expecting a plummy red similar to Eugenie, but Cruella becomes a matter-of-fact neutral red on me. I'm not convinced it suits me, either: it seems to dull my complexion slightly. Here it is today, with very little other makeup (Urban Decay Undone on my lashlines, Illamasqua Zygomatic on my cheeks):

And on Thanksgiving, with a smoky eye, wet hair, and poor lighting (sorry):

Because of its slight sheerness, Cruella goes on more smoothly and feels less drying than Mysterious Red, the only other Velvet Matte I've tried. But it also lacks Mysterious Red's lasting power: it didn't even try to stand up to my Thanksgiving dinner, and it doesn't withstand lighter eating either.

Just for fun, here are Cruella and Mysterious Red side by side on my lips. Cruella is noticeably darker, but not by as much as I anticipated.

Overall, I came away somewhat disappointed with both Rikugien and Cruella, but happy that I got to play with two new-to-me NARS lip colors at no extra cost. At least I don't actively dislike either one: in fact, I've worn Cruella three times in the last couple of weeks. And since I've been tempted by several shades in the Satin range over the years, it's good to know for sure that I don't like the formula—that will save me $26 I might otherwise have spent unwisely.

Did you pick up the Sephora gift this year? If so, what did you think of it?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Journey Through Purge-atory, Part 3: Lipsticks and Nail Polishes

"A Journey Through Purge-atory" is my ongoing, if not exactly regular, destashing series; here are my first and second posts. Today, let's get rid of some lipstick and polish!

Lipsticks, left to right: YSL Glossy Stain in Rouge Gouache, Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Mauvy Night, Revlon Colorstay Ultimate Suede Lipstick in Supermodel, Maybelline Colorsensational Vivids in On Fire Red, Milani Amore Matte Lip Creme in Crush.

YSL Rouge Gouache is three years old now, and the formula seems a little off: it's thicker than it used to be and it doesn't quite set on my lips. We had some good times together, Rouge Gouache, but I didn't wear you enough while you were still in decent condition, because it turns out that I like opaque glosses only in theory.

Revlon Mauvy Night is one of my oldest lipsticks: I bought it in the summer of 2011 after seeing Midnight in Paris and falling in love with Marion Cotillard's dusky lip color. I did not, however, fall in love with Mauvy Night. Over the past four and a half years, I've picked it up maybe once a year, wondered why I never wear such a nice shade, tried it on, and thought, "Oh, right, that's why." It's just so drab and unremarkable. It's not unflattering, but there's nothing special about it, either, and the color looks dated and ages me a bit. Oddly, Mauvy Night is very similar to Urban Decay Rapture, my favorite neutral lipstick at the moment. And that's why I don't believe in dupe-huntingthe smallest tweak to a color's warmth and saturation can pull it from "modern vampish neutral" to "bland '90s office makeup." I'm going to give Mauvy Night to my mom, who likes to mix Maybelline Brazen Berry, a bright purple, with more restrained mauve shades like this one.

Revlon Supermodel was a birthday gift from my mom, and it's going back to her. It's almost identical in color to Mauvy Night, but the formula is worse: heavy and a bit sticky, yet not even opaque. How is that possible?

ColourPop Frenchie just doesn't suit me. It always looks a bit off, and life is too short to wear lipsticks that look a bit off. If I found Frenchie more flattering, I could put up with the heavy, slightly gummy Lippie Stix formula, but I don't and so I can't. (I still want to try the Lippie Stix in Brills, though. Finding an opaque lavender lipstick is so difficult.)

Maybelline On Fire Red is a perfectly good almost-opaque cool-toned red. I have nothing against it. It's comfortable, flattering, a bit shiny, and not as obnoxiously bright as Urban Decay 69...and I never wear it, because I just don't find it exciting. There's nothing truly distinctive about it. I'm hoping my roommate will enjoy it more than I do.

Milani Crush is simply unwearable for me. I put it on a few weeks ago, on a rare day when my lips were almost perfectly smooth. The formula made my lower lip crack open after an hour or two, and it took me several days to nurse my lip back to normal. I wish the beauty world were less enamored of liquid-matte lipsticks right now: I can't be the only one who dislikes the totally flat finish and finds the formula too harsh. I guess I'll just have to wait for this trend to run its course; at least that means I'll be saving some money. If you like liquid mattes, however, you'll be happy to hear that Milani is making the Amore Matte line permanent in early 2016 and adding many more shades!

Swatches, L-R: Mauvy Night, Supermodel, Frenchie, Crush, On Fire Red. Sorry, I forgot about Rouge Gouache until after I'd washed the swatches off my arm.

I'm also clearing out 17 (!) nail polishes that I never wear, either because the formula is problematic (e.g. streaky, chip-prone, slow to dry) or because the color looks bad on my hands.

L-R: Essie Big Spender, Secret Story, Island Hopping, Haute as Hello, Resort Fling, Marshmallow.

L-R: Milani Fuchsia, Gold, Gems, White, all discontinued. White (what a name, huh) is streaky, and the glitter in the other three polishes hides at the bottom of the bottle, just out of reach of the brush.

And an assortment of cremes. L-R: OPI If You Moust You Moust, Sally Hansen Sonic Bloom (see, Milani, that's how you name a nail polish), Barry M Shocking Pink, Urban Outfitters Smush, Absolute! Light Blue, Wet n Wild Through the Grapevine, OPI Lucky Lucky Lavender:

Finally, three polishes that get one more chance before I purge them: Essie Good as Gold, Urban Outfitters Bright Lights, and OPI I Don't Give a Rotterdam! Good as Gold has a great formula, but I don't like gold polish except for nail art, which I do maybe once a year. I haven't worn Bright Lights or IDGAR for quite a while, but if memory serves, both are streaky and slow to dry. I'm going to try layering them over another color, perhaps a gray like Essie Chinchilly.

My roommate has claimed five of the polishes I'm destashing, and I might leave the remaining dozen in the English department office for anyone who wants them. By the way, did you know that nail polishes are classified as hazardous materials and you're supposed to bring unwanted nail polish to your local waste-disposal facility instead of throwing it in the trash? Yet another reason not to buy a bunch of polishes you're unlikely to wearnot that that's stopped me from adding Marc Jacobs Fluorescent Beige and Butter London Toff to my wishlist in the last week. I'm hopeless.