Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

Taemin – Criminal

Next, via Kayla: we covered Miley, how about Kylie?


Anna Katrina Lockwood: One of the most unexpected and delightful moments in this garbage year was SHINee’s ace Taemin releasing a single that recalls Kylie’s unimpeachable “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” vocal hook. His subdued delivery of that golden vocal line suits him well, and the whole vibe of “Criminal” fits squarely with Taemin’s intense/sexy oeuvre. As is often the case on Taemin’s releases, I can practically hear the choreography.

Thomas Inskeep: Remember when Justin Timberlake made solid pop music? Taemin does. Flashy, sleek, and expensive-sounding, with a strong vocal, like most English-language pop/ular music isn’t these days.

Ian Mathers: It would almost be more interesting if some of these songs were bad, right? I mean, they’re not going to be; there’s enough at stake (financially and culturally) that quality control is kept tight, and also the various industries involved have been doing this long enough that sometimes it feels as if they’ve got it down to a science — not all pop, but at least their particular brand of pop. So maybe that means the bad ones are where that impression comes across as a leadening certainty, and the great ones are where it comes across as imperial-phase wonderful instead. And then there’s songs like this one, where it just comes across.

Rose Stuart: “Criminal,” with its mix of retro and gothic, would be right at home in the top tier of The Weeknd’s discography. Even then, it isn’t until the final chorus that the song really hits. Adlibs are rarely the time for an artist to turn to their lower register, especially in K-pop, but Taemin’s choice to go deeper keeps the song’s willowy chorus grounded when at earlier points it almost gets lost in the instrumental.

Katherine St Asaph: Hook like a gloomy reprise of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” track like a 2011 pop star emulating Ladytron — what, you expected me to not love this?

Alfred Soto: Productions with super-steady electrothrobs get me every time, as well as the restrained effect of those massed vocals. A little faster and it’s Saturday night during normal times; at the moment it’s a Zoom dance party jam.

Alex Clifton: Oh hell yeah. Taemin has given us a mix of “Mirotic” and “Blood Sweat & Tears” with the “la la la” hook of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and has given the entire thing his own extremely sexy spin. Minor chords and a decadent aesthetic are the most effective form of musical seduction for me. I’m absolutely thrilled in all senses of the word.

Austin Nguyen: I already wrote about Queer Kinks in Caveboy, but now Taemin is over here busting a move in bondage, choking himself in a plastic bag, and yelping while singing, “Ooh, I’m on a leash called you” over the most sensually-distorted synths I’ve heard since “Into You.” And don’t get me started on how he ends his lines more aspirated than they began, like sex in the dark where breath is the only gauge for climax, increasing steadily with each thumping beat, or how the mic drop of the police-radio bridge is, of all words, “destroy me more.”

Michael Hong: Taemin is all about limits, boxing himself into dark synth-pop tracks and seeing just how much he can twist and turn within them. The pre-chorus works well, climbing towards something, but its verses and chorus feel too tightly wound and perfectly choreographed, with only the tiniest room for space. Taemin might have already reached the confines of his formula with “Move,” but the spaces leave room for tiny, little gasps, small thrills built directly into the chorus.

Rachel Saywitz: One can’t fully appreciate a Taemin single without digesting his music simultaneously with eyes and ears. He’s been an incredibly mesmerizing performer since his solo debut in 2014, capable of twisting his body to perform masculine and feminine wiles with astonishing ease. This isn’t to say the music doesn’t perform the same function: “Criminal” is frantic, moody electro-pop that elevates his wailing, throat-clenched vocals. But the instrumental backbeat pulsates similarly to singles past, and I’m unclear whether it would stand on its own. Which, to Taemin’s credit, is just fine — he’s more performer than musician.

Kayla Beardslee: I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about a song as I am about “Criminal.” (Note: this is possible because I’m young.) It’s my favorite song of 2020, and I couldn’t in good conscience have submitted any other Amnesty pick, not when I’ve been stuck in Taemin’s gravity for months. Why? 1The production is incredible: dark, glittery, tense synthpop so perfectly catered to my tastes that it’s unfair. I must have heard this chorus over 100 times, and it still hits like a wave crashing over my head. 2) The lyrics balance on a knife’s edge between crucifying and glorifying a toxic (…maybe? or maybe not?) relationship. There’s a dangerous thrill to the way Taemin describes wanting to be destroyed, and the writing succeeds (against all odds) at exploring this topic because it focuses exclusively on the narrator’s emotions and desires, leaving all objective judgement in the audience’s hands. 3) The choreography expresses the theme of the exchange of power in masterful ways. Taemin starts the song with his hands tied (literally), but when the first chorus hits, he unties his bonds and casts them aside. In the bridge, he sags downward while the backup dancers swarm up around him — then, as the final chorus begins, he breaks loose and the dancers fling themselves away. 4) Taemin’s vocals are oh-so-polished, sensual, and precise — hushed and in control in the verses, hanging onto the “la la la”s in the bridge — except when they’re suddenly not. One of the song’s best moments is when he starts sliding up the scale in the prechorus, sounding positively unhinged as he holds onto that last note before the hook. And then there’s the final chorus, where he loses control yet simultaneously sounds more assured than ever before, throwing out both desperate ad-libs and clean, euphoric harmonies. 5) Some of these things aren’t even music-related — but that’s the point. I love “Criminal” because, after a couple months of sinking into its world, listening to it doesn’t just call to mind the song, but also Taemin tossing aside his wrist ties when the first chorus hits, or the complicated dance of the lyrics, or how he wears an eyepatch in the music video, while his backup dancers wear masks that cover everything except one of their eyes. It’s a singular, fully realized artistic package; with every repetition, from every angle, it feels novel, special, and awe-inspiring.

Reader average: [6.35] (14 votes)

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4 Responses to “Taemin – Criminal”

  1. I didn’t send in my blurb in time but hell yeah to all these reviews. I would have personally given it a [9]

  2. one crucial musical reference tied to this song that elevated it for me is “CAN. YOU. FIX. MY. H-E-A-R-T” from “Damaged” by Danity Kane

  3. I’ve been looking forward to amnestying this for a while, and I’m really happy it got such a good score! :)

  4. Thank you again to the current Wednesday editor for toning down my being Horny on Main wjweisvjzx