Ask @noxrivera:

why asian lit?

The real answer was that it was an accident lol the foreign language I chose during freshman pre-enlistment was Japanese, and my adviser told me later that the language you choose is your concentration (unless you really want to shift). So I guess the question should be: "why did I stay," in which case it's because Euro lit kind of bored me, and it was interesting learning about how Asian countries are more alike than we think. And also because I already have background in Chinese culture so it wasn't difficult to contextualize the lit.

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do you think brave brothers will do well with SNSD and 2NE1 as their artists? or do you think these gurl groups can do some songs like Sistars or Kara?

Not really, no. SM and YG have very distinct sounds, especially for their flagship girl groups, and while Brave Brothers *did* used to write for YG, 2NE1 are more of the novelty/electro side of YG than the hip-hop R&B that Brave Brothers does now. As for a Sweetune/SNSD collab, I'd personally love to see that happen. SNSD's Japanese material is approaching Sweetune's sound anyway, but I'd like to see them pull it off in Korea.

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Hi Nicole! I wanna ask, how do you tell when the singer is lipsyncing on music shows? Do you look out for the volume of the backtrack or..? Thanks!

I mainly look at breathing patterns and fidelity to the recorded version. It's practically impossible for a live performance to be exactly the same as the recorded version because all vocals go through some kind of post-processing -- for example, "auto tune" is a broad tool that encompasses small tonal edits to major, voice-altering effects. Of course, singers try to be as faithful as possible to the recording, and the better vocalists will be able to get to about 95% fidelity, but there is still a rawer quality to "authentically" live vocals. Breathing patterns are the most obvious indicators of this -- obviously, you sing differently when you're dancing and when you're just standing, so I mainly look at how the vocals correspond to the singers' movements and breathing.

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Hey! I was just looking through somee of your older writing and I'm wondering, will you consider doing vocal commentary again?

Hi! I won't be writing any vocal commentaries anytime soon, no. They take a long time to write because of the research (I need to put names to faces and faces to voices!) and because I try to make my pieces even more well-developed now than I did back in 2009 when I wrote most of my commentaries, it's far too time-consuming at the moment. But I won't completely rule it out! Maybe after I graduate ;P

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what do you think of this cover of Love In The Ice? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EghmC6KxzB4

Spot-on. "Love In the Ice" is a very difficult song to sing, and it's even more difficult to not sound like you're screaming your way though -- but this was technically-outstanding, which allowed the performers to really bring forward the heart-wrenching emotions LITI is known for. I think also the reason why this cover really worked was because all five of them can actually sing, so the harmonies are tight and they're able to carry the solos well.

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Especially in light of the Ladies' Code tragedy, but also knowing how exploitative the industry can be, I worry that enjoying Kpop and being a fan only contributes to an unhealthy system. How would you advise reconciling the squee with the obligation to make the world better? Is that possible?

This is probably going to be an all over the place answer, so I apologize in advance TT_TT
I don't want to bring in the commodification of art because I keep mentioning it, especially on questions here, but it's really something that's central to a better understanding of the industry. There is the artistic side and there is the commercial side -- both have the potential to exploit, but in the kpop context it's the commercial side that is very aggressive and damaging.
Personally, I don't see anything wrong with consuming and appreciating products of an industry like kpop, and enjoying them to boot. I enjoy art as art -- music, media, etc etc. -- because after all it's one of the many functions of art. But what I suggest, and what I sometimes attempt to do with my writing, is to be aware that there is more to the product than just the art or the business. Be aware that the relationship between the music and the industry is extremely complicated and neither, in their ideal forms (art and capitalist society), are fully equipped to understand the limitations of the other. Capitalism dictates that effort or investment must be, at the very least, commensurate to the value of the finished product and therefore assumes that all investments can be measured. On the other hand, the production of art such as music requires investments that cannot be measured or converted to monetary value. Ideas, "musicality," taste -- how do you value those against a scale? You can't. So what happens is that the industry drives artists to the ground, packs schedules and demands things without a proper understanding of what art is exactly. What can we do? I don't know exactly. I don't know because there are many things wrong with this relationship and, like in art, different people value different things -- my problem with the industry may not be yours or the artists', because we're coming from different perspectives and backgrounds.
But what am I doing? I'm writing about it. I'm examining the products of this industry, I'm attempting to make people understand and think more critically about the artistic side of Kpop so that hopefully I can make them realize what art is exactly in order to understand the dynamics of the music industry. And maybe by providing conceptual foundations, people with the capacity to make the world better as you say (;P), also take into consideration the nature of art.

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As a music reviewer, what do you want to see more in today's artists? Whether in K-pop or in the west. For me, it would be more innovation and creativity, and not a gimmick to sell records and make money.

First off, I want to see more talent! I've always said this about kpop groups but really, the ratios between outstanding voices, so-so vocalists and completely useless members are so messed up. A group with 2 strong singers is considered "talented," and that's probably one of my biggest frustrations with kpop. This is a MUSIC industry, and these idol groups exist because they release MUSIC -- if they cannot even contribute to their own primary products then why are they in the music industry at all? You don't see bad dancers allowed in dance troupes/groups just because they "sing well" or are pretty, do you? Athletes in teams may not always be outstanding, but they at least have to know how to play the sport. I really, genuinely don't understand why the music industry seems oblivious to this.
And I'd also like to see a shift back to the practice of making good music and not just profitable music. Music and marketing *can* go hand-in-hand, yes, and in the current industry they definitely should -- but good marketing is no excuse to slack off on making good material. I say this not because I think all of pop is sub-par, but because I have seen countless talented, brilliant musicians and practitioners take pop music seriously as a legitimate form of music -- and I have also seen how hard they need to fight the industry to get their work. I have seen, firsthand, what good music and good marketing can do together but I also know the blood, sweat and tears that went into productions like those.

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which of the big three would you audition for (if you ever did or wanted to) and why?

Hmmmm, I really like this question but I honestly don't know how to answer it -- I think all three agencies have their strengths and weaknesses, and I don't ever see myself in the industry as a performer so I don't know what kind of aesthetic and musical direction I'd want to take. But hypothetically, I guess I'd audition for SM because of their industry clout, the opportunities for networking and the possibility of getting really strong material coupled with the guarantee of their top-tier production quality. Of course, with SM comes the possibility of being locked in the infamous dungeon (they need to free Jino ASAP TT_TT), the equally scary possibility of being given sub-par interpretations/executions of SMP, and of course the slave-driving -- but I guess as long as I'm careful about my contract (lol), I stay in their good books and give them a reason to keep giving me good material that I actually like (i.e., sell well and don't get into any career-damaging scandals), I'll be okay. I think? D:

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If JYP has been releasing the best albums or content this year, how come their quality doesn't reflect success? SM and YG can release worse material and receive more profit than JYP who releases better content. Is it simply better marketing from YG and SM? Or another reason?

That's the eternal flaw of the music industry and ultimately, the flaw of commodifying art -- quality does not ALWAYS equate to commercial success. There are times when it does, and those are times I really value because I'm optimistic. But the industry works in such a way that no matter how good your material is, if you cannot market it you're not going to get anywhere. So yes, better marketing is probably the most plausible reason for JYP's lack of success.
But at the same time, I also think it's because of that dry spell JYP had during previous years -- they weren't able to sustain the fan bases they already had and subsequently build on it because of a lack of strong material, so now that they've improved the quality of their releases they're building new fan bases from the ground up. Whereas YG and SM already have established fan bases that they just need to expand whenever a new group debuts or a new release comes out.
Regardless though, it IS all about marketing.

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Hardest part being a music reviewer?

I know I shouldn't say this, but there are quite a few difficult things about being a music writer. TT_TT It's not easy at all, but the good definitely outweighs the bad! On a more personal side, it's still very hard for me to deal with stinging comments about my writing. This is different from comments that disagree with me -- I welcome those actually -- these are comments that are directed at me and my work. I've gotten a lot better at it and I can handle negative feedback to use it as a means of improvement, but part of me still does get hurt -- it's really my personality, I guess?
But I'd say a more general difficulty I have is actually finding the time to write. I'm a long form writer -- I don't write listicles or short news articles, I write comprehensive reviews and critical essays. Formal single and album reviews take anywhere from 4 to 5 hours to write while critical essays can take up to months of work. Playlist posts take less time to write, obviously -- but in between school and extra-curriculars, setting aside 2+ hours to write, format and schedule tweets for it is just as difficult. Which is why I'm really, REALLY looking forward to the day I can finally write for a living! :D

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please take a listen to the song "No Cut" by Aaron Yan and let me know what you think! (if it's not too much trouble of course hehe)

He had a collab with G.NA right? It's not trouble at all, I'm really open to suggestions because I do want to expand outside of Kpop but there's so much material that I don't know where to start! I like the song though, a bit cheesy at parts and the arrangement is a bit loose but it's well-produced and the melody is catchy!

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Do you think Taemin and Jaejoong has a similiar timbre?

I used to think he was a mini-Jaejoong, but listening to "Ace" he actually sounds a lot like Jonghyun now -- in terms of technique and also in lower ranges. The difference is obviously that Jonghyun's higher range is more well-developed (but still shrill), but his middle and lower ranges is very similar to Jonghyun's. Timbre-wise Taemin has also become very different from Jaejoong, because he has a more airy kind of light to his timbre whereas Jaejoong's has some weight to the smoothness. So no, I don't think they have similar timbres anymore.

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Hi,do you think Krystal vocal is improve in a recent album, also can you do Winner's vocal prowess??

It's hard to tell if Krystal has improved because "Red Light" depends a lot on stylistic elements (melody-wise, and also a lot of vocal processing), and I haven't really been following her progress lately either. But her voice has definitely matured and it seems that she's learned more technique over the years.
I don't write vocal commentaries anymore, I'm sorry! But if I ever do decide to write one again, I'll consider writing one on WINNER. I need to put the names and faces to the voices first though!

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Thoughts on GOT7's album? I love it. When it comes to albums, JYPE makes amazing idol albums. But then when it comes to mini-albums, they're trash. Thoughts?

I really, really like "GOT♡" -- I think GOT7 are just going from one high to another, and that growth that I was hoping for during "Girls Girls Girls" was definitely evident. "A" as a lead single is everything I ever wanted and more (I talked about it here: http://popreviewsnow.blogspot.com/2014/07/playing-catch-up-part-3-comebacks-to.html), and the rest of the EP grew on me. I'm expecting big things for GOT7 in the future!

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Besides music, what do you enjoy in life?

The usual girly stuff -- Makeup, clothes, I also have an unhealthy relationship with washi tape! I'm also really weak when it comes to school supplies and cute stationary -- I constantly have to stop myself from buying notebooks I'll never use and I'm always looking for ingenious school supplies and the perfect highlighter TT_TT
I also really like reading/literature, and that's one of the main reasons why I chose to major in literature (apart from the strong theory component to the CL program). While I haven't been able to read for leisure in a VERY long time, I'm fortunate enough to be at that point where, to a certain extent, I enjoy what I'm reading for school. :D

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What do you enjoy most about reviewing music?

It's hard to pinpoint one particular aspect of music writing -- I honestly enjoy everything about it! (I wouldn't be doing it otherwise. ;P) And while I do enjoy some parts of it less, the last few years have shown me that I can learn from those aspects too. So I guess in a sense, what I enjoy most is the fact that I STILL continue to learn and improve and that I still have a lot of things I want to achieve. :D

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which of the big three (SM, YG and JYP) do you seem to like the most? why?

I never thought I'd say this, but based on 2014 releases alone I seem to gravitate towards JYP. GOT7, 15& and YeEun have all had AMAZING releases so far, which is more than what I can say for other agencies' 2014 line-ups.
But over-all, my loyalties still lie with SM -- if anything, the fact that I'm so frustrated with them these days means that I know they're capable of greatness. And they have in the past, with DBSK, BoA, and specific singles from their current roster.

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based off your articles I'm still kind of confused as how you view EXO. I personally love them, but I can see how people wouldn't, and I'm curious to know your position as of recently. love your reviews by the way! they're really interesting :)

My views on EXO are more of a progression than anything -- if you've read more than one of my pieces on them (which is rare because most people read my first impressions piece on them and stop at that T_T), I get why it's a bit confusing. But when I wrote those first few articles on EXO I never closed myself or the group, to the possibility of improvement. Later that year when I included them in my list of promising rookies, I made it very clear that I hoped they would progress and improve in the future. And improve they did -- not just in terms of their performances or abilities, but also in terms of how SM handled them and the quality/suitability of their repertoire. I think EXO are talented, yes, but they are also a case study in how talent is not the be-all and end-all of a successful musical package -- they need the right repertoire to showcase that talent. I didn't like "MAMA" or "Wolf" because I think they don't take advantage of EXO's strengths, and I LOVED "Growl" because it was so effortlessly outstanding, precisely because it took advantage of what EXO had to offer.
Thank you for reading my work! <3

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although I occasionally disagree with some of your articles, I find that they are very interesting to read! Please continue to update! but on another note, I'd like to ask, what are your favorite guy and girl kpop groups?

Aww, thank you! Honestly that's what I aim to do with my writing -- I hope that by sharing my own views on music, readers like you are able to form or re-evaluate your own opinions, whether or not you agree with me. I'll try to keep writing, and hopefully with the shorter weekly columns I started recently I can keep up with blogging. ^_^
My favorite male idol group is DBSK (;D), any and all divisions of. I also really like Infinite, SHINee and GOT7 but I don't stan/follow them as much as I do DBSK. My favorite female idol group was four-piece CSJH, but they haven't been around for quite a while now. I don't have a particular favorite girl group at the moment -- does 15& count? D:

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Outside of kpop, who are your favorite bands and singers?

I don't really listen to a lot of other stuff, so my favorites are a bit dated -- Agnes Carlsson (Amazing Swedish pop!), Beyonce (for obvious reasons ^_^), The Saturdays (they're my guilty pleasure these days), a a bunch of late 90s/early 2000s British pop groups like Blue, S Club, Atomic Kitten, etc. For more "legit" stuff though I like Duffy, Craig David, and I also overplay the RENT and Legally Blonde musical soundtracks <3

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I don't know whether anybody has asked this or not, but what do you think about AOA's Short Hair?

I watched the video back when it came out, but I honestly couldn't remember the song so I had to watch it again now. It's okay, it's like a cross between Brave and Secret. But the video made more of an impression on me than the song itself, it's not really memorable. I'd listen to it again if it ever came up on shuffle or something but I doubt I'd go out of my way -- I like the chorus though! :D

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1st Did you watched Yun Minsu & Shin YongJae duet from Immortal Song? 2nd Knowing your love for Younha release, did you know she release an CF song for Dunkin Donuts? 3rd did you ever listen to 중독 (Infection) by 이영현 (Lee YoungHyun) ? Lastly what do you think of Miss $?

No, I haven't been watching Immortal Song lately. T_T I'll check that out though! Shin YoungJae as in the girl from Kpop star? :D Yes, I heard the Younha Dunkin Donuts track! It's quaint but still a bit Younha ^_^ No, I haven't heard either Lee Younghyun or Miss $ -- I'm so behind! This is going on my to-listen list. I'll get to them this weekend, thank you!

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4minute had quite an interesting change in their musical style yet, the results aren't showing. What do you think they need to do to increase the appeal for their music? Posing these questions cuz I really like your reviews and you provide highly objective analysis :)

Wasn't "What's Your Name?" a huge hit last year though? "Whatcha Doin' Today" is also a Brave Brothers production, though I don't think it was as big a hit. I think a good way to come to a conclusion re: what 4Minute should do in the future is by looking at their recent releases and trying to find out what they did right and what they did wrong.
"What's Your Name?" sold because it was different, because it was both a fresh sound for 4Minute and a slight return to the "fun" of their first album that had been missing for quite a while. Honestly, especially when it comes to Brave Brothers production it's hit-or-miss mainly because 95% of Brave Brothers productions sound the same. On the business side getting a big-name producer like him on board for a second time is less of a risk because he's already penned a hit for them, but entertainment agencies forget that consumers get bored easily. A possible reason why this year's 4Minute single isn't as successful is because people have already heard the same thing from "What's Your Name?" last year. Of course I'd never suggest another big jump in sound like the one they made last year because cohesion and a clear identity is important too, but *progression* is key -- keep people interested in your music by bringing some variety in while having a solid musical identity.

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Following up from the previous rant about G.NA, I really like the musical direction and growth for BEAST and BTOB, but somehow, their management of 4minute and G.NA does not seem to do these 2 artistes any justice.

Hahaha hello again! :D I think Cube handles their male acts better than their female acts, although I do think 4Minute had a few strong singles, and I did like 2YOON. Comparatively speaking though, BEAST's career is self-explanatory and BTOB's "Press Play" remains one of my favorite boy band EPs.

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I feel really sad when G.NA's get substandard songs which do not accurately reflect her true potential as a singer. When she debuted, her vocals were lauded as one of the strongest. I'm not sure if it still is but the songs really do not show that. Sorry for this random rant, I just needed to say th

I agree! "I'll Back Off So You Can Live Better" was one of the best female solo debuts, and I had high hopes for her (if you read my review back when it came out ;P) -- but the direction Cube took with her after ruined everything. She doesn't necessarily have strong vocals next to someone like Ailee, but with the right material (ie material that continued from where her debut single left off) she could've been an R&B "pop princess" of sorts. That just goes to show how vital repertoire is to a pop act.

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If I'm not mistaken you're a literature major, or studying to become a writer? After graduating, say for work, what do you want to write about? ex. fashion, music, etc.

Yup! I major in comparative literature ^_^ Ideally I want to write about music but there aren't many music publications here that I'm interested in writing for, so I'll most likely go into teen fashion magazines. I've always been interested in them, and it was actually my childhood dream to work for one. (I just hadn't figured out exactly what I wanted to do) ;P

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Hello!! :) I loved your recent review!! I would really like to know what you thought about VIXX's Eternity and the band ToppDogg.

Hi! Thank you! ^_^ I haven't heard much of ToppDogg, so I'll get back to you on that. But I've always liked majority of VIXX's material, so I liked "Eternity"! It's very VIXX, and it's good to see them getting better production these days. It's no "ON AND ON," but it's a strong release. :D

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Can you name a few terrible songs? Songs that are the worst?

This is extremely subjective, and honestly there are a lot of ways a song can be "terrible" -- off-tune singing, bad production, lazy instrumentation. And then there's personal taste -- I think a lot of songs I don't like are terrible but it doesn't necessarily mean everyone thinks they're horrible. So personally, songs I really can't stand are usually monotonous, repetitive "club remixes" of perfectly good songs, like the remix of JYJ's "Ayy Girl" or the Snoop Dogg remix of "The Boys" or the Markus Bogelund's Audio Ninja Remix of Tohoshinki's "Very Merry Xmas" -- because I think they're pointless. And then there are songs that are ridiculously cheesy and annoying like JYJ's "Only One," or super cutesy stuff that are badly-produced, cheap songs like G.NA's "2HOT" or Two X's "Ring My Bell." There are also covers that completely destroy the song, like the Park Bom and Lee Hi "All I Want for Christmas" cover (not that the original was fantastic, but they managed to make it even worse). Or songs where they just didn't even try.
(I hope I don't get chased down by a mob after this T_T)

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There's a few songs you've missed: B1A4's Solo Day, C-Clown's Let's Love, HISTORY's Psycho, NU'EST's Good Bye Bye, TINY-G's Ice Baby, MAMAMOO's Mr.애매모호, Lena Park's Double Kiss, Block B's Her, BIGFLO's Delilah and Crush's Hug Me. You don't have to do them all, but just in case you needed material :)

Omg, thank you! <3 I've heard MAMAMOO, Lena Park, and Block B already but I don't have the rest yet. I'll get around to listening to them this week!

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I'm glad you're back blogging! I agree with you on how girl's day "darling" sounded like a Christmas release. :/ I'd really like to hear your opinion on Beast's "Good Luck", Infinte's "Last Romeo" and Taeyang's "Eye, Nose, Lips". :)

Aww thank you! <3 I'm glad I'm back to blogging too ;P And it's good to know that I wasn't just hallucinating when I thought the new Girls' Day track sounds like a Christmas release!
The Taeyang track is okay -- well-produced but generic around the edges, nothing special, and I don't really like Taeyang's vocals so the song as a whole doesn't really grab my attention. (I like "Stay With Me" a lot better!) I have a post about BEAST and Infinite's new tracks coming out before/by this weekend, so I'll talk about them there! ;D

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Top 5 SNSD japanese songs?

HMMMMMMM this is (slightly surprisingly) difficult D:
1. "you-aholic" (no-brainer, tbh -- one of the best songs on the LP)
2. "Animal" (that stunning melody and super clean arrangement/production with all the explosions OMG <3)
3. "Bad Girl" (that jaw-droppingly slick production, it also works really well on stage)
4. "Galaxy Supernova" (half because it's a good song, half personal preference -- it's just so catchy!)
5. and a toss-up between "Karma Butterfly" and "Motorcycle" (they each have their pros and cons, and I like them equally)

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do you have a favorite japanese singer?? and why?

Vocals-wise or material-wise? I don't really have a favorite voice, but as far as repertoires are concerned my favorites are Utada Hikaru ("Final Distance" gives me so many wonderfully conflicting feelings and "Time Limit" is <3) and Namie Amuro ("Girl Talk" and "Pink Key"!) -- I'm not that familiar with J-Pop, so my favorites are pretty mainstream. D:

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Thoughts on Henry's "Fantastic"?

It's okay, very SM -- well-produced, well-packaged, they know how to capitalize on the fact that Henry plays the violin in everything from the music itself to the staging. I'm probably going to be chased down by a mob, which will probably include other writer friends of mine, but... I've never really liked Henry's voice -- it's so nasal and whiny, like he perpetually has a cold and is trying to sing+be cool through it, and the songs he gets don't do anything to hide/help that because something like "Fantastic" is mostly short melodic lines.

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