The Brilliant (and Patient) Debut of Mamamoo

Mamamoo finally made their debut this week with their mini-album, "Hello," and music video for "Mr. Ambiguous," and we're definitely impressed. But what could be even more impressive than their powerful vocals and confidence that goes way beyond their rookie status, is the surely painstaking and meticulous work to build to the best debut we've seen in a long time. Here's why we're not crazy in thinking that the girls of Mamamoo: Moon Byul, Solar, Wha Sa, and Whee In, are the front-runners for Rookies of the Year.


First, let's look at the mini-album, "Hello." It begins, appropriately enough, with a soothing harmony, literally welcoming the listener, setting the tone of the whole mini-album. Using more traditional elements (brass instruments, drums, background singers), Mamamoo gives a glamorous fifties vibe, with a touch of the modern, some soul, some edge (Moon Byul's rapping is incredible), making them unique. Even the name, Mamamoo, falls lightly off the tongue, and is repeated often, not quite gibberish, sounding more like classical scat. Observe, Eliza Fitgerald:

While not exactly scat, Mamamoo often plays words off of each other, like Mamamoo to Mr. Ememoho giving the words their own musicality, an irresistible energy.

Speaking of which, the real jewel in "Hello" is "Mr. Ambiguous." The song is energetic and fun and the right song to debut with as their first "official" single. The girls have a chance to shine vocally here, but there's also so much going on with the instruments that it becomes an auditory feast. "Heeheehaheho" is less old school but more soulful, a great collaboration with Geeks that would be better if it wasn't so repetitive. While surprised by "Baton Touch" at first, it's slowly grown to be one of our favorite of Mamamoo's songs. The rapping is stellar, but made more so by clashing with the big band instruments. It's a song that should be performed in a giant concert hall, an opera house. There's no way you can't get excited by the song.

"I Do Me" is a solo by Wha Sa that's more hip hop then we expected from the group and we've been listening to "Don't be Happy" (featuring Bumkey) for six months now. Each song stands strongly on their own, which can be rare feat for a mini-album, especially by a rookie group. Together, they form a fully realized musical experience. Mamamoo doesn't just portray a retro vibe, they embody it, they alter it, they've made it fresh and new. (We just wish the amazing "Peppermint Chocolate" was a part of the mini-album too.)

The Long Debut

We believe that Mamamoo would have been a breakout group with however they handled their debut, they're just that talented. BUT how the agency handled their debut was a touch of genius. WA Entertainment stretched out their introduction. The thing about Kpop groups is that they take years to formulate and train, but even with all that time, sometimes debuts seem haphazard and rushed. Mamamoo sidestepped all of that, opting for special collaborations with popular artists like K.Will and Bumkey to build interest before an official debut.

Because of these collaborations ("Don't be Happy" came out in January, "Peppermint Chocolate" in February), Mamamoo already has an established body of work. So much so that some fans mistakenly, and this is to Mamamoo's credit, believed that "Mr. Ambiguous" was actually a comeback.

Their Own Aesthetic

Mamamoo is Old School but a New Old School. Like an Imagined Old School. Their three videos have been visually consistent: black and white footage with bursts of color, lyrics and words (including Mamamoo) flying on the screen, glamorous and classy outfits, stage lights and cameras everywhere, faux behind-the-scenes crew, many cameos, a classical Hollywood feel. While it's good for Kpop idols to present different aspects of their personality and their work, Mamamoo has done wonders of establishing themselves as artists; their songs fit perfectly with their videos to create their own unique aesthetic. We are a bit worried that they're depending too much on their cameos, but it's a smart move at this point to gather more fans. We just hope future comebacks will limit big stars and focus on this core.

Our Rating: 

We give Mamamoo's debut our highest grade. More Kpop rookies should follow their patient model, to build anticipation, to give themselves time to grow in the limelight, and to give us fans a chance to learn who they are. We know who Mamamoo is, and we love what we see.


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