Our long Kpop nightmare is over. Secret has returned, as sexy and cool as ever. Gone are the aegyo-infused days of "I Do I Do" and "YooHoo." We've instead come back to the "Poison" era that brought them to the pinnacle of their popularity. But how does Secret Summer hold up as a mini-album? How does "I'm in Love" stand as the promotional single? Is returning to their strengths enough to bring Secret back to the top? Let's answer these questions (and more)!
Thankfully, there are some real gems here. "Look at Me" is a personal favorite - though there are some similarities to the music of Britney Spear's "Womanizer," the song goes in different directions to make it stand out. Mixing electronica and the violin is a nice touch and isn't done nearly enough, but it makes sense that Secret, known for mixing old (retro) and new elements together, would do that here.
The promotional single, "I'm in Love," does utilize a jazzy pop infusion, with big band instruments and big passionate vocals from Secret. There's so much going on with the song that it feels like at any moment it'll fly apart, torn asunder by its' own ambition. But the song holds together by the might of Jung Hana's rapping, and the song's ability to slow down just when it feels like it's going to run off a cliff. While not quite the career defining hit that "Poison" was, "I'm in Love" is certainly a return to form, and is a great choice for a single, though I do hope we see "Look at Me" promoted later this year.
"Could Do Well" slows things down, giving us a ballad, with a touch of soul, that exhibits the same vocals and confidence that makes Secret such a strong group. "U R Fired" is another strong song, maybe the popiest song in the mini-album (reminds me of 90's American pop, specifically), and serves as a good bridge between the retro "Look at Me" and romantic "Could Do Well."
There's really not a dud here, honestly. Even the intro, "Feel the Secret" is enjoyable. Not only are all the songs strong, they fit well together, forming a cohesive and powerful mini-album that can be listened from beginning to end.
The "I'm in Love" MV
Let's get this out of the way. This video doesn't make any sense. I'm not going to attempt to piece together something that wasn't put together to begin with. If anything, this is the only real disappointment with this comeback, with everything else so solid and sophisticated, a strong narrative thread for the video was completely abandoned.
We don't need a thrilling story to keep us invested in this video, but by forgoing narrative movement, "I'm in Love" also forgoes a compelling drive for the whole video. Think about the video for "Poison." Is the story perfect? No, the 'robbery plot' is rather flimsy. But, Secret has a mission, a goal, and that's interesting to watch unfold. "I'm in Love" doesn't have that, though it looks like it almost did. There's a therapist, and some conflict/love for him? White clothing equaling good intentions, black clothing revealing the darkness? There's Hyosung naked under a shower? There's an attempt here at tying love with madness, but the video falters on pushing that idea further.
Good thing the video is broken up by Secret's beautiful choreography and some nice backdrops. The dark blue room with broken retro televisions was especially memorable, though the dance backgrounds are rather nondescript, switching between strange courtly interiors.
Hyosung, as leader and sex symbol, gets most of the visual time here. A lot of the video's look and colors reminds us of her solo debut, "Goodnight Kiss," which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We just wish that everyone else had a chance to shine.
Bringing Sexy Back
We can't emphasize how relieved we are that Secret has returned to a sexy concept. It's not that we're frothing at the mouth to see Secret at their sexiest, we're mostly just glad, so glad, that they haven't been forced into another awkward aegyo concept.
Here's the thing. Some groups can pull off the aegyo concept: groups like A Pink live off it, while groups like Girl's Day, the chameleons of Kpop, are far more malleable and can jump between drastically different concepts with relative ease. Judgments like these are probably not very fair. Even so, we've always felt that Secret was not a group of girls, but a group of women. Maybe it's the personalities, the body type, or the makeup of the group itself, or maybe it's something indefinable that makes them exude this mature energy. Whatever it is, when given a cute concept, Secret's attempts at aegyo almost feels like an older relative dressing like a teenager. Which is strange, since the members of Secret aren't old at all.
As many fans have noted, Secret debuted with an aegyo concept, so songs like "I Do I Do" were not so much a betrayal of their core ethos, but a return to form. But that doesn't make that return right, especially at this stage of their careers. Any group can be sexy or even cute. But Secret, at their best, has confidence and power that sets them apart, making them uniquely adult. If you look at the video, there's actually very little that is salacious. There's some skin and some twerking, but nothing too audacious in the choreography. And still there are cries that Secret is too sexy. It's not in presentation, it's in their natural energy.
So there's the video, and there's the mini-album. Sometimes it's easy to grade a comeback solely on the strength (or weaknesses) of the promotional single's music video. But here, I believe that Secret Summer rises above any of the video's comprehension issues. And the fact is that even with those issues, "I'm in Love" remains a welcome return to form. This is a very strong mini-album in its' own right, and for that reason I'm able to give Secret Summer an:
Timothy Moore writes from Chicago. He blogs at Read My Blog Please, and edits at Ghost Ocean Magazine. His biases are T-ara, Block B, Nine Muses, Brown Eyed Girls, and Girl's Day.