I've been waiting for this for the whole year, maybe even before she left Kara. Nicole's solo debut. Nicole stretching her wings. Nicole fulfilling her destiny. Here she is. Are you ready?
There she is. The song and the video are fine. Good, even. Nicole, she can be a solo star, and she shows the confidence and personality that will undoubtedly propel her to a very successful solo career. She also shows a more mature presence that seems to be taking her away from her poppy Kara roots into something far more adult.
That being said, I don't find this release exciting. Watching this video a dozen times, I'm not feeling much of anything, good or bad. And that's strange for me. Let me explain.
I've been a fan of Nicole for about as long as I've been a fan of Kpop. Kara's "Lupin" was one of the first Kpop videos I fell for, and Nicole was one of the first idols I adored. How can one not be charmed by her "2-0-1-0" at the beginning of this classic? Everyone always talks about Kara's "Mister" and the infamous butt dance, or the mega-hit "Step," but for me, Kara's spectacle always boils down to "Lupin." The dramatic music, the shrieking, the shushing, the endless medieval hallways, the "Hella hella hella," the quasi-planetarium. I will never forget this video.
My adoration for Nicole continued when I discovered her appearances on the popular Star Golden Bell, hosting the segment, "Level with Me." I watched the clips while surely misunderstanding the context of the game (I believe that Nicole, being American-born, is being tasked to explain parts of Korean words to form phrases, but because of her inexperience with Korean, hilarity ensues). Nicole is often bubbly, her movements frenetic, and she charms the audience, the contestants, and the world's cold lonely heart with every minute of this program.
So, when Nicole said she wanted to leave Kara to pursue a solo career (and who can blame her, being in a group for eight years is ages for a girl group), I had high hopes. I want Nicole to succeed, to become a superstar, to win music programs and to top all of the charts. The thing with "Mama" isn't that it doesn't do what it's intended, here to establish Nicole as a solo idol, to re-brand her, surely, as a serious artist.
But I'm not seeing much of an elevation from the solo turn she took while still in Kara, in 2012's "Lost."
And honestly, both videos are serviceable in their similarities. Dark overtones (and lighting), methodical slower-paced-but sometimes-mesmerizing choreography, and songs that are inoffensive and almost instantly forgettable. "Mama" will not burn up the charts, take over the Kpop world, win Music Bank and sweep the awards programs. In an effort to establish credibility, the debut has forgone memorability, and, sadly, the spectacle that it needed to outshine the AOA's and G-Dragon's of this Kpop season. "Mama" feels a bit toothless, ultimately. And that's heartbreaking.
I can certainly take solace, and so can you, in that Nicole's live performance of "Mama" feels much more alive and energized than her moody video, synthesized Organ be damned:
But I can't help thinking that this is a missed opportunity here.
That with this debut, Nicole could have jumped into the fray with a more dynamic "Bubble Pop," or with a hook rivaling Sumni's "24 Hours." Something explosive, risky, that wouldn't just capture Kpop fandom's short attention span but hold that attention hostage for the rest of the year. Instead, I doubt anyone except the biggest Nicole and Kara fans will be even talking about "Mama" by the end of the month. I hope I'm wrong.
I have no doubt that Nicole will be a very successful solo star. She's lovable, warm, and has the talent, and, obviously, the drive. She just needs the song.
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.