They've finally gone and did it. Wonder Girls is back, Jack, and they're not an iconic group that's simply going to coast on brand recognition, no. They've entered the Girl Group fray and they're taking no prisoners. They're here to ROCK. Or...synthesize. They're here to ROCK that SYNTHESIZER. But they're not the only major group making a comeback. The Clash of the Girl Groups is a never-ending battle, so let's get going already!
Wonder Girls vs. THE 80's
The most talked-about girl group comeback in years is finally here, friends, and I couldn't be happier. Make no mistake, this is a killer comeback with an amazingly ridiculous video. Beginning with Sunmi sitting on a toilet in short shorts, and then unzipping said shorts to reveal the music video, is one of the more strange quasi-erotic moves I've seen in Kpop, and I've watched Stellar's "Vibrato."
But what's truly amazing here is that Wonder Girls has created an 80's style comeback without becoming a parody of an 80's release. It transcends even the homage, as Wonder Girls takes the 80's music and makes it their own. It's like they've created an alternate timeline where Kpop came to existence a decade earlier. Now we know that if this timeline happened, the Wonder Girls would rule all.
What can sometimes be an afterthought at this point is that Wonder Girls is coming back with a band concept, which, no matter how much they actually play their instruments live (yes, yes, I know they've said they'll play live - but how much will be live?), is still impressive to throw in with everything else they have to do as, you know, pop idols. What I find more impressive is the fact that they've written and produced all the songs, except for "I Feel You" (written and produced by JYP), in Reboot. Even if they didn't play music live, this would be a feat, friends. At Critical Kpop, we've just about always encouraged the healthy listening of an entire album. With Reboot, this is essential.
Speaking of the album, it's time to play...
PICK A BETTER PROMOTIONAL SINGLE!
"I Feel You" is a nice, mellow introduction to the rest of the retro masterpiece of Reboot, but would a different song serve better as the promotional single? Put on your Monday Quarterbacking helmet and your JYP shoulder pads, friends, as I pick three songs that are like ten times better than "I Feel You" and what were they even thinking when they picked this song ohmygodahhhhh (slight exaggeration here).
"Baby Don't Play" has the synth-rock play of "I Feel You" but with a touch more attitude, an edge, friends, along with a killer hook: "Baby don't play ah ah ah ah..." that is far more memorable than "I Feel You." This song just jams.
"Candle" (featuring Paloalto) is maybe the best song on the album. Remember when I wrote that Wonder Girls makes the 80's music their own? This is the song that solidified this for me, and having more modern touches like Paloalto and Yubin's raps really meshes the modern and the retro.
"Loved" has all the retro love but is musically complex as well, taking it a step beyond the rest of the album's synthesized charms. Perhaps it would have been too taxing to perform live? I have no idea. I'm just Monday Quarterbacking and second guessing here. Get off my back.
Goodness, "John Doe" is a stellar song too. But "One Black Night" completely slays as a darker release (probably doesn't work as a promotional single though). But there are different directions they could have went here. "Back" sounds like a perfect Beastie Boys throwback, "OPPA" is a bratty club hit, "Faded Love" is just beautiful, a gift for your ears, "Gone" is epic, "Remember" is the prerequisite ballad, but if you're not feeling something by the end of song, reconsider your humanity already!
Which is to say, if an album has twelve songs that can serve as the promotional single, that's an amazing album, and you can quote me on that, Jack. I'm sticking with my top three choices, but what would your picks be? Everyone can play, because with Reboot everyone wins.
Wonder Girls vs. The 80's: Wonder Girls OWNS the 80's
T-ara vs. T-haters
T-ara, the undisputed Guilty Pleasure of Kpop, does not disappoint with their latest foray into mayhem with "So Crazy." First, let's look at how many guilty pleasure points T-ara has raked in with this latest release.
*Guilty Pleasure Points*+1 for skimpy sailor outfits.
+2 for using said skimpy sailor outfits and sexy dancing to manipulate young men (who didn't give them the time of day before) to do their bidding and gain their...respect?, broadcasting confusing mixed messages yet again about gender empowerment in modern 21st century Korea.
+4 for having an older, perhaps less (as they say) "idol-esque" (admittedly mean) woman who has the respect of said young men because of either stately position or reputation, but is then thrown into this strange beauty contest to compete with mother f*cking T-ara of all peoples, only to be shamed and humiliated and essentially shunned by these same fickle men.
*Points: (Number) 9*
But anyway, while I would have preferred something more like last year's EDM Masterpiece, "Sugar Free," T-ara knows a thing or two about producing songs all across the Kpop spectrum. The moments when they don't deviate from their norm are notable, friends.
For one, we see, again, who I would like to call NERD JIYEON.
She just loves this look, as we've seen this Jiyeon in "Little Apple."
And, of course, while she was living all Jeon Won Diary with sup-group T-ara N4.
Yes, other T-ara members have done the nerd look (in these very videos in fact), but none of them seem to embody and revel in that role more than Jiyeon does, returning to this affectation time and time again. It's like she does a Reverse Urkel, using her transformation chamber to rid herself of her meddlesome Stefan persona. What I'm saying is, Nerd Jiyeon is Best Jiyeon. You can quote me on that.
That's not the only theme that "So Crazy" repeats from the T-ara videography. Once again, T-ara finds themselves in competition to win either male admiration or the community's respect. We saw this in N-4's "Jeon Won Diary," where they practice tirelessly to win the town's talent show. We saw this more recently in "Little Apple," where they tried to win...an apple(?) from the sleazy male producers(?), only to lose out at the very last minute. In "So Crazy," they win the beauty contest they compete in, but here's the thing, the look and feel of the presentation feels remarkably like that of certain weekly music programs that certain Kpop groups perform and essentially compete in. The very same music programs/competitions that T-ara, despite being the most consistent girl group for the last three years, hasn't won once in that same time.
Even their winning seems like an imitation of wining on these music programs, with shocked faces accompanied with hugs and tears. Is it too much to hope that T-ara is making some meta-commentary with their lack of music show victories since their fabled bullying scandal? Or even that competitions are being subconsciously skewered because of T-ara's recent history with them? Probably. But you have to admit, it's fun to see T-ara win for once.
You may have noticed that I haven't written much about the song here, and that's because, for the most part, it's standard Brave Brothers/AOA sounding fare. No major surprises or wow factor here. But maybe this more generic song is just what is needed to silence the rabid T-haters? The song has a great turn at about the two minute, sixteen second mark, where Hyomin ratchets up the intensity, and it's a solid release all together, but can it compete with the like of a rebooted Wonder Girls? Maybe more importantly, with their attention shifted to China, does T-ara even care about dominating Korean charts anymore?
T-ara vs. T-haters: T-haters are gonna hate, but T-ara has 1.3 billion new fans waiting, so.
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.