I began drafting this post and worked on most of the images at the end of September in hot anticipation for October 7th, because that’s when the album was supposed to be out. But due to some delay, SNSD’s third full album was eventually released on October 19th.
Apparently the delay was because SM Entertainment was planning for a global roll-out, including an English version for the international (namely US) market. Hmm, about SNSD making it in the West… I’ll talk about that later.
I’m starting things off with my take on the lead single “The Boys,” also the first song on the track list.
Produced by Teddy Riley, the man who made it big in the 1990s for working on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and his own group Blackstreet, the “New Jack Swing” producer has been working with Korean pop artists lately. I don’t know if he’s doing it because he doesn’t seem to be finding many takers for his music back in his home country, or if he just wants to be a part of something new. Even then, this is the guy who gave “Demon” to Jay Park — and that song made me a Jay Park fan. So Riley has proven he still got what it takes! (I won’t talk about Rania, that was just…)
When the teasers for “The Boys” hit the web, everybody got the idea we were definitely going to be hearing something completely different from SNSD. With every new teaser’s release, some of us also got the idea that this song was… well, going to underwhelm. On October 19th, I stayed up late like a lot of other hardcore fans for the song’s full length release. When the song and MV finally went live… upon first listen? Disappointment. Mostly out of high expectations, but even after listening to it repeatedly after waking up the next day, the song just feels “meh”.
As for the ‘new sound,’ the songs “Run Devil Run,” “Hollaback Girl,” and quite strangely, even “Patron Tequila” by the now defunct Paradiso Girls came to my mind. As I still listen to it, it actually isn’t a bad song, but if SM thought this is the song that will take SNSD global, surely they hit the curb on that thought. I know songs like “Gee” will not work in the mainstream Western market, but touting Teddy Riley’s name isn’t what people in the West will pay attention to. Most listeners are oblivious to the real talent behind a good song. Heck, how many people who have been listening to pop radio from 1995 to present day realize one Swedish man and his crew are responsible for just about every big hit for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Katy Perry, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne, and even Bon Jovi? I can assure you most people don’t. Bragging about songwriting talent only matters if the song turns out to be good — and it’s not like top producers have always made the best music for every artist they work with. Often times, they tend to keep all the good stuff for artists backed by labels who can cough up the money to buy what are sure to be monster hits.
I don’t know how much SM paid for the rights to “The Boys” but this song isn’t worth the money in my book. More so because SNSD also released an English version for the American market. Now when both versions hit the web, I made sure I listened to the Korean version first and then the English version. Because if did it the other way around, I knew the girl’s English pronunciation was going to distract me away from the main song.
As for how it sounds in English — I’m indifferent. “The Boys” wouldn’t stand out as a stellar record even if an American or British girl group sang it. I don’t know why Tiffany didn’t get much actual singing in the song, but the other girls weren’t bad at their attempt at English singing. I didn’t understand some of the words at first listen but you can still get the gist of what they are saying. But even as I write this, I’m still listening to the Korean version more.
Now the music video. SM invests in good production values and after seeing the Japanese MV for SHINee’s “Replay,” you know they value a good looking MV. That said, some of the sets for “The Boys” do feel a bit cheap. “The Boys” MV also showcases the beauty of the SNSD members, but I felt the focus on highlighting how gorgeous the girls are is a bit too much in this MV. Maybe it’s because I take their charm for granted by now.
Expected counter argument? “The focus on the member’s faces is because this is the first introduction of SNSD to new audiences, so they can get a good look at the girls!” Fine, but just like the song, “The Boys” MV isn’t that good a video either. End of rant.
I’ll be really curious to know how the fan-chants to “The Boys” are going to sound and how this song will do on the music programs. Rabid fans will, as always, help SNSD nab wins. But like I’ve said many times in previous k-pop reviews, it’s not the right way a song needs to win.
When SNSD’s last major single, “Hoot,” came out in 2010, I didn’t like it at first listen. But it grew on me and I ended up liking it a lot. Of all their hit singles, “Hoot” and “Genie” still stand out as my favourites. I went into “The Boys” hoping it would slowly grow on me. Sadly, it hasn’t and I don’t think my opinion is going to change any time soon. My rating for the song “The Boys” is a 3/5 (good – but not great. As a SNSD single in their 4th year as a group, a new single needs to be ‘great’)
Here’s a mini-review of the rest of the songs on the album:
02. “Telepathy” (텔레파시) – I’m no expert (yet) on Korean linguistics, but is it hard for them to pronounce “th”? Funny how after “The Boys,”
Telepassythe second song on the album instantly takes you back to familiar SNSD territory. Except for the mispronunciation of the song title, this is actually good pop song. But is it just me, or do I hear Jessica’s vocals bumped up higher than the rest? – 4/5
03. “Say Yes” – Made me smile after hearing what I thought sounded like “TaeNy” ^_^ A fun girly song, so not really the kind I would go back to on a second or third listen. – 3/5
04. “Trick” – Now this is my kind of song! Love it! Electro-pop with auto-tuned bits, and a great chorus! It sounded very European, so I had to find out the real talent behind this track. Turns out it’s from a Swedish songwriter named Martin Hansen who also produced the last Scorpions album and the awesome single “Raised on Rock“. I don’t know what it is with ‘ABBA country’ but the Swedes know good pop! – 5/5 (No comment on the last line of the song)
05. “How Great Is Your Love” (봄날) – Written by Sooyoung, but featuring Jessica’s vocals more than hers. The first ballad on the album and might I say, I’m impressed Sooyoung! I don’t know how much of a hand she hand in the song’s production but it sounds really good. That is, until I found out this song is basically a Korean version of this English track by Jenny Hyun. SM essentially bought the rights to the song, Sooyoung wrote the Korean lyrics. Anyway, if I ignore the ‘behind-the-scenes’ deals, and judge the song purely on how it sounds, I’m giving it a 4.5/5!
06. “My J” – The song kicks off with Jessica’s nasally vocals (sorry, I love everything else about her, but I’m not a huge fan of her voice or her accent). The song sounds like a holiday X’mas record, similar to how “Snowy Wish” made the cut in their Hoot album. – 3/5
07. “Oscar” – It doesn’t take the listener very long to figure out the song’s hook sounds so much like Britney’s “Gimme More”. The “twinkle, twinkle” lyrics don’t help either – 2/5
08. “Top Secret” – Clicked play and in the first 15 seconds thought “Wait, is this just another version of Oscar?” A mish-mash of melodies ranging from CSJH’s “One More Chance” to Rania’s “Dr. Feelgood”. Not a very original song then. – 2/5
09. “Lazy Girl” – Written by ‘kid leader’ Taeyeon, another girly track with a retro sound. It’s alright, but there’s little else I can say about it. – 3/5
10. “Sunflower” (제자리걸음) – Funny how Super Junior’s comeback album also featured a song called “Sunflower”. So which SM artist’s “Sunflower” is better? I probably won’t do this often, but I’d have to give my vote to Super Junior this time. SNSD’s “Sunflower” sounds a bit, withered. – 2.5/5
12. “Mr. Taxi” (Korean version) – As simple as it gets. The Korean version of Shoujo Jidai’s lead Japanese single from a few months back. Sounds just as good in Korean as it did in Japanese – 4/5
This isn’t the first taste of new music we got from SNSD in 2011. The girls spent a good chunk of this year focusing on conquering Japan, and how! Their first full-length Japanese album was an instant best seller with great songs like “You-aholic” and “The Great Escape” — the album contained some of the best songs Girls Generation has recorded. Listening to that album, I was under the impression that, maybe this is the level of quality and polish fans could expect from their next Korean release.
Sadly, despite a few good tracks, ‘The Boys’ album feels inferior. It suffers from the same issues I often complain about in just about every K-pop album I have recently reviewed. A few good tracks but a latter half with the expected album fillers and uninspired material. Though there aren’t many songs on this Korean release I would brand as ‘album fillers,’ I still rate SNSD’s Japanese album higher in terms of quality of songs compared to this third Korean album.
I don’t know if SM Entertainment is doing it on purpose, but it’s as though they rather save all their money in getting better songs for the Japanese market where the financial returns are higher. ‘The Boys’ the album will still sell well to cover costs, but that’s all down to the fact SNSD is the biggest Asian girl group in the world right now, and they have a fan following to prove it.
My final rating for the album ‘The Boys’ – 3.5 out of 5 (Good)
About SNSD making it big in the Western market, namely the US…
I love SNSD, but I’m split two ways when it comes to their attempt to crack the Western market with English songs. Now I know just because SNSD is now signed to Interscope and UMG (the largest music company in the world), doesn’t mean SNSD will immediately start appearing on American TV starting next month. Lee Soo Man recently stated in an interview that SM artists are not going to focus on America so much, as conquering Asia is still his focus. But if SNSD did start promoting themselves in the US… read on.
As much as I would love to see my favourite K-pop group succeed wherever they go, I shudder to think how they are even going to promote in a country like America. Firstly, they are a nine-member girl group. To regular k-pop followers, we’re used to seeing large member ‘idol’ groups by now. In a country like Japan, home to a 48(!) member girl group, the Far East and South East of Asia are accustomed to large pop groups. But everywhere else? No.
The media and the mainstream public who have never heard of K-pop will easy pick on that, first. Which is why I feel the Wonder Girls have a slightly better shot, because they’re an acceptable five members. Even if they were to create a sub-unit with fewer members… it just wouldn’t feel right to fans who believe in the ‘power of 9’.
Secondly, only two members can converse in English — Tiffany and Jessica. The unofficial spokesperson for SNSD, ‘Manager Tiffany,’ can handle any interview and will do a good job of speaking on behalf of the rest of the girls. But where’s the fun in that? Imagine if Sooyoung could speak fluently, all the hilarity and fun that would ensue! Also, how do you think middle America (and that’s a large part of America mind you) will accept a group of ‘Asian girls,’ majority of whom can’t even speak English properly? Not to mention whatever words the other seven girls utter will come out as ‘Engrish. You just can’t promote in such a large, crucial English market like America without appearing on TV interviews and radio shows — and then talking in English, without a translator preferably.
Then there’s the image of the girls and how they are going to promote them. Cute & bubbly, hot cheerleaders, sexy navy uniforms… all good in my book. Worked on me for sure (except the lollipops in “Kissing You”). But the whole marketing aspect of using a ‘concept’ with each new release is part and parcel of K-pop. They don’t really do that a whole lot in the West. “The Boys” MV shows the girls in pretty outfits and with a serious look on their faces, but will they stick to that theme for every new release going forward? God forbid SM never forces the “trashy slut” concept the last successful girl group used and how most female artists lacking a voice nowadays are made to go with. Even if SNSD tried, they can’t pull it off. They just don’t have the physical attributes to go with it.
SM Entertainment will say “Exactly why we will go with a cleaner, mature image for the girls! Since all the others use the same image”. I agree, it could work, but I really do worry about their image. There’s a reason why some of use fell in love with SNSD in the first place.
For me, it wasn’t just just SNSD’s songs that made me a fan. When I watched all the variety shows the girls have been on, all the radio shows, the interviews, ‘Hello Baby’ and such, that’s what turned me into a SNSD fan! I, along with the many other SONEs (what the fans are nicknamed), love SNSD just the way they are. Nine girls with nine different personalities and put together, bring out one heck of an entertaining package. They are funny, weird, emotional… I could go on, but if you are reading this, chances are I don’t need to describe the girls to you. That’s how a lot of us really got to know the girls and their individual personalities. But again, communication is what helped get that understanding across. How will they win new fans in a mainstream market if most of the members can’t even speak to their audience properly?
Some of you in the West will be going “Hey, but SNSD already has loads of fans here!” Hmm, no they don’t. All of us outside of South East Asia and the Far East are still a minority. I’m Indian, in India, and I’m sure k-pop has its share of fans in India too (especially North East Indians), but becoming popular is when you reach the level of fame and attention the likes of Bruno Mars gets — and I use him as an example because he’s a fairly new artist. Forget Lady Gaga, that’s universal super-stardom.
Just because SNSD can sell out a show at the Staples Center or Madison Square Garden, doesn’t mean they can sell out stadiums across a multi-city tour of America right away. California and New York are two of the most cosmopolitan states in America with a lot of open-minded people, and not to mention a prominent Asian population. The rest of America is the challenge, and people outside America need to understand that’s a huge part of what makes up the United States.
Then there’s the whole racial aspect of it. One advantage SNSD has is that, Asian girls have a better chance in American media than Asian guys do. In the past, I wrote about how Jay Park could well be the first Asian star to make it big in the US music charts. The fact that he’s a solo star and essentially, more American than Korean, gives him the edge. But he’s still going to face racial challenges, given his appearance. Yeah I know, Far East Movement succeeded… but the day they confidently promote themselves without wearing sunglasses, I’ll say Asian artists have a good chance in America.
Remember, Se7en failed to make it big in the United States, so did SM’s own BoA, and they were some of the biggest names in K-pop.
Ultimately, to succeed anywhere as a musician, you first need a great song. Unfortunately, “The Boys” isn’t it. So no matter how much SM Ent. is spending on promoting the song, I just don’t think the lead single is going to make any headway for SNSD in the English market. The music video will not do the girls any justice in America, simply because it sticks to the K-pop formula a little too much. If SM wanted an MV they hoped would get some plays on Western music television, they should have done it a bit differently.
Sigh. All said and done, I do wish my girls the best of luck and if they do succeed in the West, I hope their personalities never change and they don’t forget us Asian fans. And if “The Boys” doesn’t do as well as SM had hoped it would, I hope SNSD makes a quick comeback with a re-packaged album and a better song.
Until then, ❥SNSD❥ hwaiting!