SNSD – ‘The Boys’ album review… and about Girls Generation succeeding in America

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.

Jessica Taeyeon The Boys concept art teaser cards

Just like the Japanese album promotions from earlier this year, the girls don elegant, Victorian-era outfits for the album art

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.

Seohyun Yoona The Boys concept art teaser cards

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’)

SNSD Girls Generation The Boys MV screencaps members

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

11. “Vitamin” (비타민) – If you wanted a full-length song used in a commercial, you got it! – 3/5

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

Sooyoung Tiffany The Boys concept art teaser new album

Sooyoung looks gorgeous, just as she did in her Japanese album photo

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.

Yuri Sunny The Boys concept photos teaser

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?

Hyoyeon SNSD The Boys concept teaser new album

Hyo is my bias, so she will get extra attention from me

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!

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  • Ashish

    Great Review!!….I am very disappointed with the new album. I wish SNSD would lose this Britney-isque, overly auto-tuned sound and return to the good old ‘Into the new world’ days.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Hmm, your preference is ITNW days, but my preference is more of the Japanese album because it showed a more mature pop sound :) They’re not teenagers anymore, so I wouldn’t mind an improved sound with deep, meaningful lyrics.

    [Reply]

  • Lawd

    The vid was cheap and so was the coreography. The song grew on me in all honesty but it might have been the hook kind of growing on me instead of actually the words to the song. And at times I understood not a thing.
    SM, invest better videos into shinee. Even FX has better boxes to dance in then SNSD. I pretty much concluded that SM is somewhat abusing their popularity. They have such a loyal fanbase and supporters so SM can give their fans any type of concept and song to put out there and it will sell. Then that money is distributed to other acts w/in SM.
    I liked that the mv showcased everyone! And that the album is a bit equal in some aspects. As for Sica singing more, she’s always sang the most to me, and at times more than Taeyeon, but no hate towards the girl. Vocally, I just find Sica’s voice to be nice at times but its so emotionless like Krystal’s. It’s not really that pleasant to me, I think it sounded better in the ITNW days.
    Hated the choreography, though my fave part was Hyoyeon’s second Solo and the drop. It just seemed like the girls were into those parts. Everything else was weak.
    I think alot people always mention ITNW days because everything was a bit more hardcore but now they played down so much ever since they switched their sound. I love fierce soshi vs. the current soshi but I can’t blame them, I blame SM.
    As for the album, I see sooyoung and yuri are moving up the vocal line. Its always been yuri from the beginning but when the Japanese album came out sooyoung moved up as well. Now for their korean comeback i would say now its more yoona. But I’m happy to say that at least I hear and see more Hyoyeon.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Yeah, Hyoyeon got more parts to sing on this album. I was happy to hear her :)

    [Reply]

    Gilanghilang Reply:

    me too, i hate to know than hyo got less part in 1st japan album along with yoona. and now she got more line in album ‘The Boys’ like Oscar. i read from a site that she sung all part —like O.S.C.A.R-

    just glad to know it

    *sorry if my English is bad :)

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    It’s okay, I understood what you said :) I’m happy Hyoyeon is finally getting more attention these days.

  • Tshering

    I agree and disagree with most of the part. The Boys, when I first heard was very meh, I was like very disappointed with the song. But after 25th listen, I was like it’s kinda good maybe I was wrong. And after 66th listen I was fully addicted to it. So give it some more listen it’ll grow on you. As for the album as a whole, it’s quite good but the songs are not good enough for me to reach no.1 on either Gaon or Billboard Kpop Hot 100 (excuding the title song), maybe Mr. Taxi will but the others won’t for me.

    As for their American debut part, I have hopes. And I disagree Boy bands have more chances to become successful. As American teenage girl will buy anything sold by good looking guys (lol JB comes in mind even NSYNC do because, they are pretty much talentless except JT and they sell because of looks and the buys are generally teenage girls). And I disagree, there are lots of Kpop fans in America, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to sell the tickets for the Madison square garden out so fast. So your point is kinda moot about this. Not adding that the fact that for a foreign group who’s completely unknown to America, to reach no. 52 with a song on Itunes without any promotion is an accomplishment in a way.

    Btw I’m Indian too and I can honestly there are so frigging many Kpop fans here in the Northeastern region.

    [Reply]

  • http://musicaldialect.wordpress.com/ eppson

    Nice review and some really great points on the slim possibilities of SNSD making it in the U.S.
    The fact that they are SO Asian stereotype and SO strictly Kpop can do one of two things: appeal to Westerners or repel them. And judging from the response so far, it looks like it’s the second of the two. America isn’t into that whole “oppa cheerleader wink pink and bubbly” thing.
    This song, like you said, doesn’t represent their strengths and is begging for criticism by anyone who’s not used to the group.
    But who knows, I could be completely wrong.. you never know who’s gonna be successful nowadays.

    [Reply]

  • saylor

    isnt jay sean already the first asian to reach like really high on the music charts?

    [Reply]

  • saylor

    I guess since he is British it doesn’t count. Anyways I personally think Miss A would do well in America. But yeah I’m really disappointed by SNSD’s album. I thought the wonder girls album was really really good. (the review for wg’s album lead me here).

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Yeah, he’s British and of Indian descent. I still haven’t seen a South East Asian or a Far East Asian musician successfully show their faces on Western television. They still face a roadblock.

    [Reply]

  • yuni

    Dude, we seriously have like the exact same taste in music. XD All your likes and dislikes on The Boys and the Japanese album are completely identical to mine. XD
    Great review by the way! You were basically voicing my own opinions. \o/

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    He he, thanks… good to know! :)

    [Reply]

  • Tshering

    Lol I have been listening to Sunflower for the past hour and it’s quite a beautiful song. So I think you should give it a chance. The chorus is just really beautiful of that song. The verses is not good. But the chorus is the saviour of the song. Plus the drums and the electric guitar accompaniment really compliments the song. So give it a try :)

    [Reply]

  • abahko

    As a SONE, i agreed with ur opinion. Imho, their japan album have higher quality than “THe Boys’ album. I’ve already bought The Boys album, and kinda disappointed with the song inside.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Yup, the Japanese album as a whole is better!

    [Reply]

  • mary

    hi,my name is marjan.
    i live in iran
    the best group girls generations are beautiful
    and hyo yeon very nice dance
    i love they
    bye

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Sones in Iran too, how cool! :D

    [Reply]

  • Alejandro Sánchez

    Interesting point of view. I Know this was written when the song just came out, but 2 months later “The Boys” has been an undeniable succes in Asia and has won in a lot of shows. In fact, the song is still being promoted. So, I think is a matter of music tastes because the first time I heard “The Boys” I love it inmediately, that’s because I’m a little surprised for your first impression. Anyway, thanks for the review.

    [Reply]

  • taejun

    i waited months for snsd korean comeback… I waited domething epic and “great” because they promoted sooooo much this album( american debut, teddy riley, concepts….) but then…when i saw the mv(and listened the song…) O_O
    SUPER DISSAPOINTED with this stuff…It’s the worst snsd album ever, the “nice” tracks of this album are…Trick and…THAT’S ALL, no more good songs in there…
    The japanese album was milion times better and now they pretend to debut with the boys in america…oh gosh….Y_Y

    [Reply]

  • http://nil Dennis

    Dear reviewer, I can’t agree with you more.
    I’d always thought the reason for ‘The Boys’ to be hyped up was compounded by novelty and the level of fame SNSD had already achieved. IMO, the lyrics was bad and the dance choreography was mediocre at best. Just like what you have said, this song would definitely falter on the way to the American market.

    I loved ‘Tell Me Your Wish”, “Bad Girls” and “Mr. Taxi” most. You can feel that these songs are going to be a hit on the first impression. “Hoot” was fine and it got better as I listened to it more.

    So basically, I’m glad that someone actually share my thoughts . Great review.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks Dennis! :)

    [Reply]

  • guning4ya

    honestly one song that i do think could make the cross over into the western music scene successfully is the great escape. i mean lets face it the beat n feel of the song goes with whats hot in the states even rappers r releasing techno/electronic tracks lol

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Their Japanese album has a lot of good songs that could well in other languages!

    [Reply]

  • Ai

    Yuup i agree with what u said. The album is alriiiight but no OMG THIS IS MY JAM! Sort of thing. *___*
    There Japanese album was SOOOOO much better!! What happened?! I was expecting much more in their Korean album. But sadly NOT *sigh*

    [Reply]

  • Ksama (크싸마)

    텔레파시 (Telepashi), that’s why they didn’t say telepathy in their song, because that’s a korean song, so they used korean pronunciation :)
    in english song maybe their pronunciation sometimes weird, but they still make me feel the heat.

    First time, when I listened to the boys, I can’t feel the song, the meaning even the beats. but after I listened it for much time, I felt into the beat and I can feel the heat.
    about the MV I agree with you, So simple and there isn’t something special in the MV… but i got a special suprise, about Sunny hair XD made her more cute :3

    Sorry if my english is not good~
    죄송합니다

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    It’s okay, your English is very understandable! :)

    [Reply]

  • Abhilash

    Neat review.
    I was hooked to Trick from the first listen, a MV on it will be fantastic after ‘Time Machine’ (yawnfest i felt).

    And thanks for the dig on Max Martin, Realised that I have been a fan of his music since Ace of Base!.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Max Martin is a pop genius! :)

    [Reply]

  • Abhilash

    Yea! Something with the Swedish and Pop Songs, some sort of conpiracy :D

    Well thanks again for this blog! It made my otherwise dull day at work on a Sunday, much more enjoyable with rich pictures!

    I landed here with seach results on Gokarna, ended up reading about your bruised fingers at the bird park!.
    Keep it going!

    [Reply]

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