Let me admit something first — I actually had no intention of writing this review!
The Wonder Girls are not one of my favourites in Korean pop. Not that I genuinely hate them or anything, I’m just not into them, that’s all. Sure, I heard “Nobody,” but then again, chances are you just couldn’t escape that video every time you searched for K-pop on YouTube. Their other big hit, “Tell Me,” was the epitome of catchy, but I enjoyed some of the dance covers better. In fact, I watch SNSD’s cover more than the Wonder Girls original!
Yes, I’m a SNSD-lover. Let me get that out of the way as well. So much so that I know which member is allergic to what and what some of their favourite things are. That’s how much I follow SNSD. Wonder Girls? Not so much.
Guessing that’s because Wonder Girls have been spending most of their time out of the k-pop scene for nearly two years and in America instead, where JYP hopes his girls would be the first Korean pop group to be successful in the West. (It’s his dream, I don’t know how much the girls want it)
But guess what Wonderfuls (what WG fans call themselves), you can rejoice because the 5-member girl group are back on the K-pop scene with a new full album. And the only reason I gave in and ended up writing this review is because… oh my god, this album is really good!
Here’s a track-by-track review:
01. “G.N.O.” (Girl’s Night Out) – Composed by member Yeeun, this club track intends to send the message the Wonder Girls are back to present and are done with the retro/cutesy concepts! For an opening track, it didn’t blow me away and when I thought about giving this album a listen, the first track still left the impression I wouldn’t care much for the Wonder Girls. – 3/5
02. “Be My Baby” – The lead single and their comeback track for 2011:
At first listen, I didn’t like it much. About the ‘no more retro’ bit from earlier, scratch that. Composed by Mr. JYP, Park Jin-young himself, “Be My Baby” is a very 1980s-pop inspired song. Not that there’s anything wrong about that. JYP seems to have a knack for incorporating “old school” music (a lot). Despite not liking the song a whole lot at first, a few listens later, I’m now bobbing my head and tapping my feet as I listen to it. It grew on me and I realized it’s quite a catchy single for the Korean market. As for the MV, it channels a lot of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and apparently, they even hired the same dance choreographer, but it’s presentable and suits the song just fine. – 4/5
3. “Girls Girls” – Dedicated to ladies everywhere, the girls sing about how everyone is still a ‘wondergirl,’ no matter if you are a Wonderful or not. I’m not a girl, but you don’t need to be one to admit this is a good song! For once, you hear the organic sound of real instruments instead of electronic beats for a idol group song. By the third track I was going: “Hmm, not bad. Maybe I should give track number 4 a try as well” – 4/5
4. “Me, in” – Sampling an oldie, track 4 is another great track! Bits of this song is what was used in the teasers, and if I were to take a guess, I’m sure they have already filmed a full MV for this song (meaning it will get a single release). JYP should, because again, with it’s edgy rock sound, Wonder Girls have a kind of song one hardly ever hears from any of the other girl groups. – 4/5
5. “Sweet Dreams” – After the above three great tracks, I wondered if it would go downhill from here on, as that is usually the case with most K-pop albums. But no, another good song! Back to funky dance pop, track 5 changed my mind about how I should now devote my time to give the rest of the album a listen. – 4/5
6. “Stop!” – Seriously, stop! Another stellar track!? Now this time, a 1970s disco inspired, ABBA-esque sound with a really good chorus. JYP really can’t let go of music influences from the past, can he? 🙂 My favourite track on the album! – 5/5
7. “Dear Boy” – Midway through the album and finally the tempo slows down a bit. A modern R&B track with smooth vocals. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this track, but it’s still very listenable. – 3/5
8. “두고두고” – The first proper ballad and again, a very R&B one at that. Soaring vocals and proof that Wonder Girls feature some of the best voices in the idol industry. – 3.5/5
9. “SuperB” – When the song started I worried if the music would go the “Mr. Saxobeat” way, but this Yubin & Sohee duet maintains the tempo without getting annoying. Probably the most electronic song on this album. – 3.5/5
10. “Act Cool” – Featuring JYP labelmate San E, this track is almost entirely a rap record by Hyelim (or ‘Lim,’ as she goes by in America). Not a song I’d probably play a lot whenever I listen to this album again, but again, it’s not a bad song per se. Lim does a pretty good job with the rapping. – 3/5
11. “Be My Baby” (Ra.D Mix) – A stripped down, jazzier version of the above single. Still sounds good and one that is better live for special stages on TV. (Not rating it as it’s just a remix)
12. “Nu Shoes” – The last song on a k-pop album is rarely ever a good one. And with a song about how much girls love shoes, I wasn’t expecting to like it. That is until I heard the chorus. I’ll be skipping track 10 and 11 just to listen to this on repeat album listens! Love the “oh oh oh-oh oh” part. – 4/5
I know the year isn’t over yet, but Wonder Girls are the last high profile act to make a comeback to the idol pop scene. And what a comeback! JYP knew the girls have been away for quite some time and they had to make an impact worthy of Wonder Girl’s status as (still) one of K-pop’s top idol groups. With Wonder World, the proof is in its pudding — from start to finish. They really put a lot of thought and effort into this album. The sound is mature, production top-notch, the vocals impressive, and there is very little of the Wonder Girls from the past.
Having said that, I wonder how many of these songs were originally in English and were considered for Wonder Girls’ American debut album. Judging by the amount of English lyrics in some of the songs, I’m pretty sure there’s an English version lurking around in some studio somewhere.
Just when you thought the mantle of ‘top girl group’ was lost to the likes of SNSD , Wonder World is a reminder the Wonder Girls are not out of the game yet. Of all the albums I’ve listened to, this is the best k-pop album of 2011!
My final rating: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)
JYP has done it again. Last year I picked another JYP release, 2AM’s ‘Saint O’ Clock as my favourite album of 2010. That makes it two stellar annual releases in a row. Congratulations JYP! (Hmm, if only 2PM’s ‘Hands Up’ was anywhere near as good as these two ;))
Oh, about the headline. I didn’t drag SNSD’s name into this purely to start a fan-war. There were only three comebacks (as a fan) I was looking forward to this year. Rainbow – who disappointed, Jay Park – who impressed, and of course SNSD. The Boys is a good album, but it wasn’t as great as I hoped it would be.
Both SNSD and Wonder Girls debuted in 2007, and musically, unlike 2NE1, these two top girl groups can be compared in many ways. Both girl groups have also had their fair share of trials and tribulations along the way on their journey to the very top of Korea’s music scene. While SNSD is currently promoting their third full album, Wonder Girls have only just released their second full album. But… quantity over quality right? So, as much as I will (still) closely hold Girls Generation as my number one girl group, musically speaking, the Wonder Girls are the girl group who have the better album this year.
After listening to Wonder World, I now feel a bit confident about Wonder Girls’ chances in America. I’m sure their physical appearances will be picked on, but I feel they can overcome all that and win radio audiences with such quality music. All the best girls!