I’m going to take a break from my usual K-pop reviews to write about the boyband that, in fact, set the modern-day trend for boybands everywhere. Backstreet Boys weren’t the first boyband in showbiz, but they were the world’s biggest as far as success went, and still the best selling boyband of all time!
But first, my history with Backstreet Boys.
The first time I read about the Backstreet Boys was back in the December 1994 issue of Live & Kicking magazine. I now wish I had kept the issue safe, since it was supposedly their first interview to a British magazine. In the issue, L&K were attending one of Backstreet Boys’ showcase performance at some American mall. It was in 1995 I heard their first single on radio, “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” — which only just managed to crack the UK top 40. Followed by “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” which too lurked out around the 30s on the UK charts.
It wasn’t until 1996 when “Get Down” broke in to the UK top 20, and I remember seeing the Backstreet Boys for the first time on Top of The Pops. That was followed by “Anywhere For You” and the group’s breakout hit single, “Quit Playing Games”. After that, Backstreet Boys re-released “We Got It Goin’ On” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” in the UK to better success. By now, Backstreet Boys were one of the best boybands in my school-going world.
Then came 1997. Oh-my-god. ‘Backstreet’s Back‘ was released. That summer of 1997 was particularly exciting for me. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “As Long As You Love Me” were unstoppable on radio and the videos were equally popular on Channel [V], which was a music channel worth watching back in the day. I returned after the summer holidays of ’97 to a school where practically everyone had either of two string backpacks: Backstreet Boys or Titanic. It was that year when girls were going gaga over Leonardo DiCaprio and everyone else was dancing or listening to the Backstreet Boys. Practically every friend of mine owned a copy of ‘Backstreet’s Back‘.
Then the boys made it big in their home country and lead the wave of the teen pop craze that followed. Even though I turned into a ‘N Sync fanboy, I never disliked Backstreet Boys. The singles off ‘Millennium‘ were exciting, but I thought the rest of the album was “meh”. I liked ‘Black & Blue‘ more as a album.
I’m not going to begin this review by stating how much of a Jay Park fan I am. I think that’s pretty much given by now. But everytime my favourite solo K-pop artist makes a comeback, I get excited. Usually because the dude rarely disappoints!
We got a tease for “I Like 2 Party” when it was announced the song would feature in the end credits for the Korean release of Will Smith’s flop ‘After Earth‘. Even in that tease, I knew the song would be awesome. And now that the song is finally out, I can safely say, “yup, it’s awesome!”.
Here’s a track-by-track review of the mini-album:
01. “I Like 2 Party” – Produced by Jay Park’s close friend and frequent collaborator Cha Cha Malone, “I Like 2 Party” is by far the best song he’s produced for Jay. It’s an absolute dance jam perfect for getting warmed up for a night out with friends. There are times when segments of the song sound as though the mixers tried hard to piece them together, but in the end, it sounds just fine. Watch out for Jay’s inner-Usher with a “yeeaaah manboy” at 1:36
The MV is alright. It’s isn’t well-edited to be frank, because there are a few scenes in which you notice the lips aren’t in-sync with the words. Either that or I have a hunch Jay also recorded a complete English version of “I Like 2 Party”. You also don’t get to see the choreography for the song all too well — but I’m sure there’s going to be a dance version out soon. The women aren’t Korean (for a change) and yeah, they’re sexy — but make for an odd mix with with their fluorescent colours. Then again, why one earth am I deliberating so much over a music video? The song is awesome and that’s all that matters! – 5/5
02. “Hot” – Man, what-a-club stomper! Yeah, yeah… some will say it sounds like G-Dragon’s “Crayon,” but whatever. This another smashing tune and I never expected such a good song on a four-track mini-album. – 4/5
03. “Secret” – A classic R & B track that doesn’t do anything wrong. A bit formulaic, but good enough that it didn’t make me want to skip the song. – 3/5
04. “Let’s Get Back Together” – Inspired by old school, early 1990s pop, this is a sound a I’m hearing from Jay for the first time. A decent attempt though. – 2.5/5
This mini-album is fairly uptempo, so I wonder what Jay Park has up his sleeve for his next release. Jay did reveal at the end of Jay Park TV Ep. 6 that he’s got more singles coming out soon. Since “I Like 2 Party” is just a digital release, I’m hoping for a second full-length album. From the killer “Appetizer,” the lovely “JO-AH” to the impressive “I Like 2 Party,” 2013 seems like it’s going to be another great year for Jay Park and his fans!
To say K-pop fans have been anticipating EXO’s comeback would be an understatement. Heck, anticipating EXO’s official debut in 2012 was such a long, played out event that it’s now become accepted Exotics have to wait ages for SM’s new boyband to put out some new music.
Of course, we all got a tease back in February when a leaked version of “Wolf” appeared online. Most people hated the song, so did I. Well, “hate” is a strong word. I laughed actually. I assumed SM was just trolling.
Now, imagine my surprise when “Wolf” actually ended up being the lead single off EXO’s first full-length album!
‘XOXO’ a.k.a ‘Kiss & Hug’
Like my last EXO review, I will only be reviewing the Korean version of the album. So let’s begin, shall we?
There is a reason why this track caused a lot of ruckus among fans when it leaked. They weren’t angry because the song leaked, they were just perplexed as to why SM Entertainment would choose such a bad song for a much anticipated comeback. The leaked version was terrible; the official release though, is far more polished — but I still don’t consider it a good song.
The unconventional nature of the song shouldn’t shock anyone considering it’s coming from the same production team responsible for SNSD’s “I Got a Boy”. But unlike IGAB, I just didn’t find myself hitting replay after first listening to “Wolf”. I only forced myself to listen to it again and again purely for the sake of this review. Just to see if it would grow on me. But even after a few days, “Wolf” is still a lame song as far as I’m concerned. I’m all for artistes trying out new sounds and breaking new grounds musically, but “Wolf” just doesn’t sway me in any positive way. It’s like SM purposely decided to avoid doing a killer song that would sweep the awards on music shows, just so EXO won’t peak early in their career.
The only saving grace is the brilliant choreography and the polished look of the MV. That’s it. – 2/5
02. “Baby Don’t Cry” – One of the songs first featured on EXO’s many pre-debut teasers last year. A great ballad and a start to what I knew was going to be an otherwise great album. – 4/5
03. “Black Pearl” – Another backing track used in one of the pre-debut teasers that eventually turned into a full-fledged song. When SM put out the album teaser with snippets of each song, this was the track that really stood out for me. I loved it then and love it even more now! A dark, brooding ballad that still mixes in some great vocals and dubstep beats (still doing that, huh SM?) with the end result being a ballad none too common in K-pop. -5/5
04. “나비소녀 (Don’t Go)” – Another mid-tempo ballad that sounds as good as the boys singing it. – 4/5
05. “Let Out The Beast” – After a sting of ballads, we are back in dance territory again. This track may not be worthy of a single release, but it’s still a better song than “Wolf”. – 3/5
06. “3.6.5” – It starts out like a One Direction track, and with its European songwriting credentials, it sure does sound like one. This was another track on the album teaser which stood out to me thanks to its catchy chorus. A fun, uptempo track. – 3.5/5
07. “Heart Attack” – Slowing things down again, you would expect album filler material as we near the end. But the quality doesn’t drop as low as one would expect. This is still a very listenable track. – 3/5
08. “피터팬 (Peter Pan)” – Definitely the highlight of the song is the chorus. This track would make for a great sing-along towards the end of a concert. – 3.5/5
09. “Baby” – Produced by SM’s in-house composer Kenzie (who also worked on “Wolf”), this sweet ballad is yet another top-notch album track with a memorable chorus. – 3/5
10. “My Lady” – The final track on the album is another song that was first featured on one of the pre-debut teasers. This smooth, blues-y jam will have you bobbing your head during the pre-chorus. A good finish to put this album to a rest. – 3/5
The 12 members that make up EXO
I can’t recall just how many K-pop reviews I have written about how, other than the lead single, the rest of the album is just filler material. But EXO’s ‘XOXO’ is a rare exception. Practically every song on this album is better than the lead single “Wolf”! And it’s not just me who feels that way. Go read the comments on any of the album tracks on YouTube and you have scores of listeners who feel song ‘x’ would have made for a better single than “Wolf”.
When I heard the album teaser, I knew I was going to like the album. The quality of the songs on the album is top-notch, just like EXO’s debut mini-album was. It’s too bad the same can’t be said about “Wolf”. After waiting for more than a year, it’s disappointing EXO’s comeback single is best forgotten (as far as I’m concerned). There is always hope for a re-package album in a few months time, because I don’t think SM wants to keep fans waiting another year for just one more MV featuring the boys.
My final rating for EXO’s ‘XOXO’ (Kiss & Hug): 4 out of 5 (Very Good)