Just like how I began my last review, I never thought I would be writing about KARA as well. Despite their fame and current status in K-pop land, I never took Kara seriously. I blame DSP Media for that. Kara’s company insisted on highlighting silly dances, especially after the success of the “butt dance” from “Mister”, and signature dances like that became Kara’s trademark.
As for the songs – “Mister,” “Lupin” and “Jumping” were all catchy enough to warrant their success, but those songs were never up to the calibre of say, SNSD’s hits — a group they are (strangely) often compared to.
When I first heard the audio for “Step,” it didn’t wow me right away. But after the first listen, the song interested me enough to make me want to hear it a second time. By the time the MV (music video) came out, I was officially hooked on the song!
“Step” is definitely the upgrade Kara needed. Everything from the song’s production, to the music video is top notch. As for the silly ‘signature dance’ department, DSP Media continues to insist on including another butt-shaking, hip gyrating move. It’s not as prominent, but I’m sure the girls will be asked to demonstrate it on variety shows. *shudders*
Anyway, the song. DSP used the usual words to describe it as “catchy” “electronic” “fun” “colourful,” etc. “Step” is all that, but the main reason why the song resonated with me is because of its strong 1980s-pop influence. From the synthesizer hook, the beats, the build-up to the chorus, the bridge… it all reeks of 80’s pop music.
Produced by Sweetune, the song writing duo (Han Jae Ho and Kim Seung Soo) who are responsible for pretty much every KARA hit so far, “Step” is their strongest single to date. It sounds different, and most importantly, fresh!
The music video plays on the 80’s vibe with its neon colours and bright fashion. And aside from the ’round & round’ butt dance, I really like the rest of the choreography.
Therefore “Step,” the single, gets a strong 4.5 out of 5 from me. It’s a sign second tier companies like DSP Media are now racing ahead to reach the standards set by the giants of K-pop (SM, YG and JYP).
As for ‘Step,’ the album… I really didn’t feel like writing a track-by-track review because none of the other songs on the album really caught my attention. “Rider” feels over-produced, but good enough to warrant its second place in the tracklist. “Strawberry” is expectedly sweet, the chorus of “Follow Me” sounds ABBA-esque, “Date (My Boy)” sounds too J-pop — but is one of the better album tracks, and “I Am… (ING)” is just an acoustic version of this two-year old song. Which by the way is the only ballad on the album (I’m ignoring the bonus track), so you get to hear the girl’s strong vocals.
A good album for Kamilias (KARA’s official fanclub), but not good enough to make me want to listen to it again after this review goes live.
P.S: How thin is Goo Hara? You can see gaps even when she’s wearing a full body suit! 😀
I never thought I would be writing about this group. I mean, U-KISS/유키스! The boy band whose first two hits were catchy, but extremely repetitive hook songs like “Man Man Ha Ni” and “Bingeul Bingeul“. They followed it up with “Shut Up,” which featured one of the lamest dance choreography I’ve seen in K-pop. U-KISS, a band that’s has been poked fun at so many times for being “gay“. That U-KISS!
But you know what, I’m reviewing their music, not the members. And the music in their new album “Neverland” (their second full album)… well, call me impressed!
U-KISS has seen line-up changes around three times since inception, with the most recent one being in February this year when members Alexander and Kibum were kicked outreplaced by AJ and Hoon. NH Media, U-KISS’s corporate overlords, didn’t waste anytime in pushing the new line-up in front of fans with the release of “0330” a month later. The ‘updated’ U-KISS seemed to showcase a different direction the boys would be heading. No more formulaic, repetitive monotone songs with lazy choreography, or so it seems.
But listening to the songs on ‘Neverland,’ you know NH Media were serious about their US ambitions (though I hope they have come to their senses now). Many of the songs don’t sound like your average K-pop record. Here’s a track-by-track review:
01. “Intro” – 0:58 of nothing special
02. “Neverland” – The title track and main single:
If there’s a finer example of how one incorporates pure dance music and boy band pop, “Neverland” is it! It’s a fantastic single with great choreography, even though it is a bit heavy on the auto tune. (I’m not going to comment on the fashion or the wiping-fingers-down-face act, because it’s getting stale). Surely they must be some DJ out there already working on a remix of this song for the clubs!
The true test of how good this song is for U-KISS is when they perform it live. The video may not be anything special but I couldn’t help but hit replay as soon as the MV ended. It’s definitely one of my top K-pop songs of the year! – 5/5
03. “Baby Don’t Cry” – Upbeat, synthesized chorus driven pop bliss! Makes me wonder if this was produced by a foreign producer. Edit: Produced by Ryan Jhun, who produced most of the album. – 4/5
04. “Someday” – Listening to this, I couldn’t help but assume this is a kind of song one would find on a Westlife album! 🙂 Produced by Denzil Remedios, I wonder if this was one of the songs considered for U-KISS’s English debut. – 4/5
05. “Take Me Away” – The first ballad on the album and again, not the usual K-pop fare. Just when you think the instruments would keep piling on from the second verse onwards, they don’t. Instead, it’s just the boys and their vocals that carry this song all through the end. A very good track, and I hope they get a chance to sing it live on the music shows. – 4/5
06. “On The Floor” – With a track title like that, it’s fairly obvious what to expect. This one is from the K-pop electronic dance pop music factory. Not bad, but nothing noteworthy. If you listen to K-pop regularly, you have heard this kind of music before. – 3/5
07. “A Friend’s Love” (친구의 사랑) – Officially in familiar K-pop territory now. The first ‘standard’ ballad on the album, but still a very a listenable track. KissMe*s are surely going to sing along to this chorus! – 3.5/5
08. “April Story” (4월 이야기) – When the song first starts, I wondered if they dropped another artist’s song in here by mistake! But no, the woman voice belongs to Brave Girls’ Eun Young and this ballad is a duet with Shin Soohyun. Standard OST fare, but a well sung track none the less. – 3.5/5
09. “Obsession” – Half the song’s lyrics are “You are my obsession…” and “Love equals obsession, obsession equals love” 😀 Erm, no thanks. I don’t think I’ll be listening to this song often. – 2/5
11. “Tell Me Y” – While MBLAQ sang “Give it to my Yyyyy….” (which made little sense), U-KISS presents a brighter, piano-tinged, rap-filled track. Simple and one of the better album fillers. – 3/5
12. “We’ll Meet Again/다시 만나요” (U-KISS with Paran) – The first two & half minutes of the track are the boys of U-KISS and their labelmates (another boy band, but one that unfortunately never saw much success) Paran chattering and having fun. But as the laughter gives way, the final song on the album is an epic ballad, and a good one at that. A fitting end to the album. – 3.5/5
13. “Someday” (Instrumental)
Until last year, U-KISS and B2ST to me were in the same lower tier of K-pop boybands. Silly, lyrically bland songs with lame choreography, and always inferior compared to the likes of SHINee, BIG BANG and DBSK. Yes, I know the latter are from two of the most famous entertainment companies, but SM and YG didn’t get to where they are today if they hadn’t gotten their formula right. They knew where to invest their money to produce the best, in every regard — from appearance to the music, they know quality!
That is not to say the smaller entertainment companies haven’t stepped up their game. B2ST matured in 2011 and won me over with “Fiction“. And now, U-KISS has made me take them seriously as well. NH Media seems to have figured out the ‘right formula’ with this album and given the boys the best they have released to date.
‘Neverland’ is easily one of the best K-pop studio albums an idol group has put out in 2011. Far better than the last album I reviewed — and that came from SM Entertainment. U-KISS’s ‘Neverland’ is an album that manages to draw the listener in from the start and you won’t find yourself skipping past many of the songs. A testament to how well paced the album is with good songs.
So in conclusion, hats off to U-KISS (with its current line-up)! You guys (along with B2ST) have move up several notches in the Korean boy band world and can proudly claim to be one of the best the Hallyu wave has to offer today. I won’t call myself a KissMe because being an adult male, that would be, erm, gayawkward — but consider this: I will buy ‘Neverland’ legally and (if I ever get the chance) I would be excited to see you guys perform live in concert!