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Wonder Girls – ‘Wonder World’ album review: Sorry SNSD, but this is a better album

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!

Wonder Girls Be My Baby video screencaps Wonder World

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

Wonder Girls Be My Baby MV screencaps Wonder World

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

Wonder Girls Wonder World album cover art Mithun
The most impressive K-pop album I've heard this year!

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!

Jay Park – “Girlfriend” review: He kissed a girl!

After releasing his first mini-album as a solo artist back in April, Jay Park is back with a new single! Jaebom had tweeted a few weeks back wondering if he should release something now and a mini-album next year – or – make us fans wait until 2012 for new music. I guess Jay ultimately decided he didn’t want Jaywalkers to wait that long! 🙂

Jay Park Girlfriend MV screencaps Jaebom
Unfortunately, all we get for now is a single

“Girlfriend” isn’t something I was expecting as a single from Jay. I mean, as an album track, yes — but not as a single. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad song:

After “Abandoned” and “Tonight,” Jay makes no qualms about his love for rapping and chose to showcase his rhyming skills more than his singing with a single release like “Girlfriend”. I love the beats and his rapping is slick! It’s the kind of hip-hop I really love. The chorus is sweet, but all-in-all, “Girlfriend” is smooth rap track in the same vein of B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You” — and we all know how much Jay Park loves such songs 😉

As for the music video, again it’s an unexpected one from Jay Park. It shows he’s maturing and growing as an artist, and does away with the expected choreographed dances. But a Jay Park MV without dancing? Surely not, and “Girlfriend” features a dance break in a club soon after the very first chorus. It does break the flow of the song early on but it works for the narrative of the video, which shows Jay trying to win over a girl he first spots at a cafe.

Of course, Jay impresses the girl with his slick b-boy moves, surprises her by placing headphones over her ears, and tunes back to the song asking her to be his girlfriend. Then he takes her out on a date and brings her back to his room — which is full of photos of her pasted all over his wall! Now, in the MV, the girl smiles. But all I kept thinking was: “Wow. Stalking much Jay?” LOL

Jay Park Girlfriend video screencaps Jaebom kissing
Obsessive Jay Park fangirls aren't going to like this actress much

It’s refreshing to see a Jay Park video with a female lead. Mostly because Jay is hardly ever seen around the company of women! “Abandoned” did feature a sexy girl but the scenes which featured Jay and her were blink-and-miss. I figured it was because Jay looked so awkward acting with her, and although the awkwardness hasn’t completely worn off, in “Girlfriend,” Jay has improved a lot with his expressions and ridding his shyness on camera.

With most of k-pop following an unsurprising formula, I can always count on Jay Park to release a song that strays away from the usual k-pop sound. Maybe it’s because Jay writes all his music in English first and then turns them into Korean. That’s probably why his songs don’t necessarily feel like standard ‘k-pop’. Just like “Abandoned,” “Girlfriend” too would sound just as good with English lyrics. (Take the hint Jay ;))

I can’t wait to see what Jay Park has in store for 2012. It may not have happened yet, but I still stand by what I wrote about Jay’s impending global stardom when I saw him live in Bangkok last year. I can’t wait for his English album, and if that’s not happening soon, I’ll still eagerly await his next Korean release in early 2012.

My final rating for “Girlfriend”: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

AA – ‘Because I’m Crazy’ review: Another rookie boyband, but a good one!

The fact that I waited until November of 2011 to dedicate a post for a rookie k-pop group is indicative of how little I liked any of the new idol groups that debuted this year. And boy, were there many that debuted in 2011!

The first half of the year mostly belonged to new girl groups. Of the top of my head, I remember Dal Shabet, CHI CHI, A-Pink, Raina, the stupidly named Piggy Dolls, the flop that was Coin Jackson… and there were 20 or more other girl groups who made their debut with lousy names, similar cutesy concepts and dull music. I haven’t heard from most of them since their debut.

Not be left out, boy bands were churned out by the dozens as well. From the much hyped Block B, HITT, X-5 to recent debuts like MYNAME, Taken (oh the jokes!), and the rest whom I can’t even remember because they too left a zero impression on me.

The only rookie idol group that felt ‘fresh’ was B1A4. An unconventional name but a group who debuted with a good song, which again, was atypical of what else was out there in K-pop.

And now, we have AA.

Double AA k-pop boyband members Because I'm Crazy
L-R: I don't even know their names

Promoted by a small company named Wellmade STAR M (eesh), I read about AA just today on Allkpop and rolled my eyes when I glanced over this description:

The group is a bit different from other rookie groups because they’re average age is 22. The number 22 is somewhat significant to their name if you make 22 with your fingers (holding up 2 fingers on each hand), and flip them upside down, it becomes AA (Double A). Additionally, each of the group members are also between the heights of 5’11″ to 6’1″.”

At least they didn’t choose AA because “they’re like batteries full of energy!” or something stupid like that.

Okay, so they don’t look any different from the other rookie groups (fashion-wise), but at the end of the day, any group’s success eventually comes down to their music. In that department, AA surely don’t disappoint.

Though their debut EP release only consists of three tracks, it’s still a better debut release compared to all the other rookie efforts. Here’s how I rate their songs:

1. Intro (0:47) – A cool, laidback vibe which gives you the impression that this is the attitude AA wants to go by

2. “Because I’m Crazy” (3:39) – The debut single follows the usual K-pop formula with its raving keyboards and swooping electronic sound, but despite that, it’s still a good uptempo song with great vocals. The rap falls a bit flat, mostly because the (English) lyrics don’t really make much sense. It didn’t win me over instantly but after two or three listens, I couldn’t stop replaying the song.- 3.5 out of 5

Edit: The MV is out!

All I can say is that the choreography is the weakest link in the video. It’s too feminine and just lacking energy. Otherwise, the light set looks quite good.

3. “Call Me” (3:13) – I actually like this song more than the above track. Mostly because it does away with the dance beats and really showcases the group’s vocals. It’s got a great, catchy chorus and you can’t help but mime the “na na na na na-na” and “do do do do-do” bits. I hope AA get a chance to perform this song live as it’s perfect for an acoustic performance, and it isn’t the kind of song one often hears from an idol group. – 4 out of 5

I’m not going to put a ‘final rating’ like I normally do with my usual k-pop reviews, but unless you really suck at math, you know the above scores average out pretty well.

For a lot of the new groups, it usually takes a year or so to really make an impact on the k-pop scene with a good song. Sometimes it’s because the smaller entertainment companies can’t often afford to buy rights to the “sure-fire hits” from top producers, until they make some money first. I don’t know who the musical talent behind AA are, but they surely have some confidence in these boys to get them off to a great start. Edit: Turns out member Aoora himself writes and composes the songs!

With just two songs, AA are now on my k-pop radar and I wish them much success. I just hope they keep getting better going into 2012!

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