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SNSD – ‘Mr. Mr.’ album review: Is this a sign the end is near?

Yay, my girls are back! My 2014 of K-pop can officially begin. Not that I ever stopped listening to K-pop, but 2014 began with a glut of girl groups all vying for attention using some sexy concept or the other. All their songs were mediocre at best and as much as I like watching sexy women, I don’t like it when ‘sexy’ is not done right.

Good thing I don’t have to worry about silly concepts from SM Entertainment (nowadays). SNSD are back with a badass look and what the teasers promised to be an edgy title track for their 4th mini-album titled ‘Mr. Mr’.

SNSD Girls Generation Mr.Mr album coverHere’s a track-by-track review:

1. “Mr. Mr.”

First reaction? Underwhelmed. Produced by The Underdogs, an American duo most famous for their R&B productions, “Mr. Mr.” has a great build up — but the chorus was a bit of an ‘expectation killer’. Maybe that’s because my expectations were sky high. After all, a year of waiting, and that too after the experimental “I Got A Boy,” I guess SONEs were hoping to listen to a killer comeback track that would go down as one of SNSD’s greatest hits.

After a few repeated listens, the song did gradually grow on me… but my enthusiasm failed to rise much. It’s a good song with simple choreography, but it still does not scream: “WOW! This song is awesome!” I love the ’90s vibe and the pitch changes at the end, but I’m a tiny bit disappointed to be honest.

While I appreciate the fact SM didn’t film another ‘inside a box’ video, you have to question some of the close-ups, excessive use of filters and the stretching. Maybe SM weren’t kidding when they actually lost some of the filmed data, thus delaying the MV’s release.

After “The Boys,” “IGAB” and now “Mr. Mr.,” that’s three lead singles year after a year that has largely left fans divided and me, unexcited. – 3/5

2. “Goodbye” – Written and produced by a team comprised of Lindy Robbins, Brent Paschke and Jenna Andrews, who have written music for One Direction and Selena Gomez, this is a funky au naturel song. Why do I like this song? Well, besides the laid back style, I actually heard Hyoyeon sing! I like the chorus too. – 3/5

3. “유로파 (Europa)” – Produced by SM’s very own Kenzie, this mid-tempo song is has, you know, the K-pop sound. SM has been putting out singles all produced Western producers these past few years that when I hear a song that reminds of the kind of K-pop that drew me in to the genre, I just adore it all the more. – 3/5

4. “Wait a Minute” – Hyoyeon sings! Just kidding, I had to highlight the poor girl’s only chance to get heard. The vibe is a follow-up from “Goodbye” and is a good song for a easy-listening session. – 3/5

5. “백허그 (Back Hug)” – The only ballad on the album, I loved Tiffany’s vocals on this track. “Back Hug” is a sweet ballad reminiscent of SNSD’s innocent early years and it’s nice to see it on the album. I miss this SNSD. – 3.5/5

6. “Soul” – The Korean version of a Chinese track SNSD recorded for a video game, this version sounds… the same, but in Mandarin. It’s an uptempo track, and despite being used as a promotional vehicle, the song has got a decent melody and I really like Sooyoung’s lines, mostly because of the way she sings it. – 3/5

SNSD Mr. Mr. MV screencap Girls Generation members
It’s a good album, but I was expecting to be blown away

As for the headline – “Is this a sign the end is near?”.

2014 will be SNSD’s seventh year anniversary. Girls Generation are the number one girl group in K-pop, hands down. The queens of Korean pop, if you may call them that. A juggernaut when it comes to commercial success, variety talent, and endorsement deals. But judging by the quality of their Korean singles off late, you start to wonder if SM Entertainment is slowly winding down on SNSD and making way for their next, obviously much younger, girl group.

It’s not just SNSD. Even TVXQ’s last release “Something” failed to make much of an impact on the charts. Neither did the duo sweep the music show awards with that song. And this is TVXQ we’re talking about here — they are still massive in Japan! It’s as if SM isn’t even trying with their senior groups, instead devoting all their money on the fresher faces like EXO, whose songs (okay, I still hate “Wolf”) and albums are choc full of amazing music. I only wonder what Super Junior’s comeback is going to be like.

Back to SNSD. It’s been the case for the last two years, that SNSD’s Japanese releases have been far superior to their Korean comebacks. Obviously the girls (and SM) make way more money in Japan from album sales than in South Korea — but come on, every K-pop fan around the world wants to hear their K-pop star sing awesome Korean songs!

Another hint I factor in to say that SNSD may see a decline or departure of a few members has been the news of Sooyoung and Yoona declaring they are in a relationship. Of course, celebrity relationships are never to be taken seriously, as given the pressures of work, many relationships don’t last long. But as someone who knows so much about the members (because that’s how devoted some of us SONEs are), I know Sooyoung wants marriage and children. As do other members like Hyoyeon, who is also rumoured to be in a relationship. Plus, the members are all within their mid-20s. I mean, look at their peers. Sun from Wonder Girls is a mother now and that group’s future is pretty much up in the air. KARA is now down to three members and if DSP Media screws up their comeback (which knowing how messed up DSP is) will pretty much put the nail in the coffin for KARA’s career. It’s as though SNSD’s peers are also fading away.

Maybe I’m over-reacting, but it just feels kinda sad seeing the wave of artists that first got me into K-pop now appearing to slowly ride into the sunset. Groups like SNSD can’t get any bigger. It will be interesting to see what the public’s reaction is to SNSD’s successors. If it’s going to be anything like the kind of reception EXO got, then I guess… arrrgh, I don’t want to think about it!

I hope SM Entertainment has better music lined up for Girls Generation in the form of a repackage album, because their Korean lead singles have gotten quite stale. The reason why I want SNSD around goes beyond just the music. I’m not saying the following because I’m such a devoted fan, but — you can’t manufacture or train rookies with what the members of SNSD have. The fact that you rarely hear about trouble within the group shows just how much the girls actually get along. SM doesn’t have to deal with the headaches and negative publicity girl groups like T-ara or KARA have experienced in the past. SNSD are a gem of a group. Any entertainment company would be glad to have them, purely because the girls can rarely do any wrong. There’s little in-fighting. They are dorky, hilarious, great on variety shows, multi-talented and do their job as performers with absolute professionalism. I just hope SM takes that into consideration and pushes on with Girls Generation. Because my generation of K-pop fans owes it to those girls.

My final rating for SNSD’s ‘Mr. Mr’ –  3 out of 5 (Good)

SNSD – ‘I Got a Boy’ album review: What the…

My first blog post for 2013, and what a great way to start the new year for me!

SONEs couldn’t ask for a better treat to usher in 2013 than to see their favourite girl group back with a Korean album. ‘I Got a Boy’ is SNSD‘s 4th full album, and after the rather disappointing “The Boys” from nearly a year-and-half ago — my expectations were rather high for some great new music from my girls!

Girls Generation comeback group shot
The girls get a bright and saturated look this time around

And today afternoon (January 1st in India), the music video to “I Got a Boy” released. Here we go!

1. “I Got a Boy”

Okay, this is going to be a long rant.

Upon first listen, I instantly guessed SM Entertainment followed the same formula they used on SHINee’s “Sherlock”. You know, that “two songs mashed into one” bullshit. But in Sherlock’s case, “Clue” and “Note” really sounded like “Sherlock” split into two. The song’s chorus alone made that song rock. “I Got a Boy” on the other hand is a mash up of godknowshowmany songs! It kicks off with Sooyoung and Yuri delivering a rap. Then the real crux of the song begins at 0:53 with the heavy piano hook. The verses are still an offbeat lead up to the chorus.

And then at 2:05, Tiffany puts it down another way! (She says so) 🙂

Just when you thought the song could possibly grow on you, the tempo changes to a faster bpm (beats per minute). At this point you’re wondering: “why did they do that?” or “was this really necessary?”. The chorus melody stays the same but the verses sound like they’re from a different song. Hyoyeon and YoonA deliver their rap during this bit.

Then at 3:37, the song changes pace once again. TaeTiSeo has this section all to themselves.

Girls Generation I Got a Boy video screencap
“Hey, let’s dress up the girls in wigs and change the set for a 12-second sequence. ‘Cos… you know, we’re SM! Dollar, dollar bills y’all!”

By the 4-minute mark in the MV, the tempo returns to 140 bpm and Jessica soars into the bridge before the song ends with the repeated chorus.

At first listen, all I could think about was: “WTF SM!?” Watching the music video with all the weird mix of aegyo cuts in between the cool ‘gangsta-girl’ attitude was really messing up my thoughts. So I just looked away and listened to the audio alone to see if I could get a better opinion. I must say the initial weirdness wore off and the song did grow on me, but honestly the only bit that stayed in my head is the chorus. It’s catchy, no doubt.

As for the music video itself, the stylists went for a more f(x) (or dare I say, 2NE1) style — and I’m not sure the girls really pulled it off. Of course they look good, but then again, even if the members were dressed up in black garbage bags, they’ll still look cute and pretty! I hate Sunny’s look in this video, they really messed up her hair. Seohyun also seemed too cute to pull off the punk-inspired look.

If the girls themselves don’t enjoy singing the song, they sure will enjoy dancing to it. The choreography is kick-ass and it’s the one thing I feel the girls will have fun on stage with. And for what seems like an eternity since ITNW, the girls can finally dance in comfortable sneakers and not their usual heeled shoes. A relief for each one of the girls I’m sure!

But in the end, I still have mixed feelings about “I Got a Boy”. And ‘mixed’ couldn’t be a more appropriate word for this song.

Girls Generation I Got a Boy rating

2. “Dancing Queen” – The song that was rumoured to be the single in place of “Gee” – but couldn’t be released due to last minute copyrights issues.

Thank god for that! “Dancing Queen” is nothing but a Korean remake of Duffy’s smash-hit “Mercy“. So if you like the Duffy original, well, then you’d like this song too (I guess). I can’t imagine what SNSD’s career would have been like had they not released “Gee“! – 3/5

3. “Baby Maybe” – Originally a demo for British singer Pixie Lott titled “What You Do,” this Korean version really suits Girls’ Generation. Sweet, sugary girly-pop, and after the offbeat start to the album, we find ourselves in true SNSD-territory. – 3/5

4. “말해봐 (Talk Talk)” – If this sounds familiar, then you heard it first on Girls’ Generation’s second Japanese album as the track “Boomerang” — which was one of the better tracks on ‘Girls & Peace’. That said, by now I was hoping for some fresh material, and not more recycled music. – 3.5/5

5. “Promise” – The expected ballad finally hits. With its thumping beat, harmonious vocals and a good chorus, I really like this song. – 4/5

6. “Express 999” – When I saw the title, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the Japanese anime classic ‘Galaxy Express 999,‘ and listening to the ’80s-inspired sounds, I’m sure SM producer Kenzie imagined the same. Another great track! – 4/5

7. “유리아이 (Lost in Love)” – Really liked the soothing vibe on this ballad. It reminded me of the harmonies ballads from the ’70s and the early ’80s had. Another good track. – 3/5

8. “Look at Me” – Back to weird again. This track is another one that plays around with different sounds through its verses and chorus. It’s okay, but I found myself skipping it on repeat listens. – 2/5

9. “XYZ” – With lyrics penned by Seohyun and Yuri, this song isn’t a lesson in the ABCs. Instead, it’s a uptempo dance track the girls would have worked on while listening to a lot of Britney Spears records. (I can tell ;)) A good effort none the less, and a sign the girls’ songwriting skills are getting much better! – 3/5

10. “낭만길 (Romantic Street)” – The track featured in the ‘drama’ teaser SNSD dropped for “I Got a Boy”. It’s (if you haven’t guessed from the title) another ballad. But just like the other ballads on the album, it’s sweet and mellow. I find the ballads really stood out more in this tracklist! – 3.5/5

SNSD I Got a Boy MV members screencap
Normally I would have chosen a common theme for each member’s image. But with this comeback, it was hard to.

For all that I said about the comeback single, I actually think ‘I Got a Boy’ is a very likable album. Unlike many SM albums of the past where the lead single and maybe two other songs stand out, with the rest being nothing but filler material, there are many tracks on this album I would listen to far more than “I Got a Boy”.

It’s been a few hours since the MV came out (it’s midnight as I wrap this up) and the reactions to “I Got a Boy” have been just as how I felt when I fist heard the track. Except that by now I have grown to accept the varied sound — while thousands of others still seem to hate it! Many are disappointed with the comeback single, while the rest are trying convince them to give the song a few more listens. I could tell you to do the same, but I will be honest: those who have trouble accepting certain genres of music will find it difficult to like “I Got a Boy”.

It’s still not the great comeback single I had hoped for, that too after the mediocre “The Boys”. I guess it’s justified when people have high expectations from SNSD’s Korean comebacks. After all, gone are the days when the girls spent all their time in South Korea. Now with the girls making way more money in Japan, we don’t get to hear much new (and I mean really new) music in Korean. The Japanese singles have been great, but they just don’t feel as natural.

I am happy the girls are back on the screen though! At least during the promotional run, we can expect variety show appearances, new interviews and more fresh SNSD content. I’m at a phase where I’m watching older clips on YouTube because I have practically watched every funny piece of recording SNSD have appeared in!

That said, I really hope SM entertainment has a re-packaged album in the works with a real killer single as back-up — just in case the backlash for “I Got a Boy” is a tad too much. Heck, if SM Entertainment has such a tough time choosing the right single, just give me a call! 😉 I’m someone who listens to practically every genre (and sub-genre of music) from the ’70s all the way to present-day chart music.

I’m all for artists trying to challenge themselves and take the risk in trying something new. But even I had a tough time appreciating “I Got a Boy”. I’m curious to see how the fan-chants to this song are going to work. Anyway, knowing the rabid fanbase SNSD has, ‘I Got a Boy’ the album will still do well on the charts and the girls will rack up a few wins on the music programs (if not win all of them!).

But for now, tallying up the individual scores, my final rating for SNSD’s fourth full-length album is:

Jessica I got a boy mv screen