Saturday, January 05, 2013

NOW KPOPPING: Girls' Generation's "Got A Boy"

First post of 2013 and it's about Girls' Generation? Yup. Sorry, haters. SM Entertainment's requiste Sex-shi Soshi's have returned to Korea with a bouncy pop jam that's quite literally all over the place. Upon first glance, I had the same feelings many have had in KPOP fandom, which was: what the hell did I just watch? But with closer inspection (and a few more spins minus the video), I found it literally impossible to not stand up for these chicks for trying to up their ante and found myself actually (gasp) digging the song. (I did not however, appreciate the tweets by some rude folks I'll decribe as "anti" fans. Get a life, ya'll.)

I know I'll get some remarks like I'm forever sipping the SM Entertainment kool-aide (your point?), but at least hear me out and then make a decision regarding SNSD's latest single, "I Got A Boy".

Not totally unlike with Super Junior, it's difficult to get all nine of these chicks in one screen cap. Top Row, L to R: Taeyeon (leader), Sunny, SooYoung, Jessica; Front/Bottom Row, L to R: SeoHyun, HyoYeon, Yuri, YoonA, Tiffany
Anyone who knows me, tweets with me or reads this blog in general is probably aware that when it comes to KPOP, I am all about two things: 1) Boy Bands (hnggggg); 2) Girl Groups with Attitude. When I think of the later, Girls' Generation usually doesn't rank very high on that list. I would think 2NE1, I would think Brown Eyed Girls, I would think KARA -- hell, I'd even say Wonder Girls have more swagger than SNSD (SONEs, no need to attack me just yet -- let me make my point).
If you're well versed in popular Korean Idoldom (Is that a word? It is now.), you're very aware that SNSD is a Goliath in the KPOP mainstage, known for their cuteness and (Korean) sex appeal. Hence the fact that, to me, too many of their songs sounded like I would need to also buy Pepto-Bismal to make it through them sane ("Gee", "Kissing You", "Oh!"). Their shining moment came with "Genie (Tell Me Your Wish)", and while Korea might not have known it then, it was the beginning of GG's transitional phase into not a Girls' Generation but a Woman's Generation, or at the very least, a Young Woman's Generation. They were attempting to evolve beyond that cutesy tag that seems to follow them everywhere they go, and those "evolution" pop jams tended to be the ones I gravitated toward ("Run Devil Run", the Japanese "Bad Girl"). The battlecry of "I Got A Boy" came as no surprise to me as on the lyrical surface, it still seemed very cutesy, but the packaging comes across as something totally different, and in terms of GG back catalogue, totally unique and refreshing. The beats are not what we've been beat over the head with for the past few months and are quite more akin to what we hear here in the West.
Despite this, the song hasn't even been out in Korea for more than a week (it came out on New Year's Day), and it has already created the most bipolar of reactions. You either love it or you hate it, and as usual, I sit somewhere in between (sigh). Even SONE fandom, a fandom well documented (and often chastised) for hyping up everything these girls do, being so ride or die it's literally all or nothing (not hating -- the Cassies, ELFs, Shawols, VIPS, etc. are guilty of it, too), has given a mixed and sometimes negative reaction with the song.

Here I've chosen to break apart the main reasoning for why this song gets such a bad "rap" (get it?) and why I think it's not nearly as bad as you're fearing. In fact -- it might just be one of my favorites from the group. What now?
1. SNSD are NOT rappers and therefore shouldn't be rapping.
I'm with you on this, fam. 110%. Girls' Generation is kind of a red herring in the KPOP world because despite being nine members strong, they don't have a real requisite rapper(s) like most KPOP groups do. So the fact that the song opens with SooYoung smirking saying, "Ayo GG!", does not bode well for fandom. Did it make me feel waves of second hand embarassment? Yeah, a little.
That being said, I don't really equate much of what's in "I Got A Boy" to rapping -- perhaps because I'm coming to you from a Western perspective. If anything, it sounds a lot like fast chit-chatting, not totally unlike a style highlighted by one of the USA's most revered modern girl groups, Destiny's Child in the likes of "Say My Name". The "rap" sections themselves read more like a converstation between members (see more on that later). If you are like me and don't speak the language, it's quite easy to pass it off as posturing when it's simply not the case.
2. The song is all kinds of disjointed.
Well, yes, but that was the point. All of the girls have little short vocal parts in attempt to broadcast the song as a "girl talk" between girls. On a deeper level (yes, I can't believe I'm going there but it's true) -- it is exactly how girls talk. We talk fast, we talk slow, we disagree, we hype each other up -- and a lot of times we talk super-de-duper fast.
Random Spotlight Mic Dance Time!
A loose translation of YoonA's "rap" (around 2:39): "So shocked/My brain's collapsed!/He says he wants to see my bare face with no makeup/I love him completely/Should I accept defeat and show him?" {Westerners: In Korea, to share your "bare face" with no makeup is a really big deal.}
HyoYeon's part is right after is basically a response (around 2:47): "What?/Of course not!/Am I right? Am I right?/We must defend what is ours/Am I right? Am I right?/Until the day I own his heart completely/I will not forget this fact"
Setting aside all the little conversations that make up this song, it feels disjointed because the music video is so utterly disjointed visually -- and therein lies the issue, especially if you don't speak Korean. When you watch the music video, the song jumps from one room to another, one dance sequence (with a different tempo) to another, to a sudden dark scene with a spotlight and Tiffany working the mic in an orange wig. As YoonA said, "Menbungiya!"
Solution? Listen to it without a visual component. In my case, the song passed in a blink and I wanted to hit repeat because there was so much unique auditory bits and pieces that each time I listened, I heard something new. This new style of "mashing up" songs seems to be the modus operandi for SM Entertainment -- we first felt it very distinctly last March with SHINee's "Sherlock (Clue + Note)" and to be fair, no one else is going this route. Given that SM is often slammed for regurgitating past hits (I'm sorry, Super Junior, you know I love you), this is their way of throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks and in this case, it works.
To be honest, I wouldn't have been surprised if SM released longer "remix" versions of "I Got A Boy" that explore each of the 'vingettes' and tempo changes in more length, not totally unlike with what they tried to do with SHINee's "Clue" and "Note" and "Sherlock (Clue + Note)". In fact, I think it would go over very well as many people I've talked to about "I Got A Boy" quite like the "chorus" or the "sparse beat bit" or the "spotlight slowed down bridge", etc. etc.
Had the song come out first, the video would have made a bit more sense. But because it was the other way around, it felt overwhelming. Many have compared it to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- and while it's a very lofty comparison, I understand the point of it. Unlike many of GG's prior hits, "I Got a Boy" attempts to tell a story, not just through the video "plot" but through the song itself. That is something we haven't really seen in a pop song in Korea from a group of GG's magnitude and I would be so bold to say as it reminds me of the quirk and tongue-in-cheeky-ness of Xenomania's Girls Aloud.
3. SNSD is biting off of 2NE1's swag/SNSD thinks they are "hood".
OK, this one is laughable. I was not aware 2NE1 owned the KPOP swagger corner. True, they were one of the first girl groups to have a bit of an "edge" both visually and sonically, but just because another group does it, doesn't exactly mean they are trying to rip off 2NE1. Girls' Generation has been straddling this mindset of cute and edgy for years now; "I Got A Boy" is simply more edgy than cute, but it's still very cute (Did anyone else notice the overwhelming amount of pink saturation in the cinematography? Just me? K.). And might I point out the choreography is a constant reflection of that mindset! They go from hip swaying and bending forward to aegyo-ing it up (read: acting nauseatingly cute/innocent) and back again within a few seconds. This is all keeping in line with Girls' Generation's well-known image and is not anything new.
I've already stated why the "rapping" isn't hood at all ("Should I wear makeup in front of my cute boyfriend? Do I dare to not wear any makeup all in front of him?//Girl, you so crazy! Wear that makeup mask!!" doesn't get more hood that that right there). The clothes themselves are quite reminicent of style they have employed before via "Bad Girl" (or at your local Forever 21). Many of the girls have candy-colored hair that is quite popular here in the US amongst fashionista chicks (although -- Sunny....girl...get that wig in check. It' Aqua is NOT your color.)
Translation of SooYoung/Yuri's "rappy" intro bit:
SooYoung: Oh, my Gosh/Just look at her/What made her decide to go cut her hair, huh?
Yuri: Oh, my Gosh/Look at her now!/Her style has changed from head to toe!/Why did she do this?/I'm dying to know/Why did she she do this?/Just tell me why
Spoiler Alert: SNSD is trolling you all. They so meta I can't even.
And really -- if we're gonna talk ripping off, why isn't the obvious mentioned? Labelmates and little sisters in f(x) rocked in similar apparel, colored extensions and makeup-related choreography in one of their biggest hits, "Nu.ABO," and the music video featured a clearly recycled SM set that re-emerges here with "I Got A Boy"! I mean, come on, fam. We all know f(x) is SM's red-headed, neglected stepchild, so for their cashcow in SNSD to show up in a similar style and the     f(x) fans not be in a total uproar about it? That confuses me.

Besides, you know in the repackage they'll come back as SM's Angels of Cute.

And finally -- my favorite remark from the SONE fandom...
4. SM dropped the ball because the video is so lame.
On behalf of the Cassie, ELF and Shawol fandom, can I just say: SONE's got their nine girls wearing a bunch of different attractive outfits, an actual man in the video with them (although you don't see his face) who isn't a member of another SM group, multiple vingette stages that are not just dancing in a CGI box, good choreography, lots of screen time for each member and an actual "plot". How exactly is that dropping the ball? Did you see the "Mr. Simple" or "Electric Shock" videos? Well, did you?!?
So there. Haters to the left. ::drops the mic, Jay-Z style:: WUT.

Girls' Generation's "I Got A Boy" as well as their full-length album of the same name is available for purchase now, including on US iTunes.

1 comment:

John said...

I tried...I really tried, but it just didn't click with me.

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