Well, of course Girls’ Generation will not suddenly reinvent themselves on Holiday Night. Their (relatively) experimental era, which kicked off with The Boys and ending right around the time Jessica left the group (and “Catch Me If You Can” was released), won’t be coming back any time soon – a listen to their last album, Lion Heart, says as much. (Want them to go modern pop? Listen to their solo releases.) Thankfully it’s not a bunch of terrible songs, either. Holiday Night is their tenth anniversary release – ten years is something in K-pop, a world of seven-year contracts, if not bust-ups from groups failing in varying degrees. There is a vibe of celebration all over, which means relatively pedestrian, yet still enjoyable, songs. (“All Night” gets stuck in your ears.) It doesn’t feel like a look back, although there definitely are concessions to the sound the group launched with in 2007 – a bit retro, a bit pure, but now with an edge that they’ve definitely earned. That’s how you set the template, I guess. Come to think of it, just change the image a bit and you have songs perfect for Red Velvet. Now that’s a group that needs a shot of inspiration. (I didn’t review their latest release, Red Summer, because I had five other reviews that week – that, and I gave up on their slow downward spiral.) I don’t begrudge S.M. for keeping these songs for their biggest girl group, but, you know… [NB] | 3/5
As Girls’ Generation – perhaps the most important girl group in K-pop, or at least its second wave – hurtles towards their tenth year, their members continue to go solo. Well, only four have, and one of them only did a single – and we’re coming back to Taeyeon, again and again, because of her leader status and the fact that she’s definitely the group’s vocal powerhouse. My Voice is her first full-length album, after two minis and two solo singles, and it rectifies one of my (perhaps nitpicky) complaints with her last release Why: there’s light and shade. It’s risky giving her a single that’s neither a ballad nor a dance track, but “Fine” eventually settles down into something fun. There’s a sense of experimentation around the album – “I Got Love” refuses to stick in one lane and ends up being compelling – while the second half focuses squarely on her distinct voice. But, despite its name, My Voice feels much like an album done by remote. Perhaps it’s because it came so soon, or perhaps there are elements lost in translation (or lack thereof, for me). But proficient the record may be, I can’t help but feel like Taeyeon isn’t invested in it. What’s missing? I don’t know. Maybe we ought to go wait for Girls’ Generation’s inevitable tenth anniversary comeback. [NB] | 3/5
S.M. Entertainment’s released a bunch of solo records from their groups this year, but this one has to be the most anticipated. I mean, it’s Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon. Her name’s got to be up there, has always been up there. Her first mini-album, I, scored for its accessibility, moving away from the mother group’s bubblegum pop leanings towards something more mature. Why follows the same direction, albeit with a definite summer sheen: all seven tracks are bathed in sunshine, perhaps one collected from a beach in the 1990s. (There’s your parallel with two other releases in the past month: I Just Wanna Dance from SNSD stablemate Tiffany, and Free Somebody from f(x)‘s Luna.) Now, I like the songs, but I’m bothered by the lack of shade. I don’t know. I must be looking for a good old ballad. Or something close to it. Maybe it’s how there’s not much of an arc to the record, how everything keeps on the up and up, without making me feel like the final up is the ultimate up. I know I am demanding too much from a summer album – Why is not, after all, the statement of artistic intent that I is – but I feel it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. Or maybe I need sunblock. [NB] | 3/5
“I Just Wanna Dance” by Tiffany | Interesting, this: the battle of Girls’ Generation’s Americans. Well, one left a couple of years ago and the other stayed behind. Both release solo mini-albums within a week of each other; both lead singles have vaguely 80s undertones; both even shot their music videos in Los Angeles. But the verdict on this one, at least from our side, comes, oddly, from Dexter he who poked at me for first exploring K-pop years ago: he tweeted about Tiffany’s song. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve had a week to stew on this, but I like this more too, and so does Shalla. Jessica’s “Fly” is okay, but frankly it sounds a bit run-of-the-mill, complete with American rapper cameo. (“Was she always this whiny?” I asked Shalla. “I never cared about her,” she replied.) Different strokes, perhaps: some fans argue Jessica’s is much more Korean than Tiffany’s, so that’s better. Who am I to argue with long-time fans, right? I’m just an outsider writing about what I think in as disinterested a manner as possible. But I – and two others from this blog – go for Tiffany. [NB]
Last week we kicked off this seven-week series of blog entries exploring the Korean pop scene, under the pretense of (more or less) curating a K-pop playlist for a trip to Seoul at the end of the year. The reaction we got was… well, there was some confusion as to why we’re devoting all this time to K-pop. It wasn’t a lot, thankfully. But we’re here now, and we have to continue. After looking at Seoul’s intricate musical ecosystem, part two of seven will focus on five acts who should be on your K-pop playlist, no matter what – as recommended by this blog’s resident K-pop expert, Rainy.