Confession: I was never a big fan of the Wonder Girls. In fact I found them overhyped, outdated, and frankly, yes, I thought SNSD was better than them. Not in the sense that Wonder Girls aren’t talented– because they are. But in terms of actual material and hype. To me Wonder Girls pretty much occupied the bottom of the barrel when it came down to girl groups. To put it in short, in my opinion the Wonder Girls were one of the most boring girl groups to ever hit the big time. Harsh? Yes. Uncalled for? Not really.
All of their songs are ridiculously simplistic and very boring. The melodies are generic, the instrumentals are basal, and none of them particularly prove the Wonder Girls in the vocals department either. In fact, the most interesting and high-energy song they have is probably ‘Nobody’. Which in turn, is also very generic and safe. When I heard it the first time all I could think about was how you could replace the lyrics in English and it’d inevitably get lost in all the other uninspired and done-before songs plaguing the Western air waves. And hey, that’s exactly what happened! Apart from ‘Nobody’, the only other remotely good song is ‘So Hot’– which is good. For a Wonder Girls songs. But in the grand scheme of things, it too falls flat. And it’s not like I take pleasure in seeing them fail to deliver, I really don’t. I may not express it a lot, but Sunye is a competitor for ultimate female bias. I don’t like seeing my ultimate biases fail. I don’t like seeing any group that can do so much better fail.
So it’s safe to say I didn’t exactly have particularly high hopes for this comeback. I was willing to give them a chance, but my expectations were pretty much non-existent. Even after they announced they weren’t going for retro concept, I didn’t dare raise my hopes up. However, it turned out JYP was a strong competitor for being the master of hype. Because the first teaser released was so slick and sexy, that I think I actually temporarily turned into a Wonderful. And my expectations went from 0 to over 9000. And did Wonder World live up to my expectations?
In some ways, no. But in a lot of other ways, yes. Yeah, the lead single ‘Be My Baby’ is the definition of ‘blah’. But never fear, you have a whole stellar album to make up for it!
One track in, and the album has already topped ‘Be My Baby’. ‘G.N.O’ is a fun, uptempto, dance track. Composed by none other than Wonder Girls’ Yeeun. Is it a good song? Yes. Would it make for a good lead single? No. The verses are over-processed, slightly detached, choppy, and I doubt they’d be able to handle it live. Thankfully the verses also do not last too long, and once the pre-chorus hits, the song really soars. It’s definitely not the most original dance-pop song in the world, but it’s still a pretty good one. The autotune that’s used in the chorus is used tastefully and doesn’t burn my ears. One thing to note is how western the production of this song is, which isn’t actually a bad thing at all. It looks like the US did some good for the Wonder Girls, because a lot of these songs have very western production, which Yeeun herself seems to have picked up on. How does it feel JYP? To be out-composed by your own creation.
‘Be My Baby’ isn’t actually a bad song. If the Wonder Girls had released it as a special Christmas single I’d be cool with it. In fact, it would make a pretty good filler track to accompany an epic lead single. But here’s the deal: it is the promotional single, and it’s meant to sell the album. My biggest beef with this song isn’t how generic it is, or how much it reminds me of the 90s, but the fact it does absolutely no justice to the killer of an album. To be honest, I do know why JYP chose it as a lead single. It is Wonder Girls through and through, I’d actually put it at the top of the Wonder Girls’ discography of boring and insipid songs. I mean, it is catchy, but it absolutely goes through you. And there are at least another six better songs on this album alone. But alas, we’re going to have to watch this be performed live weekly, with it’s familiar bouncy beat and generic melody in toe. Well, at least the MV is pretty sleek. The monochrome colour scheme works really well surprisingly, and the contrast is deep enough for the whole thing to come off really slick. The choreography isn’t fantastic, but it suits the song to a T, and they all look like they/re genuinely enjoying it.
I was a bit hesitant to like ‘Girls Girls’ at first, because it felt like my self-respect was on the line. Because it’s pretty cheesy, and one of those really typical feel-good songs you’d find in those musical movies where the three lead females are skipping together arms linked. But, I’ve finally succumbed. I really love this. The instrumental is so light, and pretty, and actually quite laid back. The vocals shine in their raw, unprocessed glory, and the song remains classy and clean all through. And they all sound fantastic on this. Once again, killer western production, and I’ll admit it, the melody is definitely familiar. But in a world with so many minds, things can only be so original. And in the end, the question is this: is it a good song? And the answer is yes without any hesitation. My only actual complain is I wish the song ended with more of a bang.
The album’s mood takes a 180 with the introduction of the nonsensically titled, but sassy, ‘Me In’. And for those who don’t know yet, it is indeed the song heard in the slick and sexy teaser number one. And let’s just say, that if it was the lead single, it would not disappoint. What’s interesting to note is that it is actually a remake of an old Korean rock song, which actually leaves me even more awestruck than I was before. JYP may be a really anticlimactic composer, but damn, does he know how to make a remake good. For one, who would have thought to give a song like that to the Wonder Girls, and who would have thought they’d be able to pull it off. The twist the Wonder Girls put on the song is more than welcome; they replaced the majority of the guitar with some good ol’ electronica, and the sass remains intact. The song is explosive through and through. Strong verses, a strong chorus, it does not quit. It’s catchy without being redundant, it’s strong without being overwhelming. It also has a tinge of retro laced within it. All in all, it would have made the perfect title track. But of course. The Wonder Girls? Getting a good title track? Never!
‘Sweet Dreams’ is a song that would meld perfectly into the early 2000s, and it’s a song that just has to be performed by a girl group. Just listen to it, the synths and bass in particular just scream ‘give me to a girl group!’ And that melody, there’s no denying it. This song is pretty much my childhood.
And ‘Stop!’ would be my jam for an eternity. The instrumental is so full, and the verses are so rhythmic (and they’re actually ridiculously familiar, can anyone guess where it’s from?) you can’t not tap your feet along to it. ‘Stop!’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’ probably have the most noticeable British Pop influences out of all the tracks, which is a great place to get inspiration from, just saying. I have a really big penchant for the British pop scene, and the Wonder Girls are on fire. I’m thinking they should move their endeavours from the US to Britain, where good old school pop songs are appreciated in their full.
The album kind of slows down with the introduction of ‘Dear Boy’, a mid-tempo song, which to be honest, doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s one of those RnB songs, that are pretty, but they don’t actually stir anything. The instrumental of this song does a disservice, where it actually makes the vocals sound very flimsy and almost weak. It’s not a particularly bad song, and it’s pretty I’ll give it that, but it puts a halt on the album.
‘두고두고’ is the slowest song on the album. And once again, it’s nice, but that’s it. It does a good job of being a filler track, but aside from that it pales in comparison to it’s preceders. It’s a very linear song. It doesn’t take you to amazing highs and lows, instead it stays on a steady track and remains pretty at best. But since I’m guessing the purpose of the song is just to stay chill and laid back, it does a good job and it fits into the rest of the album seamlessly.
‘SuperB’ is actually pretty sassy, if not rudimentary. It’s a Wonder Girl album, so there has to be at least two hook songs in here. SuperB takes the position of being the better hook song. It’s rather anti-climatic, but it speeds up the album’s pace and it somehow works. The thing is, it gets redundant really fast, because of the lack of build up, lack of climax, lack of dynamic, and excess of stuttery hook. You don’t really see it about to end, and when it does you don’t really care. But no album is perfect I guess.
And I guess ‘SuperB’ is fifty times better than ‘Act Cool’ which serves as, wait for it, Lim’s solo. As soon as the song started I wanted to punch someone, I could smell the redundancy three seconds in. I didn’t actually realise it was Lim’s solo until one minute into the song, and she was still pseudo-rapping. I do actually really like Lim. As a person. From a completely non-musical standpoint. But I feel like this was put in place just to let Lim prove herself, and kind of assure all the non-believers that she’s not useless. It’s 3 minutes and 34 seconds of Lim going on about how awesome she is– in the least subtle way possible (read: ‘I can rap in English’ ‘I can sing and dance, talking shit about me, it ain’t cool. Shut up and dance boy’). Why yes, I am talking shit about you Lim, but you brought it on yourself. So does this song prove Lim’s usefulness in the band? Well, she’s ‘rapping’ for the majority of it. That’s all I’m going to say. But hey, her English is actually pretty good. Good job Lim, you have that going for you. As for the song itself– the beat is killer boring and sort of non-existent during the verses. But it gets interesting when the chanting starts, and I can tell they did try and keep it interesting by having a nonsensical dynamic. But… there are actually a few fun/interesting pseudo-rap songs out there. This isn’t one of them. But props to her for writing her own raps– the translations themselves are actually pretty fun to read. But it just does not come together well.
The ‘Be My Baby RaD remix’ just changes the instrumental from bouncy to more chill. Less synths, and more piano. And I’m as indifferent to this as I am the original song. But it’s cute, and perky, and I can see it playing in the trailer for a quirky British Christmas-orientated romantic comedy.
‘Nu Shoes’ reminds me of the holiday season. Again. And it would make a better Christmas song than ‘Be My Baby’. The verses have an almost eerie tone, the pre chorus builds up the tension, and the chorus releases it. It’s edgy, and it actually has quite a bit of spunk considering they’re talking about their new shoes. I feel like I’d have a much greater appreciation for this song if I didn’t understand the lyrics in all their unprofound glory. Ignorance really is bliss in this case. The thing with K-Pop songs is, as soon as I understand the lyrics, my opinion on it can do a complete 180. Fannie discussed the importance of lyrics in her analysis of ‘Cleansing Cream’ by Brown Eyed Girls. It’s pretty prominent here. Where, as edgy as the melody is, I can’t completely forego the fact they’re talking about their ‘brand new shoes’. It’s a really good song, but it has such childish lyrics. I hope they release a Korean version of this so I can continue basking in my own ignorance.
All in all, Wonder World isn’t a perfect album, but it’s still pretty great. It’s cohesive, the songs are strong separately and strong together. I know a lot of people are complaining about how everything is a western knock-off, but I think that’s a pretty unfair comparison. We all know that K-Pop isn’t exactly the most creative industry, and in terms of pop music it’s pretty behind. Yes, the album is heavily influenced by western pop, but it’s good western pop. And it really sparks nostalgia within me. Wonder World is a strong collection of songs. Which hide the girl’s weaknesses, and show off their strengths. Sohee and Lim sound… good, and Sunye and Yeeun’s abilities really do shine through in a lot these B-side tracks. Wonder World has it’s flaws (like the hook songs and lead single), but it’s still pretty solid. And definitely one of the best K-Pop albums to come out this year.
For those who didn’t want to read:
Best Song: Me In
Other Favourites: Girls Girls, Stop!, G.N.O, Nu Shoes, Sweet Dreams
Pretty at Best: Dear Boy, 두고두고, Be My Baby
Worst Song/Has No Place: Act Cool
So did Wonder World live up to your expectations? What are your favourite/least favourite songs? Share your thoughts!
(crossposted from seoulbeats)