Review Summary: What preceded the more internationally popular “crab-dancing” and otherwise “themed” music videos of Gee and Genie two years later is a superb callback to nineties pop from these nine girls.2007
. The year K-Pop exploded, shedding its light unto the rest of the world, exposing the bubblier, brighter side of South Korea unbeknownst to most residents of the Western world of music enthusiasts. This was the kind that materialized in myriads of company-driven, teenage-fronted singing and dancing groups who, for the most part, were not admired for their musical talent, but, for the more obvious image choices, and the appeal generated by attractive young idols and their similarly aged, pop-hungry fans. Within the effervescent pool of female K-Pop acts that have surfaced in the past seven years, there has only been one group that [I feel] has broken the cycle of the jaded, image-thirsty, inauthentic and, perhaps, more importantly, untalented likes of their peers-- multiple times in their career, which matters quite a bit, considering the [sometimes dangerous] degree of control these companies tend to have over their singers. The group I’m referring to is Girls’ Generation, colloquially known as SNSD
The nine girls who performed on this album have had arguably the most well-mannered, genuine, likable attitudes and personas that I have witnessed in South Korean music television and related media. This might be a testament to their name, but the wholesome, idyllic traits that have long dissipated from the forefront of teenage girls in the twenty-first century have permeated their image and their comportment in live interviews and in their music and lyrical content. Though some people might feel this is contrived and gimmicky, I’ve always found it particularly refreshing to see performers like this, in the cesspool of modern music. Hailing from various parts of Asia as well as the United States, the group was formed while the nine members were between the ages of fifteen to seventeen, during a process of several years where many girls were weeded out of the final group and either led separate lives or were moved to other, less successful pop acts-- something fans still discuss to this day. The interesting thing is, the same nine girls have remained together since their 2007 debut, which is impressive to find in this industry, and elicits a sense of loyalty that these girls seem to have for one another.
This album, unlike the majority of their later records, with the exception of 2009’s Gee
EP, does not contain a substantive amount of filler. In fact, eight out of the eleven songs are quite strong compositionally, and what I would consider their best, most definitive work, prior to the maturation of their image in late 2009, during the post-Gee
era. Perhaps the most impressive and interesting aspect of this album is the sound that penetrates to the core of these songs. The sound is highly reminiscent of early to mid-nineties pop, in instrumentation, production, and vocals combined, and I think one can only understand after listening to appreciate the gravity of this kind of percussive nostalgia, something that I don’t think was shared anywhere else in the music world during 2007. This is most evident on tracks 1, 3-6, and 11. Coupled with the callback to nineties instrumentation and synthwork are some of the strongest vocals I have seen in K-Pop, and this may either be the beginning of the type of powerful vocalwork one may find in later pop acts in the following years, or simply an anomaly within the industry, akin to the slightly older Korean superstar and Asia’s “Dancing Queen”, Kwon Boa, simply known as BoA
, who was the catalyst for the crossover of Korean pop acts to the Japanese industry, something that had not happened since the events of World War II. This crossover was repeated during the latter half of Girls’ Generation’s career, with high success. [There are nearly as many views of the Japanese single for Mr. Taxi
on YouTube as there are for the smash hit of 2009, Gee
-- well over eighty million.]
Album opener So Nyuh Shi Dae
[소녀시대] is a cover of the 1989 Lee Seung-Chul single, which is coincidentally the same year six of the nine members were born, and the inspiration for their name. This track in particular contains the upbeat, somewhat jazzy/poppy/radio-friendly sound that I referenced earlier. The song samples each of the nine unique voices, but you’ll quickly find that this album has two real secret weapons, and those are Kim Taeyeon
and Jessica Jung
. Both girls are the oldest members of the group, the former as well as group leader trained in vocals since she was an early teenager, recording extensively for the soundtracks of Korean dramas and doing the most solo work outside of the group, the latter receiving the next highest amount of training, with an equally impressive and powerful voice-- on this album.
Kim Taeyeon possesses a uniquely husky voice, similar in expressive and emotive power to the Japanese multi-platinum, best-selling artist Utada Hikaru, and has done lead vocals on every album the group has released, while Jessica has a brighter, clearer voice with a pleasing quality to it and a slight nasality that never becomes a distraction. What is disappointing in their later work is the noticeable lack of lead vocals from Jessica, as well as the same type of upper-register belting and powerful singing found on this album, which is either due to a deterioration of their voices over the years, or a stylistic choice made by SM Entertainment, their record label. The only song I can think of in recent memory that is similar to their vocals on this album is Mistake
, on 2010’s Hoot
. The dueling yet complementary vocalwork between the two on this album is probably its strongest and most memorable facet, next to its overall sound, from the incredible, colorful harmonies of the power ballad Complete
-- a song that is quite personal to me, Taeyeon’s duet with H.O.T member Kangta in 7989, or the ad libs and upper fifth-octave belts the two utilize in their debut single and album closer Into the New World
, which lyrically is the strongest on the album, and inspires the same devotion and passion the girls had worked on achieving to produce this record. As a whole, this is the group's best vocal work.
What preceded the more internationally popular “crab-dancing” and otherwise “themed” music videos of Gee
two years later is a superb accomplishment from these nine girls, distinctive from the world of K-Pop in its simplicity and vocal prowess, unique callback to nineties pop, and reminder that musical trends that existed nearly a decade ago can still be valid and ever-pleasing, as they were reinterpreted by an unlikely group of youngsters from a once-overlooked corner of the world and given life anew.
Recommended tracks: Complete, Baby Baby, Into the New World, So Nyuh Shi Dae, Kissing You