As I said in my last post about Gaon’s flawed Yearly Charts, I decided to review Sonamoo’s new album because it debuted at #1 on Gaon’s album chart last week, and I figured I should hop on it while it’s hot.
After all the drama happening with BAP, TS essentially pulled an SM Ent, and debuted their new girl group to try to distract fans from the rumors and the impending lawsuit. Sadly, this has been met with worse reactions than when SM pulled the same thing (debuting Red Velvet as soon as Sulli’s ‘hiatus’ was announced, and then giving them a rushed comeback when it was announced Jessica and Luhan were leaving their respective groups). BAP fans, AKA Babyz, truly live up to their name and have been acting like babies about the situation, since most fans truly don’t understand the concept of business and that their main goal is to make money.
Sonamoo, which means ‘pine tree’ in Korean, was introduced with a soft, doll-like teaser image. I dubbed this concept to be ‘granny hipster’ and I was definitely here for it. However, you can only imagine my surprise when their MV was released. But more on that in the review.
Sadly, the group has also met other controversy by using a similar color to SHINee as their ‘official color’ – because obviously colors are now copyrighted. Jonghyun then proceeded to copy their song title, so I’ll call that one even. And there have also been some criticisms over their logo. But it wouldn’t be the first time a rookie girl group has borrowed from another entity, eh Red Velvet?
Sonamoo’s debut album is called Deja Vu, and consists of 5 tracks plus the standard short intro almost every K-Pop album has but doesn’t need. The only two I can think of that actually are listenable are “T.I.E” from Stellar’s mini last year, and “In the Wind” from B1A4’s mini of the same name.
“Into Me” is the name of the one on Sonamoo’s mini, and while it has a dreamlike quality to it, it’s not a nice set up for the following track “Deja Vu,” because the style is just way too different, and there aren’t any similar elements to it whatsoever. However, it does fit in with the rest of the mini much more than “Deja Vu” does.
“Deja Vu” is a mess. I’m going to start off by saying that. As you can see, this is not the granny-hipster concept I was anticipating from the teaser. I’ve never felt so cheated in my life. The girls are dressed in hip-hop styled clothing, and their rosy cheeks and feminine makeup are gone. I had not prepared for this.
Apparently TS had said the group was going to be a ‘sister group’ to BAP, meaning they’d follow a more hip-hop style, but obviously not everybody knows this, so as a casual fan seeing the teasers and then hearing the debut song and watching the video, it’s a shock.
Now, I’m not saying the song doesn’t have some catchy parts. That would be a lie. However, I’ve heard this song before. I heard it when it was Wonder Girls’ “Irony,” I heard it when it was any of BAP’s 2012 singles. It’s not something I would want to listen to regularly because it’s nothing special. That’s the problem with the song, however the parts before the chorus that go “흔들 흔들, 두근 두근 두근 거려
흔들 흔들, 두근 두근 두근 거려” are actually awesome, and I wish the song would have followed that styling much more if they were going for the strong concept.
The next song is “Love Call” which I actually like much more than “Deja Vu” because it’s not a re-worked BAP single. The funky beat of the song actually sounds like it could have been a Secret B-side instead (TS is also Secret’s company), which is much more my style of song. None of the members sound as pitchy in this song, and it isn’t as ‘try hard’ though I could do without the rap break towards the end of the song.
“국민 여동생” (roughly translated to “Nations Little Sister”) is next, and it sounds like a mix of an APink and a pre-“BBB” Dal Shabet song, honestly much more the style I was expecting from the group via the teaser photos. It’s a much more cutesy, and upbeat song. It’s actually something I could see myself listening to regularly. “국민 여동생” is very poppy, fun, and follows the typical K-Pop song structure.
The opening of “가는거야” reminds me a bit of the style of Topp Dogg’s “Annie”, particularly in that it has some influence from late 80s/early 90s hip-hop music. However, the styling of the song changes throughout where you can hear a light piano riff in the backtrack. Overall, this song definitely sounds like an APink song, but with a more modern and interesting production.
The last song on the mini is “아낌없이 주는 나무” and starts off similarly to “Deja Vu” with the two rappers in the group opening the song. However, it turns into a mid-tempo ballad after that. I actually really like the chorus, but the rapping throughout the song ruins it for me, since rapping and ballads rarely mix well.
Now, here’s where a bit of a rant comes in.
Overall I actually enjoyed the album. I’d probably give it a 6.5/10 because there’s too much rapping for my personal taste (I’m here for pop music, not amateur rapping) and the lead track is the worst one – which is bad decision making and gave me an initial negative response towards the group. However, my biggest issue with the group are how they’re marketed and portrayed, as well as how fans are trying to act like they’re something special, when in reality, they’re very similar to most K-Pop girl groups.
If they were going to come out with a strong hip-hop image, similar to BAP, why didn’t the album aside from the title track reflect that? Of course there is rapping on most of the B-Sides, but most groups have that. Miss A’s tracks have rapping. Dal Shabet’s tracks have rapping. SNSD’s tracks even have rapping, as cringe worthy as it usually is. Granted, Sonamoo’s rappers aren’t the worst I’ve heard, but to show them off, why didn’t TS give them a powerful rap song instead of making them taint a perfectly nice ballad? “Deja Vu” should have been the rap-line+1 vocal’s B-Side song, and “Love Call” or “국민 여동생” should have been the single as they both actually reflect Sonamoo as a group much more. They aren’t a powerful hip-hop girl group. Any of their B-side songs could have been found on an APink or Dal Shabet or SNSD or Secret mini-album.
However I have to say, I prefer APink and Lovelyz’ for cutesy music, because their songs tend to avoid the typical rap breaks.
Having a title song and image so strikingly different from the teaser is a bad move. I should mention though, that the image teaser actually fits nicely with the rest of the album.
And here’s what I truly don’t understand; Korea responds the best, overall to cutesy concepts. Sistar and 2ne1 are the only girl groups that have maintained a strong performance while never having a cute image. So while there was a bait and switch with Sonamoo’s teaser image, why did they do it?
BAP has a large international fanbase, as do many groups with a more powerful/sexy concept. If that’s what TS was trying to re-create with Sonamoo, why include rejected APink songs on their album that are so far from the powerful concept of “Deja Vu”?
My guesses are as follows:
- Rushed debut, so TS simply pulled together whatever they already had
- Not truly knowing what image they want the group to have now that BAP may not be in the agency
- Trying to look different to generate initial buzz, but will likely soften their image for the next comeback
I’m truly hoping for the last bullet to be true, because I think they could do well with a softer image, yet at the same time, I wouldn’t want them to be in competition with my dear Lovelyz. My biggest problem with the bait and switch, however, are how fans of the group are making them out to be a special ~powerful~ girl group, as if they haven’t even bothered to listen to the album aside from the title track. While this seems to be the case with many fans, you should know your own before you talk about others (particularly as I see many Sonamoo fans come for Lovelyz or Red Velvet).
All in all, Deja Vu was an enjoyable listen and hopefully the group will find an identity, be it one way or the other.
In related news of cutesy girl groups, GFriend or 여자친구 will be releasing their mini album this week, and I’ll be reviewing it for sure, as one of the members looks like my beloved Jessica and they appear to be debuting with a similar concept to APink’s “My My” or SNSD’s “Gee” era.
FYI I’ll be calling them ‘YeoChin’ when I write about them, because ‘GFriend” is just as bad of a name as “Boyfriend”.