Wonder Girls - "Wonder World"

Before this album came out in full, I had mixed feelings about it because the first teaser stunned, the second was underwhelming, and "Be My Baby" was boring. However, my doubts were put to rest when I finally heard the whole album, because really, it's one of the strongest k-pop albums in a long time, and one of the few I can listen to from start to finish and not skip a track. (I can't even do that to majority of DBSK albums!)

No matter what I say about JYP being one-dimensional and forcing his singing style down his idol groups' throats, we all have to remember that JYP was once an idol himself. Although I doubt they called him an idol, he was making pop music for himself before he branched out into mentoring, and because of that he not only understands the concept of a song, but the concept of a performance. Unlike other songwriters who merely adapt to trends, JYP understands that at the end of the day, the songs he makes will be sung by people, with strengths and exceptional talent, yes, but who also have limitations. He understands that because he went through that before, and it shows in the album.

"Wonder World" is a pop album through and through, but the quality of the songs is really something else. And they're actual songs, with actual melodies and actual singing, which can actually be performed live. Each and every song has a purpose on the album, even the ones I didn't like that much, they make sense. I never thought I'd say this, but "Wonder World" is, hands-down, one of the best k-pop albums of the year. I listened to it for the first time a few hours ago, and honestly I found myself giving almost every song 5 stars. I don't do that - like, the most 5-star songs I've given an album is probably two or three. I gave "Wonder World" five perfect scores out of twelve. In terms of the album as a whole, the Wonder Girls, and JYP, did not fail to deliver.

However, the single choice is as much an epic fail as the album is brilliant. Whose BRILLIANT idea was it to choose boring, whiny and generic, "Be My Baby" as the lead single, when there are like five other songs that are easily more amazing and more attention-grabbing than "Be My Baby"? Huh? The single, in theory, is supposed to sell the rest of the album, but when the lead single is out of place with the rest of the album, how's it supposed to sell? The only people who will end up listening to the brilliance that is "Wonder World" are the people who knew WG before "Be My Baby".

"G.N.O." is the song that everyone has been pulling the "why wasn't this the single?" on, and for reasons I do understand. I mean come on, the song is so Max Martin/Maratone Euro(dance) and it's practically a club remix in itself - everybody loves some Eurodance. When I heard the preview I was one of those people who were wondering why the song isn't the lead single, but hearing the entire song, I do understand why this isn't the single -- it's too hard to sing live. It's not that the Wonder Girls are vocally incapable, they aren't, they have Ye Eun and Sun Ye for heaven's sake, it's that the dynamics on this song are too constant and packed. It sounds like a club song for a reason, and the focus of this song isn't the group and their singing, but the song and the style. It's more style that substance, and although it's not overpowering in dangerous levels, a single like this is more fit for US promo, where the focus is on radio and TV airplay, not systematic live performances.

However, "G.N.O." not being single material still doesn't excuse the fact that "Be My Baby" should never have been the lead single in the first place. Just listening to it, "Be My Baby" sounds like those cheap/slightly slutty Christmas songs that warrant performances like how they did "Jingle Bell Rock" in "Mean Girls" -- but I don't know if I mean it in a good or bad way, so I'll leave it to you guys. It's catchy but boring, melodic but whiny, almost like they're yodeling or something, but one thing you can't deny is that it sounds like a Wonder Girls song. And it's a song. Weak and generic, it's still a song, and seeing as a lot of acts these days forget the song part of their music, not bad. HOWEVER, the more I listen to it, the more I'm convinced that whether JYP was conscious of this or not, "Be My Baby" was inspired in some way, shape or form, by Girls' Aloud's brilliant, brilliant, "Biology". It is, for lack of a better term, rather cheeky, and has the slightly dry British snappy-ness to the melody and the instrumental.


"Girls Girls" is the pretty kind of stunning. It's not the epic kind of stunning, it's the "oh my god this is sReeo pretty I'm gonna cry" kind, and that's my favorite kind -- it reminds me of "You I Do", my favorite song from "Dreamgirls", which in itself is one of my favorite movies. It's a simple song with simple verses, but the chorus is gorgeous and they have the vocals to pull it off properly, apart from the fact that it actually matches all their vocals. Actually, it's one of those easy to sing melodies, and that's why it's so gorgeous. Try humming it -- unlike other songs it's not only possible, but it will also sound good for a lot of people. The instrumental is playful yet gorgeous, and all the instruments are so graceful and really fall into place with each other. In an age where majority of the songs out these days are overproduced and loud, songs like this remind me that people still actually make music. It's a gorgeous song, but it doesn't leave out that element of fun, of enjoyment. It's songs like this that remind me of why I like music in the first place, and why I never resisted my family's insistence that I develop a strong musical background -- because music is fun, and it's meant to be enjoyed.

It came to my attention that "Me, In" is in fact a cover of an old-school Korean rock song, and Ree let me hear the original before the Wonder Girls version came out. My GOD is this an amazing cover. JYP really knows how to one, choose songs to cover, and two, make them DAMN good. Apologies for the informal language, but there's really no other word to describe how I feel about this cover. It's got attitude, spunk and kick, but without losing the clean pop sound of the rest of the album. The verses are so, so, SO strong, almost too strong, actually, that the chorus ends up sounding a bit flat. I mean it's an epic cover, but the way they treated the chorus (as in group of people singing, not the chorus chorus) vocals just ruined it for me. Still one of the better songs on the album though, and one of the five-star songs.

If Atomic Kitten were to come back in 2011, "Sweet Dreams" would be their lead single. If S Club 6/7/8 were to come back in 2011, "Sweet Dreams" would be their lead single. If all these European pop groups were to come back in 2011/2012 and this was written by Savan Kotecha or Max Martin or a Swedish production house, they'd ALL be fighting for this song. It's so Euro-pop, from the synths to the bits of "oo whoa whoa" autotune, to the melody, that for a while I was convinced I was listening to Atomic Kitten's "Feels So Good" and that it was 2002 again. But I wasn't, and that's what makes this so brilliant. It's like a more bass-y, fuller-sounding version of something off an Atomic Kitten/Later S Club album, and in case you've forgotten, before I got into kpop I was a British pop fan/critic/slight-expert. Like "Sweet Dreams", if all these European pop groups were to come back this year, they'd all be fighting over "Stop!" as the b-side, or a lesser act will get it for a single, like Play or something. Or No Angels. (are they still alive?) Again, the synths, the structure of the song, and basically everything about it makes it sound SO Euro, not that I'm complaining.

It's like after "Me, In", the songs on this album go in pairs. Another pair of pretty songs, slightly slower -- "Dear. Boy" and "두고두고". They're very mid 2000's R&B, like watered down versions of the songs they give to all these girls with okay voices but who never really manage to hit it big, like Cassie or Paula DeAnda. "Dear Boy" is a bit more on the hip-hop/top 50 and below single side, but "두고두고" is more like the ballads on those small-time, but major label, albums.

The final pair is "SuperB" and "Act Cool" -- the edgy songs. They're less melody, more hook and style, but even then they're still good songs. Well, "SuperB" is. After the two slower songs, it's a good song to get you back into uptempos and kind of leaves you hanging to go listen to the album again. From what I'm hearing, "Act Cool" sounds like just Hye Rim rapping, and remember, I hate Hye Rim's voice. It's an interesting song though, and a good filler track. In a sense I think the album does need these slightly less good tracks to one, keep you listening, but at the same time, while you're listening to these, all you're thinking about is re-listening to the previous songs. Apart from that (rather random) kinda interesting singing part at the end of "Act Cool", that's exactly what these songs are -- fillers.

"Nu Shoes" is entirely in English, so I'm guessing this is going on that English album they're working on? Putting aside that it sounds like Christmas (Why do so many songs on this album sound like Christmas? Is it just me?), I really like it. It's catchy, it's very trendy and edgy, but it actually has a pretty melody, a real bass line, and it doesn't just go in a straight line dynamics-wise, which keeps people interested. It's kind of a compromise to the loudness war -- the choruses are packed like crazy, but the song still has a sense of loud and soft.

I stand by what I said at the beginning -- "Wonder World" is, hands-down, THE best k-pop album of the year. It's an album, the songs make sense together, but the songs were also outstandingly produced, delivered and sung. It has its flaws, no album is 100% perfect and we all have our own preferences, but this is the closest k-pop has gotten to perfection.

The best song: "Girls Girls", hands-down
The better songs: "G.N.O.", "Me, In", "Sweet Dreams", "두고두고"
The worst song: "Act Cool", but that's because there's hardly any singing on it.
The rating: 4.9/5 - the highest rating I've given to an album all year.

10 comments:

  1. I agree that this has got to be THE best album of the year (B2ST's Fiction and Fact comes second...for me).

    The two tracks I didn't like were their title song and Act Cool. Like you, I dislike Be My Baby, but who knows, it might be well received by the general public in Korea. However, their album overall is fantastic. My ultimate favourite tracks are Sweet Dreams, Stop, and Dear Boy. I've had these on repeat ever since it's release, but all songs are highly enjoyable.

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  2. Man, I completely agree! I am actually awestruck as to why JYP chose Be My Baby as the title track-- see, most of the time the title track is meant to be the best song of the bunch. In Wonder World's case, half the album tops it.

    I was actually really surprised by how great the album is. I know a lot of people are complaining about how it's generic or western-- but I'm all 'whatever'. It's so fantastic listening to an album where all the songs have an addictive melody.

    Me In is still my favourite AND YOU WERE RIGHT- IT IS THE SONG IN THE TEASER! I'm hoping they'll get a super bad-ass MV for it :3 That song is like... retro(?) done right. I also really, really love Stop, Girls Girls (yeah, it grew on me), G.N.O, and Dear Boy.

    Honestly, is it just me, or is this a totally western(ish) album. Like, it could fit seamlessly in all the other albums girl groups in Britain are so bent on cranking out.

    Man, I'm so impressed by this. It's just so sad the lead single does like NO justice to the album. I don't think there's been a bigger discretion between a lead single and the actual quality of an album (in the positive sense), since FOREVER.

    (and thanks for the name drop :D)

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  3. A-freaking-gree!

    I haven't heard everything just yet. I'm savoring the awesomeness of Me, In at the moment (yes they will promote Me, In. It's just bass ackwards that they released that teaser first but released Be My Baby. I understand why though).

    As for why Papa JYP chose the one song out of left field (Be My Baby) as the lead single... well, it worked for Brown Eyed Girls when they had lost relevancy. BEG had to get cutesy with How Come, the kpop world paid attention, then BAM! Abracadabra, Sign, Sixth Sense = domination (at least for the 3 weeks promotional periods). Kpop loves the sickeningly cutesy crap ala SNSD, etc. *vomits* and in this album, Be My Baby came the closest to that criteria. Compared to Me, In, it's tamer so it doesn't completely alienate the older Wonderfuls who knew them since Tell Me/Irony (and Sohee is SO in her element! It's young and fun and IN HER RANGE! Thank you Papa JYP for seeing the light and getting rid of that cutesy shtick!), but once they promote Me, In, they're hoping to snag some new fans (even if they don't join the club, at least they'll keep an ear open for them). As to why this album sounds Christmas-y: that season will be here before you know it, so even if they aren't Christmas songs, they're perfect to play anyway for that feeling of the holidays. And because they're not literally Christmas songs, they don't feel cheesy to listen to. They get air play with Be My Baby because of the Christmas vibes, theoretically: they get sales/recognition beyond the 3 weeks of Inki/MuBank comebacks.

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  4. Your review is awesome. I'm not liking the lead single either.

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  5. i wrote a comment on youtube saying be my baby makes me think of Miss A. somebody replied n said "goodbye baby" was supposedly written for WG but given to miss A. but that doesn't change the fact... that when i listen and watch the MV of be my baby, i am reminded of miss A. imo, that in itself is enough to NOT have chosen it as a title track.

    but the album overall is amazing. i am pleasantly surprised. i never found WG to be that great. n i never understood why they're so popular with all that retro stuff. i remember listening to their first album but i couldn't even finish it. so Wonder World was really, really a surprise. it is 10x better than SNSD's.

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  6. I generally don't buy kpop albums because usually the side tracks are kinda lame. But I heard the WG album online and I loved it. EVERY BIT OF IT. And high replay value too.

    With Be My Baby, I was a bit iffy with it first. But then I was bored one day and rewatched the MV. And then rewatched it. And rewatched it again. It literally absorbed me into and caught with its catchiness. It might not be the best song in the album but its probably the best link with the old WG and the new more Westernized WG. And that's why I think JYP chose this track. The other tracks, to westernized listeners sound better but for Korea, I think a lot of the other tracks might have sounded much too foreign. And you can look at it this way. Be My Baby is on 5 million views right now. Its a hit and there's no doubt about it. WELCOME BACK WONDERGIRLS :D

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  7. As a proud Wonderful, I had my doubts in the 30sec preview but I grew to love Be My Baby as some other Wonderfuls said, it's trendy but still retro so it's Wonder Girls style. The teasers were very misleading - probably most misleading than the usual Kpop teasers - but after listening to the album, everything changed.

    Apart from Girls Girls and Nu Shoes, I can't stop listening to this album. I have missed listening to my girl's voices especially 2Ye.

    I guess my favourite songs that are on replay have to be G.N.O, Stop, Sweet Dreams and Act Cool for definite.

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  8. you need to listen to the new sats album.

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  9. I was actually surprised how good G.N.O was live! The performance actually made me come to like G.N.O. The girls were so charismatic! I loved it!

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  10. They pratically have all kind of songs genre in this specific album "Wonder World" .. Me, in ... was really stunning to me ... no offense but i didn't really expected yenny from the wonder girls to produce such great songs like G.N.O and rearranging Me, in lyrics i must say ... JYP u have earned yourself a treasure

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