If there's one thing I'm thankful for with regards to how SM has been handling TTS, its that they don't just put out boring ballads on the grounds that they're "the voices" of SNSD. While "Twinkle" wasn't exactly a masterpiece -- it lacked the spunk light-heartedness that material like that demands -- I'd like to think that "Holler" is their redemption.
"Holler" works because it's not just SM trying to pull off a specific style, it's SM fitting those stylistic influences to what they do best. This is what happens when you give talented artists material that does them justice. What we're given are six slick, extremely well-produced pop tracks -- that perfect balance of substance with style.
My biggest problem with "Twinkle" was that it depended so much on TTS' vocals that the arrangement became counterproductive to the attempt to show off the girls' vocals. There was hardly any internal dynamics in the melody, which was the central element of the arrangement even more so than the instrumental, and the little dynamics that was present was even less obvious because of all the dead air. "Holler," on the other hand, is that showing off of vocals done right. There are still the mid-range sections that demand imposing vocals, there are still the melodic sweeps that take advantage of their technique, and of course the belting -- but instead of being just lined up one after the other, "Holler" is a creative, musical execution of technique. As it should be.
There is a juxtaposition of the high "holler! holler! holler!" lines by the chorus in a chord progression that transitions smoothly to the more individualized, mid-range lyrical lines in between. The contrast is on the surface-level elements -- high-low range, chorus-single vocal -- but the transition happens in terms of the actual melodic line. There is an even more pronounced juxtaposition of the verses, which are again mid-range melodic lines delivered by solo vocals throughout, and the chorus whose focal point really is the "holler!" hook. This juxtaposition goes beyond the sound as well -- the dynamics are constant throughout the verses, there isn't much contrast, while the chorus itself has juxtapositions of its own. This variety and artistic contrasting of elements is central to "Holler"'s success as a pop package, because it is at par with the proficiency of the production quality and TTS' vocals. In short, "Holler" does TaeTiSeo justice.
But more than the competence of the lead single, what surprised me more was the fact that the rest of the EP is just as outstandingly dynamic. I've been playing the entire package, from start to finish, over and over again for the past few days!
"Adrenaline" takes off from the high-energy and general dynamic structure of "Holler" -- bubbling verses in a lower, mid-range that transition to floating choruses with higher and more feminine melodies. Where "Adrenaline" differs though is in terms of style because it takes a slightly more cutesy feminine route with the chorus. This treatment works though, and makes for an over-all more light-hearted, fun package -- it's girly without being juvenile.
"Whisper" was the pre-release track and while I think it fits into the TTS' repertoire as a whole because it's like a more stylish "Baby Steps," as far as specific sound/style is concerned it doesn't quite fit into "Holler" at first glance. But seeing as the main connecting thread of the EP is more of substantial style and strong vocals, regardless of style, I guess you could argue that it fits. Or maybe it's just a matter of personal taste, or the fact that this was been out for a while now and the rest of the EP sounds a lot fresher than "Whisper."
"Stay" is definitely my personal favorite on "Holler." It's very SM -- it's slightly cheesy but not quite, with an unexpectedly gripping melody, all brought together by clean, rich production. It's an even more obvious manifestation of the "youthful but not juvenile" quality we saw in "Adrenaline." And I also think that this is something SNSD as a whole would never really put on an album (unlike something like "Adrenaline" for example), which is the purpose of sub-units in the first place -- to offer material that these particular members would never be able to do in their original groups. The focal point of "Stay" really is that melody and how TTS' mastery of technique is able to turn cheese into an effortless, gracefully powerful chorus. "Stay" is quite a gimmicky arrangement, actually, with all sorts of odds and ends that don't really seem like they'd go together -- spunky electric guitars, some mild dub step-esque things going on in the first half of the last bridge/refrain, "oh oh oh" progressions between melodic lines. So while I think the bridge is really confused, you need variety in a song like this or else it's going to be flat and forgettable. And I actually like the presence of the electric guitar line because it gives kick to the very flawy, graceful melody of the chorus.
Listening to "Only You," I think the reason why I don't think "Whisper" really fits into the EP is because the production and instrumentation aren't as sharp as the other songs. It's not really because of the production's shortcomings or SM's oversight, but more because that's really the nature of "Whisper" as a song -- the grit is what gives it style. "Only You," on the other hand, is a lot more like a combination of "Baby Steps" and an SNSD ballad like "All My Love Is For You." Sharp, no-nonsense production quality, graceful, gentle vocals and a by-the-books structure+arrangement with generic chord progressions. It's a pretty song, yes, and there is some creativity to it, but this really is more about TTS and their vocal style rather than the song itself. Would I listen to this again? Probably.
If "Stay" is my personal favorite, "EYES" is the track that I like the most both personally and as a writer because it basically encapsulates the direction "Holler" is going in, while being a genuinely enjoyable and gorgeous song. The stylish substance is there -- brass sections are staples on pop tracks recently and it's very dominant on "EYES," and there's a whole range of vocal techniques/stylistic decisions to the melody and its treatment. But at the same time it's still substantial. There are creative juxtapositions like in the second verse where Tiffany's "muscular" lines are balanced by Seohyun's more graceful, higher-range lines and Taeyeon's bridge serves as the middle ground between the two extremes. There is dead air in terms of the melody, but "EYES" uses those spaces creatively -- but they're filled with instrumental hooks like the brass section or is short enough to be transition spaces and not serve as dead weight.
"Holler" is what I've always wanted from TTS -- material that takes advantage of Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun's strong vocal foundations to really go all-out in terms of style. Whenever I problematize material for using style to cover up a lack of substance, it's not that I think style is not important -- but that substance is what will allow for an exploration of style. And I'm glad that SM has finally put those foundations to good use. "Holler" is contemporary, it's fitting for present-day pop, but it will also last precisely because of the creativity and musicality that went into its production. And because at the end of all this, I genuinely enjoyed the EP.