Sep 2, 2015

The Wonder Girls' Highly Anticipated "Reboot" Lives Up To And Exceeds Expectations

After three years of hiatus, several member changes and plenty of speculation from fans and critics alike the Wonder Girls have finally come back as four. After Sohee and Sunye's departure fans were worried what would become of the three remaining members, and I personally thought the group was done for. That's why it was both astounding and amazing that original member Sunmi, who left in early 2010 and came back as a solo artist in 2013, was rejoining the group. I love Sunmi and although Wonder Girls have been pretty absent my entire K-pop experience I was still super-excited to see what music they would release.

The album for this 2015 comeback is called "Reboot", which I think is a perfect name to summarize both the music on the album and the comeback in general. I haven't been listening much to this group's albums, because as I mentioned they haven't been active for the time I've listened to K-pop, but I did give "Wonder World" a try because I heard good things about it. I didn't love the album, but I most certainly liked it. However I have enjoyed both Sunmi and Yeeun's solo albums tremendously, so I know they have it in them at least.

"Reboot" is an album by the members themselves, as one or more of the girls have been involved with either writing the music or lyrics for every single song on it (with help from other professionals, though). In that way this album is more personal than anything they've done before, and the fact that they've also said that the band concept was their own idea makes it all the more special. To me this is a comeback for the group by the group, and knowing that makes the listening experience even more thrilling.

Opening the album is "Baby Don't Play", which is a great opener and an all-around awesome song. From the first few tracks, and the title song of course which you've all probably heard by now, you can hear the musical theme of this particular album. "Reboot" is a blast from the past, so to speak, and the 80's specifically. Every single song on it is in one way or another reminiscent of the songs that used to rule the charts back in the day, and "Baby Don't Play" is no exception. It is essentially about asking that specific love interest not to play with their hearts and not wanting to get hurt. Everything about this is song is wonderful, from the catchy hook to the glorious synths and the somewhat muted vocals. I love how nostalgic and retro it sounds, and I think it's a splendid way to start off the album and introduce the listener to the concept.

HyelimReboot2"Candle" is the next song and it is arguably my favorite on the entire album. The intro itself is just magical as the work of the synthesizers is amazing to listen to, and the rest of the track continues being equally stunning. Sunmi's soft, whispery vocals dominate the verses and fits perfectly with the sensual message of the song, and Yubin and Hyerim's more powerful rap parts provide the song with a more dynamic outlook.

I love all the separate parts and I love the emotionally charged chorus, and just like the lyric "Light up my candle" suggests this song is indeed quite sexual and initiative. Male rapper Paloalto features at the end to add a man's perspective of the situation the song deals with, and I have never heard of him before which is a shame because he pulls it off perfectly. The moment where his rapping starts coming to an end and the instrumental picks up again before the final chorus literally makes me shiver because it's that amazing. Yeah, I love this song.

The next song is the title track, and it's also the only song on the album that JYP himself had a hand in. "I Feel You" is nearly as 80's as it gets, but it's a very serviceable title track as it's still commercial enough to work with the public. Finding that balance must've been hard but when I listened to it I immediately loved it both because it was so retro but also because the song itself was great. When JYP and Yubin do their introductions in the beginning and she says: "And the Wonder Girls, we're back!" I nearly started freaking out just by the sheer epicness of it. They're back indeed, and they're back with a bang.

 Like the prior track this one too is mature but even more sensual, as they sing about feeling their loved ones touch even when they're alone and going crazier by the minute. It's not sexy; it's about sex and that makes literally all the difference in the world. I just find it so empowering that the group is singing about this subject and not sliding away from it or disguising it, and they shouldn't have to either. All the members are adults and more than capable of singing about those experiences. Apart from the lyrics the synth- and drum-heavy instrumental as well as the members convincing vocal performances are huge contributing factors for the greatness of "I Feel You".

"Rewind" is the following song, and it's a regretful trip down memory lane as the members sing about wanting to turn back time to where all was good and peaceful. Like the prior songs the synths and drums take center place, but the sound is more down-played and the eerie sound of a single keyboard line help bring the mood of the song to where it belongs. You can feel the regret and resignation in every note and every word, and the girls do a wonderful job of bringing all the emotions to life. It also helps that the song has a memorable hook, as it otherwise might have faded a bit next to all of the surrounding high-energy tracks.

The tempo and energy increases with "Loved", which is up next. The drum beats are notable more fast and intense, and thus the overall feeling of the song also intensifies. Yubin opens it up with a rap portion, and overall it is said member who gets the most lines which is a nice change as she otherwise tends to get the short end of the stick.

Although the verses are heavy on the rap the choruses and parts leading up to it are surprisingly soft and make a great contrast to the verses. The song is about lost love and breaking up, and the feelings that come with it. There's a mixture of both sadness, regret and irritation which I think works great with the instrumental which also carries a range of emotions.

Following is "John Doe", which is one of very few the songs on the album I had some trouble getting into at first. It seemed like this one, unlike all of the other ones prior on the album, had no clear hook or memorable line that stuck with me. Literally all of the other have had some part that made them stand out, from the soft and sexy "I feel you" to the catchy "Baby don't play-ay-ay-ay", and this song just didn't have one of those. I think that's why I had more trouble remembering it and thus more trouble falling in love with it. Now that I've listened to it more times I can say that I like it very much, but it's still feels a bit weak compared to some of the other, similar tracks. However I like the lyrics ,the word-play on the phrase "John Doe" and the incorporation of trumpets, but it's not my favorite song on the album to put it that way.

WonderGirlsReboot3"One Black Night" is one of the album's more interesting songs, in my opinion. The way it starts off is instantly intriguing, as the verses, sung by Sunmi, are kept quite low-key and mysterious but the increasing beat in the background makes for a great build-up to the chorus. From there Yeeun takes the lead and allows the build-up to come to a release, and the chorus is truly what makes the entire song.

Lyrically it follows the same level of maturity as many of the other songs, but with a slightly darker twist. Comparing sexual tension and attraction to that of a vampire's thirst for blood as well as it all taking place in the dark night definitely sets it apart from the other songs with similar messages. I'm also impressed by how well they've managed to get the somewhat spooky and dangerous vibe of the lyrics into the music, both with the various effects and layers in the instrumental but also with the vocals and rap.

While Hyerim and Yubin didn't have much of a part in "One Black Night" they have all the more in the next song, "Back". To be frank right from the bat, I don't like this song very much. However that has more to do with personal preference rather than the quality of the song. It's the rappers chance to shine, and thus it's pretty much entirely rap-based. Neither of the girls are excellent rappers, but even if they were I don't think I would've liked it all too much. I want some vocal incorporation, and not just through ad-libs like with Yeeun's parts here. The title itself tells you basically all you need to know about the song, as they confidently rap about themselves and their comeback, but also about what critics have had to say about them and their long hiatus. I will have to say though that I'm impressed by how even with a rap track they've stuck with the retro concept, as the song totally screams late 80's/early 90's hip-hop.

Never in my life would have thought that Hyerim would be the one to have a solo song on a Wonder Girls album, but here I'm proven wrong. "Oppa" is entirely Hyerim's work, as she wrote and arranged the song (with help from producer Franks) and she's the only one to sing and rap on it as well. Let's be real; she doesn't really master any of the two forms to the fullest, but it honestly doesn't matter on this song.

At first when I heard it I didn't like it all, there was too much nasally rap-talking going on, a weird trap-breakdown and an overall unusual structure. However as I listened to it over and over again I grew to like it more and more. Say what you want about Hyerim's tone and flow but the way the performs truly embodies the character she's singing as; a young girl who only wants is to go out and have fun partying with her friends, but her obsessive boyfriend is holding her back.

Next up is one of my absolute favorites on the album; "Faded Love". This song is seriously so special. I think what I like most about is the instrumental, which is synth-heavy of course, but also features many other instruments from different genres of music. For that reason it feels a bit richer and fuller than some of the others, and it's also more emotional. I definitely think it's the music primarily that holds the song together and makes it stand out, as the vocals are quite monotone and are for the most part slightly faded into instrumental. Presumably that's because of the message of the song and the lyrics. As you can tell from the title it's about love that has faded away and the need and longing to hold on to what's left and wanting to build up everything again. However it seems the ambition to try is fading away as well, as the members sound both exhausted and tired.

Wonder Girls pictures from ‘Reboot’ photobook sans watermarks and stuff | Asian Junkie
The tempo slows down slightly for "Gone", which is another sad song but is a bit more alive and dynamic than the prior. The instrumental is heavier and the mood of the song is quite different as well, as there's more desperation and heartbreak brought to life in this one. The vocals are great, especially on Yeeun's part, but I there's not nearly enough Sunmi in it. This song is probably the one that's the least retro on the album, as it sounds more like a regular mid-tempo track with modern pop and R&B influences, and I don't know if that's why but it's actually my least favorite song on the album. I simply don't find it very memorable, despite being able to objectively point out many god things about it. Maybe it's just not my type of song.

Finally we're arrived the final stop on this journey, as "Reboot" ends with "This Moment"; a perfect tribute to the many ballads that was released during the course of the 80's. These type of ballads are those that groups like Infinite have made themselves a name with, and sure enough are there many features on the song that does seem a bit dated as they should, but that doesn't make it a bad song. Yeeun shines as usual, and her and Sunmi's harmonies are wonderful as well, and although the lyrics are a bit cheesy they feel genuine. I think that personally I might would have wanted the album to finish on a more energetic note, but it's not surprising they would go out with a ballad. It's definitely beautiful, but the climax is a bit underwhelming and overall the impression it leaves is a bit flat.

Wonder Girls
It took a while but we've at last reached the conclusion I've come to after listening to this album on repeat. Although I might not love every song I can easily say that as a whole this album is one of 2015 better ones so far (the competition is pretty low, though). The concept is crystal clear and can be heard on all the tracks, more or less, and I love how they've completely devoted themselves into making an album so cohesive and coherent.

I also absolutely adore the lyrics of most of the songs, as they are mature and age-appropriate for the girls, and deals with subjects such as sexuality in such a natural way. On top of that the members' vocal and rap performances, but mostly vocal, are suited to fit whatever the songs are about and all the emotion is conveyed flawlessly. I honestly never thought I'd enjoy a Wonder Girls album like this, but I'm happy I gave this one a try because it has absolutely blown me away. It's not only a musical and commercial "Reboot" for the group, it's proof that they are still to be counted on.

Highlights: "Baby Don't Play", "Candle", "I Feel You", "Faded Love" (and like three more, really)
Least Favorite: "Back", "Gone"

Total Score: 4,85/5

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