The cold, hard truth is that the music industry in South Korea isn’t what it once was when BoA first debuted in 2000.
Despite being hailed as the Queen of K-Pop™ for nearly two decades, the now 31-year-old superstar is vying for attention in a crowded arena that consists primarily of girl groups and boy bands armed with feverishly passionate fanbases, with new troupes being spat out from the conveyer belt at hyper-speed.
In spite of the slow decline in public interest she’s faced (please, show me one pop star whose career hasn’t shown signs of fatigue two decades in), BoA’s continued to wear the crown among solo stars for good reason: not only have her powerful performances and impressive moves carried her through the years, but her sound has consistently evolved with the times.
After slowing things down with “Kiss My Lips” in 2015, and only one week after releasing her ninth studio album in Japan, Watashi Kono Mama de Ii no Kana (I Wonder If I’m Fine As I Am), BoA’s doubled-down on her more mature sound with her first-ever Korean mini-album One Shot, Two Shot; a record that finds her going insane, internally combusting, then slipping into something more urban in the form of electro-R&B/hip-hop vibes – and yes, even some trap. (“That’s my jam…“)
The mini collection’s lead single and title track is a sleek and stylish combination of bright pop melodies and shuffling electronic beats, toeing the line between artsy and accessible. (More on that move, which was certainly intentional, in a bit.)
The song was co-penned and produced by English producer and songwriter GRADES, responsible for co-writing Cheryl‘s “Screw You” and Tiffany‘s “Talk” alongside Nicola Roberts, tracks for Tom Aspaul, Dua Lipa – basically all of the faves, so it was only a matter of time until he landed in South Korea with the Queen herself.
The accompanying music video finds BoA doing what BoA does best: busting a move. And looking gorgeous in several outfit changes. (Those hot back-up dancers don’t hurt much to look at either, honestly.)
Is it the most expensive looking production compared to her contemporaries? Not really – but when you’re gifted enough to move like BoA, you don’t need much else than a dance floor – or, in this case, a train station.
True to the track’s lyrics – the song’s about the exhilarating explosion of fireworks inside upon the very sight of her beloved – BoA plays the part of dance-y desire for an entranced commuter. He gets lost in the fantasy, leaping his way across the tracks in a dreamlike trance just to twirl with her for a bit, until she abruptly awakens him with a bang…literally. And just like that, it’s back to reality. (Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the twist ending, while perfect in shock value, was still a bit jarring given current events stateside.)
“One Shot, Two Shot” works as a package. But the better question is: does it live up to BoA’s own standards?
As documented on her Keyword #BoA reality show that’s aired in South Korea since the beginning of 2018, the pop icon was heavily involved in crafting this comeback – especially when it came down to catchiness.
“There’s when people say ‘That dance looks good.’ Then there’s ‘That dance looks fun, I want to try.’ For our company, it ends at ‘That dance looks good’ – especially in my case,” she bluntly observes in a meeting with SM Entertainment.
“For about the past 3 years, I can’t remember the lyrics or the dance. And I think that’s the biggest problem. I think there needs to be at least one catchphrase that sticks to people’s memory.”
And so, BoA’s hunting for a hook – or at least, something slightly more memorable.
In another moment of Boss Mode BoA on the show, the singer gets frustrated by the difficulty of the moves and switches up the song’s intricate choreography to make it more accessible. In a time of chart-dominating earworms with simple moves like Twice‘s “TT,” who could blame her for comparing notes?
Regardless of her concerns about being easily digestible, BoA sounds as assured as ever while settling into a more seductive vibe on this mini-record, including the intoxicating “Everybody Knows,” which finds the superstar purring her way across alluring, almost mystical-sounding beats.
In a continuation from her 2015 release, BoA teamed up once again with Danity Kane hit-making songwriting team The Stereotypes – who did “Kiss My Lips,” as well as Red Velvet‘s recent ’90s R&B-leaning groove “Bad Boy” – on the lush and sexy “Always, All Ways,” complete with a silky-smooth contribution from singer-songwriter Chancellor.
As a result of all this moody goodness, the blaring, Latin-tinged pre-release track “Nega Dola” is the most out-of-place, as BoA finds herself indulging in her goofier side, canceling her man and, ultimately, going crazy – not thematically unlike Sunmi’s “Gashina.” (Boy Problems, as Carly Rae Jepselegend once proclaimed.)
She keeps the attitude coming strong with “Your Song” featuring K-rapper Junoflo, which is among one of BoA’s most cocky moments to date, as she rides atop a finger-snapping, hi-hat-filled trap beat and does her best good-girl-gone-bad impression. (Bitch better have BoA’s money.) And with that speaker-busting dance break, the song will be a complete waste if it’s not brought to life on stage at least once.
The mini concludes with the militant electro-strut of “Camo,” released as a one-off single last year. And despite being old news, the still under-appreciated track makes a fierce welcome, channeling Janet Jackson circa “Feedback” and “Make Me” – no surprise there, given her everlasting love for all things Jackson.
Speaking of: the standout of the deep cuts, for me, is “Recollection,” a warm throwback full of throbbing beats, electric guitar rhythms and sweet crooning recalling Janet’s more nostalgic escapes. (It may also just be that BoA’s got a touch of that Jackson spark in her sound, always.)
One Shot, Two Shot is start-to-finish fresh, and yet another stellar example of BoA’s ability to dominate in basically any genre. She’s a musical shape-shifter, and a pop star who clearly has plenty left to offer. But she’s now grappling with the same question presented to any pop star who’s stayed in the game as long as she has managed to do.
“Why now, at this point in time, should people listen to BoA’s music?” one SM exec pondered in the meeting.
As time goes on, relevance is almost always an uphill battle. But if the way she’s presented herself on the show – and in this music – proves anything, it’s that BoA’s always been one to listen to her heart and speak her mind, which is why she remains a girl on top after all these years.
She’s just given it her best shot (or two) once again, and still has yet to miss her mark.
One Shot, Two Shot was released on February 20. (iTunes)
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Photo credit: SM Entertainment