Produce 101, and its resulting girl group I.O.I, has been a strange phenomenon. The show itself managed to spawn several strong hit singles, but once the group actually debuted, they’ve struggled to find a sound (or song) that matched the delirious heights of Pick Me. Whatta Man is no different, offering an unoriginal mixture of forgetful verses and misused sample.
Before I get into my substantial complaints, I will point out that the girls sound absolutely tremendous here, hitting the harmonies powerfully and flawlessly. And the fact that this is performed by a truncated version of the original 11-member group makes it even more impressive. Unfortunately, that’s about all the praise I can find for Whatta Man. Now, I’m not sure how popular Salt N Pepa (or En Vogue, who covered Linda Lyndell’s original melody) are in Korea. This may be many listeners’ first time hearing this chorus. In that case, I can imagine how it would sound like an instant classic. But too much of I.O.I’s Whatta Man is lifted directly from that old hit. I’m not against sampling, but you’ve gotta do something interesting with the sample. Instead, I.O.I have basically covered the song’s hook and injected some utterly unmemorable verses around it. The end result is a jarring cut-and-paste job that sounds more like a commercial enterprise than an actual song.
And that’s the problem I’m starting to have with I.O.I in general. Sure, all of k-pop is a heavily marketable product, but this is a group without a distinguishable color, veering from one misguided commercial jingle to the next. At this point, I’m looking forward to their disbandment so that the girls can go back to their respective rookie groups and start forging an identity for themselves outside of the juggernaut that Produce 101 has become.