They may not have hit quite the same level of success as some of their 2015-debuted peers, but Oh My Girl has consistently released interesting — at times challenging — pop music. In a genre known for its adherence to trends, a little bit of experimentation is never a bad thing. K-pop is at its best when it embraces its odder, more fantastical elements without worrying too much about how international audiences might react. And in a year that has played it relatively safe so far, Coloring Book (컬러링북) is a barrage of candy-coated idiosyncrasy.
Right from the beginning, the song is an assault on the listener. There is no build-up or preparation. Instead, a burst of big band brass deposits us in the middle of what feels like an aural hurricane. This is disorienting the first time through, but in a way that feels refreshing and electric. Without a moment to breathe between hooks, it feels as if you’re constantly trying to play catch-up, chasing the melody rather than waiting for the set-up. It’s immensely engaging. Though Coloring Book utilizes a slightly different backdrop, the song plays like a beefed up, more bombastic version of last year’s Liar Liar. Its hooks are almost as potent, but they’re not signaled as directly. From a critical standpoint, I love that Oh My Girl have turned traditional pop structure on its head. This experimentation may prove problematic commercially, but if nobody plays around with format, there would be no impetus for k-pop to grow.
Of course, this would mean nothing if the melodies didn’t stick. While the verses gallop forward in a relatively forgettable formation, the moment the dramatic pre-chorus heralds the central hook, things turn quite euphoric. Oh My Girl are a large group, and when their tight harmonies stretch out in exaggerated fashion, their sound feels immense and commanding. Part of me wishes that they would have opted for a unique synth refrain rather than the puffs and burps of brass that fuel the track. There’s an opportunity for the instrumental to be every bit as adventurous and weird as the melody, but it doesn’t quite get there. Still, Coloring Book is another notch on the girls’ impressive, kaleidoscopic pop discography. It won’t be for everyone, but that’s part of its charm.