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K-Pop’s Best Albums: Wonder Girls – Reboot

The idea of a musical “concept” abounds in K-pop, but true concept albums are rare. A title track may swerve one way, while its accompanying b-sides retreat to more generic territory. This was not the case with Wonder Girls’ 2015 reunion album Reboot. Not only did it establish the girls as an instrument-playing band, but each of its tracks drew strongly from different aspect of 80’s pop music. As a child of that decade, it’s no surprise that this greatly appealed to me. But 80’s influences are not enough to drive an entire album on their own. Reboot’s tracks are universally solid regardless of their genre, giving them a timeless appeal. Pairing the group’s own songwriting chops with some of the best producers in the business, it’s a remarkably consistent piece of work. In fact, it’s easily my favorite K-pop girl group album of all time.


1. Baby Don’t Play – Kicking off with a modernized New Jack Swing groove, Baby Don’t Play’s retro synths recall Janet Jackson at her Control best, but Wonder Girls’ effortlessly cool delivery is all their own. Play absolutely nails the mid-to-late 80’s pop sound, down to its vocoder-assisted breakdown.

2. Candle (ft. Paloalto) – Grooving over the album’s most infectious beat, Candle’s sinuous electro bass provides the perfect playground for the girls’ sultry vocals and playful rap. It’s one of the album’s definite highlights, and rivals any actual 80’s hit when it comes to quality. Candle delivers a lethal dose of charisma, proving the group’s commitment to merging the nostalgic with the modern.

3. I Feel You – As the album’s only single. I Feel You bears the responsibility of encapsulating Reboot’s concept in a streamlined three and a half minutes. Luckily, the song does that and more, easily standing as 2015’s best girl group release and my personal favorite Wonder Girls single. The combination of that synth line and drum machine is to die for, and the breathy chorus is a pure nostalgia rush. Yet, this is no simple pastiche. Somehow, the song manages to draw out new layers to the group’s well-established sound.

4. Rewind – Moving from the dance floor to mid-tempo synth r&b, Rewind takes a strong snare beat and marries it to icy strings and a wistful melody that evokes the best of the girls’ vocal colors. It’s not one of the album’s more bombastic moments, but it’s a perfectly realized replication of its iconic 80’s influences.

5. Loved – Moving back to the club with a vengeance, Loved opens with a dynamic electro beat and attitude-filled rap verse. This is classic new wave synth pop in the vein of Dead Or Alive, given new life with its influx of hip-hop and sultry vocals. The brief addition of electric guitar during its climax renders the track practically transcendent.

6. John Doe – Tackling the poppier side of 80’s music, John Doe rides on a funky disco beat with prominent bursts of brass. The playful melody feels like something we’ve heard many times before from K-pop, but the explosive production elevates the track, providing an uptempo drive that never lets up.

7. One Black Night – Kicking off Reboot’s second half, One Black Night has become a fan-favorite for a reason. Its first verse is an atmospheric flood of synth and drums, cresting into an immense, layered chorus that stretches the girls’ vocals before culminating in a high-tempo, spoken-word hook. It’s one of the album’s more emotional moments, harnessing its dynamic percussion and near-operatic arrangement for an added sense of drama.

8. Back – Up until this point, Reboot has mostly stuck to the same synth-soaked template. Back shatters that, while still conforming to the album’s 80’s concept. This time, the girls travel back to the formative days of hip-hop, rapping over an old school break beat and delivering the sassy chorus with an irresistible charm.

9. Oppa – Continuing with a more percussive arrangement, Oppa briefly dips its toes in modern territory for its rap-heavy verses. Its shout-along hook brings back the 80’s in new wave B52’s style, only to be followed by a chorus dripping with lush synths and a surprisingly anthemic melody that removes some of the novelty from what could have easily turned into a throwaway track. Oppa’s icy trap-inspired breakdown is Reboot’s only jarring misstep, but it’s quite brief.

10. Faded Love – Kicking off Reboot’s quiet storm of solid 80’s ballads and mid-tempos, Love fades in (a rarity in K-pop) with its densely packed instrumental. This forms the backdrop for a jazzy verse that quickly blossoms into a beautifully restrained chorus that draws on the strength of the group’s harmonies.

11. Gone – A slow-burn mid-tempo, Gone expertly blends the modern and retro. Its melody and structure feels as if it could have been part of any Wonder Girls album that came before this, but the retro arrangement undeniably ties it to the Reboot project.

12. Remember – The album’s one true ballad, Remember feels like a long-lost b-side from the 80’s. It gets the synth-sparkled instrumental arrangement just right, but the real star here is the group’s performance. They spend much of Reboot delivering attitude, but this track catches them unguarded, with impressive power notes that bring a climactic thrill to the album’s closing moments.

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3 thoughts on “K-Pop’s Best Albums: Wonder Girls – Reboot

  1. Funny, I was listening to this album yesterday and admiring again just how closely WG captured the 80’s aesthetic. I was making electro-pop music in the 80s, and I have to admit I’m still not yet completely comfortable with the “80s sound” – it was a time of rapid innovation where most musicians hadn’t quite figured out how to utilize all the new technology properly. As a musician, the 80s stand out as period of great songwriting, marred by really, really, bad production values. And that stench has stuck with me until today, it’s still hard to listen to much of the 80s music.

    The rapping on REBOOT is the only non-sequitur which throws it off balance. Rapping existed back then of course, but not in pop music. Rap and pop were not only entirely separate musical genres, but they were culturally different too. A white teenage boy like me never encountered rap on the radio or in clubs in suburban Seattle in the early 80s. If I wanted to be super critical, I’d point out that the raps on REBOOT are not authentic 80’s style raps, they came close a couple times, but they could have done a better job at that.

    But REBOOT succeeds because it captures what made 80s music fun. And that video for I Feel You, recreating several of those classic 80’s MTV tropes, is hilarious. In fact I’d say WG did a much better job at the authentic 80s sound than many contemporary western artists who try to sound “retro”. And it’s one of my favorite KPOP albums too!

    Like

    • I’d place it over both, though Breaking Heart is definitely up there.

      Sometimes Heart feels more like a greatest hits than a proper album, though, so I’m not sure they’re directly comparable.

      Like

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