New boy group TOO has a cool-sounding (and completely ridiculous) name. TOO stands for “Ten Oriented Orchestra,” which makes me imagine some super ambitious, symphonic performance group. In reality, the guys were formed through yet another MNET survival series called World Klass. This show had a heavy presence at last year’s KCON LA, with the contestants present on the convention floor and as opening acts for the concert. This promotion also included life-sized cardboard cutouts that were given away as prizes at the end of the weekend. I remember sitting in line for Sunday’s concert and seeing the occasional fan pass by, clutching an unwitting, two-dimensional K-pop boy under their arm. For some reason, that image has stuck with me.
But, that really doesn’t have much to do with TOO themselves. Given MNET’s push, the guys will be participating in the upcoming series Road To Kingdom alongside more established groups. It’ll be interesting to see how (or if) this affects their popularity. Debut single Magnolia (매그놀리아) shows promise, though much of its hip-hop heavy sound hinges on generic boy group tropes. Its verses forgo melody in favor of rap. The flow here feels surprisingly restrained, underlined by an insistent beat that has some nice snap to it.
Things improve as we enter the chorus. Guitar bolsters the instrumental, injecting drama into Magnolia’s otherwise straightforward production. But, I wish the refrain itself went harder. The hook is fine, but lacks personality. Its militant arrangement could do with more spontaneity, though there are some nice vocal ad-libs as the song goes on. Compare Magnolia to a similarly-pitched track like Stray Kids’ District 9 and there’s a gap in both energy and impact. Still, I’m happy that we never fall into dreaded half-time trap territory, and this general “hip-hop meets rock” sound holds incredible potential. Only time will tell if TOO are able to harness it in any meaningful way.
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One day last week of quarantine, I found sonny boy binge watching Bob Ross on Netflix. Since there are far worse things that a nine year old could binge watch, I let him be.
But it got me thinking that this year or three, I think the current stable of kpop songwriters have created a craft of crafting a standard kpop sound and flow. In the end, all of these are competent, and perhaps nice to see and hear. But there is nothing original about any of it. Bob Ross could take someone painting in their living room, and break it down so that the product is good enough to hang on your wall at home. These days, or rather these days ending a few weeks ago, you could go out with friends for little boutique learn to paint with a glass of wine night out, and even after a bottle of wine have something to hang on your wall.
So too with kpop. This song TOO, along with the MYST song from yesterday, is by the books. At this point, I think there could be a seminar at Kcon, whenever the next one is, how to write your own kpop song. At this point, even I could almost lead that seminar.
That said, the break on this one is nice to hear. The rest is OK.
That’s a perfect — an unexpected — comparison! And if you write about new K-pop releases daily, like I do, that feeling of sameness is even more stark. It’s impossible not to recognize (and grow tired of) patterns.
I think this generation of K-pop idols is every bit as talented and charismatic as their forebearers. But, this same generation feels severely lacking in K-pop producers who have their own musical personality.