Review

Song Review: Mamamoo – Where Are We Now

Mamamoo - Where Are We NowIt’s quite rare for an idol group to release a ballad as title track. K-pop is wrapped up in performance (ie: choreography), making it difficult for ballads to check all the necessary comeback boxes. But, the Korean charts love a big, sentimental belter. And if any idol group is going to succeed without the dance routines, it’s Mamamoo.

Known for their powerful vocals, Mamamoo have relied on other charms over the past few years. For better or worse, songs like Aya and Hip were much more concerned with their beat than their singing. But with Where Are We Now, the ladies have gone in the complete opposite direction. This is a classic torch song, generating drama from its mighty vocal performance.

The track opens with piano and voice, as Hwasa beguiles with her charismatic tone. After climbing into a knockout refrain, the second verse sacrifices some of Where Are We Now’s power by injecting a sputtering beat. I think the song would have been more successful without percussion at all. If you’re going to go for such a sparse arrangement, you might as well go the whole way. The climax brings a welcome dose of vocal interplay, making me wish the track had more of it. Where Are We Now’s most stirring moments (its chorus) are undercut by segments that feel less intentional. Of course, Mamamoo could sing the phonebook and still deliver an engaging presentation. As a vocal showcase, Where Are We Now does its job, even if I think past ballads like 2018’s Paint Me had more bite.

 Hooks 8
 Production 8
 Longevity 8
 Bias 7
 RATING 7.75

25 thoughts on “Song Review: Mamamoo – Where Are We Now

  1. I don’t really have much to say. Usually I prewrite comments just to get the feel of my thoughts, cut unnecessary bits and interesting things I noticed. I just didn’t have anything I really thought I needed to put down. Partially because I wasn’t particularly excited by the song at all. All I can really is that it’s a ballad with good vocals, kind of ruined by some weird percussion really. It is basically a vocal showcase, and not much else?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Mamamoo don’t sing and dance together anymore. I know that 3 of 4 of them have renewed their contracts, but its moot. They aren’t a group anymore, but individuals. Here in this song, except for fleeting harmony lines in the middle, they are singing separately and standing separately and performing separately. Its ironic, because the song is titled “Where are _we_ now”.

    The song itself is a standard torch song, with parts passed around. Depending on the listener’s mood, the lyrics are either cathartic or indulgent. The performance is adequate for today’s standard, but to get picky they have either fallen into bad vocal habits or maybe those habits were disguised by their former trademark four-part harmony. Hwasa uses an excessive amount of vocal fry. Every “now” in this song is a strong nasal honk. There are a whole bunch of highly stylized slides up into notes. There are also a couple of nice C#5 belts in there.

    Do I like it? I have other songs to listen to.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I love getting to read more technical critiques of songs like these. I don’t have a grasp on specific chords or deeper instinct on vocals that having these observations make me more observant for some of them in return. I don’t think I’ll be able to recognize specific vocal notes or chords any time soon, but the more general things like the noticeable lack of harmonies (which really says it all really) definitely kind of lets me keep a lookout for stuff like that in the future.

      Liked by 2 people

      • There is an app I use to pretend I have perfect pitch, simply vocalpitchmonitor one word no spaces. Sing along to your favorite songs, and listen to how their voices change up and down the scale, and how your voice changes up and down the scales.
        https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tadaoyamaoka.vocalpitchmonitor&hl=en_US&gl=US

        For the technique, its from a lifetime of singing formally and mostly informally. My main concert venue these days is the car with the kids. My high school chorus teacher, Sister Mary Holycard, was as her not-her-real-name suggests was a stickler for details. She would have given us the serious stink eye for all the slides Hwasa et al do. As a contrast, go listen to the very first lines of Red Velvet “Red Flavor” for how controlled they sing, what notes are right on the note, what notes have a slight slide. Its all planned and practiced, because when they repeat the lines with the harmony they all have to attack the notes in the same way or it will sound horrible. Mamamoo used to have this kind of control, but they have fallen out of practice, and/or don’t pick songs that require it any more. As a bonus, Forestella with a short cover of the same.
        ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyiIGEHQP8o
        ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THMjKn7r5Hg

        Liked by 4 people

        • (To be extremely nitpicky,) I dunno if “Red Flavor” is the best example for contrast here, because the choruses are all in unison, so it’d be obvious if anyone was singing it differently. “Where Are We Now” has very little simultaneous singing that, so I’m not sure I can make a case for or against Mamamoo’s vocal control based on it (at least when it comes to sounding like each other.) (Brief simultaneous sections at 1:40, 1:56)

          I’m not a big fan of either song, but “Red Flavor” having more restrained, specific singing choices and “Where Are We Now” being more of a slidefest make sense to me as musical choices. Not to mention that much of the sliding was probably tweaked/added in production.

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          • Half of Red Flavor is sung harmonies, but OK fair enough as I don’t think I have ever heard them sing those sung harmonies live, instead its singing in unison to the backing track.
            I will suggest another example to the reading public instead. Spica’s cover of “Men came down like rain from the sky” aka “It’s raining men”
            ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ku-8ifqmCVQ

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  3. Unrelated:
    My favorite tiny little does it all artist Yunsae has released an EP on Monday. Writes, performs, produces, releases, manages, does it all. I can’t believe I am only view count number 257, people are very seriously sleeping on Yunsae.

    Some agency should hire this young woman to write their girl group songs, because her material is really quite good – better than most songs out there, and she is doing it in her little room on a micro budget.

    Yunsae, 1st EP “flowerain”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. With some exceptions (Hi Onewe!) I don’t usually enjoy ballads. I couldn’t finish listening to this because it felt lifeless to me and I’d rather listen to something else.

    Like

  5. I love the girls, but this was boring. I like ballads, but this was kind of uninspiring. They are focused more on how good they sound individually rather than as a group.
    After HIP, the girls just seem to be doing their own thing. We haven’t seen them come out with a decent song in a long time now.

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  6. Mamamoo is like the definition of a group presentation graded individually where everyone worked on their slides alone and didn’t look at everyone else’s

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Exactly what others had to tell. A nice torch song but I would rather listen to something else. The lack of harmonies is particularly the song the song gets boring.

    And also, I would’ve loved a grand orchestra with great strings behind the song.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. It’s nice, but the type of music you play for atmosphere/background music. Actually the lyrics and general mood make it feel kind of like a disbandment song (might just be still trying to console myself after Gfriend), which is kind of a bummer. I almost forgot they were the same group that gave us fun, playful songs and mvs like Um Oh Ah Yeah and You’re the Best.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This song is the equivalent of that “yep this is wood” meme but you just replace wood with ballad. Yes they sound great (I mean it’s Mamamoo) but definitely a song inflated by Mamamoo use, not being an actually great song

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  10. I don’t know since when Mamamoo tend to release this kind of stuff
    I can even say I Miss You and Paint Me are still superior than this mostly-filled-with-empty-parts.
    At first I was excited because they are my ultimate group, yet got disappointed again right after they disappointed me with AYA.

    Where Are We Now could use a longer chorus, instead they use the same short structure and that “where are we now” part that I thought will get dynamic toward the end of the song is just bland. They also could fill the interlude with harmonization because the final product sounds like they literally “4 soloist workinf together” and not as a group anymore, and the percussion caught me off-guard in a bad way.

    I don’t know. I’ll just continue to support them by rewatch the mv once perday

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The last Mamamoo comeback I instantly liked was hip. Dingga felt kinda flat but was still enjoyable thanks to their great charisma and delivery and then AYA happened and I just… The concept and the outfits were great but the song was such a dissapointment that even someone as skilled as Mamamoo couldn’t save it.

    Now we have this. I mean, it’s something, it’s a song but it feels like a boring kdrama soundtrack song. The lyrics are good, Mamamoo aalways had good lyrics and the song talks about not knowing in what stage of life are they now. Am I tripping or does this feel like a goodbye? Because if it is, then I am certainly dissapointed that such a great group as Mamamoo hasn’t finished their journey with a bang, or at least a Mamamoo esque song, cause this is just lukewarm water – you will drink it cause you are thirsty but you won’t do it again if there is some ice cold water nearby. That was a stupid comparison but you get my point.

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    • This song should put to rest any debate as to who is the greatest female singing group of all time. This is not the first engaging Mamamoo ballad, e.g. Ten Nights. The group should sing more ballads- no other group sings as well as them. In interviews, the girls say they wanted to show a more mature side. While they still have a playful side e.g. Dingga, they have evolved beyond the raw energy of younger groups like Itzy (who are fabulous). The challenge for Mamamoo is that they have nothing more to prove and so, to some, the song might sound “boring” as if they are “phoning it in” but I don’t believe that. To those who say the song sounds like four individuals rather than a group, that may be because they are so good individually (the only group to have each member record a song that reached #1). I do agree with others that the syncopated snare drum is baffling. It’s inappropriate and distracting. Still, the song is good, the album is good and, hey, it’s Mamamoo,

      Liked by 1 person

  12. As a Moo, treading cautiously as someone who doesn’t really comment technically on music (also with some awareness of recent news regarding Wheein’s contract), I’d like to add my two cents: I think there is a tad more harmonizing and emotion in Where Are We Now than most other commenters here are saying. Mamamoo aren’t all fun, retro songs, and haven’t been for a while – this song is a ballad, feels like it should be judged as a ballad. Am I just.. biased?

    Like

    • It’s REALLY hard to make an engaging ballad. Slow music just doesn’t “groove” with people as easily, and people feel more positively about faster songs almost automatically. While that might feel unfair, it’s a scientifically observed phenomenon: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Sensorimotor-coupling-in-music-and-the-psychology-Janata-Tomic/1533a11228d3dc74c4f79b6decd6db03de9d5403 .

      There are other things people can add to ballads in order to spice them up, often chord changes. The sense of “tension” and “release” from the backings and melody imparts inherent emotion beyond what the singers can do. Listening to the song, I don’t find a lot that is particularly interesting. The chords, harmonies, and main melodies are fine, but don’t stick with me overmuch. That’s what I find unexciting about this song, not anything related to RBW or Mamamoo in particular. Mamamoo are great at emotional singing. They do an excellent job with the delivery itself, but delivery only goes so far in making a good song, especially considering the actual instruments being used are Mamamoo + computers.

      No, I don’t think you’re just biased! It’s fair that ballads should be judged relative to what they’re trying to do and not as “I wish Mamamoo was releasing another Decalcomanie so I’m mad.” But I don’t think that’s happening here. People are saying they don’t love the song and suggesting styles they may have been better recipes for success—but it isn’t just the style that’s a problem. Dingga and Aya weren’t musically acclaimed much here either (at least on most Kpop blogs I follow,) and they’re pretty far from ballads. Additionally (though I’m sure this is controversial,) I think on average, ballads just have less to offer than many other styles of popular music. There’s a set of expectations they’re expected to follow before they’re no longer considered “ballads,” and those expectations tend to be unexciting to listeners.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t expect such a detailed reply! Thank you for such a balanced and considered response, as well as that of your own review of the song.

        That is interesting about fast songs being received more positively. I agree that ballads may be harder to like and appreciate.

        I intially wrote “biased” about myself to play on the title of the blog 🙂 But it was prob not obvious!

        Like

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