Despite debuting with the most absurd nonsensical fabricated word in the history of K-pop, Taetiseo – the unholy amalgamation of the first syllable of the given name of each member (Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun) of the subunit – nonetheless has a lot going for it. While Orange Caramel is shamelessly overt in its intentions, the diabetic threat that Taetiseo poses is on an entirely different level, mainly because of the sheer number of SONEs out there.
As a trio, they’ve got great live vocals – Taeyeon has always been recognized as the vocalist of the SM nonagon, but Taetiseo so far has really been more like a TiSeo vehicle, in the sense that Tiffany and Seohyun are finally getting the opportunity to shine vocally. In this regard, SM Entertainment made a particularly prudent decision in choosing Tiffany and Seohyun to round out the trio because they not only hold their own (vocally) with Taeyeon, but they’re the two members with the greatest potential to grow in popularity (read: underutilized in the nonagon). Tiffany is a talented vocalist in her own right, and her bubbly personality has won her a cult following within the fandom. Seohyun is also a favorite amongst SONE fanboys, and has so far been impressive during live performances of “Baby Steps” and “Twinkle“.
But how does the music hold up?
Overall, this mini was a very tight, cohesive production. Great mixing and mastering, as to be expected. The overall structure and concept of this release – excluding the awkward cover photos – is consistent, well-executed, and most importantly, plays to the strengths of the members (although make no mistake – it’s still the Taeyeon show when it counts – e.g. the chorus and ad-libbing of “Twinkle” and “Baby Steps”).
Vocally, this is one of the strongest female releases we’ve seen this year from an idol group (MI also released her first album, which is why I recognize the idol aspect of this work), and given how SM is known to fux things up occasionally, I’m mildly surprised that vocally, we as the listening public, actually got pretty close to the full package.
What’s interesting is that SM chose to stick consistently with the retro meets disco/sass throughout the mini (“OMG“, “Checkmate” with its electric guitar riff, “Twinkle“, “Goodbye, Hello“, and even “Love Sick” and “Library” had some funk and dry ’80s kickdrums). Perhaps the rationale was informed more by trends than by any sort of preference – given the retro-mania that’s taken hold of K-pop post-Sunny, the 2011 surprise blockbuster that inspired the abrupt T-ara concept change from shy skank to retro schoolgirl (which, for Core Contents Media, turned out to be a great gamble) – and it’s possible that SM thought it was for the best if they rehashed the “Hoot” concept (but release weird, ephemeral fairy teasers to confuse people) and packed it with more vocal firepower.
Whatever the case may be, this mini certainly impresses. In particular, the lead single, “Twinkle” (produced by, among others, SM’s in-house producer, Kenzie), with its razzle-dazzle and sass, is probably the closest K-pop spiritual successor to “Lady Marmalade“.
This is high praise, ladies and gentlemen. Sassy brass, funk-ed out bass, a warm organ, gospel-mouthing galore, and the undeniable “fuck you, bitches” implied in the superficially tame lyrics. They all make this song, in many ways, SNSD‘s answer (one year late) to 2NE1‘s 2011 hit, “I’m The Best“, because this is the sassiest SM’s going to let SNSD get. And if you need any further proof, you need not go further than the schizo track listing that puts the fluffy-soft-puppies-and-chocolates “Baby Steps” right after “Twinkle”.
In many ways, the decision to choose “Twinkle” as the title track to promote is intriguing, and it suggests that for the first time SM is gunning to expand SNSD’s reach with the ladies, not the men. Sure, the song is still somewhat tangentially related to boys – and lest we forget, SM took the initiative to stick some EXO-K members in there – but for the first time, they’re not trying to seduce or cutesy their way into the hearts of the male population of Korea. It remains to be seen whether this will be successful, but they’ve certainly got the music bit down pat.
Another song that stands out on this mini is “Love Sick”. Vocally, this track has everything it needs to sit comfortably next to a Baek Ji Young ballad on the tracklist for a drama OST, but with its plunky piano, still admirably manages to retain a little bit of the earlier spunkiness, even at a lower BPM.
Overall, “Twinkle” is a great release, and I’m just waiting for the day that SM creates a vocal group sans Taeyeon and actually manages to keep that boat afloat.
Here’s to wishing.