SISTAR has come a long way from the rookie group that first hit airwaves in 2010 with “Push Push“. Aggressive, sexy, with an in-your-face sass that belied the vocal talent in the group, the shock-and-awe approach, helmed by Brave Brothers, proved to be a gamble that paid off, landing the rookie group as high as ninth on the Gaon charts.
Since then, they’ve managed to establish themselves as a permanent fixture in the K-pop scene, with a succession of hit singles – “How Dare You“, “So Cool“, and their most recent single, “Alone“. Generally speaking, the SISTAR image of the confident, sexy-but-approachable girl next door has been consistent since their debut (with the exception of “Shady Girl“).
But with this latest “summer special album”, Starship Entertainment’s flagship group, riding high off the success of “Alone”, takes the plunge to expand their already-considerable appeal into unexplored territory.
Almost every SISTAR hit (excluding “Alone”) so far has projected the image of a strong, confident female, usually dusting herself off in the wake of a breakup. So it’s interesting that in the dead week between one flood of comebacks (f(x), Wonder Girls, Big Bang, Busker Busker) and another (2NE1, Super Junior, T-ara) Starship decided to outfit the quartet with “Loving U” (produced by Duble Sidekick), a song about falling in love, rather than falling out of it. With lyrics like, “I can’t control my heart, my heart is not working/It’s to the point where I can’t focus/Boy I’m falling in love with you”, it’s clear that the euphoria of young love in “Loving U” is not cut from the same cloth as, say, the confidence in “So Cool” (e.g. “Half of the world is guys, I won’t cry because of you/I won’t pitifully hang on to you, no/Let you know, one thing straight/Being hot is nothing compared to being cool-cool-cool”). And of course, if you didn’t catch it earlier, the dead giveaway comes in towards the latter half of the song, during Bora’s rap, “With my aegyo-voice, I only want to call you oppa (hey oppa!)/What do I do, I think I’m in love”.
And yet, despite SISTAR’s foray into uncertain waters with their so-called “vacation girl” concept, the results were nothing short of excellent. Although a bit cliché in its structure, there’s an “everygirl” appeal about “Loving U” that differentiates it from the advanced pop formula that SM Entertainment likes to stick to. Eschewing complicated chord structure and layered drum-and-synth combinations, Duble Sidekick instead outfit the ladies of SISTAR with a classic feel-good summer jam, complete with horns in the chorus that give the song that extra sparkle and pizzazz. In addition, the generous use of Hyorin’s incredible range on this song – just as in “Alone” – is no small factor in the appeal of the song. Specifically, during the chorus we hear the same falsetto woos that worked so magically in “Alone” reprise their crucial ‘hook’ role – albeit less promiscuously.
“Loving U” is also an interesting look into how Starship may redistribute some of the vocal spotlight that’s been mostly shined on Hyorin (for good reason, of course). Soyu – the blonde who recently underwent a dramatic weight loss - gets a few moments to shine in a lovely bridge that seals the deal and pushes the song past ‘catchy’ and into a veritable contender for summer anthem of 2012. Of course, given the caliber of the impending monsoon of comebacks, it’s premature to declare anything – but I think it’s safe to say that SISTAR has surprised more than a few people by throwing a great candidate into the mix.
And yet, they’re not heading into terra incognita without tucking away some survival gear into their rucksacks. Starship, in their infinite wisdom, took the initiative to choreograph some steps that do a wonderfully comprehensive job in confusing the meaning of the song. Just as T.O.P. Media had the boys of TEEN TOP reach for their groins as they sang “stop stop breaking my heart” in “Crazy“, so too has Starship made SISTAR do body waves and booty circles (two staple moves in the SISTAR arsenal) galore during the parts where they sing the chorus – “Loving you, you – without you what should I do?” Talk about not letting the left hand know what the right is doing.
Check out their live performance below, starting around 7:00:
The other new single on this album is “Holiday” (also produced by Duble Sidekick). More aligned with the aforementioned ‘vacation girl’ concept, this rock-pop number begins with a serviceable rap intro, courtesy of One Way’s Chance (and one half of Duble Sidekick), before talking about, well, going on a holiday. Make no mistake – “Holiday” is a great filler track – easy listening and light (both in topic and substance). However, the use of English on this track deserves some mention. Given that SISTAR is one of the few groups that actually use colloquial English correctly in the majority of their songs, and pronounce it fairly well (especially given that they have no native speakers – check out their interview at Google earlier this year) – their mediocre English on this track deserves note. Verses like “I’m shopaholic” and “So holiday, my holiday” are just two examples of the awkward Engrish on this track.
The rest of the album is comprised of remixes of their biggest hits to date – “Push Push”, “Alone”, “Ma Boy”, “How Dare You”, and “So Cool”. Most of the remixes on this track are in the retro-funk category.
The DJ Rubato remix of “Push Push” is retro/funk remix that also has video game influences. It begins promisingly, with a great funk rhythm, but it doesn’t take too many creative liberties with the original melody, instead choosing to continue the same theme from the intro to chorus. One downside to this is that it renders the chorus even less distinguishable in this one compared to the other remixes. Also, on a more tangential note, the vocals sit dead center in this mix – not even panned left or right, resulting in an uncomfortably in-your-head sound if you’re listening to this on headphones.
The DJ Rubato remix of “So Cool” has a percussive 8-bit synth introduction, before the drop, which essentially keeps the same chord progression laid out in the introduction. Again, this is a well-made nu-disco style remix, but perhaps not the most exciting track on this EP.
The Demicat remix of “How Dare You” begins with half-time square wave stabs and synth ornamentations, before a sparse, lounge-bass drop. Think SISTAR-meets-new-age space lounge, complete with whooshing pads. Not recommended for those who like their music catchy.
The Smells remix of “Ma Boy” begins again with – you guessed it, a funk intro, but this time with claps, guitars, and a synth. The instrumentation is stripped back and slowed in the chorus, allowing the vocals (read: Hyorin’s lovely tone) to shine through.
The Smells remix of “Alone” re-imagines the Brave Brothers hit as it would have probably been in the 80s – a retro, laid-back disco jam. Vibrato’ed stabs and video-game arpeggiation worthy of E-Tribe (the producers behind SNSD‘s “Gee“) characterize this remix.
SISTAR has definitively shown that their appeal is mutable, and, with the right MV and promotions, can translate into chart success. Part of the song’s success, of course, was good timing (see a perfect example of horrible timing from Starship in this review).
Given the success of “Loving U”, it’s not at all unlikely that we’ll see some more aegyo-themed releases from SISTAR in the future. And Starship seems to be comfortable putting their money where their mouth is – they reportedly dropped a cool six figures on a road-trip style MV filmed in Hawaii, and enlisted top-tier MV director Joo Hee Sun.
Net Assessment: With “Loving U”, SISTAR has a real winner on their hands, and a strong contender for summer jam of 2012. None of the remixes are as catchy as the original, but if you’re really into funk/lounge music, you may want to explore the selection.
Note: Remixes were not counted in the overall score.