When I first played Girls’ Generation‘s comeback single, “I Got a Boy”, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It doesn’t sound like what a Girls’ Generation single is supposed to sound like, nor does it even remotely resemble what any commercial pop single –K-pop or otherwise– generally sounds like today.
For starters, “I Got a Boy” is more like five songs than one. The chaotic production never stops changing, shifting from subdued electro-hop to crashing Diplo-esque hipster club crunk within seconds, sparing no time for a rest break before the next beat drops. Girls’ Generation keep up with the endless changes by constantly switching up their delivery to match the music, posturing like bubblegum b-girls as they rap at a mile a minute, dropping cheerleader chants like they did in “The Boys”, and even belting out like it’s TTS all over again.
Earlier this year, rival group, 2NE1, garnered a lot of praise from Western music press for their supposed experimentation on their hit single, “I Love You”, but all that song contains is a few minor production changes carried out safely within the confines of top forty dance-pop. On “I Got a Boy”, Girls’ Generation hurl the rulebook out the window with reckless abandon — airplay be damned! The last time a major girl group got this bold was when Girls Aloud released the brilliant “Biology”. While “I Got a Boy” is far too hip-hop to ever come from Girls Aloud or Xenomania, it does contain the same kind of fearlessness that the British girl group embodied on their pop masterpiece, Tangled Up, which is something that I never thought I’d say about an SNSD record.
With both Girls’ Generation and K-pop in general garnering more and more global spotlight, The Divine Nine’s drastic transformation is clearly a calculated effort for them to further break away from their cookie cutter image and to gain some more international credibility, just as much as it is a natural evolution for the group. They’ve certainly pulled it off effortlessly, with the flashy music video showing just how much they’ve grown as performers and pop stars, but I also can’t help but think that “I Got a Boy” would’ve also been perfect for their labelmates, f(x). The concept is essentially just a more urbanized f(x), while the song’s eclectic left-field production is exactly what I was expecting the surprisingly formulaic “Electric Shock” to be. If f(x) had released “I Got a Boy”, K-poppers everywhere would’ve likely fallen for its wild unpredictability from the first listen, instead of going through the initial shock that came from seeing Girls’ Generation suddenly go from being the girls next door to K-pop’s crunkest hipster hotties. SNSD are going to have to work much harder to sell their new style to the masses than some of their contemporaries would, but with a product this ridiculously good, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
Leave it to Girls’ Generation to set the bar impossibly high for every other artist making a comeback in 2013.