KARA is probably the most consistent idol group in K-pop. Since hooking up with the infallible Sweetune on 2008’s joyous “Rock U,” they haven’t released a bad single or bothered to overhaul their sound. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t evolved, though: They’ve tackled the sugary sweet (“Rock U,” “Honey”), upbeat party-starters (“Jumping,” “Step”), bouncy bops (“Mister”), the edgy (“Lupin,” “Wanna”) and most recently, sexy and sassy (“Pandora”). But despite the natural growth, their music is just fizzy ’80s synth-pop at its core that’s as instantly identifiable as their own signature sound as Yasutaka Nakata’s Perfume productions or Timbaland’s work with Justin Timberlake.
The group’s latest single, “Damaged Lady,” follows the same aformentioned formula of their past hits, and also shares some similarities with Sweetune’s more aggressive work with boy bands like INFINITE and Boyfriend. Although Sweetune’s obligatory grinding electric guitars appear, the production isn’t quite as straightforward as usual: A few small tempo changes are thrown in to gingerly get in on the K-pop trend of skitzo musical arrangements, but without actually going all “I Got a Boy” bonkers or anything like that.
Like “Pandora,” “Damaged Lady” leans more towards the mature side. The lyrics tell the tale of a young woman who was just unexpectedly dumped on a deceptively beautiful day, while the aggression of the music mirrors the anger and emotional chaos that comes directly after a sudden breakup. While most KARA songs get by solely on their airtight hooks and melodies, “Damaged Lady” benefits from an understanding of the words and concept. You can credit that to the growth of KARA, who are now digging a little deeper and getting a bit more serious after more than five years at the top of the K-pop game. It’s no wonder that their latest album is titled Full Bloom since it feels like the first time that the group has truly embraced a more grown up sound and image.
“Damaged Lady” isn’t doing that well on the charts right now and will probably continue the trend of KARA’s declining sales, but that’s hardly a surprise. KARA’s ancient in K-pop years, and at this point the only way they’d possibly be able to turn things around is with a complete reinvention — something that many pop acts, from Madonna to Miley Cyrus, have all done to extend their careers. The pre-release of the gorgeous “Runaway” was a noble effort, but not enough to permanently put KARA back on the upswing. But even if the general public are no longer down for the girls that gave us the butt dance, as a fan they’ve given me everything I wanted and will likely continue to do so up until the day they disband.