T-ara Lead The Way
After a lengthy period of sporadic music releases from T-ara following the ‘incident’ that shan’t be named, it feels like the anointed six are finally settling back in to their old pre-scandal schedule.

While their health is probably suffering as they struggle to meet the gruelling demands of being Asia’s most famous girl group, I’ve been getting my life to the endless stream of new T-ara tunes that have been dropping since October.

Their first new release of the week, “Lead The Way,” makes up one-half of their upcoming ninth Japanese single (and first under their new deal with Universal Music Japan). Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Slay-ara’s J-pop tunes haven’t always hit the mark. While their main singles are all iconic classics worthy of going down in the history books as the masterpieces that they are, most of the filler tracks from Treasure Box and Jewelery Box are forgettable trash that only devoted QUEEN’S such as myself can convince themselves to like.

Thankfully, “Lead The Way” falls into the masterpiece category. It’s possibly the cheapest sounding thing T-ara’s ever recorded, but it’s good “Lies” cheap — not bad, Brave Brothers featuring Hyomin “Beautiful Girl” cheap.

It’s just an unassuming synth-pop ditty on the surface, but there’s a sweetness to “Lead The Way” that gets under the skin once the hook hits.

~I want your love to lead the way~

~shoobie-doobie~

Further impoverishing this release is a music video that recycles scenes and props from “No.9,” and a T-ara that gives absolutely zero fucks that they are doing this. The only new thing about the video is a scene in which T-ara sing in front of an old sheet they pinned up on the wall of CCM’s basement. These other-worldly goddesses know that they can still slay us with a $2 budget while Shoujo Jidai spend thousands and millions on their J-pop career and still remain hit-and-miss.

I just have one complaint, though: Why is Kween Eunjung styled like a bisexual ahjumma? Someone needs to get this woman a wig and some Tony Moly cosmetics, ASAP.

Also out this week is “First Love,’ T-ara’s special digital single with one of their former producers, Cho Young Soo — and unlike “Lead The Way,” there’s absolutely nothing cheap about this smash.

“First Love” isn’t an official T-ara comeback track, but rather one part of Cho Young Soo’s next All Star compilation series, which in the past has included collaborations with the likes of SG Wannabe, Orange Caramel, Seo In Young, and Davichi.

Cho Young Soo’s a versatile producer who can pull off a lot of styles, but he exceeds with pop’s more emotional, melancholy material. That makes him a perfect fit for T-ara, who, just like many of their CCM labelmates, have often had a sad undercurrent in their music. Much of that’s thanks to Soyeon, whose rich emotive vocals pack in more feeling than half the idol industry combined.

“First Love” is operatic tango-pop, with sharp strings and quivering, classical guitar. It’s not specifically derivative of T-ara’s past work with Cho Young Soo, but once you know that this is the same guy behind “Cry Cry” and “Day By Day,” you can suddenly hear the similarities in every note and beat.

It’s good enough to qualify as an official T-ara comeback single (or at the very least, the “I Know The Feeling” B-level single before the main title track), but that’s impossible considering that only Jiyeon, Hyomin, and Soyeon are part of this project, while some nugu rapper from Cho Young Soo’s upcoming girl group serves as guest feature. I would’ve preferred if they’d dropped the rapper, replaced her with Hyomin, replaced Hyomin’s singing with Eunjung, and added Qri and Boram as sub-vocalists for a few irrelevant “oohs” and “aahs” in the background.

As much as I love the dance-pop T-ara, if “First Love” does well I hope it signals a return back to the more rhythmic, melancholy T-ara. You know, some Absolute First Album flavour mixed in with their later Cho Young Soo productions. It’s what the public seems to prefer these days considering the success of the angsty “No. 9” over the glittery retro-electro of “What Should I Do?” (aka best song of our generation).

Anyway, get into Slay-ara’s latest below.