Is K-pop music stuck in a time warp? For a while it was just A Pink turning back the clock for their music, and now every idol under the sun is doing it.
Well, I guess if you’re going to slide back a decade or two like EXO have for their new single “Call Me Baby” (not to be confused with the defining pop single of the 2010’s, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”), then there isn’t anyone better to help you than Teddy Riley.
K-poppers know him for producing Girls’ Generation’s “The Boys” and RaNia’s medical breakthrough “Dr. Feel Good,” but any R&B fan knows Riley for crafting iconic hits for Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown and for being a new jack swing pioneer.
With such impressive credentials, you’d think that everything Riley touches would turn to diamonds and pearls, but that’s not always the case. His K-pop productions are always good, but he’s usually demoted to album cuts while SM leaves their title tracks to in-house hitmakers or European dream teams.
“Call Me Baby” is Riley’s chance at crafting an SM mega-hit, but the track falls flat. It’s a retread of every uber-manufactured bubblegum pop single you heard between 1999-2003. It’d be easier to name the pop stars that DIDN’T do one of these records during that period than to reference the ones who did.
Of course, this is K-pop, so “Call Me Baby” is bigger and faster and hookier than the sound it’s mining, but I wouldn’t call it better when we’ve had ridiculously good nostalgia pop from the likes of 1Punch and GOT7.
Like the music it’s drawing from, “Call Me Baby” is instant gratification fructose-pop that’s good for a wham bam thank you ma’am and not much more. EXO’s never going to best the originals like NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys, so that just leaves them in Jessica Simpson and O-Town territory.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on EXO, but I expect a lot from them considering their strong first year. The group itself bores me to tears and feels more superficial and manufactured than every other major K-pop act put together, but their ballads make me swoon and their early singles like the operatic screamo dubstep anthem “Mama” and the ferocious “Wolf” are incredible (and criminally-underrated by their pea-brain stans).
Yeah, “Call Me Baby” is good, but I want GREAT, goddamnit.
Oh well, it could be worse: they could’ve released “Mamacita.”