I’ll admit it: I really only paid attention to gugudan because of the I.O.I connection. That is, I did at first. As I got to know more about them, I came to appreciate them as a whole. They’re a very talented group with a lot of potential, and they have a lot of charm. While I wasn’t that into “Wonderland,” I’m absolutely living for “A Girl Like Me.” It’s quickly become one of my new favorite songs.
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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!
Concept: Girl crush. Some people might equate this with a fierce or badass concept. For example, CLC was labeled as girl crush with “Hobgoblin.” While there are a lot of similarities, I think girl crush is something just a little different. It’s fierce and strong like a badass concept, but at the same time there’s a distinct girly or feminine vibe. It’s very sassy. I define it as the kind of music you put on when you’re dressing yourself up for a night out to get psyched.
Previous concept: Cute. Their overall artistic concept also has something to do with theatre, because their albums are separated into acts and their debut teasers showed them working in a theater.
Produced by: Chowool
“A Girl Like Me” is one of my current favorites. It has a good beat, it’s catchy, and it’s fierce. This song is a pure pop delight. It’s got the kind of beat and instrumentals that make you want to strut your stuff, which is good because it’s essentially about having a lot of self-confidence. It’s sort of like the pop music that I listened to when I was back in college several years ago. It’s catchy and easy to remember, but not so repetitive that it’s boring or one-note.
One thing that’s really nice about gugudan is that the girls all have very different charms and vocal colors. I was really surprised to find that they have a lot of good vocalists. Each one of them has a distinct voice that’s easy to recognize, which can be rare for some girl groups. The trend is to have a high-pitched girly voice, and of course there’s plenty of that. But they also make good use Nayoung’s deeper sultrier voice and Haebin’s power vocals. It really helps balance out the song and keep it from being too saccharine.
There’s a pretty natural flow and progression throughout the song. Although we end up hearing the chorus three times, I like that the two verses are different in length and sound. This is the type of song where a rapping bridge is natural, but it’s just the right amount. I was so surprised when Mina rapped in “Very Very Very,” but I think that she’s pretty good. I do find the talk-singing hook a tad much, because of the high-pitched thing I said earlier. I think it would have sounded better if they spoke it in their normal voice and made it sassier instead of cuter. But I realize that the girly baby voice probably appeals to their intended demographic, which per usual is not me.
If you’ve been following gugudan at all, you’ll probably have noticed that they form their theatre concept around different popular stories. Their debut was “The Little Mermaid,” and now they’re working with the Greek myth of Narcissus. Long story short, Narcissus was a vain and self-centered guy (hence where the word “narcissism” comes from). He rejected a really nice wood nymph named Echo, who wastes away until only her voice remains (hence where the word “echo” comes from. So one of the goddesses – usually Aphrodite – cursed him. He sees himself reflected in a pond and falls hopelessly in love with his own reflection, eventually dying because he can’t bear to tear himself away from his reflection to eat, drink or sleep. Nice, right?
The lyrics don’t echo (haha) this myth as much as the music video, but they do portray a girl with enormous confidence. The whole song is about her declaring her affections for someone without a hint of self-consciousness or fear of rejection. There’s even a sense that the guy is intimidated by her. The lyrics constantly make reference to how he must be surprised because girls making the first move doesn’t usually happen. Nayoung even sings, “Babe, why can’t you say anything?”
What really draws me to the lyrics is just how confident the singer is. For example, Haebin sings “This isn’t a chance that you can get every day.” Sally also raps, “It’s obvious you’ll regret it if you lose me / So before you do that, have fun with me.” I like to think I know a lot of people, but I don’t know many – especially females – who would be able to be so straightforward with someone they’re attracted to. As weird as it sounds, it’s a novel idea for some to muster up that kind of directness. I was pretty good at quickly getting over rejection when I was single, but I still probably wouldn’t have the confidence to act quite like that. So I find the idea of this song super refreshing. I think we could all use a dose of this kind of confidence.
Like I said before, gugudan has a lot of good vocalists. This allows them to distribute parts fairly evenly. Although some inevitably have more than others, the lines themselves are generally not that different in terms of vocal ability. Six out of nine members sing part of the chorus at some point. Sejeong and Mina still have the majority of the lines, which is understandable given their I.O.I. notoriety. However, it certainly doesn’t feel like they overshadow the group in any way, but rather blend very well into it. This is a pretty commendable feat, seeing as DIA pretty much only focuses on Chaeyeon and WJSN arguably does the same with Yeonjung.
I really like how they switch things up and allow room for other vocals besides the main and lead ones. The majority of the chorus is shared by Sejeong, Mina, and Hana. Sejeong is the main vocal and probably the face of the group, Mina is also well known to the public through I.O.I., and Hana appears to be the non-I.O.I member who most pushed by Jellyfish. They’re following a pretty standard structure of the more notable members singing the first and last choruses, but allowing others like Mimi and Soyee to get a shot for the second chorus.
I also really like how they use Nayoung and Haebin. Nayoung was severely underused in “Wonderland,” only popping up in the bridge. But her voice is so perfectly suited for this song. Not only does she get to lead in the verses, she gets to add her sass into other parts of the song and get in a riff of two. As for Haebin, she gets to take care of the high notes. Sejeong does get the climactic high note, but it’s cool that for the most point they give her the main lines while Haebin riffs in the background.
The only person who I would say truly suffers from the line distribution is Sally, but I would argue that might be because she’s the only foreign member. (Although I just watched their reality show and it seems like she’s pretty comfortable speaking Korean? I don’t speak enough to really tell) I like her rapping, though. Overall, I’m very impressed with the line distribution for this group, especially since it’s one that could easily push their more known members to the front at the expense of the others.
Update, 4/1/2017: gugudan just released their dance practice video a couple of days ago.
This choreography is exactly my style. It reminds me of the kind of routines I used to perform when I was on the dance team in college. It’s pretty easy to learn, and it’s very dynamic and sassy with polished movements and clean lines. The reason it looks so great is because these girls are exuding confidence. This kind of dance requires being bold and daring in the execution, and I think the girls have that in spades.
If you’re the type of person that likes to do K-pop cover dances, I’d recommend this one. It’s pretty easy to learn, and it’s a lot of fun. My personal favorite is the mirror move – a classic nod to narcissism.
There are some hints of sexiness, and it’s nice to see that it’s not overly voyeuristic and/or just there to make guys’ hearts flutter. It’s the kind of dance that is self-empowering and exudes confidence, like how I would dance if I heard my favorite song at a party. It’s sexy and fun, but not designed solely for the male gaze. (Although it appears that gugudan has primarily male fans, so I could entirely be making that up)
Some K-pop choreographies, especially girl group ones, tend to have a lot of what I call “filler.” This is when the members stop dancing for one or two measures and stand around doing gestures and poses instead. It’s probably intended to appeal to fans, but since I’m more into the actual dancing so I don’t really feel it. In general, I think these kinds of things aren’t necessary to the performance and detract from the overall momentum. So I really like that this choreography took what’s generally filler – hair flipping, flirty waving, delicate hand movements, etc. – and really incorporated it into the routine. There are still moments of stillness and posing, but those little girly touches aren’t just there for eye candy. In this instance, they really add dimension to the choreography.
CENTER AND FORMATIONS:
gugudan is a big group, and they know how to use their members well. In “A Girl Like Me,” they often separate into small groups during the verses in order to highlight the singing member. Then they all come together for the chorus to make it more impactful. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the formations are super interesting or memorable, but they do add good variety to the routine. I especially like their tactic of staggering the members so that they gradually join the choreography.
Because whoever’s singing changes constantly, there are a lot of girls occupying the center position. All of them get a turn at some point, which is nice. I’d say that three people are occupying the center the most (again Sejeong, Mina, and Hana), but I think that Hana is the traditional center for this one. She appears in the center the most often during the chorus, she’s the center for some other parts of the song, and she ends the song in the middle. Even if she’s not there, her position is usually somewhere nearby. I think this is a good choice because she’s either the lead or main dancer. She’s good at carrying the performance confidently, but she doesn’t draw too much attention or overshadow the other members.
This music video is really smart. It has everything that I like – beautiful colors, cool aesthetics, an interesting idea, etc. I also really appreciate how they incorporated the myth of Narcissus. They didn’t show the story outright, but they added plenty of references and subtle visual clues. There are things that you’ll immediately get, and there are also a lot fun goodies if you watch it multiple times. For example, I imagine most people will easily understand that each girl reflects a different form of narcissism. But I didn’t even really think about the changing TV channel when I first saw it. I just realized that each girl’s channel number is her own special number (the girls of gugudan are each in charge of a number as part of their concept).
Narcissism is everywhere these days, especially since we’re in the golden age of social media. There are so many ways to be full of yourself. The members of gugudan each appear as a different form of narcissism. Some of them are career-based, like Nayoung’s photoshoot and Haebin’s modeling. Some are results of money and wealth. Sally looks luxurious with her peacock outfit, while Mina basks in fame in fortune (especially pointed because of her I.O.I. success) Many reference the importance of image. Soyee and Hyeyeon show more classic aesthetics, with one posing as a painting and one actually painting herself. Mimi and Sejeong are more modern, reflecting the important of appearance and the grasp that social media has on us all. And Hana gives the most direct reference to Narcissus himself: standing in a room full of mirrors.
The key to this music video (and the comeback in general) is that it’s connected to confidence more than egoism. Who wants to admit that they’re egotistical and self-absorbed? Certainly not me. While the music video directly deals with narcissism, it does so in a very fun way. Soyee puts a sticker on her picture frame labeling herself as luxury. Mina’s room is filled with pictures of herself, but the bright pink color and her cute visuals make her look more like an overexcited kid rather than a preening star.
There are some shots that are just straight up funny. I burst out laughing when I saw that shot of Sally smirking while chickens flew around her because it’s just so ridiculous. And Mimi photocopying her face is hilarious. I find hers the funniest because I happen to be in a period where I’m pretty tired of social media (except for Tumblr, which I just use for K-pop stuff) and having my feeds inundated with selfies. It’s all very light-hearted and thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think is exactly the point. The only way to have egoism as a central theme in something is to poke fun at it.
The one part of the music video that I don’t completely understand are the multiplication tables. I know that gugudan means “multiplication table” in Korean, so I imagine that it’s a reference to their name. But because I don’t actually know a lot of Korean, I can’t guess any further. I read on a forum that it was funny because they were writing incorrect solutions, so maybe it’s a commentary that these kinds of “superficial” qualities don’t account for everything. It’s also worth noting that this is the only time (aside from dance shots) that the members are all featured together. So it could also mean that there’s something to be said about teamwork at the end of the day.
I really appreciate the effort that gugudan makes to distinguish its members. One of my biggest K-pop pet peeves is when all the members of a rookie group rock the same hairstyle and outfit. There’s something to be said about being uniform, but you also want people to be able to tell your members apart. The girls of gugudan generally have the same hair length and or color shade, so they stand out while staying pretty consistent to a certain aesthetic.
Their performance outfits fit this idea as well. While they’re all the same color (white or this beautiful shade of lilac), they all have different stylistic touches. Theoretically, it shows off the projected personality of each member. For example, older members Hana and Nayoung both have more sexy outfits, while the younger girls like Mina or Hyeyeon are more cute. Mimi, who seems to be the visual, has a very feminine looking dress. Haebin, the “mom” of the group, has long sleeves and a dress that give her a more mature look than the others. I always enjoy this kind of subtle stuff.
STYLING MVP: Nayoung, who is seriously slaying in every shot
Song – 18
Lyrics – 9
Line Distribution – 9
Choreography – 18
Center and Formations – 9
Music Video – 19
Styling – 9
The meaning of gugudan’s name (besides multiplication tables) is that they are nine girls with nine different charms. “A Girl Like Me” specifically focused on highlighting their charms, and it worked. Unlike “Wonderland” where I couldn’t tell half of them apart, it’s easy to distinguish each and every member. At the same time, there’s a heavy emphasis on the group as a whole and teamwork. gugudan is doing a really good job of promoting each of the members equally.
The one drawback is that gugudan is not really well known to the public yet, so all of the great things in this comeback are likely to be under-appreciated. The downside to featuring all members on a fairly equal level is that there’s not one person that stands out or brings attention to the group. At the rookie stage, you kind of need that face of the group for people to remember you. Then afterwards everyone can become famous individually. I actually think that gugudan could benefit from pushing Mina and Sejeong a little more (at least at first). Mina actually seems to get more attention during performances, but Sejeong placed second on Produce 101. They don’t necessarily need to give them more lines at the expense of the others, but maybe they should give her more unique parts to help her stand out and draw attention.
That being said, this is a really solid comeback for gugudan, which is great because a first comeback is crucial. They picked a good concept that worked well for them. Their management and creative direction put a lot of thought into everything, and it shows. The musical, performance-related, and visual aspects of the comeback are all very uniform and cohesive. It may not be the release that makes them famous (as much as I wish for that), but it’s a good step on a path to the top. Since they’re exploring various charms, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next comeback was completely different. But seeing as how good this one was, I’ll be one of the people waiting for it.
Sources: Youtube, Jellyfish Entertainment, Wikipedia, Tumblr, Soompi, M! Countdown (MNET)