(Last updated September 7, 2017)
We’re always excited when our favorite groups come back with new music. Whether we end up loving it or hating it, there’s always so much to talk about. Comebacks aren’t just about the music, but a mix of all sorts of things. My reviews are done with the intent of examining all the different aspects that go into making a comeback: music, performances, concept, and to an extent marketing.
I’ve created a grading system of 100 points, with seven categories. Some have more points than other because I consider them more important to the overall success of the comeback. K-Pop groups are known for having their concepts, and many of them establish a signature image and sound over time. So I use the group’s concept as an overall theme for the review, and I try to critique these categories by how well they relate to it. How do each of these elements contribute or take away from the concept the group is trying to sell? Is it consistent with what they’ve done in the past? If it is a departure from their “norm,” is it a welcome one? Or is it just completely out of left field and inconsistent? And most importantly, does this concept fit them at all?
There are a lot of similarities in K-pop, but I try not to make a whole lot of comparisons if necessary. Each group has different things going for them, so it would be weird to compare them. For example, Twice and Blackpink have almost nothing in common except massive popularity. Therefore, I try to really focus on the group and what they have done in the past rather than competitors. I will only mention “rivals” if I feel the group in question is blatantly copying someone else or if I want to use an example of something that I think could help them.
As I’ve said before, I’m by no means any expert on all things K-pop. I’ve decided to make it more from my perspective as a general listener and fan, adding in more critiques about things that I do know about like dance and music videos. The scoring isn’t so much how “good” or “bad” something I think it is. It’s more about how it answers the questions that I’ll outline below. Also: depending on the question, “yes” is not always positive and “no” is not always negative!
REVIEW – 100 points
MUSIC (40 points)
- Song (20 points): Since I know little about vocal technique and music composition, the questions will be more from a casual listener standpoint. Do I like the song? Do I enjoy listening to it? Would I put it in a playlist or on repeat? Does it have a natural flow and progression, or does it have song-within-a-song syndrome? How are the vocals and the rapping? Does the rap section fit in with the rest of the song? Does the overall song fit in well with the group’s signature sound?
- Lyrics (10 points): Meaningful lyrics are great, but not all pop music is like that. A lot of times pop music is about fun stuff to dance to, so I feel it would be unfair to grade them on how profound or shallow they are. (I don’t automatically subtract points if the song is simplistic, but I do add bonus points if I like the lyrics or think they’re particularly poetic) So instead of grading them on whether they’re deep or meaningful, the main questions are really: What is the song about? Is it a relatable situation, and do I feel like I can relate to it? Will this get a good reaction from fans? And does it match the concept?
For the record, I’d also like to point out that I have to rely on translations for my reviews. Sometimes I read a lot into those words, only to find that it’s not really that deep. For example, I wrote that Monsta X’s “Beautiful” was about forbidden love, obsession, desire etc…and then literally watched a video where they were like “It’s about how I think this girl is beautiful, but she’s like a rose with thorns.” Sometimes I interpret too much, and sometimes the artist downplays the meaning. So just take what I say with a grain of salt!
- Line Distribution (10 points): Using all the members to their full potential is a big thing for me. What is the point of spending so much money on debuting a person if they don’t get any lines? Now we can’t expect everyone to get equal lines in a song, but there should be a natural way things turn out. Do all of the vocalists get a decent amount of lines? Do they get parts that suit them? Is there one person that carries the song too much, or is it “_______” and the backup dancers? Does whoever get the most lines deserve it? Does someone get unfairly shut out? Given the dynamic of the group, is this line distribution fair?
DANCE/PERFORMANCE (30 points)
- Choreography (20 points): This category focuses specifically on the dancing and movement, not including the changes and formations. Every group has a different level of choreography, so I won’t rank it according to difficulty. Harder routines won’t automatically get better scores, unless the dance is extremely difficult and requires a lot of effort. Easier routines won’t automatically get lower scores, unless it’s really phoning it in. Does the choreography match the song’s rhythm and mood? Does it suit the group and the level of previous choreographies that they’ve shown us? Are the key points fun and interesting? Am I impressed by the stage? Is this a dance that I would want to take the time to teach myself?
- Centers and Formations (10 points): This category looks at the various formations and shapes made throughout the dance, as well as the group’s choice of who is responsible for capturing the audience’s attention. Are the formations interesting to watch? Does the choreography take advantage of having a lot of members to do cool things? Who is the center? Is he/she an appropriate choice? Are the dance line showcased appropriately?
*NOTE: For me, line distribution and center distribution go hand in hand. Like I said, not everyone can get a lot of lines in a song – especially when you go past 5 or 6 members. I won’t take away points if a member suffers in one category but benefits from another. For example, Sehun in “Growl” has two lines. But because he’s one of the dance centers, I wouldn’t subtract a bunch points from line distribution. Basically, these two categories together evaluate if all members are treated fairly.
VISUAL ASPECTS (30 points)
- Music Video (20 points): Does the music video fit the concept and the aesthetic? Is it too little, too much, or just right? How is the aesthetic? The composition? The editing? Is there a story that’s being told? If there is, is it done in a way that the viewer understands? Is there enough balance between different types of shots (stylistic/story-telling, close-ups of members singing, dance shots)? Will this draw in viewers and make them want to follow the group?
- Styling (10 points): How does the styling fit the concept and aesthetic? Is it too little, too much, or just right? Is the clothing appropriate for the members’ and their age? Does the hair and makeup suit them? If they are pulling from a different culture, is it done so thoughtfully and respectfully? I also like to pick what I call the “Style MVP,” which in general is the idol I think is the best looking for that particular comeback. Looking beyond just the face (although I think all K-pop idols are beautiful), I choose someone who has really great hair, makeup, and clothing. I try to avoid picking my biases all the time, but that doesn’t always work.
I also want to say here that I’m not a hater of any group or any specific idol. If I’m not into a group, it’s not because of them personally. It’s probably more because I don’t like the music or am ambivalent in general. Although these reviews will contain critiques, I really do want my favorite groups and idols to succeed. These are just my opinions on if they are doing well, and what I think they could do to be better!