A weird feeling accompanies the recent release of the self-titled “debut” album of Korean pop singer BoA. Weird not because K-pop is seldom heard or even heard of stateside, but because BoA is not only the premier pop singer in Korea but one of the foremost throughout all of Asia, making the idea of a “debut” of someone so established seem odd and even inappropriate.
At the same time, though, BoA is new to the mainstream U.S. music industry, so her “debut” works well as a marketing ploy to grab people’s attention. Unfortunately, the attention is only retained through the initial intrigue of the newcomer, as BoA is a medley of the dull and the trite, albeit a smartly composed one.
While using English in her songs is nothing new to BoA’s music, BoA is her first English-only album, offering 10 new tracks produced and recorded to appeal to the international market, as well as an English version of BoA’s previous hit “Girls on Top.” The fact she sings nearly flawless English is impressive, but it is ultimately irrelevant. Since the lyrics are so trite and vapid — entirely lacking any irony or humor — they may as well have been in Korean because while the listener understands the words, they do not listen to or remember them whatsoever. All that sticks is sloppy reiterations of “dance,” “love,” “you” and “tonight” in various orders and combinations.
The music, however, is not bad by any means. In fact, it probably would have been a much better album had the lyrics been in Korean, forgoing the distraction of their laughable hollowness. While all the tracks are dance-pop songs, many of them come imbued with a freshness gained from the incorporation of various odd-sound layers woven into beats. “Did Ya” matches Oriental wind instruments with Western horns as a recurring undertone to the dance bass and drums. “Touched” playfully mixes xylophones and alarm sirens. “Obsessed” mashes high-tempo shouts reminiscent of a traditional Oriental festival with the heavily synthesized main beat. It’s not that the album is bad — it’s just boring.
While half the tracks pack the musical punch to make them potential dance-club hits, it is unlikely any actually will. The beats are complex and BoA is as capable a singer as she is a sex icon, despite being more synthesized and less silicone-ized than Britney Spears. But what BoA lacks is any point of connection with the audience. Not as eccentric as Lady Gaga, as scandalous as Britney, as juvenile as Katy Perry or as bitchy as Pink, BoA offers no real personality through the lyrics of her debut album. And until she does, she simply doesn’t compete.
Quite frankly, the current state of pop music is heavily dependent on lyrics — people just like a song they can easily remember, recite and enjoy. “If U Seek Amy” would be a completely unremarkable throwaway pop song if the lyrics weren’t deliciously slutty; similarly “Poker Face” wouldn’t be the same without that senseless refrain and silly bits like “bluffin’ with my muffin.” In this regard, BoA feels dated, reminiscent of a time when dance music only had to depend on a solid beat to be successful. However, since the actual sound of popular music has barely evolved at all in the last half-decade or so, the current state of the genre places lyrics as paramount — the last device to amuse and distract the masses from the static, plastic veneer of a mass-produced and highly commercialized sound.
BoA playfully uplifts the genre in a few places, but the worn-out and weary countenance of dance-pop remains in need of a serious facelift — or just a new face altogether. Even worse, without worthwhile lyrics, BoA is riding several years behind a wave of shifting emphasis in the genre that seems to be slowly recognizing its own imminent demise.
3 1/2 stars out of 5.