Monday, February 4th, 2019

Jolin Tsai – Ugly Beauty

Pretty Beauty hurts…


Crystal Leww: 蔡姐姐认为她是怪美的但我认为她是臭美的, 哈哈!

Iris Xie: First off, the title and the lyrics are really poorly and loosely written. “我怪美的 /Wǒ guài měi de” needs to translate to “I AM a Beauty!” In this song, 怪/guài is Mandarin slang and differs strongly from the dictionary definition. In its slang form, it’s used as a phrase of confident emphasis during a conversation. In the context of Jolin Tsai firing back against her critics who accuse her of daring to be a public figure even though she has “flaws,” it’s “她怪美的” or “She thinks she’s beautiful!” Jolin Tsai is reclaiming that exact phrase to assert her own self worth: “So what if you think I am pretty or ugly?! Who gets to decide beauty standards? I have my own style! I AM a beauty!/我怪美的!” Therefore, Jolin Tsai is not actually saying “I am an ugly beauty,” but you wouldn’t get that from the lyrics that lack finesse and clarity, or the fact that the album cover clearly says UGLY BEAUTY. So frustrating, considering her previous hits had clear and wonderful lyrics. The actual meaning of the song is centered in the line: “看不見我的美 是你瞎了眼 / If you can’t see my beauty, it’s because you’re blind,” since it solidifies the defiant self-love that she has in the face of unrealistic scrutiny as a public figure. Production-wise, this track sounds exhausted, with a blurry, low energy chorus that matches the lyrics, a generic bassline that doesn’t go anywhere, and a formulaic dance break that waters down the na-na-nas from “I’m Not Yours” and the meme-y bubbliness from “Play.” The chorus is re-used as an outro and cut off with a premature, awkward silence. Overall, this is disappointing, considering Tsai has delivered better and more cutting and outspoken songs that are fiery and do a better job of engaging with socially conscious topics. “I AM a Beauty!” is a bit too mired in its own subject matter to communicate its message clearly, and lacks the wry, fun power Jolin Tsai is known for.

Thomas Inskeep: Fairly average-sounding pop with EDM flourishes; more ugliness or beauty would benefit it.

Alfred Soto: If the track had careened forward on the momentum of the opening snaps and throat clicks, we would’ve had something beside the usual electronically glazed pre-chorus and general will-to-bigness. 

Katherine St Asaph: Post-Y2K nostalgia isn’t so bad when it results in something that sounds like Justified and In the Zone at once.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: While “Shadow Self” is the most memorable track on Ugly Beauty, the title track stands out for being so densely packed with ideas. All of its sequences cohere rather elegantly — just hear how the second verse bridges the preceding post-chorus and following pre-chorus — but not everything is sufficiently enjoyable on its own. The first verse has a seductive verve, and the synthesized harp arpeggios that close the song are a nice touch, but the chorus and rap break are both egregious in their collapsing of the song’s momentum. It’s less “Ugly Beauty” than “Ugly & Beauty.”

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One Response to “Jolin Tsai – Ugly Beauty”

  1. Overall I like Ugly Beauty as an album but I’m sticking to my claim that her best post-2010 work is Muse. Today’s pop girls can’t touch that Dr. Jolin/Fantasy/Beast combo