Thursday, December 24th, 2020

GFriend – Mago

…and from Brian, some K-pop disco reverie.


Brian Hsiao: 2020 has seen disco comebacks aplenty from Kylie Minogue, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd and many, many others. This trend was bound to make its way to South Korea, but it anchored a reinvention of image for the nation’s angels. The girls sing with such enthusiasm that their confidence is glimmering on the dance floor; their conviction is particularly strong when Yuju croons “my heart is beating for you!” I really couldn’t ask for more from GFriend than a witch-based disco anthem with the phrase “hakuna matata.” “Mago” is a burst of flavors that doesn’t feel as exact as Western interpretations of disco revival.

Samson Savill de Jong: Do you miss the late 2000s/early 2010s when popular music was loud, in your face, full of thumping bass lines and/or drums, kind of obnoxious and a little formulaic, and felt big, unlike now when it’s all a bit downbeat, depressed, kind of pretentious and a little algorithmically generated and personal? Boy, do I have a song (and genre) for you. (I like the “yes you” ad lib.)

Katherine St Asaph: Are we at “Poker Face” nostalgia already? I guess, plus “Hung Up,” the bass hook from “I Wanna Go,” all of which adds up to Chromatica. Which is all pretty good; I miss pop sounding poppy.

Austin Nguyen: A four-on-the-floor beat of brisk anticipation that GFRIEND deliver on: Yuju makes romance an existentialist drama (“My life is waiting for YOU”) before the group chimes in with a Sailor Moon-cute wink (“Yes, you!”), and SinB struts in with sassy detachment (“tick, tock, tick, tock”) that chips away into a sultry “ring my heart” until Eunha turns it into a smirking dare the next measure. The dancefloor is never too crowded, and the disco ball doesn’t outlast its stay; “MAGO” is the work of a group performing efficiently and at full capacity, each member of GFRIEND with their own personality/twist in the spotlight without interfering with the structure of the song itself (case in point: the all-empty-but-a-synth bridge SinB slow-walks into to build up into a final chorus). But really, all you need to know is that this has enough karaoke potential to overlook a decades-old Disney reference.

Thomas Inskeep: 2020 just keeps giving up disco-soaked pop: “Mago” sits firmly in between Dua Lipa and Kylie Minogue’s efforts from this year. The “tick tock tick tock” refrain gives me Madonna-sampling-ABBA vibes, which only adds to the ’70s ambience.

Rose Stuart: I don’t know what made vaporwave the K-pop trend of the year, but at some point almost every girl group had ’80s synths and a disco guitar line in there somewhere. As much as I love a retro sound, most of these songs have been underwhelming, even from artists I normally adore like Sunmi and Twice. “Mago” has the same problem as Twice’s “I CAN’T STOP ME.” These songs sound the way a baseless cheesecake tastes. Everything is fine, but there isn’t anything for it all to rest on and hold it together. It almost feels like a track got deleted by accident when the song was being mixed. So with only a week left in the year, I feel fairly comfortable crowning EVERGLOW’s “LA DI DA” (which, unlike “Mago,” is all about that bass) the winner of K-pop’s 2020 vaporwave trend. 

Jessica Doyle: I feel the same way about “Mago” that I did about “Fingertip“: GFriend executes so well that they paradoxically end up hurting their own cause. “Mago” is ostensibly a song about celebrating oneself and refusing to pay attention to others’ judgment, which means that just about any Korean female idol group is going to have trouble selling it. (Mamamoo may have the best chance of succeeding, while being faintly smug about it.) GFriend’s approach is to lay every necessary brick with such precision that the idea of not trying to please an audience is completely lost. I feel slightly guilty for applauding their technical prowess and then going back to “EV. ER. GLOW. FOREV. ER. LET’S. GO.

Andrew Karpan: K-pop disco about the color-coded possibilities of reinvention. After a few spins, I began to understand that the fact the song doesn’t go anywhere–that no beat drops, that the end shimmers and glistens much like the beginning–is the very point. Self-discovery is stirred from outside, not in. “My life is waiting for you,” the chorus goes, a depressing thought, though the folks in GFriend don’t sound incredibly bothered by the idea of all that waiting around, trying on clothes. Maybe it’s the brief moments of pole dancing in the video, but the vibe reminded me of the best part of that Jennifer Lawrence movie Hustlers, the half with all the celebrity cameos, where Lizzo and Cardi B swing by to play strippers waiting around for the Great Recession to start. Ominous, but upbeat.

Joshua Lu: Part of “Mago”‘s strength lies in how it doesn’t try too hard to be too much. The song is restrained enough to make the aberrant flourishes stand out even more, such as the wonky cadence in the prechorus or the vocal pushes in the “yes you” ad libs. While most other disco-esque K-pop songs, in their quest to sound like “Blinding Lights,” sound like they’re going through the motions until they can scream in the chorus, GFriend remains subdued throughout. They let their strong but straightforward vocals wind their way around you, slowly but surely putting you under their spell. You don’t always need explosions and bombast; a steady tick-tock can be all the more alluring.

Kayla Beardslee: If you listen closely enough, I think you can hear the meaning of life somewhere in the shimmering disco beat.

Reader average: [9] (5 votes)

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