Yes, we stopped calling them SNSD. No, we don’t think they’re a duo now.
Patrick St. Michel: Ostensibly, “I Got A Boy” is a song featuring two characters (or maybe more) having a back-and-forth conversation about a guy. Yet there is a way more interesting sonic battle raging inside this song. Last year, Korean music fans started showing signs they were growing a bit burned out by girl groups, while solo vocalists like Lee Hi and more “authentic” groups like Busker Busker saw big success. Given these developments, what could Girls’ Generation — arguably the biggest girl group out of Korea, and the one at the center of the K-Pop wave (at least before a certain viral video came along) — do to stay current? Answer: instead of settle on one idea, try out a whole bunch in one song and be unafraid to jump to something new at the drop of a hat. K-Pop has long been willing to blur genre lines mid-song — see the brostep burble of “Bubble Pop!” or 2NE1′s ability to seamlessly fit rap into anything — but “I Got A Boy” ups it a bit by making it seem so nonchalant, the transitions here happening quickly like an improvised Broadway musical number. This is Girls’ Generation trying out a bunch of sounds — hip-hop, Morse-code dancehall, singing-competition belting — and deciding they all sound great, so why not cram them into one five-minute rush, trends be damned? The five or so segments here could all make serviceable singles on their own, but that would be settling. “I Got A Boy” proves Girls’ Generation are too good for that.
Iain Mew: Disappointed that “Dancing Queen” turned out to not be an unearthed 2008 gem but a straightforward Duffy cover? Girls’ Generation’s other Korean comeback single makes up for that by being three new songs at once! Along with the multi-part structure itself, the blues-stomp one particularly call to mind a more precarious version of Girls Aloud’s “Biology” and the high speed electrobuzz one is even further away from Girls’ Generation’s normal territory. They’re great ideas though, and the group still sound more at home than on “The Boys”, even as the various sections collide together with whiplash-risking abruptness.
Brad Shoup: Leave it to Girls’ Generation to turn “Countdown” into a pop-prog opus. Seemingly composed as nothing but bridges, this is no way to conduct a career, but as a gauntlet it clanks quite attractively. Definitely one to admire more than love.
Edward Okulicz: Good fun, no doubt, and a bit of a headspiin with how it leaps from style to style skifully due to the unifying thread of the girls’ vamping it up. That said, the hooks that merge the song (the “I got a boy” chorus itself, and the “oh-whoa-oh” bit) aren’t strong enough to make “I Got a Boy” that replayable. A great demonstration of charisma and inventiveness, but not even close to their best.
John Seroff: More is more in Girl’s Generation’s “I Got A Boy”: more member solos, more English shout-outs, more tempo changes, more hooks, more coy winks, more candy-colored explosions, more ideas to play with. It’s less a single and more a concentrated EP. Turn it on and get lost in embarrassingly cute and calculated crazy.
Frank Kogan: This is how I’ve got it diagrammed, though damned if I know I’m right. There’s Song One, which starts with funky choppy rapping, then big chords and an “Oh-way-oh” chant with a chord change or two thrown in, more chanting, then back to “Oh-way-oh.” Then there’s Song Two, starts with electro squiggles while the singers sing “I got a boy” etc. in little harmony balls, and they then shift to different previously unheard high singing. Song Two then continues by copying the structure of Song One, and even similar words (so: rap part, “Oh-way-oh” chant, melody, more “Oh-way-oh”), but the melodies, rhythms, and arrangements are entirely different from the equivalent sections of Song One, and the rap is smoother. Then we stop dead for a Part Three (I wouldn’t call it a song) that gives us loud chords shortly joined by forced singing (possibly by Taeyeon). And now we’re at a Part Four (Song Four?) which lifts the “I got a boy” etc. stuff from Song Two but after about thirteen seconds goes to yet another high melody that we’ve not previously heard, followed by a modulation to a new chord, some “No oh ohs” that recall but don’t copy the “Oh-way-oh,” then back to our “I got a boy” stuff (I wouldn’t call it a chorus, exactly) while one of the singers accompanies it with one of the previous melodies. And what does it all add up to? I’m not sure. Get back to me in six months. It’s audacious; I like the harmony balls. Both the choppy rap and the smooth rap have a comfort-food feeling. I especially like the bursting-rocket-ball singing of “I got a boy.” On the loud parts, Taeyeon’s power and skill are more of a burden than a blessing, but I won’t accuse her of upending a song that never settled on a head or a tail in the first place.
Alfred Soto: Closer to a medley than a song, it peaks when the girls go Queen-y during the title hook, which to my ears is accidental: the blur is their metier.
Jonathan Bogart: Oddly, the song that keeps recurring is “Bohemian Rhapsody” — not because they sound particularly Queen-y, or at least they’re not melodramatic in that particular way — but simply because of all the quick-change transitions, lampshaded twice by Golden-Age-of-Hip-Hop-drop-in-style announcements. The parts don’t ever fully cohere, and a couple of them are a little draggy, but I can’t complain too much: my thing is liking variety, and they give it to me.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The stand-out track on prog-metal band Between the Buried and Me’s 2007 album Colours is the thirteen-minute “Ants of the Sky”, an overwhelming, over-reaching mash of creative action, one that does not feel like any song I have ever heard, yet it is all songs at once. Girls’ Generation’s “I Got A Boy” reminds me of few pop songs. Instead it triggers memories of being rendered dumbstruck by the pin-wheeling time-signature changes, unpredictable sense of humour and unfettered ambition found in “Ants.” But where the five-man BTBAM required thirteen minutes, the nine-woman contingent achieves more in five. There’s little room to fuck about as they pinball in between bluesy strut-offs, tech-bubblepop and R&B club weirdness with enough energy to power the mechabots they probably recorded this song in. As far as the lyrics are concerned, “I Got A Boy” works as a giddy romantic squeal, but works better as a rallying cry as bludgeoning and to-the-point as whatever the screeches in “Ants of the Sky” meant. (Try it out: I GOT A BOY MEOTJIN! I GOT A BOY CHAKHAN! I feel mighty just typing that.) And Jessica breaks the fourth wall, commanding the song back to 140bpm. This is prog-pop. I’m overwhelmed.