Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Girls’ Generation – I Got a Boy

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.

Reader average: [7.53] (63 votes)

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22 Responses to “Girls’ Generation – I Got a Boy”

  1. Alfred’s right. This is a mess, and not an entertaining one.

  2. I like it, but the structure seems a little random. It should have faded out on the part corresponding to the redhead section of the video. The stuff following that is anti-climactic.

  3. It sounds like a bunch of unfinished songs thrown together. The other songs on GG’s album remain safely within a single genre and are not remotely experimental, so this is just a way to get attention with the single.

    There are better ADD-mashup singles than this. TVXQ “Catch Me” for instance manages to sound way more coherent and graceful. Shinwha “Venus” plays the verses off the chorus to add a feeling of restraint to the song. GDragon “Crayon” makes a point of its own messiness. This is just a mess.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the bits of unfinished songs that got thrown into this homebrew mashup were the best parts of those unfinished songs. It’s kind of like how the I Got a Boy Highlight Medley – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkORksp2Bk4 – tops the actual album.

  5. I would never claim that I don’t stan for SNSD but while this song isn’t a revelation to me and of course a lot of (all???) the criticism it gets is spot-on, I still love it FOR being a weird, kind of disjointed medley; it’s like you’re riding a rollercoaster through the relationship and it really appeals to my inner drama queen.

    it feels like I’m singlehandedly yanking up the reader rating here but w/e We Like What We Like

  6. Here’s the lyrical breakdown, which explains the song structure: http://hallyu8.com/topic/30-the-official-snsd-thread-a-yo-welcome-motherfckers/page__st__43600#entry2463942

    My ire at the opening rap portion substantially went away and turned into eye-rolling amusement once I realized that it was basically the opening monologue to “Baby Got Back.”

    I also came to enjoy the choppiness a lot when I began thinking of it in terms of some of the more chaotic classical music I’ve had the pleasure of getting lost while sight reading, most notably Respighi’s “Epiphany” and Ginastera’s “Malambo.”

    And finally, I Got a Boy, chaKHAAAAAAAANNNN! Sorry, I had to.

  7. For songs that are basically just bridges, Girls Aloud reign supreme when it comes to global pop. In the world of k-pop, 2ne1 can do this with much more sophistication and make the parts seems so much seamless. The synergy works better. For GG, I agree with the above comment, this is a composition that is deliberately trying to draw critical attention. These types of compositions have been done better. And GG is just 1 girl multiplied 9 times. The same cutesy smiles and looks, the same mousy voices–and yet this song is just all over the blogosphere. Talk about a dry spell. Super Junior-M’s Break Down is a better example of seamlessly making different musical parts work and it came out this week.

  8. Not just critical attention – broad admiration from the general public. There’s an undercurrent to Kpop that’s like, “Look how progressive and modern our music is! See how we incorporate the latest sounds, styles and trends in our world-class cultural product!” That’s why the experimental singles are GG’s and Suju-M’s best foot forward, while the album tracks are where they play it safe for the fans.

    So far so good, I just don’t think “I Got a Boy” works as a song. As an attitude, sure, and the members do look they’re having fun with it live.

    What I’m saying is, the individual pieces are pleasurable, but do they add up to anything, or does the gimmick and the addictive production cover up for glaring structural weaknesses?

    Get out with “Break Down” being seamless though, no way! It has a superior hook (Breakdownnnnnn!) which the rest of the song doesn’t quite manage to match. It’s more coherent than I Got a Boy, sure, but that’s setting a low bar.

    I wouldn’t be this harsh on a song from a smaller company, btw, but SM is a big fish with vast resources. They can do better.

  9. But seamless was never the point, and the whiplash is part of the fun. I could possibly do with even less transition, as punctuated and rushed as they already are. The spoken phrase transition points in particular come off as try-hard (and Jessica’s “take it back to 1:40” is no C “bring it back” L.) They ought to completely remove all of the brakes and let this rickety wooden roller coaster slam into the tempo change curves like they were corners. (And it will still be more conventionally melodic than the majority of the contemporary classical music with which it shares its structural and temporal quirks.)

    Hmmm. Maybe I should try making that edit in Audacity.

  10. -rap part: the introduction. lyrics are direct, referencing new hair/fashion and asking about what motivated the change.
    -slow part 1: lyrics about the titular boy and the girl’s infatuation. song shifts into a more dramatic gear, but keeps the tempo.
    -fast part 1: and then we get into the chorus. this is the genius part of the song, imo: its hook is absolutely mad, but it mirrors the excitement any adolescent would feel perfectly. that’s really what this song is about (the sugar rush of a blooming romance).
    -slow part 2: and then the lights turn off and the song stops the partying to get introspective. as it turns out, the titular boy may not even consider the girl as his girlfriend. an unexpected and nice tangent from all the joy
    -stop: Let’s bring it back to 140 can take on a lot of meanings in the context of the song (a literal shift of tempo, the narrative decision to take a leap of faith and focus on the positive, etc etc)
    -fast part 2: same as above, but the music video sneaks in a great little shot where one of the girls is screaming angrily and throwing something at her boy. is this romance goin to last forever? is this just a setback? or is there, beneath the tempo of 140, something more sad lurking beneath there? it’s a very brief moment of subversion, but it opens up a world of complexity.

    the ONLY downside to this song is that the bass needs to be a little thicker (the production sounds a little too rough at times imo), but it’s very well-crafted and I’ve never quite heard anything like it.

  11. If you really want to get creative, 140 could also be a Twitter reference.

  12. The actual single starts 30 seconds into the music video, so “let’s bring it back to 1:40” would be “let’s bring it back to 2:10” for those listening via Youtube. Which is probably something the songwriters should have thought about, lol.

    I do like this song better knowing how the lyrics relate to the music, so thanks for the analysis, Moses!

  13. I think another part of my liking for this song is that it actually sounds made for 9 vocalists. There’s enough of an overload of stuff going on that everyone sounds as though she has work to do.

  14. @bshoup, subdee
    Mind = blown at both those possible meanings for 140. On the album version, it allllmost fits, but the chorus kicks in about two seconds later.

    Fun putting the song together, though. This site is so much fun.

    Really good point. I can actually (almost) name every member at this point, and every single girl gets quite a bit to do.

  15. who are you missing, Moses? I got Yoona and Yuri confused for a really long time and Seohyun was never that memorable to me but I think I’ve got it down now

  16. Tiffany
    Seohyun (fav 4 life, marry me plz)

  17. haha

    “Countdown” -> Sunny -> Profit!

  18. Aaah, Sunny! Damn. It was on the outer skirts of my brain and I just couldn’t figure it out.

    Now to go and revise my marriage proposal.

  19. “Sunny jjang!” — me in private when no one can yell at me for whispering Konglish about the idols I like

  20. I could possibly do with even less transition, as punctuated and rushed as they already are. […] They ought to completely remove all of the brakes and let this rickety wooden roller coaster slam into the tempo change curves like they were corners.
    Hmmm. Maybe I should try making that edit in Audacity.


    It turns out that this song really actually does get much better when its momentum moves in smash-cuts. Although I could have paced the 1:33 cut better, since 2:01 managed to pull the same thing off successfully.

  21. that’s a really interesting edit. it feels weird to me not to have all of the context of the lyrics, but the song feels a lot more hyper–as it should be.

  22. I’ll second preferring “Break Down” to this, but I don’t think “Break Down” is nearly as patchwork as “I Got A Boy” — it has jagged dynamic shifts because that’s just what brostep does, innit. What interests me about “Break Down” is that SuJu-M sound very, very soft compared to their music, possibly just because Mandarin is “softer” than Korean (which is full of final plosive stops where Mandarin has none), and yet I distinguish their voices very well for a group I haven’t listened to often. (I would have given it a [7], but fell asleep before blurbing that day, oops.)

    “Crayon” is, of course, superior to either.