The 90s as performed by people born in the 90s!
Iain Mew: “Party (XXO)” introduced GirLs be AMbitious (yes, really) with one of K-Pop’s more impressive 2012 debuts. “I Like That” is a statement of defiant singledom — the solo barbecue and karaoke of the video is a literal reading of the lyrics — which sees more of the song given over to the group’s two rappers Jiyeon and Zinni. This is a good thing. Jiyeon exclaims the three words of the title in increasingly elaborate and impassioned ways, while Zinni supplies a verse of drunken bravado based around lines ending in squeaks that is even more charged and attention grabbing than the fine popstep touches elsewhere. The peppy choruses sit a little oddly in the song, coming off as an obligation if a well-managed one, but there’s still enough to be worth getting very excited about.
Brad Shoup: I just couldn’t get over the Madonna pastiche they teased in the intro. Missy Elliott-style line endings try to package vocal deficiencies as attitude, while the kiddie chorus is a marketing bridge too far. But if you’re not going to offer me vintage house-pop, I’d settle for a whole song like that strummy refrain.
Edward Okulicz: The slick beats of the verses and the bubblegum pop of the chorus are both good enough that when either ends and folds into the other, I get a bit disappointed, then a bit thrilled. Pulling off sickly-sweet with attitude is an impressive feat, and the near-drunken ways the titular line gets delivered and mangled are enjoyable too.
Jonathan Bogart: I really like the expanded sonic palette they use to make music which function in pretty much exactly the same way as every other modern dance-pop song: when the chorus hits, and I expect the backing to be full-throttle heat-blast synths, and it’s close-miked shimmery acoustic guitars instead, the effect is enough to make me absurdly grateful.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Once upon a time, I accompanied my mother to see Will Young live and, at some point in the evening, fell asleep. I defended my nap with the following rhetoric: pop music should scare or unsettle your parents on some level, even if it’s juvenile. I recognise that on one level this is a garbage way of thinking, but I couldn’t help but remember that evening when listening to GLAM’s ‘I Like That’. The hip-hop/dance verses quite literally explode out of nowhere, bending a sample from the Shah Rukh Khan vehicle Baazigar to its will — and homaging 90s K-freestylers Chuli and Miaein the process, all the while leaving the original in the dust. It’s all very “now,” full of the sass and fashion-addiction that we’ve come to associate with the latest strain of idol groups. Then the main chorus hits, a bubblegum hook of guitars and morris-dancing audience-inclusion that splits the song in two. Suddenly, the song feels homogenous — it’s not the pop music that would ever unsettle parents. On repeat listens, the guitars are more welcoming but they’re still jarring, a weird intrusion that stops the song from gelling completely into the devil-may-care banger it threatens to become.
Patrick St. Michel: How does a new group stand out in the Korean pop market? GLAM, who debuted last July, seem to be trying to be the outfit that provide hyper upbeat pop songs coupled with equally positive messages, sorta like a catchier Up With People (GLAM equals GirLs be AMbitious). Last year’s “Party (XXO)” revealed its message four lines in — “Are you a boy?/Girl?/I don’t care/passion is the key/a hot heart is your ID” — and paired it with a dizzying chorus. “I Like That” turns to the lonely and dumped and tries to convince folks doing stuff alone can be fun. GLAM sing about eating Korean BBQ, singing karaoke and catching cockroaches by yourself, and how they “like that.” They are clever words, albeit at times they seem like they are trying to convince themselves. The verses cop a bit too much from 2NE1, but the chorus finds GLAM operating in a mood that suits them well. They could stand to be a bit more ambitious, but they have potential alright.
Frank Kogan: A girl group swamped in context, subtext, pretext, and blatant text, and hooray for them. The lyrics to last summer’s “Party(XXO)” were about girls desiring other girls and acting that out, lips pressed against lips. This time out they’re celebrating being alone and refusing to hook up, while not glossing over how much being alone hurts: “Even when I’m drunk and crawling back home/You, who used to take care of me, aren’t by my side/So it feels crappy but I like that, I like that” (trans. pop!gasa). Complex stuff, and they seem to have the biz on their side (they’re on a JYP subsidiary, distributed by LOEN, w/ acclaimed producer “Hitman” Bang taking them in hand). As far as I know, for Korea this is a major-label first. And, on the subject of forbidden love, if you love GLAM you can say, like Margaret Berger, that you’re in love with a robot, since not only do GLAM perform with the Vocoloid SeeU (Vocaloid being a computerized gizmo into which you can type melodies and lyrics and she, the Vocaloid SeeU, will sing them back), but GLAM’s very own Dahee is the woman whose voice was sampled in the making of SeeU. “Party(XXO)” was pale in the melody, but GLAM have righted that on “I Like That,” pulling forth a hot, twisting “Uhwoo uhwoouh uhuhwoo uhwoouh” sample from Chuli & Miae’s early ’90s freestyle and house confabulation “Why You,” the GLAMsters seemingly unaware that what they’ve sampled was itself a sample from the Cover Girls’ “Because Of You” (h/t Maura Johnston and a couple of commenters at Omonatheydidn’t for identifying this). The music follows the jittery daring of freestyle, the rap and singing voices hopping through flak and then smoothing out for a chorus that’s almost a different song, bright sunshine and voices chanting “like it” over and over, then the song returning to choppin’ and hoppin’. Tension, release, and back to tension, done very well. And how is the public reacting to all this social richness? Well, our nitwit Netizens, ever with an eye to what truly matters, are getting into arguments on comment threads as to whether ex-member Trinity was kicked out for being a celebrity stalker, and whether wearing backward baseball caps means that GLAM are copying 2NE1. So, Awesomeness, let me reintroduce you to the Trivial.
Ian Mathers: Oh, there’s the real chorus, and it’s fantastic. I was worried for a minute. (Not that the first minute was bad, it’s just that the first chorus is like the sun coming out.)