Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

B1A4 – What’s Happening?

From Kay, some deceptively upbeat K-pop…

Jessica Doyle: When I first heard this, I said, “I don’t have the vocabulary to explain how this works.” A couple hundred listens later, I still don’t. It’s a song about being cheated on — but it’s so joyful! Except when it’s suspicious (Jinyoung), accusatory (Baro), smug (Gongchan), pleading (Sandeul), or resigned (CNU). But then: joyful! And maybe channeling Crowded House during the bridge. Because “What’s Happening” is only partly a work of candy pop art in its own right and really an entry into B1A4 Land, where fake glasses and checkered tights under denim culottes are not even close to peak nonsense; the key to fame and fortune and screaming fans is the sprout dance; and even though Jinyoung and Baro get two-thirds of the prime real estate on every. single. song, the other three roll with it — Sandeul aiming for maximum feels per line, Gongchan showing up long enough to get patted on the head, and CNU busy live-tweeting his growing cucumbers. (Cucumbers.) It’s not that serious problems, infidelity included, don’t exist in B1A4 Land, but such problems wither to nothingness under the onslaught of bright colors and earnest group hugs and goofy expressions. At some point B1A4 is going to come up against an obstacle too big for adorable. Until then take this entire paragraph with a shaker of salt. Brad Shoup keeps calling for more Donald Fagen in K-pop, but I don’t think he meant my taking one look at Gongchan’s raised eyebrow and bursting into “Hey Nineteen.”

Kay Thompson: I don’t think there’s any other song in K-pop this year that has functioned so ably as a phenomenology of its performers:  “What’s Happening?” is the very essence of the B1A4 experience, a text in which the members lovingly play with each other and with audience expectations to unveil previously unseen possibilities. Despite the scenario of being cheated on by a lover, “it seemed like the members and I would meet the situation in a pleasantly positive way,” writes composer and band leader Jinyoung in his liner notes. Each of the song’s constituent parts showcases the members’ ability to play with the obvious breakup tropes. Gongchan pulls off that bitter exclamation: “I knew this would happen!” with a wink and the sweetest of smiles. At the end of the rap verse, embellished with Jinyoung’s instrumental flourishes, Baro tries to banish his distress with: “I should just eat. But what should I eat?” Sandeul and CNU nearly shout their continued devotion in the chorus, and Jinyoung tempers it with a plaintive “Come back to me, baby girl…” before revving up for the final key change: “Falling in love, falling in love!” The multiplicity of keys and vocal variations is the audio iteration of the band’s self-declared tacky style. Although they can do serious and show virtuosity, B1A4 are grounded in lovefun, and joy, and “What’s Happening?” is an exemplar of that ethic.

Crystal Leww: If someone didn’t tell me, I would have no idea that this song was about a cheating lover. I guess the sonic and lyrical disconnect is practically what twee is based on, but in this sort of high powered pop number, it’s unsettling in a bad way. I’m really not here for the sudden stops and especially disinterested in this production which sounds like Backstreet Boys at their bad corniest. This is aiming for charming but ends up sounding charmless.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Effervescent stuff, the Korean five-piece rushing about through ultra-posi vibes and almost forcing the girl at its focus to cheer up. It’ll do the same for you in the short-tem, but functions better the less attention you pay to its overly synthetic appeal. For something as plasticised as “What’s Happening” you need a group with a strong vocal presence – doubly so for the tacked-on rap which, yikes.

Patrick St. Michel: I thought, “this is everything that made me fall for K-Pop in the first place!” Here’s an exuberant song about falling in love, perfectly put together so that the hop-along pop section segues into the brostep bit just right, the entire track feeling like a particularly delirious brain at work. And then it hits that sweet sweet chorus! And then I actually looked at the lyrics. This isn’t a happy song at all — it’s about finding out you are getting cheated on! But it still sounds like a stadium-filling anthem, turning sadness into something huge and worth dancing to as much as any happy stuff.

Alfred Soto: Acoustic guitar undergirds the usual overcaffeinated harmonic rush and key changes, with unexpected stops for solo spots that would impress One Direction’s Zayn but not Harry.

Sonya Nicholson: One thing I’ve always admired about B1A4 is their willingness to put three or four different melodies in one song, as if to say “there’s always more where those came from.” This song makes up for a lack of strong melodies by including even more than usual, going roughly: Intro Vocal/Rap Bridge (A)/Intro Verse/Main Verse (Minor)/Rap Bridge (B)/Chorus (1)/Rap Bridge (A)/Rap Verse/Vocal Bridge (A – Middle 8?)/Main Verse (Minor)/Rap Bridge (B)/Chorus (1)/Vocal Bridge (B, with Rap and KEY CHANGE)/Chorus (2)/Chorus (2)/Climax Verse/Rap Bridge (A). It’s weird, and it’s also great.

Madeleine Lee: “Perverse” is probably the last word that comes to mind when you look at these guys, but much of the pleasure in “What’s Happening?” comes from its delight at its own naughtiness. The tone of the video is exactly right: cute and bright, but with something a little strange about it, a world where dolls can come to life but their heads still pop off. B1A4’s first song that sounded like this was a typical forever-love song; now the control is in their hands (leader Jinyoung has composed and produced all of their singles since January 2012), and the sing-song melodies and cartoon villain bloops are paired with some seriously uncomfy lyrics instead (“Whenever you open your eyes, you lie every day”). (In fact this is their second single explicitly about cheating, and it’s just as fluffy as the first.) It’s a smart choice. The repetitive melodies wear out their welcome quickly, but it’s the odd element, the deliberate contrariness, that hooks you back in.

Will Adams: What is happening? The attempts to be all things at once — here: sunny pop-rock, minor-key club track, the hammiest chorus I’ve heard this side of Glee — is becoming standard in pop, but when the various sections are wielded with the finesse of someone who just learned how to program drums in Logic, it reads sloppy.

Brad Shoup: I do love the “today’s awesome” subgenre of tunes, a border that can be drawn around Macca and Kurt Wagner, among others. Barring the brief section of suction-cup brostep, I thought this would be a sterling addition to the canon, with most of the boys straining to make you feel it. But no — you’re supposed to feel for them. The washed-out pop-synth stings and the upper registers and the damn key change: all gain a perverse weight. It’s like someone laid David Nail’s “Red Light” over Billy Currington’s “Love Done Gone”. The final part becomes a Chaplinesque wave as the circle narrows. She’s a million miles away. But it’s so nice out.

Reader average: [6.15] (13 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

12 Responses to “B1A4 – What’s Happening?”

  1. Thank you everyone for reviewing this song! It’s very interesting how differently (and strongly) folks reacted to the “reversal” – the song’s cheery tune and not-so-cheery lyrics. And I will add “perverse” and “hammy” to the arsenal of adjectives that describe B1A4, haha!

    One thing I was curious about: What does it mean that Zayn would be impressed by the solo spots but Harry wouldn’t?? (I have a very hard time imagining anybody in 1D listening to, much less appreciating, B1A4.)

  2. 10?!?!?!?!?!?!

  3. Madeleine for the win.

    Also thank you Ian, (or whoever it was,) for editing me down.

  4. Daniel: *Bronx cheer*

  5. Y’all gotta be kidding me granting these 10s in the slightest

  6. I love what they’re doing to the controversy ratings.

  7. Madeleine always bringing it with her commentary.

  8. I begrudge no one their [10]s. And tho I’m trying to stay away from talk of winning, I gotta say that Jessica’s blurb brought me immense pleasure, and that was before I read the Ghost of Brad’s Weird Requests Past.

  9. I haven’t granted a single [10] this year, apparently.

  10. Pretty sure I can count the number of [10]s I’ve granted this year on one hand.

  11. I’ve given five (six if you count the one I should have given Bonnie McKee) and I stand by them all.

  12. I didn’t even like this song til I read the [10] blurbs actually. Great job guys!