Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

Ninety One ft. Irina Kairatovna – Taboo

Next up, a check-in with Q-pop.


Thomas Inskeep: Essentially an Irina Kairatovna record with sung choruses from Ninety One, this Q-pop track bangs, with unique rap verses and an odd, slightly Finneas-esque chorus; it’s one of the year’s most purely distinctive records.

Anna Katrina Lockwood: I suspect I’m similar to a lot of Jukebox folks in that I first heard of Ninety One through Jessica Doyle’s excellent essays in The Ninety One Series. Jessica tells the group’s story in a thoughtful, well-researched, and honestly very moving fashion — weaving in personal stories, sociopolitical influences as well as the competing cultural movements that affect their formation and style — while framing a larger conversation about idol pop in general. It’s fascinating stuff, but I’m not going to harp on that too much (just go read Jessica’s writing). All that aside, “Taboo” is just straight up a good song. Somewhat of an outlier in the idol pop world, these guys are frequently political, and this song has a bones-deep weariness that will surely feel relatable to any person adjacent to the vortex of the last few years of US political life. Also, it made me want to dance, which is the mark of effective idol pop in my books. 

Jessica Doyle: It was probably inevitable that I would like this, but you might well too, given that it has both a beat and a point of view and neither detracts too much from the other, which is tricky enough to pull off that many groups don’t even try. If you do like it and are curious to hear more, your next path is IK’s more recent releases: “5000,” “Wu Kang,” and “MVP.” (The last is my personal favorite of the three, because I am a sucker for Tarantino-inspired music videos, and also for Ilya declaring himself Kareem Abdul Jabbar.) As for Ninety One, their most recent MV is unfortunately very boring (and weirdly spliced; the single version of “Darn” is more coherent). Maybe we’ll get more fleshed-out work after they… conquer the American market? Or, more likely, emulate BTS in producing English-language, more globally-friendly (read: worse) work, while not getting even close to the Grammy-nomination and sold-out stadium rewards. So it may be a while before anything as enjoyable as “Taboo” is on offer. Ah well, we’ll always have “propaganda.”

Ian Mathers: Admittedly I’m not familiar with either group, and at this point I’m used enough to dozen-plus K-pop rosters so without the credits the fact that this all melds together so well means I probably wouldn’t have guessed at a collaboration. The smoother chorus with that pretty acoustic guitar still manages to preserve the spiky, snarky energy of the verses (even before you look up a good translation) so that by the time the whistling kicks in this is one of those four-minute pop songs that really feels like it’s gone some places.

Iain Mew: This is a lesson in finely matched balance. The “Knights of Cydonia” questing-in-the-wilderness bits (with whistling!) and the cold metallic rapping bits set each other off perfectly, building a determined mood which comes across all the stronger for being stretched so far.

Tobi Tella: The sound of pure anger at the status quo tempered by a slight acoustic guitar chorus; for a generation defined by ironic detatchment, the best part of this is the pure passion seeping out.

Juana Giaimo: I generally don’t like rap songs that are different monologues divided by a chorus, but in “Taboo” it works. As a political song, it makes sense they are using this structure because each of them seem to have a lot to say. While they all lean towards loud rapping, it’s far from being tiring because they break the verses in different new ways making it quite dynamic. The chorus is the needed pause it needs, and while it’s even catchy, it’s also incredibly somber with that acoustic guitar and lonely whistle. I only wish the backing vocals and harmonizations in the last chorus went a little bit further.

Michael Hong: While the sung hook feels necessary to connect its verses, its control makes “Taboo” sound like a campfire jam. “I sing for you, for me, for the future” they sing, overly sentimental compared to the rest, a mellowness that creeps into their raps. It makes their resistance more durable, even if it takes away from its excitement in the heat of the moment.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every country eventually gets its own Rage-Against-The-Machine-style take on broadly anti-establishment rap fusion. Few can say that their version is as tuneful and grand as this. It fits so many tricks and voices into four minutes that it almost becomes a portrait of Almaty in miniature, and yet it never feels burden by the sheer amount of material stuffed in — the beat flows naturally with the vocalists, elements dropping in and out graceful as needed.

Nortey Dowuona: This is flawless. The rapping is fluid, bouncy and tight, the singing is warm and fuzzy, and Zaq is fagtastic and needs to be on the next J. Cole album. Kazakh pop rap has never sounded so good.

Alfred Soto: Its constituent parts solid rather than impressive, “Taboo” depends on the chorus as glue. Fine as far as it goes.

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One Response to “Ninety One ft. Irina Kairatovna – Taboo”

  1. I have never had a blurb age so poorly so fast and I have never been unhappier about it.

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