KOREAN CULTURE / REVIEWS

[Review] ‘A-Cha’ by Super Junior

Super Junior have made a lot of changes in the last couple of years, and that’s not counting their fluctuating roster of members. I’m talking about their musical repertoire in the Korean Pop music scene. Super Junior have dabbled in just about every style of the musical genre pool, and what’s been good about that is we’ve gotten to see them and hear how they’ve grown into the versatile boy-band they are today.

When it comes to a pop group, there’s always a focus that we’re veered to lock into during a certain period of time. Super Junior’s strengths were showcased early on in their career. We know who are the lead singers, who are the designated rappers, and who play particular roles in between. Through Super Junior we’ve also seen SM Entertainment‘s growth as a powerhouse in the Kpop industry, especially from a musical standpoint. They’re one of the leaders in pop music for a reason, and a lot of it has come from the quality and accessibility of their material.

Over time, SM Entertainment has gradually transitioned from producing music that is polished and representative of their artists, to music that is more representative of an SM sound. This has become more obvious in the last two years, when one SM artist’s music has sounded similar to another artist under SM, which is fine and understandable. But it seems the more the label has grown, the farther they have distanced themselves and their artists from any musicality they have built since their humble beginnings, and that’s where I stop being a fan of the juggernaut that is SM Entertainment.

Super Junior is a perfect reflection of this unbalance of manufactured pop music (which happens to be really good) and music manufactured for crap’s sake.

There’s no question about it; Super Junior possesses some of today’s most talented pop singers in Korea and to pretend that isn’t true would be the ultimate case of delusion. But more important than their caliber is what one does with it, and that’s the role SM Entertainment has begun to divert from for me. This year may in fact mark the year where Super Junior are certified tools in this greater scheme known as the Korean pop music industry, unless there comes a force to guide their trajectory in a more favorable destination for them and their legion of fans, because if there’s really music inside them (which I’m convinced there is), then it would only be fair of me to ask for it to play out this way.

Last month, Super Junior released their highly anticipated comeback album, ‘Mr. Simple,’ followed by the release of a Version B a few weeks later. Setting aside the handful of good-to-great tracks off the album, ‘Mr. Simple’ was probably the biggest offense to Korean pop music since the introduction of auto tune, and here’s why: this is Super Junior! They’re the leaders of the boy bands. It’s not so much about having high standards as it is about expecting great and revolutionary music from a great boy band. To think that there are rookies and underdogs churning out music with far more life than anything attached to the Super Junior name in the last two years leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

I was underwhelmed with ‘Mr. Simple,’ but having been so invested in Super Junior for years, I will rightfully say that the repackaged version, ‘A-Cha,’  has left me disappointed, and maybe a little mad.

A-Cha” is a glitchy number that falls into the ‘funky’ style that SM Entertainment has nurtured this year (“Danger” by f(x), “One More Chance” by The Grace Dana & Sunday, “Mr. Simple,” to name a few). “A-Cha” was advertised as rock-based, electro house, which would lead one to believe that this song sounds the way it does for a legitimate reason, but if anything, “A-Cha” is uninspired and oversimplified. To the point of diminishing the character and personality within Super Junior, and that’s my biggest problem.

It’s one thing to pen a catchy song with a simple melody for mainstream purposes, but another to reduce all musical merits down to noise and a set of robotic processing that hide every and all vocal overtones and colors. That is the basic gist of “A-Cha.”

Fortunately, the repackage finds itself back onto a standard Super Junior album, as the rest of the new tracks are less crude than the lead single. “Oops!!” featuring label-mates f(x), is a fast-paced pseudo-rap ditty wherein Super Junior speed-talk their way through four minutes of comical relief. As aforementioned, when somebody actually takes the best qualities of Super Junior and weaves them into a well-made pop song, it works (Listen: “Oops!!“). But if there’s anything to call ‘well-made‘ on this collection, it’s “Andante,” composed by Leeteuk and Henry of Super Junior-M.

Going from “A-Cha” to the subtleties of this song is quite a leap in style, but I’m not complaining. The harmonies in this song are beautiful, not to mention Super Junior’s singing. I’m most impressed with Ryeowook in this song, solely because he’s singing in a lower register. I wasn’t sure, but boy’s got a mid voice and I think I may be in love with it.


Props to Henry and Leeteuk for putting this together and SM letting it through onto an album.

When you parse these songs out from the rest of the repackage, they’re definitely a step in a cleaner direction, (if you exclude the lead single, of course). But it comes down to how inspiring these songs become once they’re unwinding in our music libraries, and honestly, I’m not impressed. Nor am I depressed. I’m kind of numb, and considering how monotonous and re-done Super Junior have become, I think that’s how they want me – a walking drone, impervious to actual melodies, and anything musically pleasing.

But it’s always nice to be reminded that there’s actual talent in Super Junior (if only a morsel at a time), and that’s what I want to hear. Being witness to SM Entertainment’s dwindling care for the music side of the business is not the reality I wanted.

What are your thoughts on ‘A-Cha’ by Super Junior?

Support the artist, buy the album: iTunes

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