[Review] [Mini-Album] BoA – “Only One”

written by: Drowningn00b

Like Rain, BoA is a monolith onto herself, or rather, a brand bigger than Kwon Bo-A. Her name is synonymous with K-Pop and Korean culture at large, whether throughout Southeast Asia or overseas. Her fame is mainly in music, but her huge popularity around the world has led to numerous ad campaigns and opportunities outside of making music, like judging the ill-conceived mess that was Kpop Star and her upcoming Hollywood debut in ‘Cobu 3D‘, a dance movie version of ‘Romeo and Juliet‘. But, unlike Jung Ji Hoon, BoA has yet to take control of her own image as an entertainer. She is still signed to SM Entertainment, the company that put her on the map, and much of her promo material is not under her control. Not only that, but as someone with self-professed interests in R&B (source: Avex Network), BoA’s Korean material as of late falls into the trends of the day, “Hurricane Venus” just one example.

Whatever the career trajectories of BoA and Rain say about the role of men and women in the Korean idol stratosphere is up for grabs, but one thing is certain: BoA’s clay-like nature underlines the widespread criticism that BoA isn’t a person, but a creation.

So what’s to be made of her latest record, ‘Only One‘, with her first self-penned single? Is it an aberration? An artistic achievement? A sloppy mid-tempo number with a terrible nasal delivery?

Yes, ‘Only One’ is an aberration. Out of all her full length recordings, ‘Only One’ is the first one to have a low to mid-tempo track as the lead single. On top of it being the first track she wrote to become a single, are we seeing BoA the artist for the first time? It could be, and that’s a huge deal.

She’s on the record as saying she doesn’t mind participating in the K-Pop machine years ago, and for her to take the lead on her career is a feat to be commended for, especially with “Only One”.

A pop ballad with R&B influences, the track has a nice piano loop underneath the drum machine and the synthed “strings” that adds lightness to BoA’s nasal delivery. The arrangement works remarkably well for her, since her voice isn’t the stuff of the elite SM vocalists. The music stays consistent throughout, leaving BoA to sing comfortably in her limited range. And BoA achieves the emotion here, going the length just enough to be enjoyable without straining herself to our potential detriment. Kudos has to be given to SM Entertainment, though, for bucking their own trend of up-tempo dance pop songs for their major acts in the summer. “Only One” is a great song, revealing BoA with a talent never given the time of day and a penchant for calmer and mature pop her previous material belies.

But, like much of K-Pop, all of that praise gets run to the ground when money is the goal. What I fear will be the first song in her comeback stages, “The Shadow” has all the elements I’ve come to despise in pop music: an electro-pop sound with synth in the chorus and a “rap” segment so lazy, Garfield would yawn at it. A spiritual successor to “Game” in many ways, “The Shadow” fails in believability. On the former, she sounds playful, actually believing she’s in a cat and mouse flirtation game. The latter, thankfully, finds BoA half-assing the lyrics, as if she’s over using pop gimmicks to prevent her fanbase from experiencing a sensation other than moving their feet. I say thankfully because my hope is for a negative reaction to “The Shadow” so that future material won’t have terrible fillers like this (likelihood of this happening are zero).

The rest of the album vacillates in this way, from low to high tempo numbers. The ballads “Hope” and “Mayday! Mayday!” complicate the simplicity built in “Only One” early on by adding layers. “Hope” has a drum machine loop that’s intrusive. Not only is it loud, but it doesn’t stay away long enough to enjoy the ballad as is. As a consequence, BoA’s vocals are layered often throughout the song, so when you reach the bridge at the end of the song, the impact of that layering is gone. And “Mayday!” continues this pattern, adding its own cluster of layers, from an electric guitar and two sets of strings, and multiple vocal layers. Thankfully, the arrangement quiets down when it should, letting BoAx3 get their time in the forefront. However, all of this distracts from her.

BoA, to her credit, nails the song, delivering the longing in the lyrics and even hitting her notes.  But what good is all that effort when I have to rewind the song to catch it?

In all this, you might be asking: ‘Should I bother listening to the rest of “Only One”?’ Yes, Neighbour, because you’ll inevitably reach the other song that matters, “Not Over You”.

This is a dance throwback song to a time when acoustic guitars were all over the place. It’s a relief to hear BoA calm on a dance track. She’s normally chasing after beats, but here, the beats are working with her to create the atmosphere. The buildup is great, but the pay off isn’t as satisfying. “Not Over You” keeps going higher, but drops off when it should rocket upward; at least miss A’s “Lips” was interesting in its pay off whereas “Not Over You” just sputters out. And K-Pop’s current blue flame, dubstep, makes an appearance in the pre-chorus, and it’s slight enough to be recognizable without grinding the song to a halt.

“Not Over You” would’ve been amazing, had the pay off delivered as the buildup promised.


‘Only One’ is a rarity in K-Pop. BoA controls the message in the lead single, a first for her and the other lady idols in the SM family. As a pop ballad, it is rare among the dance numbers that flood the landscape in the summer months. But as an album it is a victim of K-Pop culture, with filler tracks aplenty (“The Top” and the theme to “Kpop Star”, “One Dream”), and gimmicks so clichéd BoA herself lacks the enthusiasm to fake it.

It’s a shame for BoA, but look on the bright side; BoA’s “slave contract” is set to expire next year. Maybe then she’ll finally take reigns of her material to let us know if there is some “one” underneath the brand.



Only One
The Shadow
Not Over You
 Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
The Top
Mayday! Mayday!
One Dream
Total Points

Points to stars conversion: [(2.75/7) x 5] + 0.25*


*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.


12 thoughts on “[Review] [Mini-Album] BoA – “Only One”

  1. Pingback: [Review] [Mini-Album] BoA – “Only One” – McRoth's Residence | Popular Music Reviews

  2. Ummmmm………yeah, I’m sorry but I don’t agree with this review. :/ “The Shadow”, “Hope”, “Not Over You” are my favorites. And I found this mini album cohesive. There’s an equal balance of ballads and mid-tempo songs. All the songs have fun, interesting instrumentation. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t give this album a perfect score either since they are parts where the buildup wasn’t executed properly (maybe 3.8-4.0 for me) but……I don’t know. Are we listening to the same album? O_o I still thought overall BoA held her own and added flavor to all the songs. :o

  3. I have a few questions for you and the site as a whole: are you judging this album on a higher standard than others because she is BoA, and you gave her a low score because you think she still hasn’t reached a certain level of musical maturity at this stage of her career, or did you give 2.2 in comparison to the whole K-pop industry?

    Let me give you a comparison. After School’s ‘Flashback’ (written by Drowningn00b) scored 2.8. Super Junior’s ‘Sexy, Free & Single’ (written by McRoth) scored 2.6. f(x)’s ‘Electric Shock’ (written by compliant) scored 3.2.

    They all scored higher than BoA’s album. Are they all better than ‘Only One’? Are there any other factors involved in the rating (writer’s preference, artist’s debut date, etc)? Can we assume that the next time an album scored 2.2, it’s of the same quality as ‘Only One’?

    • Speaking for myself, I never take another album’s score into account when I’m reviewing because the relation from one album to another is zero to none. Each album is scored for what it is within the scope of itself. That’s it. The content of a review and its score are the only things relevant to each other in any given review.

      That being said, all 2.0+ albums are considered average, I’ve noted the general value of final scores in the footer, and in that case that’s the only time in which you can compare scores. All of the albums you noted are average (except for f(x)’s, which is ‘good’ by final score-standards).

      But again, the details are in the writing, so while Flashback scored higher than Only One, it’s ultimately still ‘average’. It’s why they’re average that matters to us, and we explain so in our reviews. And because scoring songs directly reflects how we respond to them within the body of an album, scores are more or less as accurate as we like them to be.

  4. i feel like your opinions are directly shaped by the assumption that music for the purpose of mainstream success is inherently bad. for an idol singer like boa popularity is the entire point and to put her in a different category than other idols because of the longevity will only perpetuate disappointment in everything she does simply because she does it. not to say that some of your points don’t carry weight, but by focusing on how victimized the album is you miss all the really cool things about it. Like the throwbacks to her early career and how well it functions as a unit.
    (on a side note, it seems counter productive to write scathing commentary on boa’s lack of vocal ability and then suggest somehow the clouds will part and she will be a beacon of talent once released from the shackles of the company that created her.)

    • Wow, way to put things in perspective! I love it!! I love you!! I wanna read more about you and the reviews you make of albums, scathing reviews or just the weather in particular….

  5. I would have given this a 3.5, and at the least a 3. It\’s good, and I don\’t get why you would give it a 2. She’s had a mid-tempo lead single before with Atlantis Princess

    and her vocal ability is not as lacking as you say it is

    • “I don\’t get why you would give it a 2”

      well, the *entire review* pretty much explains why, and each track is scored to tell you which songs brought the album down, so….

      • More like how can you listen to this album and give it a two. It’s above average for sure, solid 3.5, and even with all those negatives he listed, there were more positives that he didn’t note. Didn’t give it a fair rating, in my opinion. That’s what I don’t understand.

  6. I can’t seem to agree with this rating. To be honest, “Only One” is a noteworthy album that has a good mix of pop, mid tempo tracks and ballad. If anyone bothered to research the meaning behind the lyrics, you’ll be surprised by how sensitive they were written, too. It definitely has meaning. I personally think this was done on a shallow criteria. This is not the only review I’ve read and by far this is the one that literally made me SMH. You gave a 0.0 rating to some songs that are actually a crowd favorite. I would’ve given it a 3.5-4.0 rating TBH.

  7. Pingback: Top Korean Songs of 2012 « McRoth's Residence

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