For the past 12 months, SM Entertainment has made a concentrated effort to step outside of the musical box. The shift may have been a genuine way for the agency to showcase some artistic growth, or perhaps just a retaliation against the linear electro-pop of its closest competitor, YG Entertainment.
Whatever the reason, things started getting a lot more interesting around SM at the beginning of last year. SHINee dropped their two-songs-in-one hybrid single, “Sherlock (Clue + Note),” EXO did operatic screamo on “MAMA,” and Girls’ Generation did that odd “Flower Power” song and the genre-breaking “I Got a Boy.” Even Super Junior stopped recycling “Sorry Sorry” and released the lusciously synthy “Sexy, Free, & Single.”
But out of all the songs released (with the exception of maybe “I Got a Boy”), it was f(x)‘s “Electric Shock” that was the biggest success. Despite being one of the most uninteresting pop tracks of last year (think 2NE1, only 200% more generic), “Electric Shock” hit No. 1 on the charts, picked up nine music program trophies, raked in 40 million views on Youtube, and its accompanying EP was the third highest-selling release from a female artist last year (behind TaeTiSeo’s Twinkle and just a couple thousand copies shy of T-ara’s Funky Town). But perhaps the most attractive point of “Electric Shock” to SM Entertainment was that it didn’t stir up a shred of controversy — unlike “Sherlock” and the utterly polarizing “I Got a Boy.”
The message was clear: safety equals success. And best of all, it doesn’t bring drama. With that in mind, SM has taken SHINee back to their early days with the group’s new single, “Dream Girl,” which is more or less a direct clone of their 2009 hit, “Juliette.” It’s bigger, funkier, and has a hook that could knock a K-pop fan out cold, but it’s still “Juliette: 2013 Edition,” with some Electric Shock era f(x) thrown in. Yes, it’s formulaic, but it’s still undeniably good pop song. But what happened to the forward-thinking SHINee of “Sherlock,” “Lucifer” and “Ring Ding Dong?” SHINee and f(x) were supposed to be SM’s quirky groups: the acts SM uses for it’s left-field pop hits and concepts, while the likes of Girls’ Generation and Super Junior churn out the more obvious earworms. Now it’s Girls’ Generation coloring (okay, scribbling furiously) outside the lines, while f(x) and SHINee have suddenly stopped pushing the envelope in favor of quick and easy hits.
But really, I’m complaining way too much right now. “Dream Girl” is still infinitely better than “Electric Shock,” with a cheesy kind of boy band charm that’s hard to resist after repeated listens. And unlike f(x), who need fierce weirdo-pop like “Pinocchio,” and “NU ABO” to be interesting, SHINee are charismatic enough to remain fascinating even when their music may not be. Also, SHINee’s new album, Chapter 1. – The Misconceptions of You, is a hell a lot of a lot more diverse than its lead single would suggest. It’s slick and crazy and fun and exciting and all the good things that made me fall in love with K-pop in the first place. “Dream Girl” may be a little on the safe side, but dive into the album and it’s pure “Sherlock” SHINee, through and through.
One innocuous single is worth swallowing if it means getting something that’s very rare in K-pop these days: a good album.