To say that Wonder Girls‘ attempts at breaking the American market have been messy is a severe understatement. After initially showing promise back in 2009 by touring with the then-popular Jonas Brothers and becoming the first Korean group to crack Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, things went downhill, fast. There’s been repeated album delays, promises of a major label deal that never happened, that random “The DJ is Mine” single, and a TV movie on Teen Nick that went absolutely nowhere. Meanwhile, it took Girls’ Generation five seconds to sign with Interscope Records and get on David Letterman, and they’re not even trying to officially crack the States yet.
But in spite of everything, you can’t help but root for the Wonder Girls to succeed. Minus the music video, “The DJ Is Mine” was shamefully hot in all of its generic glory, but the group’s new single, “Like Money”, is where it’s really at. The song has been slaying me up and down since it was first previewed in the group’s ill-fated telemovie, but it’s a whole different beast in its entirety.
Considering that this is probably Wonder Girls’ last chance to try and break America before it becomes just way too embarrassing, they’ve assembled a crack team of pop professionals to give “Like Money” as much hit potential as humanly possibly. Songwriter Crystal ‘Cry$tyle’ Nicole (who penned Rihanna’s “Only Girl” and Mariah Carey’s “Angels Cry”) wrote the catchy lyrics, Beyonce’s “Freakum Dress” choreographer Jonte Moaning did the moves in the music video, and former chart-topper Akon appears as the song’s surprise feature.
2NE1 may have tried to put a fresh spin on the radio-friendly electro-pop genre with their new single “I Love You” (review here), but Wonder Girls have no interest in even attempting to color outside of the lines. “Like Money” is by the numbers dance-pop in 2012 in every sense of the term, but the group attacks it with such fervor that it’d be an absolute crime to lump it with the “Starships” of the music industry.
Over European synths and pulsating club-pop beats, the Wonder Girls instruct their men how to love them with a string of catchy and rather expensive metaphors.
“Love me like money / love me like cars / love me babe / love me babe / wherever you are,” the girls demand on the song’s explosive chorus. “Hold me like diamonds / treat me like a star.”
Cry$tyle does a stellar job on the lyrics, taking the template of American R&B and top forty music and putting a fun and fresh K-Pop twist on it. The hook is undeniably brilliant, with the kind of stuck-in-your-head and sing-out-loud gusto that every great earworm is made of.
An autotuned Akon jumps in on the second verse to play the song’s love interest, telling the Wonder Girls not to heed the warnings of their friends and promising to meet the group’s extravagant demands. Adding a male co-star to the mix is a good idea, but Akon’s an awful singer and he sounds weak when following the powerful vocals of Yenny and Sun. It’s clear that he’s only on “Like Money” to help it get some more attention in the States, but with all that said, he doesn’t sound as bad as I was expecting him too — it’s just obvious that “Like Money” would be better without him, or with a stronger feature artist in his place.
The predictable dubstep breakdown comes next, as Yubin unleashes a chilly spoken-word rap before launching into some call and response play with Akon and her bandmates.
“100 dollar bills / brand new wheels,” she coolly responds when prompted. “Fresh new hair cut / boy I need ya to…”
Only a K-Pop act could come out with something this shamelessly formulaic and make it so damn good.
“Like Money” is exactly the kind of commercial girl power anthem that the newly-revamped Pussycat Dolls should be coming back with if they ever want to reclaim a slice of their former pop glory. Whether or not the song will work for Wonder Girls, who are going to face an uphill battle in terms of getting promotion and airplay, is a different story, but at least the fivesome can now hold their heads up high with the knowledge that they came at the American market with a truly great song that’d likely become a hit if anyone else recorded it.