Mar 29

[Review] BoA: BoA

boaJ-pop and K-pop starlet BoA’s self-titled American debut is composed of autotune-heavy electropop. That actually makes it one of the better stateside releases from an Asian pop import, because it’s in step with musical trends.

Asian pop singers’ earnest attempts at fame in the American mainstream have usually had something off about them. Coco Lee sang well, but she sang extremely bland songs for her U.S. career. It was hard to stomach Utada Hikaru’s lyrics about showing a dirty blonde Texan “how people from the Far East get down.”

To their credit, SM Entertainment, whose U.S. branch released BoA, recruited contemporary hit-makers whose styles define current American electropop. Sean Garrett, best known for Usher’s “Yeah,” wrote “I Did It for Love” and “Energetic,” and producers Bloodshy & Avant, famous for their work with singers like Britney Spears and Madonna, produced “Touched” and the first single “Eat You Up.” The result is an album that sounds comparable to some of today’s best-liked pop music.

As a result, the music is what you would expect. BoA is a likable, though uneventful and homogenous, collection of addictive club songs. If you’re craving more sounds in the vein of recent Spears and Kylie Minogue, you’ll probably enjoy BoA. The best song is “Eat You Up,” a combination of grimy rhythms and staccato singing with the most melodic development of any track on the album.

Where BoA disappoints is in its anonymity. While BoA’s always been a typical R&B idol, her Asian careers still had elements that distinguished her. When she debuted at age 13, BoA’s tomboy image and mature dance moves helped her stand out among girlier idols. She released her songs in several languages to emphasize her image as the multilingual prodigy. And since she sang pretty well for someone so young, her voice was strong, controlled and clear in the mixes.

But who is BoA supposed to be in her American career? Her American promotion vaguely bills her as the “best of Asia,” and her photos and videos present a variety of images—she’s tomboyish in “Eat You Up,” girly in the BoA booklet photos, and dark and sultry in the “I Did It for Love” video–without settling on a definitive one. The lyrics about love and dancefloors (“Meet me in the club”) don’t tell us much about BoA’s personality, and the autotune buries her voice. The songs don’t acknowledge BoA’s most obvious distinction–her Korean heritage–unless you count the remake of “Girls on Top.” Though it would have been risky, addressing her background could have infused some humanity into this record.

Just a few more issues:

1. If you look at the fine print, you’ll see many of the tracks are recycled. “Scream” is a cover of a Monrose song, and “Did Ya” is a remake of the parody song “Buddha’s Delight” from the movie Music and Lyrics. Britney Spears co-wrote “Look Who’s Talking,” suggesting she had originally intended to perform this track, although BoA has said she was unaware of Spears’ involvement until after her management bought the song. While secondhand songs can become big (Rihanna’s massive “Umbrella” was a Britney reject) and it’s unlikely most people wdissect song credits, a star like BoA shouldn’t have to rely on so many hand-me-downs.

2. BoA’s not released by an American label. In today’s vertically integrated world, it’s hard for a pop singer to make it without major label backing. SM’s landed respectable promotion, like a spot on the Victoria’s Secret Pink Web site and a headlining slot at the San Francisco Gay Pride Festival, but it probably doesn’t have the muscle here that companies like Universal do.

3. The cover photo cropping is strange. Why is BoA’s hand detached from her body?

4. Some of the lyrics have slang grammar such as, “I done hurt myself over loving you.” Because BoA is a foreigner with an accent, her singing those lines makes her competent English seem far worse than it is. Her songwriters should have given her lyrics with proper grammar.

BoA is probably not going to be the huge breakthrough J-pop/K-pop pop crossover album, but it’s a step in the right direction. Future East Asian artists planning a debut here should follow its lead.