If you’re not familiar with the legendary group, SNSD has been on something of an extended hiatus as the members pursue solo activities. In fact, the group’s last album, Holiday Night, was released roughly five years ago, so the possibility of a new album actually being released has become increasingly dubious. Nonetheless, against the odds, we finally have a seventh album to talk about in the form of FOREVER 1 (which, by its name, seems to directly address this hiatus). Let’s take a look at some of the album’s standouts.
“Paper Plane” – the closing track of the album – is ironically the first track that appeals to my tastes. The opening is something of a mesh between Everglow’s “Untouchable” with the airy, vocal overdubs in the side channels and something out of the 90s (S.E.S.’s “Dreams Come True” comes to mind) with the synths. Taeyeon takes the lead on the vocals, completing the ear-catching entrance. As the song progresses further, something I begin to appreciate more is the nuance applied to the lyrics. Each member is given their chance to shine and the lyrical content isn’t overly repetitive, thus motivating re-listens of the song. I particularly enjoy the “Heyyy” interjection by Sooyoung at 1:27 which keeps the tempo going, and if you listen closely, there’s even a lot of instances where two members will alternate clauses within a single line. Generally, I love the gentle, breezy attitude that the song conveys; it’s a great song to kick back to. But simultaneously, as I’ve just touched on, there’s a lot of layers to it to unpack if you decide to take a closer listen. The underlying message of the song is for us to keep flying and to keep doing better even after we’ve achieved success which, to tie things together, is indicative of the position SNSD presently stands at as a group. I definitely think it’s worth giving this track a spin.
On the contrary, the title track “Forever 1” is probably the weakest link in this roundup, as I get the impression that the song is more rooted in an external context: SNSD being ‘one’ despite the interim in activity that has characterized the group over the last few years. That in mind, the lyrics on this track don’t strike me as particularly nuanced going off of the English translations. Not only is the “we are forever, we are one” line (and its slight iterations) boringly repetitive, but it’s also overly loud in volume in the side channels on each chorus. The production on this track is likewise the overproduced type of sound that screams with the intent of mainstream appeal; the chorus is busy (again, the group vocals sound overly forward) and with what sounds like a bunch of flies buzzing in the backdrop. Ultimately, “Forever 1” is a slightly above average song that falls short in terms of both the lyrical content and the production depth. I’ll probably play it over the next few weeks, but I don’t expect to be hearing it often once it exits my recently played list. It’s honestly surprising how much I find I tend to prefer the B-sides more than the title tracks in K-Pop, but the next song is a good example.
I wasn’t sure about “Lucky Like That” after listening to the opening (I’m not a fan of that type of group entrance), but the track quickly grew on me and I suspect it’ll be a fan favorite. There’s almost a certain smugness to this track that I can’t knock; here, I reference around 0:36 and the way the “like that” rolls off Hyoyeon’s tongue. Something about the electric guitar riff on this track after the second chorus, and the way it bridges to the outro, also hits the sweet spot. There’s been some electric guitar sprinkled into their older tracks like “Flyers”, but it’s never really been a focus. Granted, it’s still slightly pulled back in the mix with a lack of leading edge in “Lucky Like That”, but it’s present enough to inject some flavor – again that subtle sense of triumph comes to mind – and to keep the track from getting too repetitive. This is important because, at a track length of less than three minutes, there isn’t really much body to the verses which makes it feel like the chorus is dominant. In any case, I like this track for what it is: it’s the feel-good ear candy that I felt like “Forever 1” somewhat failed to capture by virtue of being too forced. “Lucky Like That” essentially shifts attention from perceiving the relationship as an item, in the title track, to appreciating the nature of the relationship itself.
SNSD is a group that will always hold a special place in my heart even if I didn’t really listen to their music growing up. No, the closest I can come to that is hearing “Into the New World” playing in the local boba shop as a kid, heh. But I still remember re-discovering SNSD’s music in college, though, and thinking to myself “Holy cow, this is the same song that I heard like ten years ago” which was pretty cool. And after scouring the rest of the group’s discography, I found that I actually enjoyed a lot of their other songs too! Maybe for these same reasons, I have to admit that I had some reservations about their FOREVER 1 album: would their sound change dramatically, would they be able to rise to the high bar their previous discography set? Thankfully, I think they have. Most songs on the album seem to fall within the range of average to good; “Villian” is the only sore thumb that stands out to me. It has that characteristically dark, SM sound design, while subsequently lacking a sense of aggressiveness to its instruments (for example, the drum machines sound dampened and don’t hit very hard) to really lean into it. But it’s still not an outright bad song – I’m sure it’ll have its fans – and we got a very nice closer in the form of “Paper Plane” which neatly captures the ethos of the group’s current direction. Now here’s to hoping we get another album before we have to wait another five years! 🙂