BoA made international headlines as a Korean pop artist who sold millions in Japan. She is, basically, a Korean artist signed to a Korean label that has distributors in Japan, who in turn marketed her Korean songs in the Japanese language (at karaokes everywhere you can get "Valenti" lyrics in both Korean and Japanese). BoA was from the beginning groomed for stardom, a manufactured pop artist so professionally crafted that even those who oppose manufactured pop music on principle couldn't resist her grooves. Think Westlife, with whom BoA has dueted.
Atlantis Princess is BoA's latest collection of original
Korean-language material (which hasn't stopped the first single
from going number one in Taiwan). It is more or less predictable,
and more or less what the people want: a shiny glamorous world with
bright-voweled lyrics and an industrial beat. The album is, for
better or worse, replete with Western pop influences ranging from
American urban to Swede pop.
The title track best represents this BoA sound, as well as the starlit dance track "Milky Way" and "The Lights of Seoul" (there is a bonus track of "The Lights of Seoul" sung in English; BoA's diction is, as ever, incomprehensible). "Beat of an Angel" (if it's chunsa-eui soomgyul shouldn't it be "BREATH of an Angel"?) combines major and minor chords for that Max Martin/Britney Spears "Stronger" feel.
There are some Dallas Austin-like mid-tempo tracks (R&B singing on hip-hop background) such as "Time to Begin," a track that sounds suspiciously similar to Toni Braxton's "Hit the Freeway." Most of the unmemorable filler songs are written to this dynamic, making it clear that seventeen year-old BoA has neither the artistic maturity nor pure attitude to pull them off. These should've been reserved for, say, the fifth album.
Conventional ballads are not BoA's strongpoint, especially in a market where "ballad" is considered a genre in itself. She has the marketing to pull off Brandy-style mid-tempo ballads like "The Show Must Go On" but most are simply easy-to-sing throwaway melodies such as "Where Are You" and "Tree" (the latter amazingly released as a single). I know this is Korea but why feel obligated to sing ballads? Just do what you're good at doing, or at least get a decent lyricist.
But perhaps BoA's significance is not about her music but the cross-cultural nature of her sales, this despite her Korean-ness. For this alone I applaud BoA and her team's success in Asia. World peace does not begin or end with international conferences but sharing mundane cultural artifacts such as pop music or subtitled television soaps, and for this fiercely divided continent, more people than one may think are silently rooting for this lone seventeen year-old dancing her heart out on stage. The music itself has a way to go, but BoA - perhaps unintentionally - already carries on her shoulders a kind of hope that's rarely reserved for pop stars or entertainers of any kind. Here's to not world domination, but visibility and appreciation.
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