KARA returns to K-Pop with “Damaged Lady”, a single which manages to blend KARA’s K-Pop exuberance with it’s increasingly J-Pop aesthetic and the results are positive, if a little mixed.
Full disclosure, KARA was this writer’s introduction to K-Pop. As such, their works from “Wanna”, to “Mr.” to “Lupin” and even “STEP” have always been, for better or worse, influential reference points. “Damaged Lady” is KARA’s first Korean comeback since “Pandora”, a spastic song which somehow didn’t have nearly as many highs and lows as it should have, and the first song of KARA’s that failed to bring the same elevated joy that the group was able to wrangle out of other, equally staid beats (“Mr.” being a prime example). The good news is that “Damaged Lady” has a pretty brilliant and exciting high. The bad news is that it all happens within the first thirty seconds before “Damaged Lady” settles down into a J-Pop-like groove (admittedly, a very strong influence on a lot of KARA’s work) which never reaches those introductory heights.
Let’s get this out of the way first: the production for “Damaged Lady” is fantastic. The keys and light electric guitar work in the beginning sound like something out of a mid nineties R&B summer jam and that transitions into a surprisingly sexy “rap” by Hara which is backed by a thumping bass and sparse percussion which is delightfully hard. That then transitions into a whirlwind of strumming electric guitars and joyous synths which Seungyeon does great justice to with one of her trademark long held “yeahs”. Hara adds another rap line to help keep some cohesion, but the results are wonderfully disorienting without being confusing like a really sexy roller coaster ride. And that’s just the first thirty seconds. Unfortunately, the song never really reaches that level of greatness again. The production stays great throughout, evenly balancing the softer parts of the verse with the rockstar beat of the chorus (seriously, the synths and electric guitars balance each other out so well, that it’s kind of regrettable that that beat wasn’t used for an entire song) but the vocal stylings are a bit off. The verses aren’t really sung by any KARA member. Instead, they’re “hushed rapped”. While this can be a very good way to execute a song (more rap-like verses and contrasting sung choruses), here the verses are overpowered to such an extent that they sound like a stalling tactic between choruses. The “hushed rap” technique is best when paired with a slower, calmer beat as it allows the sexy whisper to stand out, without it seeming rushed, and the production is less likely to overwhelm the vocalist (think of every good TLC song ever). With “Damaged Lady”, after the mindblowingly good introduction, the rest of the song fails to capture the listener in the same way as if KARA spent weeks putting together a great song teaser before pulling an all night cram session for the final product.
Visuals are rarely, if ever, a complaint when it comes to KARA. From leader to maknae, there is not a better looking group in K-Pop and “Damaged Lady” delivers in that regard. Every member looks amazing and the outfits are all well put together and thought out, from the tie and pant ensemble to the dinner dresses. Even the Three Stooges wigs that KARA wears in “Damaged Lady” seem whimsical and fun without being a joke. There doesn’t seem to be a signature “move” for the choreography, which seems basic but fun.
“Damaged Lady” is a little dance-in-box, but the sets at least look nice. White threatens to wash everything out, but there’s enough detail in the background sets to where that doesn’t happen. The storyline elements are visually interesting without being overbearing. Sometimes, a simple action can tell you all you need to know about a particular plot:
In all, the video for “Damaged Lady” does what it needs to; showcases KARA being stupidly hot in glamorous and entertaining ways. “Damaged Lady” is definitely more success than failure. The beat is lively and has so many different facets to it that it’s a small miracle that the whole enterprise doesn’t fall on its face. KARA looks amazing and the sets and stylings look appropriately high end for a group of KARA’s stature. If the final three minutes could have lived up to the first thirty seconds, then everything would have been perfect.
Rating: 5 flash bangs out of one light show. Starts strong but just finishes.