It is weird to think about “consistency” and “T-ara” belonging in the same sentence, but for all the problems that come with haphazard management and a delusional CEO, T-ara has somehow managed to be one of the most consistent musical acts in K-Pop while their public image has gone through more toxicity than a sewer plant.
The duel music video for the ballad version of “1977 Don’t Remember” and “2013 What Should I Do” are not breaking new ground for T-ara in the same ways that “Day by Day” and “Sexy Love” did. Sure, Shinsadong Tiger is still producing every single T-ara hit and the producer has been absolutely lights out recently. However, “1977 Don’t Remember” sounds a lot like every other T-ara ballad, while “2013 What Should I Do” is a re-purposed mixture of “Roly Poly” and “Lovey Dovey”; a unashamed and unabashed straight disco beat that doesn’t even pretend to try to add in a new fangled twist to the genre (and yes, I realize that the ballad samples the original 1977 “What Should I Do”). Both are very good songs, as T-ara has proved time and time again that they are more than up to the task of knocking out a traditional ballad and a fun dance beat but neither is going to add much to the discography.
The video and song for “1977 Don’t Remember” is like something out of a musical show. There’s just one set and T-ara stands around and looks sad while slow keys and wonderfully mixed strings hum in the background (you can hear each and every texture of the string thankfully). The production is simple but it plays to T-ara’s underrated strength in having six vocalists who can all more or less sing with a full body and orchestral flair. There’s no rapping in this one, so it could be construed as a little too one note, but it is also short and knows when to end itself. The wardrobe for each member is modern, yet understated. Qri looks amazing and Eunjung somehow rocks that white-blond hair well. Overall, “1977 Don’t Remember” doesn’t do much daring (ballads rarely do, unless you’re DaVichi) but it also understands that one is more inclined to listen to a ballad than watch one.
“2013 What Should I Do” takes “Roly Poly” and moves the register down a notch or two. T-ara turn on the autotune and synths to signal that this is a song that won’t live and die on the back of their vocal strengths but on the backs of the chorus and the beat. In that sense, it is less successful than “1977 Don’t Remember”. Shinsadong’s synths and keys play off each other nicely in a way that is reminiscent of the previous ballad except the piano and strings are swapped for their modern day equivalents in keys and electronic beats. The problem, if there is one, is that everything stays rather flat. The synths grind along the lower register, while T-ara stays in the middle and the keys go somewhat high. Everything is established within the first thirty seconds and there’s not a lot of variation after that. That would be OK if the bridge was a knock out or if the hook was earworm material, but neither is the case here. Yet, while the song may lack a satisfactory punch, the video more than makes up for it. Using the same set as “1977 Don’t Remember”, but having it remade for a dance party is smart and helps tie the two seemingly disparate songs together. The lighting goes from that evening moonlight to a pretty great simulated sunshine. There’s no dumb seizure lights, and the slight editing tricks of some playful speed-ups are smartly deployed. The editing is good in that one doesn’t notice it for the most part. T-ara’s styling is a little retro without either being slavishly devoted to the disco era or deviating from it entirely. The color emphasis on wardrobe is smart as it allows T-ara to add blocks of color and movement to each frame that wouldn’t otherwise exist among the sea of concrete and yellows. Lastly, T-ara looks straight up amazing. Soyeon is as cute as a button, even when she touches her face way too much in this one. Jiyeon continues her ascent to Unfairly Everything in K-Pop. Hyomin rocks her pink sweater, bow and dat skirt like a boss while Qri could be one of a handful of human beings who could actually pull off a beret and wavy pigtails look. Boram manages to not detract from the proceedings and Eunjung proves that even non-optimal Eunjung still shits all over your faves (optimal Eunjung rocks short black hair forever). While “2013 What Should I Do” isn’t T-ara’s most memorable dance track, it is nonetheless well made and the video showcases the group in a flattering light.
Taken together, “2013 What Should I Do” and “1977 Don’t Remember” sound more like good B-Sides for slightly superior past T-ara efforts. Nonetheless, the team of T-ara and Shinsadong Tiger are about as a dependable combination as one can find in K-Pop and the slightly more critical tone taken here is more focusing on the flaws (of which there are a few) than on the positives (of which there are more) because what T-ara does well has been written about here plenty. A negative take would call these releases “underwhelming” but even an underwhelming T-ara release leaves plenty to be happy about.
Rating: 1 Amaze-balls Eunjung out of Fifty Billion Soyeon aegyo movements. It’s alright by T-ara standards (“Number 9” is better), which means pretty solid by anyone else. Now bring on “Glue” already.