T-ara has had a weird and unfortunate career path. On the one hand, their discography is as deep and as great as any girl group of the past seven years (I mean, pick one of the following and it’s probably been in my permanent rotation for a while: “TTL,” “You Drive Me Crazy,” “Roly-Poly,” “Cry Cry,” “We Were In Love,” “Lovey-Dovey,” mother of all that is holy “Day By Day,””Number Nine,” “Sugar Free.”). On the other hand, if there is a case study on how much the non-music parts of K-Pop matter to a group’s success, it’s probably T-ara (Thanks Kim Kwang Soo!). So, before I take another look at T-ara’s Wikipedia and weep at their chart performances post 2013, let’s take a look back at one of the group’s early hits “I’m Really Hurt,” back when the future was bullying-rumor free and full of promise.
What “I’m Really Hurt” absolutely understands is that sometimes, simple is better. Musically, “I’m Really Hurt” is straight forward. The synth line is as repetitive as it is catchy (and delightfully cheesy) and the drum machine sounds like something that one can download from one of those free audio makers. The song’s structure contains no surprises but that somehow ends up working in the video’s favor. The march from verse to chorus to verse to bridge to chorus is conducted so matter-of-factly (there’s not even a rap to break things up) that “I’m Really Hurt” comes close to being boring but it manages to circle back to being really enjoyable thanks to the aforementioned unapologetically ruthless synth and an “ah-ah-ahahah” hook that may be some sort of aural crack. The single may not be more more than that synth riff and a catchy hook that blends seamlessly with its chorus but it doesn’t NEED to be anything more than that. Sometimes, doing a couple of things perfectly beats doing 50 things well.
Similarly, calling the “I’m Really Hurt” music video bare-bones may actually be giving bones far too much credit when it comes to substance. Hell, the thing looks like it was shot in the dressing room of a bare-boned dance-in-the-box video. And you know what? It’s awesome. The song’s signature tie-pulling “dance move” doesn’t require much space (or moving) and that frees the video from the spastic cuts and lights that can dominate music videos. The more leisurely approach also gives “I’m Really Hurt” a more intimate feel than a dance video usually has and T-ara takes full advantage of that. The suit and tie look isn’t original but damn if Eunjung, Hyomin, Jiyeon, Qri and Soyeon don’t make it work to its fullest effect. They even manage to make fedoras look cool, which is really only something that Jon Hamm and Michael Jackson can say.
BRB, getting a coffin for myself.
Simply put, “I’m Really Hurt” is elementary pop but it gets all the elementary stuff down pat. It has an unmistakable slick sheen but it also manages to be incredibly lean and that allows the best parts of the music video (the synth line, the hook and those outfits in that order) to shine all the brighter. “I’m Really Hurt” hurts so good.