Admittedly, it’s impossible for me to not be biased when it comes to KARA’s “STEP.” And I’m not talking about biased in an “Well, everyone has an opinion, music is subjective maaaaaaaaaannnn” sort of way. I’m talking about the sort of bias that is unabashedly present and completely shameless. The sort of bias that causes every dog owner to swear up and down the block that they have the bestest, smartest, sweetest dog in all the land. “STEP” is my K-Pop puppy.
What is still striking about “STEP” (the song that, more than any other, kicked off my own interest in K-Pop) is how it perfectly creates an almost embarrassingly manufactured happiness out of sheer glitz. No single element stands out as amazing or even that great. The synth riff becomes catchy due to repetition but it’s not instantly memorable on its own. The hook is basic. There’s not one moment of actual singing that comes close to being breathtaking. And yet, somehow, the whole ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts. The beat, working in tandem with the hook, goes from being merely repetitious to being dumb-pop magic (in the best way possible). KARA’s eye-blindingly bright wardrobes, which seems to feature every color not found in nature, mirrors the music’s own lack of groundedness quite well and helps elevate the whole music video to even greater heights of pop fun. Lastly, while the vocal performances themselves may not be much to write home about, the song’s construction allows each member to shine and helps prevent “STEP” from leaning too hard on its hook and its riff. The transitions from the group’s preface to the rap break, followed by Nicole’s moment (with guest appearances from Hara and Jiyoung) and then Gyuri and Seungyeon’s slower bits happen so fast that it takes a little while to process the speed at which “STEP” operates but that whirlwind of activity keeps the momentum from getting stale and it provides a necessary counter-point to the lightning-quick pace that “STEP” starts and ends on. By the time the last hook rings out, KARA isn’t even in this atmosphere.
“STEP” may not “objectively” (as far as music goes) be an iconic K-Pop single (or even KARA’s most popular work) but damn it, it’s the bestest, smartest, sweetest song in all the land.