Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mamma Mia! Kara's a Quartet!

You know what K-pop group I wish released J-pop more often? Orange Caramel. Catallena is one of my favorite music videos from this year, and My Copycat is pretty awesome too. Maybe I should just make an exception and review some of their stuff... I mean, I already review Kara, and I'm gonna review a Girls' Generation PV for this month's Time Capsule Review!

Speaking of Kara... how are they holding up after the departure of Nicole and Jiyoung? What's that you say? They added another member!? Who!?

...I honestly can't tell which member is the new one.

I actually feel bad for Kara. They've ended up in kind of a shit situation. In their home country, everyone's forgotten about them because they've been so devoted to promoting material in Japan. But in Japan, the recession of the Hallyu wave has slowly lowered their sales and relevance. So when Kara released their comeback single in Korea, response was lukewarm at best. Then they lost two members, alienating even more fans. The announcement that they were adding new members also didn't tide over well. So one reality show later, we now have Kara the Quartet! The newest member is Young Ji, a 20-year old I know absolutely nothing about except that her name is a flipped version of Jiyoung's. Coincidence? Or... conspiracy!? Yeah, I wasn't too invested in Kara's lineup changes. Honestly, I've been putting them on the back burner for several months now... They haven't released a Japanese single since French Kiss, and that was such an underwhelming song. I was busy with year-end posts, so that single ended up being forgotten. Now though, Kara's back with a vengeance, a new members, and a zesty new single titled Mamma Mia!

Yep, Mamma Mia! I am not joking, that is the name of Kara's comeback Japanese single. I may have laughed when I read that title out loud. The phrase either makes me think of an Italian twirling a piece of pizza or the Broadway musical. Both are equally silly. Still, Mamma Mia! is Kara's comeback song, and I'm going to treat just as seriously as I do their other singles! Contrary to expectations, Mamma Mia! does not sound like something you'd hear sailing down a gondola in Venice, Italy. Nope, Mamma Mia! takes its cues from 80s pop! Seriously, the synthesizers are bleeding out of my speakers. Mamma Mia! could totally be a Madonna song. I do like that Kara released a more dance-oriented song. Their past Japanese singles have all had that same cutesy, adorable pop sound that sounds the same after you hear it five times in a row. Mamma Mia! has more edge to it while still being a fun song! It's catchy too! I honestly thought this song would be much cheesier, but for a song called Mamma Mia!, it's pretty straightforward.

Of course, I can't glaze over the fact that this is the Japanese version of Mamma Mia! I'm reviewing. See, when Kara had their comeback as a quartet in Korea, they released a mini album called Day and Night. Guess what the lead single was? If you guessed Mister, keep dreaming. Mamma Mia! isn't the first time that Kara's re-released a single in Japanese and definitely not the first time a Korean idol group has done this. Their first two Japanese singles, Mister and Jumping, were re-recorded versions of Korean songs. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Mister is even one of my favorite idol songs! And since I only keep up with Kara's Japanese music and sporadically their Korean music, the Japanese version of Mamma Mia! shouldn't be a problem with me, right? Yes... in theory. And it honestly doesn't bother me. But I did listen to the Korean version. And... I like a little bit better. It flows better than the Japanese version. That's an inevitability when you're translating a song; re-recording a song in a different language is a huge challenge. It's even more challenging to keep the same energy levels and natural-ness the original has.

So does that mean the Japanese version of Mamma Mia! is worthless trash that should never be listened to again? Absolutely not! Mamma Mia! still has the same general sound in both languages. The Korean version just sounds a little bit better. My only complaint that applies to both songs is that I don't hear much of Young Ji. It's always a little hard to judge K-pop vocals given the slick, smooth editing applied to the voices. But Young Ji only sings twice, and both verses are incredibly short. Maybe she's a good singer, maybe she's bad, but I'd at least like the opportunity to make that assessment! Who knows? Perhaps in future Kara songs, she'll get to sing more! For now, Mamma Mia! (the Japanese version) feels like a bit of a lazy effort. I'm certain re-working a song into a different language isn't a walk in the park, but the final product feels very much like a rehash. The song is fun and energetic, so I can't say I wouldn't recommend it. But if you are going to listen to Mamma Mia!, I'd stick with the Korean version.

Well, even if the songs are the same, the music videos will be different! And considering this will be my first time screencapping Kara as a four-member group, I'm excited to see what Mamma Mia!'s PV has in store for us! If the PV consists of gondolas and pizzas and hot Italian men, I'll be more than satisfied!

Okay, here's a familiar face! Hara looks like Hara. As to be expected.

And here's the rest of Kara the Quartet!

You'd think by this dance shot they'd added ten members instead of one...

Young Ji's reading How to Fit In with Kara and Not Piss Off Fans.

Is it just me, or do these individual shots and dance shots look like they're from 2 separate PVs?

Look: the colors in the dance shot are bright and intense.

But then the individual shots look like they were put through Instagram filters.

I'm fine with either aesthetic, but at least be consistent!

Can someone please photoshop them holding pizzas in this frame? Pretty please?

What's up with the impractically bright lighting? Can we dim it down?

Ah, that's better!

Also, hello new outfits!

More new outfits! That look like something out of The Jetsons!

A butterfly! How quaint! And random, how the hell did we get here?

Filters! Filters everywhere! So many filters I can barely see Young Ji in this shot!

Honestly, Kara doesn't feel that different post-lineup change. They still seem... Kara-like.

Follow the butterflies: a much better alternative than follow the spiders!

The choreography isn't quite as memorable as Mister's or Go Go Summer's, but it's got effort!

Mmmm~ these shots really bring out my inner flower-crown wearing hipster self...

They're pretty too! A little heavy on the lighting and filtering but still pretty!

They also remind me a bit of that f(x) PV... which I definitely did not watch because I'm a J-pop blog and never ever ever watch K-pop PVs out of curiosity. Ever.

Give 'em the ol' razzle dazzle!

So many pretty shots in this PV, I don't know what they could do to make things any prettier!

...I spoke too soon.

I never object to pimped out ball gowns but this feels a tad random.

Oh well, music videos aren't about why! They're about why not! Right?

Why not throw Kara in dozens of pretty clothes that don't match up together!?

And add a party scene! Because parties are hip, right?

Maybe this PV is just about the world's strangest sleepover.

Done! Or keeping in the trend of gratuitous Italian, finito!

Something tells me that whoever produced this PV really wanted flowers in it. And ball gowns. And sexy male backup dancers. And butterflies. And somehow they wanted to combine all this together into one music video. Yeah, the PV for Mamma Mia! definitely has... variety! There were seven different outfit changes in this PV! Not to mention all the different areas that don't match up together. Some worked a little better like the flower shots and the individual shots. But the dance shot sticks out like a tin foiled sore thumb against the rest of the PV. The color palette is way too bright compared to the richer, more muted color palette the other shots use. Along with the fact that the dance shot is... well... Kara's Japanese PVs have a tendency to film their dance shots in wideopen ballrooms. Mamma Mia! certainly isn't breaking that trend. I get that this was supposed to be Kara's big comeback (or at least in Korea this was), so maybe that's why the PV has so much going on. However, the PV's trying so hard to be all these different things that it ends up being a clustered mess. Like I have no problem with hipster, flower-crown, sitting-in-a-field music videos, nor with intense dance videos but at least keep them separate. Unless you're f(x).

So I screencapped this PV not having watched the Korean version. Well, I have now. My reaction? It's great to know the good folks at DSP and Universal Music Japan recycle!

Like the song, the Japanese PV for Mamma Mia! is very similar to the Korean PV. Super similar. So similar that you might even realize the exact same shots are in the Korean and Japanese PVs. For instance, that party scene at the end? Korean PV. They just took out the parts where the girls are singing in Korean. Those pretty hipster flower shots? Korean PV. Just with some modified editing. Remember those pretty ball gowns? Exact same shots from the Korean PV! How about those individual shots? If you guessed Korean PV, you are right on the money! Your prize is the disappointment of knowing that! I'm serious, all they did in those individual shots was change the glare of the lighting. In fact, I think I like the Korean PV better because the lighting doesn't require me to grab a pair of sunglasses. Even the shots that are exclusive to the Japanese version of the PV mirror the Korean version closely. The dance shot is more or less the same only with different outfits. Come to think of it, the dance shot of the Korean PV actually works better as a color palette with the rest of the PV... In fact, the Korean PV fixes any of the problems I had with the Japanese PV.

Well there! Problem solved! I'll just go watch the Korean version of Mamma Mia! But see that circles me back around to the dilemma I had with the song. If the PVs for Mamma Mia! are more or less the same, what's the point in watching the Japanese version? Other than language differences? It'd be one thing if they'd simply re-done the PV shot-for-shot style, but there are literally the exact same clips in both music videos. The Korean version looks better too. It's hard for me to give a verdict on the PV for Mamma Mia! because it borrows so much from the original Korean version. Do I judge it based solely on the Japanese music video alone, disregarding the Korean version entirely? Because as much as I'd like to, I can't do that.For me, knowing that some of the problems I had with the Japanese version (i.e. the lack of consistency in the color palette and general look) aren't present in the Korean version puts me in a strange situation. Don't get me wrong, there are still problems with the Korean version; mainly the producers are trying way too hard to cram stuff into it without giving much substance even for idol music.

The one thing that is worth talking about in both PVs is Young Ji. I did not watch Kara Project. I do not know how Young Ji came to be selected for Kara. However, I very much okay with her presence in the group. Kara was never one of those groups where I was attached to the members. I did like their stable lineup, so hearing of Nicole and Jiyoung's was a big surprise. Hearing they were going to recruit new members was an even bigger surprise. Here we are though, and I think Young Ji fits in very well with Kara. She's conventionally attractive and seems like a pretty good dancer. I can't judge her singing since we didn't hear much of it in Mamma Mia! but I liked her scenes in Mamma Mia! She's a little awkward in a few random shots, but for the most part, she works well with the other members of Kara on camera. I was hesitant about Kara continuing as a group and not just calling it quits, but they've got a nice dynamic with Young Ji now. I just hope that for whatever their next Japanese single is, their agency throttles back on the recycling.

I've only got three apples for Mamma Mia! If this were the Korean version I was reviewing, I may have three and half or four. But that's the problem. The Japanese release of Mamma Mia! offers nothing that I couldn't find in the Korean version. Not even a different music video. Kara's other Japanese releases may not always have been hits, but at least most of them were original. Mamma Mia! is a good song, but basically what you'd find in the Korean version. Maybe Kara will get better for their next release.


  1. Please start reviewing Orange Caramel! I absolutely love them <3

    1. Finally! An excuse to review them! Yeah, whatever their next release is I'll review it!

  2. You are going to review Girls' Generation? Such perfect timing, you can talk about the recent news where one of the members- Jessica is being forced out of the group

    1. Yeah, they're my Time Capsule Review for this month... but I've written most of the review already without knowing that... So I'm not sure what I'll do.