Review: Sugar Free – T-ara’s venture into EDM
With T-ara’s Inkigayo performance on the 12th and their recent travels to China, it brings a close to the Sugar Free promotions.
While Sugar Free played to T-ara’s strength of catchy music, it was as well a completely new genre tackled by the girls and in K-pop. This genre being EDM which while already popular, is not something you’ve seen a K-Pop boy or girl group take on until T-ara.
Let’s break down T-ara’s latest venture in music.
Sugar Free follows the genre of EDM, Electronic Dance Music. It can also be denoted as Big Room, one of various subgenres of EDM.
Big Room takes the melodic nature of progressive house and combines it with the energy of electro house/trance. It is characterized by emotional breakdowns with long build-ups followed by an energetic and melodic drop.
The song was produced by Shinsadong Tiger who certainly delivered a true EDM track. As an avid listener of EDM, I was practically floored by Sugar Free. It possess all the right elements of a fantastic EDM track.
It starts off with a great synth and beat to match followed by a much more powerful beat. It’s brought down when the verse begins with Hyomin’s rap and Soyeon’s vocals, gradually picking up as the song progresses. The chorus is my favorite part in the whole song. The enriching melody is beautifuly sung by Soyeon’s sweet vocals, followed up by Eunjung.
Though experimental, Sugar Free succeeds in being a fun, upbeat song that anyone can dance to.
The Music Video
The music video to Sugar Free is a fast array of lights, flashes and colors. In true T-ara fashion, another seizure inducing music video, as adoringly (maybe irately) named by the fans. However, I must confess, the truth is I have always liked T-ara’s seizure MVs (except Day by Day dance version, flashes outta nowhere in a dark, enclosed room, that was weird.) I enjoy fast paced music and scenery, it adds to the excitement. Why I feel the music video to Sugar Free is kind of perfect for its club theme as clubbing is all about a rushing excitement and losing yourself to the music.
The video may feel a bit bare to some. There are only 2 sets plus 6 for the members individually, some of which come off a bit ‘empty’ due to abundant of space. For example, Qri’s set was… a green aurora? Space?
Boram and Soyeon’s sets were quite simple but I took a liking to the colorful chasm feeling they gave off. Eunjung and Jiyeon’s set provided the most visuals and were my favorite. Hyomin’s set was different in that it assisted in highlighting her as the focus.
The Mini Album
AND&END comes with a total of 7 tracks. 2 version of Sugar Free and 1 instrumental, plus 4 new original tracks. Promoted alongside Sugar Free was 남주긴 아까워 (Too Good to Give Away), a sweet, melodic song and a quick favorite of many Queen’s. Another favorite would be OGRG, a funky track featuring a very cool rap matched well with rhythmic vocals. The designated balled of the mini is지난 달력 (Last Calendar), a simple track showing off the softness of T-ara’s vocals. Lastly, 그녀를 보면 (When I See Her), simple as well but plays to a nice mellow feeling.
The mini album as well consists of an instrumental to Sugar Free which is a jam on its own. Along with that, there is the regular version of Sugar Free (the promoted version is referred to as the Big Room version). The only difference is the intro which to be honest is just as great though a bit more chill as opposed to the heavy beats of the promoted version.
While the non-title tracks are of a completely different vibe to the title track, it is still a great collection of enjoyable songs.
Sugar Free’s concept is clubbing, which is all about the music and enjoying it. This concept as well gives way to some stylish outfitting which I’ve been very much enjoying. The girls don a variety of edgy fashion; trendy tops, jackets, ripped jeans, spangled accessories, an array of colors and sparkles. It’s similar to Lovey Dovey’s styling though taken up a notch.
The official album photos consisted of a more classic look though which were quite as stunning.
The Dance + Performances
The choreography starts off with a pretty powerful move executed by Eunjung alluding to banging gongs, which I think looked great. From there, some interesting steps here and there, the choreo comes off rather tame. However, I do like the simplicity of the steps during the chorus, where the girls sway their hips as they ‘sprinkle sugar.’ It could’ve served well following more hard hitting steps.
I feel there’s a lot of unused potential in terms of the choreo and as such am a tad bit disappointed. It does admittedly come off more exciting in the music video with all the flashing lights and crazy fast transitions.
The performances are enjoyable to watch but I still can’t shake off that feeling of emptiness in terms of the choreo. They make a few changes to the steps for the live stages. The freestyle in the intro eventually becomes choreographed with steps which aren’t all too bad. Another change, and my greatest complaint, would be the change to the steps in the chorus. The original steps following the hip swaying (clap of hands, taps around their body) was replaced by swiping their legs out to the side which just comes off as incredibly lazy to me. I really liked the original steps and I weep for its loss.
Alongside Sugar Free, 남주긴 아까워 (Too Good to Give Away) was promoted as well, the performances for which were quite refreshing. Till now, T-ara’s secondary tracks are usually ballads or more specifically where they just stand in place with their mic stands. So on their M! Countdown debut, it was truly a pleasant surprise and experience to watch them full out perform a B-side track for the first time.
남주긴 아까워 is of very cute and humble steps with the girls elegantly attired, in contrast to Sugar Free’s styling.
The Remixes, Original Edit & English Version
A bonus for this comeback, T-ara released an additional album of 19 remixes (9 Korean versions, 8 having respective English version.) The album consisted of various DJs such as DJ Ferry, Beatrappa, DJ Terra, DJ Big Bounce, DJ Dion, DJ pHatsound, Monster Factory and an addition that came later, DJ Chuckie, a producer who has worked with major names such as Michael Jackson and David Guetta.
The remixes are all great jams and shows the versatility of EDM music. If you love exciting, upbeat club music, the EDM edition album is a must have. If you don’t like one, there are eight others. There’s something for everyone.
The album came with the original edit of Sugar Free, the intro of which is rather sexy however I can understand why they scrapped this version. While parts on their own sound good, such as the rap as well; all together, the arrangement is kind of a mess.
Touching upon the English version of the song, I was rather surprised. T-ara did rather well with their pronunciations. It’s a bit on the flat side but that’s understandable as T-ara probably still require a bit more practice singing in English. Some parts don’t get translated into English which is unfortunate really.
I still remember to this day when I first watched/heard Sugar Free, I was truly blown away. I’ve always been a fan of EDM music so for T-ara to tackle it was as if a dream come true. The music is exciting, the melody is lovely and I’m bopping my head every time I listen to it. Sugar Free is possibly my #1 T-ara song right now.
On the digital charts, Sugar Free unfortunately did not fare as well as T-ara’s previous comeback, ranking only #61 on Gaon’s Digital Chart for September. Was the mix of EDM and K-Pop a risky venture after all? Quite possibly, DJ Ferry as well touching upon the experimental combination.
Physically, AND&END sold 17,681 units in September, a bit of a drop compared to Again’s first month’s sales (24,882; the repackage, Again 1997, sold 15,611) but decent. Perhaps we can look forward to satisfactory collective numbers in the following months.
Another complaint I have in regards to this comeback, and this is more directed to MBK (formerly CCM): the terrible pre-promotions. There were hardly any teaser photos and the MV teaser was released way too late. It was rather frustrating to be honest and could have been managed much better.
All in all, despite my quandaries, I am very happy with Sugar Free and both accompanying albums. I thank T-ara and Shinsadong Tiger (ok, MBK too…) for the great music they’ve delivered us.
But what about you guys? How did you feel about Sugar Free and T-ara’s venture into the EDM scene? Leave your thoughts!
This review expresses the opinion of the author alone and does not reflect Diadem’s as a whole.