CLC Comeback Review: “Hobgoblin”

To put it kindly, Cube Entertainment has been going through a lot of changes lately. They just lost their two most influential groups when they disbanded 4minute and Beast decided to form their own agency.  Although they still have Hyuna and Hyunseung, their remaining idol groups must really be feeling the pressure.  CLC is the first Cube act up in 2017, and they’ve started the year off with complete image change. I’ve been rooting for CLC because I think that they have potential, and the teasers intrigued me.

If you want to know more about what I look at in my reviews, click here.

*WARNING!* These reviews assume the reader has listened to the song or watched the music video.

Current Concept: Fierce/girl crush/badass

Previous Concepts: Cute, refreshing, funky

Given the direction that CLC has gone for in this comeback, there are inevitably going to be comparisons to 4minute.  It should be noted that Hyuna took a very active role in this comeback – she wrote the lyrics, served as creative director, and coached the girls in their expressions and performance.  Sorn also apparently got really invested in the concept, to the point of making a Powerpoint presentation.

SONG:

Composed and arranged by: Seo Jaewoo, Big Sancho, Son Yeongjin

If you think that this sounds a little like 4minute’s “Crazy,” you’d be right.  “Hobgoblin” was composed and arranged by the same producers, and both songs share heavy trap and EDM influences. I would say that “Hobgoblin” puts more focus on the vocals by saving the rap for the chorus, where “Crazy” places heavy emphasis on the rapping.  I think that “Hobgoblin” has more of a girly feel, although I can’t tell if this is in the music or if this is because CLC is younger than 4minute.

Comparisons aside, this is a fierce song that is definitely worthy of an edgy concept.  Every time I hear it, I want to toss my hair and strut around.  There’s a nice contrast between the verses which are more vocal-based and the chorus which is more rap-based. There’s also a natural build to the beat-heavy chorus, and good progression throughout the song.  The CLC members all have different-sounding voices, so it’s nice to hear some variety. I always like when I can really tell who’s singing what part.

The rap is fierce and definitely helps define the song, but I’m more into the idea of it than the execution. Yeeun definitely took Hyuna’s coaching to heart, but she sounds like an exact copy of her and that is a big no no.  She could have easily just used her own voice like she did for their other title tracks. I prefer Eunbin’s delivery – she hits the beat hard, but she sounds like herself.

SCORE: 18/20

LYRICS:

Lyrics: Hyuna, Seo Jaewoo, Big Sancho, Son Youngjin

NOTE: This time, I put two versions.  The first is similar to the translations I saw in most videos, but as an English speaker I don’t think the phrasing makes a whole lot of sense.  The second one has better English, but the translation is slightly different.

The title of the song refers to a dokkaebi, a goblin in Korean folklore.  The chorus also refers to a phrase that a dokkaebi would say when meeting a human: “Come out, gold / Come out, silver.”  Dokkaebi are mischievous creatures who love to play games and prank unsuspecting people.  Though mostly seen as harmless, they can cause trouble or be benevolent. Depending on the human they encounter, they will either reward or punish them. To learn more about dokkaebi and other creatures of Korean folklore, you can look here or here.

The lyrics definitely take on the dokkaebi’s playful aspect. The singer is attracted to someone who is being hard to get, and seduction is the aim of the game: “Look at me , stop pretending you’re strong / You’ll regret it later, so play with me now.”  There are a lot of different elements of push and pull.Throughout the chorus, you can also hear shouts of “No! No! Nice! Yes! Yes!” The lyrics themselves range from confident (Yeeun says “I’ll take everything useful here, and you too”) to passive (Sorn says, “To be honest I’m nervous, it’s been too long / Take me away now”).   A lot of this playfulness and back-and-forth get lost in the music video, where it’s all about being intimidating and fierce.  But if you look at the lyrics on their own, they’re very clever and do a smart job of referencing the folk-tale inspiration.

SCORE: 9/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION

Although there are a good amount of vocals in “Hobgoblin,” Yeeun has about a quarter of the song.  In my opinion, this is because Cube is working really hard to push her as the next Hyuna. Eunbin also scores a nice amount of lines, which makes sense because Cube is still probably banking on her Produce 101 popularity. Interestingly, Elkie ends up with the fewest amount of lines and Sorn is the one that shares main vocal status with Seunghee.  I guess that’s because there aren’t really any explosive high notes for her to kill. Yujin and Seungyeon primarily take care of the verses, but Seungyeon does get the opening chorus as the main dancer. Although the line distribution is generally pretty even, I wish that they wouldn’t have kept switching the choruses between Yeeun and Eunbin.  The vocal part of the chorus isn’t particularly challenging, and could have easily gone to one of the dance line (Seungyeon and Yujin) to show off the fierce choreography.

SCORE: 7/10

CHOREOGRAPHY

(This screenshot, I can’t)

As a dancer, “Hobgoblin” is a song that makes me want to get up and move.  I’ve been caught jamming to it several times when I’m out in public, sashaying down the aisles of the grocery store.  The key choreography really plays to the musicality of the song.  There’s a nice contrast going on – the movements often start out smooth with body waves before becoming more punctuated and sharp.  It’s definitely flirty but not overly sexual, which is nice given the girls’ collective age.

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There are a lot several moments where the choreography slows down and turns into a lot of posing or walking with purpose.  While it does disrupt the rhythm a bit, it generally doesn’t bring down the quality of the dance.  The only place where it bothers me is at the end of the song: after doing the key points, the girls strut for a bit before landing in their final positions.  It just kind of derails the momentum, especially when in the other choruses they did some intense booty and chest popping that fit the music so well.

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That being said, overall I think that the choreography is pretty fierce and edgy.  It suits most of the girls well, especially the dance line.  And it gives them a lot of opportunities to show off their expressions, which in general are pretty on point.

SCORE: 17/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS

The formations are pretty simple here.  It’s mostly a pyramid or two lines, relying on the backup dancers to add more dimension. I’m generally ambivalent on backup dancers, but I think their presence actually makes things overly busy here.  I understand when there’s a soloist or a small 3 or 4 person group, but adding to a group of seven idols is overkill.  And the only time I really noticed them was when they krumped for like two seconds before the second verse.  The choreography could easily have been reworked to not have any backup.

Just like in the line distribution, Yeeun and Eunbin share the center for the majority of the song.  Like I said before, I feel like it would have been a better choice to let them just handle the rap parts and let the dance line center the choruses.  Yeeun and Eunbin aren’t bad dancers at all (I actually think Eunbin is supposed to be part of dance line?), but they’re often flanked by Seungyeon and Yujin and the difference shows.  Also, Seungyeon is the main dancer and she fits the concept the best out of all the girls – not just in terms of style, but also in performance and expressions.  So although she got the beginning chorus, I really think she should have centered the song.  And though I am Yujin-biased, she should have gotten at least one section of the chorus like she did in “No Oh Oh.”

SCORE: 7/10

MUSIC VIDEO

NCT 127’s “Limitless” is about cool guys in a warehouse, and “Hobgoblin” is about cool girls in a warehouse (and other locations).  There’s not really a story here, it’s mostly just shots of the girls glaring at the camera or dancing. There are some small references to the namesake dokkaebi, such as the bats the girls flaunt towards the end of the video.  And there’s one forest-like location that hints at something: we have the girls hiding in some foliage and Eunbin holding a cat.  But it doesn’t really pan out to anything.  Overall, it’s mostly an aesthetic music video to show off the girls’ new concept change.

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There’s nothing wrong with an aesthetic music video.  The locations are cool, and there’s some interesting neon lighting.  Plus the smashing stuff part at the end is a lot of fun, and it’s a nice touch that each girl has her own personalized bat.  And it’s true that not every music video needs a story. I just think that since they already had the dokkaebi idea in the song itself, it would have been cool to keep going with it visually. In this case, it was so easy to have a story and more of a fantastical element, like a scenario where they were playing and messing around with the object of their affections.

Like I said, as it is the references are subtle and not likely to be picked up by a Westerner such as myself.  I legitimately thought that the bats were a Harley Quinn thing at first, seeing as Harley-themed things were a trend for a while.  It would have been fun to see something so inspired by folklore to translate visually.  Normally I would say my Western opinion doesn’t really matter for these kind of things, but CLC is currently charting better internationally than in Korea. I think that this song definitely caters to Western taste more, so it could have been an opportunity to either appeal to that or show off Korean folklore culture more.

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SCORE: 16/20

STYLING

The girls have mostly been cute or bubbly up until now, so they took a huge risk with this style change.  For the most part, it paid off because they were really smart about it.  They really looked at each member and crafted her look individually.  For example, Yujin is very pretty and fits their previous cute concept well.  Instead of putting her in dark clothes and lipstick like some of the other girls, they put her hair up in pigtails (or goblin horns) and gave her an oversized furry coat.  She’s still cute, but in the context of the concept she has an edgy vibe.  And this is probably why I thought of Harley Quinn, because she generally has this kind of style too.

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Seungyeon is sexy, Eunbin is sporty, and Sorn is going for gothic chic.  Elkie has this kind of punk Elsa vibe with her blonde hair and light blue top.  Most of the time it works, but she does get washed out sometimes in the music video.  Seunghee doesn’t overly fit the concept, so her outfits are more low-key.  My only real problem is with Yeeun.  First of all, I’m not a fan of the clothes-over-clothes idea.  But it’s clear from the lipstick, heels, and accessories that she’s really imitating Hyuna on all fronts.  They even perm her hair for some of the performances, and it looks like Hyuna in the “Crazy” era.  The problem is that Hyuna is a fully-grown woman in her mid-twenties, and she could probably rock those outfits.  Yeeun is still eighteen, and in my opinion it just looks awkward and copycat.  They should have given her a more rocker look.  Besides that, the styling is pretty on point.  Some of the darker lipstick choices kind of age the girls, but that’s a minor thing.

STYLE MVP: Seungyeon.  Everyone on Tumblr is talking about Sorn, but there’s something so effortless about her.

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SCORE: 9/10

FINAL TALLY

Song: 18/20

Lyrics: 9/10

Line Distribution: 7/10

Choreography: 17/20

Center and Formations: 7/10

Music Video: 17/20

Styling: 9/10

Total Score: 84

CONCLUSION: I absolutely love this song and I’ve been playing it nonstop for the past two weeks. There are some small things here and there, but it’s a solid comeback. The problem is all in the timing.  4minute disbanded about half a year ago, and it was really messy.  I’m not a 4NIA, but I can imagine that it still hurts.  So to have CLC to do a comeback that has 4minute’s specific image, is extensively supervised by Hyuna, and is a song that 4minute actually could have done…it’s just not really a win for anyone.  The fans are bitter about the blatant similarities, Cube won’t make as much money as they want or need, and the girls will suffer for it when it’s not their fault at all.  If they did this at pretty much any other time, the backlash wouldn’t have been this harsh.

Since I’ve only been in K-pop for year, I discovered 4minute only a few months before their disbandment.  Therefore, I have the luxury of being able to be objective because I wasn’t overly attached to them (the same goes for 2NE1 and Blackpink).  And objectively, there’s too much of 4minute in there – even though I think this is a good direction for CLC.  There are certainly hints of their own flavor, but they did take more than a page out of Hyuna’s book and it definitely hurts them. I deducted points from at least four different categories specifically because of Yeeun, who is the worst offender. But as hard as it is to put comparisons aside and look at CLC for CLC, I think that this could work for them.  I hope that their next comeback will keep going in this direction and showcase more of their own style.

Sources: Youtube, Cube Entertainment, Soompi, Omona (Livejournal), Sageuk: Korean Historical Dramas (koreanhistoricaldramas.com), The Trebuchet (Blogspot), Hit the Stage Episode 7 (MNET), Star Show 360 Episode 4 (MBC Every1)

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