K.A.R.D. Comeback Review: “Don’t Recall”

K.A.R.D. is getting so much attention, and they haven’t even officially debuted yet!  It seems like there is definitely interest for a new co-ed group, with many potential fans excited about their future.  There’s a lot of hype over these guys, but I think that they’re going to be able to live up to it.  They’re building a solid foundation for themselves in terms of music and image, and their songs are so darn catchy!

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the song and/or seen the music video!

Concept: K.A.R.D. has an aesthetic concept for their music and their image, but they also have an organizational concept.   Stylistically, they have a very cool and chic image.  They seem very trendy to me.  Thematically, the structure of their group is based on a deck of cards (hence the name).  Each member has a different card that represents them and what they bring to the table.

BM provided a really solid explanation of this on After School Club.  He is the King, who in his own words “acts as the middle who holds the group together.” (In other words, he’s maybe the unofficial leader and/or the center) J.Seph is the Ace, a card that can either be the highest card or the lowest. This means that he can provide support to the rest of the group as the lowest card, but he can also step up and take center stage as the highest card. Somin is the Black JokeR, which means that she can be the group’s greatest weapon (probably in reference to her vocals).  And Jiwoo is the Color JokeR, because her abilities in singing, rapping, and dancing round out the color of the group. The D stands for HiDden. For example, Kara’s Youngji featured on “Oh Na Na.” The hidden version of “Don’t Recall” is actually an English version, so maybe that refers to their hidden language skills.

SONG:

K.A.R.D. said on After School Club that “Don’t Recall” is a continuation of “Oh Na Na.”  The two share a lot of similarities: tropical/synth-pop style, the funky beat, and choruses with the drops.  While “Oh Na Na” is light-hearted fun, “Don’t Recall” is decidedly more melancholy.  The opening almost sounds haunting, and the whole song just feels so moody. “Don’t Recall” is about a breakup, but even if you don’t know that you can tell that it’s about something serious and emotional.  At the same time, it’s not all that dramatic.  Though the lyrics they’re singing are pretty intense, the song itself is pretty mellow.

I’m a huge fan of “Don’t Recall.” It’s very catchy, and it flows so naturally.  It sounds very smooth and polished overall. As much as I liked “Oh Na Na,” I think that “Don’t Recall” is a step up.  The reason is because gives each member his or her own vocal color.  Jiwoo sings more boldly and in a lower register.  She has a harsh almost growling sound in her lines, contrasting nicely with Somin’s clear high voice. BM switches to vocals and sounds very smooth in the low tone, complementing J.Seph’s more high-toned rap.  The different qualities of their voices really fill out the song as a whole.

SCORE: 18/20

LYRICS:

“Don’t Recall” depicts a pretty messy breakup between a man and a woman.  It talks more about their feelings and state of mind, so there aren’t a lot of specifics on what actually happened. However, we can clearly tell that the man has done something bad to cause the breakup, and that the woman is past her breaking point.  The chorus talks about how the relationship is so far gone that they can’t even remember the good times they had.  All’s that left is bitterness and resentment.  Most of the time the lyrics are very straightforward; they’re not really mincing words.  It gives off the feel that this really is a natural conversation, where people get straight to the point and say what they’re thinking instead of using flowery language.

Since K.A.R.D. is a co-ed group, we get to hear both sides of the story.  It really sounds like a dialogue back and forth, and it’s very well constructed. The first verse is from the woman’s perspective and shows how hurt she is.  Jiwoo sings, “Will you get off me, will you go away / I feel annoyed and gross.” Somin adds that she doesn’t recognize him anymore.  The second verse – J.Seph’s rap – describes the pain and guilt that the man is feeling.  What’s interesting is that this verse is a lot more poetic than the others, with lines like “Like a string that’s all tangled up, there’s no use tying a knot with it.”  It’s interesting that the language here is different than the rest of the song – perhaps because he’s trying his best to apologize and win the woman back.  “Don’t Recall.” ends with both the men and women singing back and forth, the man pleading while the woman is resolute.

I really love how the song sounds like a conversation.  There are so many little details, like how the lyrics switch around in the two pre-choruses. In the first one, BM sings before Somin and then vice versa for the second.  It makes it feel more like a natural dialogue. I also really like their choices of English phrases, like “I gave you all my love” and “You need to let it go, leave me alone.”  It’s a pretty common practice in K-pop to sprinkle English throughout songs, but I feel like the sentences they picked were chosen deliberately.  They’re very pointed and drive the phrase home.

SCORE: 9/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

Like “Oh Na Na,” Somin and Jiwoo sing most of the time.   However, this time it feels more even.  “Oh Na Na” sounded like the boys were featuring on the track and like they were just popping in from time to time. “Don’t Recall” makes a distinct effort to sound like a cohesive four-person unit. The back and forth nature of the lyrics make the boys more present, although they probably have the same amount of lines as before.

Somin has most of the lines here, with Jiwoo often accompanying here.  It’s nice that Jiwoo clearly has some of her own lines, especially at the beginning.  Most of the time she sings with Somin, but it’s good to hear her own vocal color. BM’s lines are more spread out through the song, creating the dialogue effect.  He feels very present during the song, especially because he’s also the center.  And it was smart to give J.Seph the whole second verse.  It really makes him stand out and give some much needed balance to the song. The line distribution isn’t exactly even, but it fits what the members are best suited for.

SCORE: 8/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

K.AR.D. has developed a pretty unique dancing style, at least for K-Pop.  It has a decidedly Western feel to it. What’s interesting is that the focus of the dance is clearly in the hips.  At least 75% of the movement is dictated by the pelvis, which is what makes it so sensual and distinctive.

choreography-1

The moves flow together so well. Some choreographies have different sections, where one aspect of the movement slightly changes.  It could be rhythm, style, intensity, etc. This is done so that different parts will stand out more. K.A.R.D.’s choreography is the exact opposite.  While there are parts that are more memorable, the whole performance stays on the same level.  It’s very smooth and even, and the moves just flow into each other.

K.A.R.D.’s dances look easy to learn, but they require a significant amount of skill. There are so many little details that you don’t notice when you’re just watching it (which I discovered while learning “Oh Na Na”).  On top of that, this dance really requires confidence and boldness to pull it off.  Because the moves are quite sexy and charismatic, the members really can’t be shy.

choreography-2

“Don’t Recall” is very similar to “Oh Na Na.” In fact, there are even little nods to it here and there, which I always appreciate. In general, I really love the musicality and how it plays with different rhythms in the song.  I also really like how it fits the moody yet mellow atmosphere of the song, really letting the lyrics shine.  My only critique is that I’m not a huge fan of the key point. It fits the music, but it just looks out of place to me.

choreography-3

SCORE: 17/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

Perhaps it’s because the song is about a breakup, but there’s less partner interaction this time around.  As the boys and girls sing separate lyrics, they’re also dancing two separate choreographies.  The only time they’re really consistently all movie together is during J.Seph’s part. I think that this is a really smart move, because of my issues with “Oh Na Na” was that I felt that there too much of a “couple effect.” It seemed like they were being paired off just because there were two boys and two girls.  I acknowledge that it’s a pretty common instinct, but I wanted them to be a little more innovative. Though the theme of their music is very much still based in love and relationships, it translated less visually this time.  I was able to appreciate the four of them as individuals rather than pairs.

While Somin was the center for “Oh Na Na,” BM is the center here.  He’s definitely a good choice because he’s very charismatic and naturally draws attention. (I wonder if J.Seph and/or Jiwoo will be the center for upcoming songs) “Oh Na Na” distinctly put a focus on the girls most of the time, so it’s nice to see the guys in the center – especially for the chorus.  The formations are okay here, and they constantly change things up.  I just don’t really like formations where one member is noticeably blocked (in this case, it’s J.Seph).  There are four members, you can easily spread out.

SCORE: 8/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

I put Dream Teller’s video because K.A.R.D. posted it on their own Youtube page.  So we can assume that either most of the theories that Dream Teller came up with were true, or DSP Media just wants to pretend that they had all of those ideas.

According to Dream Teller, “Don’t Recall” is not about turmoil in a relationship, but rather in the group.  It speaks of jealousy and coveting what we don’t have.  As I said before, each member has a specific title and position in the group.  Dream Teller suggests that “Oh Na Na” was about them uniting and forming the group, while “Don’t Recall” signals discord and conflict.  With this narrative, Ace J.Seph desires BM’s position as King, while Somin and Jiwoo envy each other.  I recommend watching the whole video to see all of the nuances that Dream Teller found, but I will summarize the ones that were the most relevant to me.

Visually, there is a lot to support this theory.  Aside from the group dance shots and close ups, we don’t really see the boys and girls together all that much.  They’re very carefully separated. BM and J.Seph face off in a chess game, which could be construed as a power play on J.Seph’s part. Meanwhile, Somin and Jiwoo endlessly stare into mirrors in some kind of glamorous fun house.  They’re not looking directly at themselves, though.  For most of the music video, they’re actually looking past themselves or at each other through the mirror.  It’s a classic depiction of jealousy, and it reminds me of the Evil Queen in Snow White.

chess

pink-jiwoo

Another interesting element is the use of color. BM and J.Seph are dressed in blue and red, respectively.  It looks like fire and water, two elements that are directly opposed to each other and definitely don’t mix.  As for the girls, we have to remember that they’re both “Jokers.” Somin is the Black Joker, while Jiwoo is the Color Joker.  If you look at one of their outfits, you’ll notice that Somin is wearing a colorful dress while Jiwoo is in a black and white ensemble.  It signifies how they desire to be like the other.

girls

Regardless of whether you caught on to any of that while you were watching (I certainly didn’t the first time), the music video is aesthetically stunning.  It very clearly depicts the members in a state of melancholy and discontent.  My favorite shots are the ones where the members are isolated and the screen behind them shows various colors.  I feel like the colors represent their moods and various thoughts.  The whole music video is a good example of visually depicting an internal conflict without any characters or acting.

SCORE: 18/20

STYLING:

I absolutely love the clothes that K.A.R.D. wearing in the music video.  They all look so glamorous and elegant. I think it immensely helps add to their cool and chic look, especially since they were a little more casual in “Oh Na Na.” However, I’m not so into the outfits that they wear for the choreography.  It’s kind of ridiculous, but I feel like the girls’ clothing is too sexy.  Normally I don’t really care about this kind of thing, but fishnets and a man’s shirt and shorts are some of the stereotypical sexy looks.  The boys are also dressed super casually, making the girls stand out even more.  They still look great, but I just think it cheapens their look a bit.  However, I do like how the outfits are white and contrast with the black ones in “Oh Na Na.”

STYLING MVP: Somin – I’m Jiwoo biased, but she looks so chic here.

somin

SCORE: 8/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 18

Lyrics – 9

Line Distribution – 8

Choreography – 17

Center and Formations – 8

Music Video – 18

Styling – 8

TOTAL: 86

CONCLUSION: K.A.R.D. is already generating a lot of buzz and developing a following, especially overseas.  Though they’re still working towards their debut, they’re well on their way to establishing a solid image and signature sound.  There’s a very fine line between having songs that share the same concept/genre and just having songs that sound the same.  So far, K.A.R.D. has succeeded in staying on the good side of the line. While “Oh Na Na” and “Don’t Recall” similar, there are just enough nuances to keep them from being exactly the same.

Many point out that nothing in K-pop is really original anymore, and on some level that’s true.  There have been other attempts at co-ed groups before.  However, I think that K.A.R.D. is somewhat unique in K-pop right now – and not just because of their group make-up.  There is a lot of Western influence in K-pop, but they’ve specifically chosen elements in their music in performance that haven’t gained traction in South Korea yet.  Their music and their choreography are gaining them attention and setting them apart.  They still have one more single before they officially debut, but I’m even more excited to see what’s in store for them now.

Sources: Youtube, DSP Media, After School Club Episode 254 (Arirang), Soompi

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