[Review] Girls’ Generation-TTS – “Twinkle” Mini Album
Guest Contributor: RageX with contributing insights from Deevoid
This review is solely my opinion, I am not a professional music critic, and it was written based on my preferences as a music listener only. I tried my best to detach myself as a SONE when evaluating the musical value of this album, but I am nonetheless still biased.
When rumors first surfaced about SM Entertainment planning a subunit for Girls’ Generation, my reaction, along with many fellow SONEs, was a combination of surprise, curiosity and a lot of skepticism. As a firm believer of the “Power of Nine”, as cliche as that sounds, their group dynamics and chemistry is irreplaceable to many loyal of fans. When it became apparent that SM is taking this subunit far more seriously than the previous pseudo-subunit JeTiHyun with “Oppa Nappa”, I kind of panicked. Many questions started to pop up in my head “What if this venture is unsuccessful?” “What if it becomes too successful that SM starts to get weird ideas?” “What if this is the start of some significant change for the group?”… I had to consciously stop my negative thoughts, and admittedly, it took some convincing both by myself and others to give this release an open-minded assessment.
From a strategic point of view, the members chosen for this subunit were ideal. Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun are currently less busy compared to the other members who are occupied in drama, musicals and variety shows. For SM, this was a great opportunity to make sure SNSD stays in the music spotlight without burdening the members who already have other commitments. From a talent and popularity standpoint, TaeTiSeo, as the subunit is unimaginatively named, provides strong assurance, by having leader Taeyeon, undeniably the most popular and vocally talented member, and charming Tiffany, who is also very popular but brings plenty of vocal firepower as well, and the very underrated, can-do-everything, graceful Seohyun, serving as a balancing act to complete the trio. I was very happy for Tiffany but especially for Seohyun, as this would be a great opportunity to the two of them to shine more. Before even hearing any of the music, fans can already expect a strong vocal showcase based on the strengths of the members, and it would be smart for SM to highlight this appeal.
The title track “Twinkle” is a blatant and clever attempt to recapture the success of “Lady Marmalade”, a special concert stage by Taeyeon & Tiffany that saw great reception from fans. The decision to promote this spunky uptempo is calculated, in a Kpop world that’s not exactly ballad-friendly, it’s almost necessary, but it’d also be too “safe” to promote a ballad for this vocal subunit. The overall visual style of “Twinkle” has a Broadway feel, and the musical concept of “Twinkle” harkens back to the Big Band era with Soul inspired vocals. The song is produced with clean, acoustic drums, with an underlying bass, the melody is characterized by a synth organ inserted between the lines, in conjunction with the spread out lyrics, it gives TaeTiSeo room to ad-lib and hit the high notes during the chorus sections. The delivery is fresh, with no part of the song, instrumentally or vocally, feeling over-processed or distorted. Overall “Twinkle” is a great title track, nothing like the overwhelming haymaker in “The Boys”, but it brings plenty of fun, sass, and a great display of vocal prowess. The song not only set a tone for the album, but quickly established some semblance of musical identity for TaeTiSeo, which is important.
The rest of the album is a tale of pairs, a pair of bubblegum teen pop in “Library” and “Good-bye, Hello”, a pair of R&B ballads in “Baby Steps” and “Love Sick”, and a pair of retro “Twinkle-esque derivatives” in “OMG (Oh My God)” and “Checkmate”.
“OMG (Oh My God)” is another retro/funk inspired song albeit with a stronger edge and a more in-your-face vocal style. “Checkmate” sports the most aggressive beat of the album with a catchy guitar riff, and the entire song comes off with arguably the most intense feel in terms of sound. Both “OMG” and “Checkmate” make heavy utilization of Big Band style brass and percussion instruments, and TaeTiSeo delivered the vocals with a high level of energy and conviction, together the two songs form great companion tracks to “Twinkle” and serves to maintain consistency in musical style.
“Library” and “Good-bye, Hello” are in my opinion two of the weaker songs on the album. I’m not a huge fan of anything that sounds like cheesy teen pop (I personally much prefer the darker and edgier sound of their Japan First Album), plus the fact that this type of songs don’t really do much to leverage TaeTiSeo’s forte in vocals. At the same time though, these two songs are also very necessary and serves a distinct purpose on the album. They’re on the tracklist to remind us that this is a Girls’ Generation release after all, and there are no better songs that give us the cheerful and carefree spirit of old school GG than “Library” and “Good-bye, Hello”. They’re both solid songs, with bright and innocent feel, and laid-back rhythm and pace, by far the easiest listening tracks, and more importantly, they did not deviate from the theme of the album.
And finally we arrive at the best part of the album with “Baby Steps” and “Love Sick”. Consider my prayers answered when Girls’ Generation, alas only in subunit form, finally rocked some authentic R&B sound, 5 years after debut. The decision to go with R&B again fits well with the overall retro theme. “Love Sick” starts off like acapella, with almost no instrumentation in the first verse, then the drums kick in, leading to a heartwrenching chorus that is straining and difficult to sing, accentuated by the 3 exclamation beats at the end of each chorus line to create mini climaxes. However, the song lacked a harmony as TaeTiSeo mostly just traded lines. “Baby Steps” made up for this, the best song of the album comes with a stunning melody highlighted by the beautiful piano line and outstanding vocal harmonization. TaeTiSeo’s vocals, especially Taeyeon’s, are exceptional here, the way she soars out of the middle 8 with powerful high notes is swoon-worthy, and Seohyun and Tiffany finished the job with excellent ad-libs of their own. The instrumentation and vocals of “Baby Steps” were arranged and layered in the most brilliant way, cementing it as a song that will be treasured by GG ballad lovers for a long time to come, no wonder Taeyeon and Tiffany initially chose this song as their lead single before they settled on “Twinkle”.
SM is known to have strong music production, and has been churning out great Kpop songs for more than a decade, but their ability in putting together a consistent album is always suspect. For example, Girls’ Generation’s last release “The Boys”, was one of the most disjointed and confusing releases that really lacked an overall theme, resulting in an subpar album despite the strong title track. To my surprise, SM took corrective action with “Twinkle”, they succeeded for the most part in establishing a consistent retro inspired sound throughout the album, with well chosen and well produced tracks that gave TaeTiSeo enough of a challenge vocally yet never out of their grasp where they could no longer carry the songs confidently. In live performances, TaeTiSeo have shown good stage presence with strong and stable live vocals, their level of performance definitely delivers more than just one-third of GG, but not to the point where they can replace the energy and charisma of all nine members executing a highly choreographed routine on stage with military precision, which is exactly the balance SM tried to aim for with TaeTiSeo.
Despite the album having no obvious “home run” songs, it also has no glaring weak spots, it feels solid and coherent from start to finish and it presented a side of Girls’ Generation that’s different and refreshing. My biggest gripe being the somewhat nonsensical track order and the completely irrelevant fairy teasers, but the musical and visual concepts were well executed, and they carried out a successful promo cycle. At the end of the day “Twinkle” pleasantly exceeded my initial expectations, and will definitely go down as one of the better releases under Girls Generation’s Korean catalogue.
Special thanks to the writer, RageX, for this in depth review of TaeTiSeo’s Twinkle album and for allowing me to post it here. While he refers to himself as “biased”, I certainly didn’t trust myself to write something as detailed as this. He really did try to be as unbiased as he could, for being a SONE that is 😉