TS Entertainment‘s rookie group B.A.P has hardly had a moment to rest in the first half of 2012. Since January, the six-member, hip-hop and R&B-inspired group of SECRET‘s agency has featured in two TV shows (SBS‘s Tah-Dah, It’s B.A.P and the MTV special B.A.P Diary). Recently, the band has begun revealing the identities of the Matoki bunnies we saw in Tah-Dah, It’s B.A.P.
Coming straight out of the gate with far more charisma and presence than one would expect from a rookie group, they set the bar high for not only all other 2012 rookies, but for their own follow-up. “Power” maintained the high standard- but could the boys of B.A.P keep up with their own momentum for their third release in six months?
B.A.P’s first mini-album ‘No Mercy‘ released on July 18th does not disappoint. They’ve modified their concept to something that TS is calling “pop boys”, which is supposed to mean that they ‘take the lead on style and fashion among their peers’. The teaser images showed a new, more playful side to the members who wore brightly-colored summer clothes, with poses that are more sporty and fun than warrior-like. Because of a printing error, the physical album has not yet been released.
On July 9, the band released a teaser for the song “Goodbye” (composed by Jeon Daun, who has previously written for SECRET, and B.A.P’s own Youngjae, arrangement by Seo Taiji‘s guitarist TOP, and featuring lyrics by Yong Guk), which showed an animated story about the Matoki bunnies. To be honest, I was a little aprehensive after hearing the teaser, which made me think of an FT Island B-side. The full version, however, completely changed my mind. Whereas previous singles have put the spotlight firmly on the group’s rappers, Yong Guk and Zelo, “Goodbye” gives the singers a chance to shine.
Bang & Zelo fans need not worry- both members still feature on the track- but the real star of this song is Daehyun, who carries takes on the pop-rock ballad with just the right mix of power and emotion. His falsetto is really rounded-out and strong, and he has remarkable control over it. He and Youngjae, who also carries a large vocal load in this song, complement each other well, especially while trading lines in the chorus.
I do have one criticism of this song, and that is the “YEAH!” at the end of the choruses. It’s sounds like the “Y” in the “yeah” was edited out of the beginning of the word. The cut is awkward and distracting, and it really stands out at the key change toward the end of the song, which is unfortunate. The only other issue I have is with the line “No more cry,” which is out of place in a song with otherwise decent English lyrics and pronunciation.
“Goodbye” speaks of a painful breakup, and the narrator’s resolution to not only move forward, but to grow from the experience. It’s rare to hear a break-up song with such a message of hope, and I really appreciate the songwriters’ decision to not wallow in their own misery. I’m dying to see this song performed with a live band!
The video, directed by Hong Won Ki of Johnny Bros. (of Secret’s “Love is Move“, SNSD‘s “The Boys“, B2ST‘s “Shock“, and B.A.P.’s own “Warrior” and “Power”) reminded me a little of T.O.P.’s “Turn it Up“, with sharp sets and cuts to seemingly random objects (skulls, parrots, slot machines…), which start to make more sense when you look at the lyrics that go along with the images. I appreciated the dance break, which gave Jongup his much-deserved moment in the spotlight (check out this video of Jongup rehearsing for his solo stage in Malaysia to see more of his dance skills).
The boys’ title track “No Mercy” (composed and produced by MARCO and Jeon Daun, two of TS’s composers; Yong Guk helped with the lyrics) is interesting in that part of the song is actually in a Gyeongsangdo dialect (at Daehyun’s suggestion), whereas most other Kpop songs are written in standard dialect. It also makes use of “samul nori“, a type of traditional Korean percussion music. Since Himchan is a student of traditional Korean music, this personalizes the track, and is, in my opinion, really well incorporated into the instrumental. When you use unusual instruments in a song, you run the risk of sounding cheesy or just plain unpleasant- however, until I saw the live performance, I didn’t even realize the traditional intstruments were there.
This song is the obvious successor to “Warrior” and “Power”, and brings back many of B.A.P.’s signature sounds- strong, driving beats; a heavy focus on Yong Guk and Zelo’s rapping; a repetitive, chant-like chorus, an aggressive dance breakdown, use of whistles in the instrumental, and themes of fighting the system and standing up for the underdog. The drums are unabashedly “We-Will-Rock-You”-esque, and the song itself feels more anthemic than it’s predecessors, bringing a new feel to a concept that could have easily gone stale by now.
The third track, a ballad called “Voicemail“, is the first track B.A.P has released that was written entirely by Yong Guk. It accomplishes the impossible by including phone sounds in the instrumental without being annoying. I absolutely HATE it when songs include ringing phones and dialtones because I always have to pause the music to figure out if it’s the song or my phone that’s making the noise. The subtle beep-beep loop in “Voicemail” fits the sound of the song without driving me crazy. The tone of this song reminds me of MBLAQ‘s “Cry“, but less dramatic. It follows in the vein of “Goodbye”- the narrator talks about struggling with a breakup and then getting over his ex, going so far as to say he has no emotions about her whatsoever anymore. For a filler track, it’s pretty solid, if a little cheesy.
“Dancing in the Rain” (produced by Lee Bailey and Tarmo Keranen)… oh, what do I say about this song? The sound itself is great- it’s a peppy dance number with handclap-like drums, bouncy synths, and a catchy melody, that I wound up listening to on repeat for probably twenty minutes. The narrator sings about dancing in the rain with his girlfriend and declaring his love for her. He goes on to say that he’s “ready” and asks her not to leave his embrace for the night. It’s not flat out stated, but it’s pretty obvious as to what he’s implying.
The final track on the album, “What My Heart Tells Me To Do” (written and composed by Kim Kibum, another of TS’s composers) is a more-or-less typical Kpop/R&B ballad. Yet another breakup song, this one is much sadder and more regretful than “Goodbye” or “Voicemail”. Musically, I would say this is the weakest track- it’s not bad, but it doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table, whereas the other tracks on this album all show new development in B.A.P’s style.
The only other bone I have to pick with this album, and it’s not a big one, is the use of the word “Baby” in their songs. It’s a common word that’s used in probably 75% of all Kpop songs, but since their fanclub is called Baby (I’m still rolling my eyes at that name), I notice it more now when they say it, and it feels a little cheesy.
If B.A.P continues their breakneck race to take over Kpop, we can potentially expect one more promotion cylce out of them before the year’s out. If they can keep building on their solid foundation and taking their concept to new places, they could establish themselves not only as the rookie band to beat this year, but as a group with real staying power in the Kpop industry.
What do you think? Will B.A.P win it all, or are some of the other bands poised to take over?
What are your thoughts on B.A.P′s ‘No Mercy’? Leave an honest rating and your thoughts in the comments below.