written by: drowningn00b
The world of K-Pop as we know it today hadn’t really heard The Grace’s Stephanie singing since 2009. She held her own as part of SM Entertainment’s answer to DSP Enterntainment’s FinK.L, groups which focused on the R&B side of K-Pop in the mid-to late aughts. Sadly, both labels moved on quickly, with the rising popularity of their flagship pop groups, Girls’ Generation and KARA, respectively.
Since her last go around, not only has the music changed, but there are more ladies going solo after their days in girl groups. Seo In Young from Jewelry, Lee Hyori, and Kahi from After School are just a few examples. Not only that, but as a dancer, Stephanie’s smooth style has largely fallen out of favor for the robotic pop and lock of Girls’ Generation Hyeyeon and SHINee’s Taemin.
All that said, how does Stephanie’s return as “the queen” on the single “Game” stack up against the strong competition in the K-Pop realm today?
As a single, “Game” is an outlier for SM Entertainment. It doesn’t pander to current trends like TVXQ’s “Catch Me”. It isn’t reminiscent of past girl groups like TaeTiSeo’s “Twinkle”, but what it does do is harken back to the ladies of dance music from the 90’s and oughts.
“Game” is a bass-driven, synth dance track that stops and goes like that older breed of dance. The verses sound one way, the pre-chorus begins the build to a sudden stop, until bringing back the beat to begin the chorus. The track is fun, but predictable. Nowhere in this three and a half minute excursion are you surprised to hear what happens next. In most cases, this is bad, but producer Kim Changhwan took what people liked about 90’s dance and did a good, by-the-numbers production for “Game”, including layering Stephanie’s voice to add complexity where her voice alone would not do. Speaking of which, Stephanie lacks all sorts of personality. She doesn’t sound like it bothers her that she doesn’t know her lover’s heart as she proclaims in the chorus. As a vocal exercise, “Game” is child’s play, with no discernible difference between the first and last chorus segments, and the bridge and climax offer some pay-off, but nowhere near as dramatic as the music would have you predict. Stephanie is another example where mechanical vocal changes and heavy production can’t hide the underlying issues.
Same goes for “Dance (Nanana)” with label mate f(x)‘s Amber. Is Stephanie even enjoying herself? The edgier production is meh at best, and the only reason to even bother with this b-side is Amber. Rarely does she go as hard as she does here – “Beautiful Stranger” the last reminder – so it’s nice to hear her back on the mic. She even goes toe to toe for a line or two with the fast rappers, something I haven’t heard from her yet. All of this together, though, only makes me want a solo Amber project, not more of Stephanie.
Stephanie’s “Game” is dance retread of popular club music from the 90’s and early 2000’s, a fact cemented by the DJ Koo clubmix, minus the obligatory dub-step nonsense. “Game” is a fun, by-the-numbers track that stays within the lines, only to suffer from lackluster color on Stephanie’s part. What made tracks by La Bouche, Tamia and Cher from that era great were not just the music, but the vocal punch from each artist. Stephanie doesn’t have the tongue in cheek humor of La Bouche, nor can she make you believe through the vocal manipulation like Cher. It was a worthy bet, but no go for Stephanie’s “Game”.
Singles of any kind are not rated using the same rating system used for mini and full albums.