Longevity isn’t a hallmark of K-pop as an industry, but whether you got into it yesterday or have been here for a hot minute, the Girls’ Generation name is unmistakable. For a while there, some fans worried that one of K-pop’s most revered acts would be relegated to the top of the shelves over time, but judging by the furor around their 15th anniversary, it’s clear that K-pop halls of fame will always have a permanent sanctuary for SNSD.
When examined with the aforementioned lens, the motivations behind “Forever 1,” their seventh album and first as a full band in five years, become quite clear. It is, of course, a joyful celebration of their bond. In his sound, there is an absolute nostalgia, but also a determination to grow. Of the 10 tracks on “Forever 1”, SNSD revisits many of their classic sounds and songs and recasts them in a more modern and mature image, creating a charming blend of past and present, pulling the strings that made them so likable. At first glance.
Right off the bat, they pull the aforementioned nostalgia through our veins with ‘Forever 1’. Written and produced by Kenzie – who penned their debut single ‘Into The New World’ – the track is the uplifting assurance that every Sone has been hoping for all these years. As harmonious choirs soar over a classic pop sound, we see the members of SNSD flourish in their current solo careers, but still come home to the stage together – a literal full-loop moment where their individual journeys lead them to a collective goal.
Some of the best deals on the album are those that list the band members in their credits, proof of how their individual journeys enhance the SNSD sound. The R&B dance number “Seventeen,” written by Sooyoung and Tiffany, is a cinematic experience. With heavy drums and upbeat piano melodies, the song does justice to the giddy moments when you feel the attraction swirling, making you feel adventurous and younger than ever.
More notable, however, is the stark contrast it strikes with “Villain,” which was also written by Sooyoung and Tiffany. The wholesome piano melodies on ‘Seventeen’ are replaced by heavy bass and drums. With the experts at the controls, we go from youthful charm to seductive danger – a delicious sonic boost and a taste of how Girls’ Generation takes listeners through an array of emotions within one album. .
Nothing, however, will prepare you for the “You Better Run” race. The track shares an electro-pop foundation with its 2010 predecessor “Run Devil Run,” but that’s where the similarity ends. While the menace and hunger on “Run Devil Run” was somewhat soft around the edges, “You Better Run” shows none of its restraint. A jerky progression is maintained by soaring beats and electronic loops, over which SNSD layers deliciously versatile vocals, moving in seconds from almost lazy delivery to hasty declarations – they promise to end this reign of ” devil,” and you wholeheartedly believe them.
To go from that unbridled power and confidence to what can only be described as the shimmering sound of summer is shocking – but only a little. Almost as quickly as ‘Villain’ and ‘You Better Run’ get on our nerves, ‘Closer’ soothes us with its nu-disco inspirations. As the uplifting piano riffs turn into steady, measured beats, the tension slowly melts away.
It serves as the perfect bridge between the tense energy of the more percussive tracks and the soft, soothing effect of “Mood Lamp”. Like its namesake, the R&B track – characterized by soft guitar and almost muffled rhythms – never dominates in its intensity. Even when SNSD’s collective vocals ring out over the chorus, they’re controlled and calculated, working in tandem with the slow arrangement rather than cutting through the veneer and breaking the spell. They convey that vibe seamlessly to “Summer Night.” The mid-tempo track features bouncy, “Closer-style” synths, but unlike the latter – where the frantic pace sets the stage for a summer party – this one is more languid, like walking on the beach at night as the festivities are over.
As if it were just a cue, the dreamscape introduced during “Closer”, “Mood Lamp” and “Summer Night” takes us deeper into “Freedom”. We moved from disco to the distinct notes of synth-pop, suited to the serious yet thrilling realization that love truly sets you free. While the diversity of sounds on “Forever 1” is enough of a testament to SNSD’s mastery of their craft, it’s the little things – like the impressive ad libs on “Freedom” – that cement their status as a legacy act. They know exactly what it takes to give a unique twist to a relatively simple song.
That’s why it doesn’t bother you much when they return to tried and tested sounds on ‘Lucky Like That’ and ‘Paper Planes’. Both tracks lean heavily on their familiar pop sound, but SNSD here uses their vocal work as an additional instrument, breathing a breath of fresh air into otherwise familiar arrangements.
It’s also why “Forever 1” sounds like an appropriate album at this point in Girls’ Generation’s career. Fifteen years after the debut of one of K-pop’s most illustrious series, “Forever 1” might have been a collection of the usual sounds – trading nostalgia would have been the easiest thing to do. On “Forever 1”, however, SNSD opted to retain their old flavor while expanding their sonic palette on almost every song – not only to celebrate the classics, but also to provide perhaps the most vibrant image of themselves as a collective to this day. Their willingness to evolve is what makes them timeless. Acts may come and go, but Girls’ Generation is forever.
- Release date: 5 August
- Record company: sm entertainment