Album Review #5: “Mr. Simple” – Super Junior

Never have I felt so conflicted about a K-pop promotional single, ever. Super Junior recently returned to the K-pop scene with their fifth full-length album, Mr. Simple, after a year-long break. While the release of their teaser photos evoked similar responses from K-pop fans all over (most of them being along the lines of “Who’s been dealing LSD to the SM stylists?”), the album itself has received mixed reviews. This is one of those reviews.

-★-

1. THE CONCEPT.

When the concept photos for Super Junior’s comeback were released, people were confused. Fans everywhere tried to figure out what SM was trying to get at when they put rope around Leeteuk‘s middle and made Ryeowook wear Big Bird’s carcass. SM’s response? They described the concept as being “ubersexual,” but if SM’s idea of ubersexual involves Siwon wearing nothing but knee socks and neon green underwear, then I’m scared to find out what else SM believes to be aesthetically pleasing.

Thankfully, the members’ performing outfits aren’t nearly as flamboyant as those depicted in the teaser photos. During “Sorry Sorry” promotions, SM figured out that Super Junior’s entire 13-membered existence was bizarre enough, so they balanced things out by allowing the Super Junior members to wear regular-people clothes on stage. What a concept!

I’d argue that the Super Junior members are a lot easier to look at this time, compared to their look last year during “Bonamana” promotions. For one, everyone looks crazy attractive (yes, even Eunhyuk with his bleached blond hair; it doesn’t suit him at all but he works it like no other). On top of that, Super Junior is keeping up with the clean, monochrome looks they had in “Sorry Sorry” and “Bonamana,” but the slight addition of bright colors helps to give the look some character. In terms of artistry, the “Mr. Simple” concept is nothing all too special. But when every other K-pop star seems to be dressed in Halloween costumes rather than age-appropriate stage outfits, I’d be glad to ogle at suit jacket-wearing Suju any day.

-★-

2. THE MUSIC VIDEO & CHOREOGRAPHY.

Super Junior held a press conference for their fifth album a few days ago, during which the members explained that the music video filming schedule was rather rushed. Ultimately, they were lucky to get all 10 members on set for the MV filming, period; hence the resulting no-frills music video. Which I totally understand, but I am curious about one thing: where did the footage from the second teaser go? Not just the bizarro shots of the crackling skin, but the individual shots of the members didn’t even make it into the actual MV – did those end up as throwaway material, or is it being saved for something else? Hm.

Additionally, what was with that “Blow your mind” part with the flashing text, and could it have been any more tackier? I have a gut feeling that the flashing text effect was probably some sort of new, expensive technology SM recently procured, and they’ll probably be using it in all of their videos for the next year and a half, just like that blasted matrix cam.

I feel like I’m enjoying the choreography a lot more than I should, especially considering the fact that a lot of the moves look ripped off from “Sorry Sorry” and “Bonamana” choreo, as well as the fact that the hook move consists of the members flinging their hands in different directions. I think I’ll call it the “I-Need-To-Dry-My-Hands-But-The-Bathroom’s-Out-Of-Paper-Towels” move:

Apart from that, though, the choreography does some interesting stuff with group formation, which is something I feel Super Junior hasn’t taken enough advantage of until now. With a group that’s as large as Super Junior, it’s easy for their choreography to look more like a circus than a cohesive performance. In terms of broad movement, “Mr. Simple” works the stage very well. But the smaller movements therein seem to be notably less cohesive. I’ve heard a rumor that each member contributed a dance move to the “Mr. Simple” choreography – and I really hope that I’m misinterpreting this rumor, because to me, this sounds like a really terrible way to go about building choreography.

The “Mr. Simple” choreography seems to be a little out of character as far as Suju is concerned. From “Sorry Sorry” onward, Super Junior’s choreography has always been fairly tight, minimal, occasionally ridiculous, but always to the point. “Mr. Simple” works contrary to this standard in that the moves are a lot bigger and more complicated than usual. In all honesty, this choreography reminds me a lot of SHINee‘s “Lucifer” choreo – which is good and fine, because I quite liked the choreography for “Lucifer.” The main difference, though, is that SHINee fares a lot better than Super Junior when it comes to simultaneously singing and doing difficult choreography, and this difference is fairly apparent in the live performances of “Mr. Simple.”

-★-

3. THE PERFORMANCES.

But first, let’s talk about “Superman” for a bit. And by talk, I mean “listen to me squeal about how much I love everything about this song.”

I love this song! It’s so ridiculous but at the same time, it’s got a really compelling beat and that last “the last man standing” line is probably the most badass thing I have ever seen from Super Junior, ever. What I like most about this song, though, is that it shows off each member’s best points to a T. Even Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, and Yesung‘s individual lines don’t just show off their singing ability, but also display the unique points in their singing styles. Same goes for the rap lines. “Superman” shows each of the Super Junior members at their best – and it absolutely baffles me why this song wasn’t included in the full album. I get the impression that SM didn’t spend a ton of time and effort working on “Superman.”, since it’s technically nothing more than an intro song that will only be promoted for a week. However, they probably spent boatloads of time working on the comparative atrocity that is “Mr. Simple.” In the end, which one is the better song? I think this says a lot about SM’s direction (or lack thereof) as a creative base. It frustrates me that SM’s perfectly capable of producing quality artistic work (as reflected in things like “Superman” and the second MV teaser for “Mr. Simple”), but they nonetheless use these capabilities on throwaway material instead of material that can help to actually build an artist’s career.

The live performances of “Mr. Simple” are nothing special. The vocals in the song aren’t all too impressive to begin with, so there’s not a lot to watch for. But three cheers for Kyuhyun participating in a dance break once again, even though he’s not sliding across floors this time. And I am glad to see that Heechul’s giving a little more than two fracks about performing this time. Maybe two and a half fracks, at most.

-★-

4. THE ALBUM.

The sucky thing about becoming a fan of a group right after they’ve released a new album is that you find yourself listening to all of their old material and realizing how good their old songs were in comparison to their new stuff. Such is the case with me and Super Junior’s 5th album. Considering the quality of Bonamana and now Mr. Simple, I think Super Junior’s peak was with the release of Sorry Sorry, and that their subsequent works have been steadily going downhill ever since. It’s a natural phenomenon, but one can’t help but feel a little disappointed when a new album only serves to help one reminisce about the goodness of the past. Overall, I found the B-side tracks on Mr. Simple to be fairly unimpressive. Only one song, “Y,” really stuck out to me, but I think that’s more due to my love for One Way‘s Chance above all else. Apart from that, the album isn’t very strong as a whole. But there are a few bright spots here and there.

-☆-

1. “Mr. Simple”

In all honesty, I really think Yoo Young-jin sat in the studio mulling over Suju’s new lead single for far too long, and the result was this song. Songs like “Mr. Simple,” “Keep Your Head Down,” and “Lucifer” seem to be prime examples of SM trying too hard to make a hit, and not trying hard enough to make music. SM is clearly capable of making music, but lately it seems as if they’re far too hung up on making meme-worthy songs to worry about the musicality of their music. But which is more important in the long run: a song that infects the unwilling brains of many people for no longer than four months at a time, or a song with actual musical integrity that will gain the respect of fans and non-fans alike?

2. “Opera”

This sounds similar to f(x)‘s “NU ABO,” except less memorable. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it’s not particularly inspired and it’s rather forgettable.

3. “LaLaLaLa (Be My Girl)”

The verses to this song are kind of ridiculous, but I really enjoy the chorus, and the chorus is what makes or breaks a song for me.

4. “Walkin'”

It’s a Super Junior album, so a song like “Walkin'” is kind of obligatory at this point. It’s similar to “No Other” and SHINee’s “A-Yo,” except less irritably cutesy than “No Other” and more laid back than “A-Yo.” There’s not a lot to dislike about this song.

5. “Storm”

I don’t pay a lot of attention to Super Junior’s ballads because I think there are groups out there that can do them better, but if you’re into ballads as a whole, “Storm” is a really good song in it of itself. In terms of quality, it’s comparable to “Let’s Not” and “What If” from Suju’s 3rd album. I’ll also bet that this song will make for a really great concert performance.

6. “Good Friends”

Not a tearjerker, as many fans had believed prior to the album’s release. It does suit Super Junior’s onstage personality quite well, though. I don’t think this song was meant for casual listening as much as it is for a live performance, so I’ll be awaiting what antics they have planned for when they perform this in concert.

7. “Feels Good”

On the other hand, “Feels Good” doesn’t sound like a Super Junior song at all. Heck, it doesn’t sound like an SM song, period, which can be a good or a bad thing; take your pick. I don’t have strong feelings about this song on the whole, but it sounds similar to the songs released by the crowd of boybands that debuted in 2009 and 2010. Anyone else get the same feeling?

8. “Memories”

This belongs on a K-drama OST. Any takers?

9. “Sunflower”

This is the “Shining Star” equivalent on this album. “Sunflower” is one of my favorite songs off this album, but there’s something about it (as well as “Shining Star,” at that) that doesn’t seem to fit Super Junior all that well. To be honest, I would’ve loved to give this song to SHINee instead.

10. “White Christmas”

Ten bucks Heechul bribed TRAX‘s Jungmo for the opportunity to do this cover. “White Christmas” was originally released in 1996 by Jinu, and this is a remake of the original. I think the instrumentals could’ve been a bit quieter and condensed, but I enjoyed this song on the whole.

11. “Y”

This was composed by Donghae and One Way‘s Chance, and after hearing the work Chance has done in 2PM‘s “Like A Movie” as well as Eunhyuk and Donghae’s “I Wanna Love You” during Super Show 3, I can say with full confidence that Chance is one of the best pop/R&B composers in K-pop out there right now. Chance also has influenced Donghae’s own compositional style, as evidenced in Donghae’s “A Short Journey” on the Bonamana repackage. That said, I’m really excited to see more budding composers in-house at SM, especially those who have been mentored by talented artists and who have a real ear for music. The way I see it, Donghae is both things. I’m cheering for you, Donghae!

12. “My Love, My Kiss, My Heart”

This is movie trailer music. It’s not K.R.Y‘s usual style at all, but I’m not sure if I like it. The song takes itself a bit too seriously, especially since it’s essentially the last song on the album. It also really doesn’t take full advantage of K.R.Y’s vocal abilities, and there’s no reason why the entire group couldn’t have performed this song together.

13. “Perfection (Korean Ver)”

Zhoumi and Henry finally get their voices on a Super Junior album. Hip hip hooray!

-★-

When the album first came out, I was disappointed almost immediately. The lead single, “Mr. Simple,” was, well, kind of terrible. Musically, it was a “Sorry Sorry” and “Bonamana” mutant with the added seizure-inducing feel of SHINee‘s “Lucifer” and the weak song structure of DBSK‘s “Keep Your Head Down.” The song sounds more like noise than it does music, and it’s definitely not something that I would ever unleash upon my non-K-pop friends. All in all, “Mr. Simple” is a bad song, and having to watch a group as likable as Super Junior promote a bad song for two months is akin to watching a puppy limp through a dog show on a bad leg.

But as more promotional material for “Mr. Simple” is released, I find myself drawn more and more to the song. Part of me feels that this is attributed to my recently attained status as a card-carrying Super Junior fangirl, as everything about “Mr. Simple” promotions seems rather lackluster unless they’re seen through the eyes of undying Suju-fangirl devotion. But a bigger part of me also feels that the reason why Super Junior can get away with something as unimpressive as “Mr. Simple” is because of their status within the K-pop industry and the skills and reputation they’ve gained therein.

After Super Junior achieved widespread cultural recognition through Sorry Sorry, it seemed as if Super Junior changed from being a pop group to being a cultural symbol. In that regard, it’s almost as if Super Junior can get away with making crappy music because they’re not primarily known for their music anymore. Rather, they’re known for just…well, existing. Considering this, we must then wonder: does Super Junior’s worth lie in their artistic talent or their symbolic value? If the latter is true, should our perception of their music change accordingly?

Mr. Simple is Leeteuk and Heechul’s last Super Junior album before they enlist in the military. From here on in, I’m not really sure where Super Junior’s future lies. I get the impression that Super Junior will be taking a hiatus from group activities after Leeteuk and Heechul’s enlistment, up until Kyuhyun finishes his own military duties in 2018 or so, but I’m not entirely sure. I won’t say that Mr. Simple isn’t the best example of a ‘last album,’ but it doesn’t close things off for Super Junior all that cleanly. It’s a shame, but what can you do? As aforementioned, however, Super Junior’s legacy doesn’t seem to depend on their music as much as it does their status as a cultural symbol. Seven years from now, Super Junior will probably retain their name and reputation as a cultural symbol, but goodness knows where their musical worth will be. For some, Mr. Simple is the beginning of the end, but in terms of Super Junior’s legacy, it seems to just be the end of the beginning.

(Crossposted from Seoulbeats.com)

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  • your comment of super junior being a mere cultural symbol is very true. their music has become less of something in which they establish themselves–they’ve already done that– it’s more of a medium in which they can re-communicate their status, a collection of unfocused sounds that hopefully has a big picture that sounds like what people expect them to be.
    I really enjoy what you have to say and your sharp sense of humor as well :)