[Year-End Special] T-ara – Sugar Free (Whichever Version I Clicked on First)

Oh, T-ara. These ladies have had quite the share of controversies and drama. Not surprisingly, building your reputation back up after a slew of scandals is very difficult, especially in the scathing eyes of the K-pop fandom.

In an attempt to be relevant again, T-ara decided to follow the big room trend this year with “Sugar Free”, much to my chagrin. I have never been a fan of the EDM scene here in the US and the reason is that a lot of EDM tracks are vapid – all energy and not much else. “Sugar Free” pretty much embodies that – high energy and intense music at the expense of vocals and everything else apparently.

Had 2013’s ill-fated “Number Nine” had a better scheduled release date, if their producers had just EDM’d that track up, they would have gotten a superior version of “Sugar Free” that would have blown the K-pop waters away. Everything that was brilliant about “Number Nine” – slick choreography, visually stunning MV, listenable melodies accompanied by nice vocals, electropop done right – is absent in “Sugar Free” and for a group’s music to devolve like that in favor of chasing trends is a grievous sin in my books.

Report Card

Concept: D

One of my hugest gripes with this release though is just how messy the entire package is. There are way too many versions of the song and each version has negligible differences from the next (adding or subtracting a few bars of electronic instrumentation does not result in different “versions”). Even the music videos, every damn iteration of them, are messy as hell. There’s a cut almost literally every second and the lighting is just crazy in every frame, rendering the video unwatchable. The shaky camera effects do not help one bit – if I ever pop pills, I would imagine my vision to be like the music videos of “Sugar Free”. The choreography is extremely underwhelming for a song that is so intense and that is just an unforgivable crime in K-pop – if your song sucks, at least have a good dance. By the way, what is the concept? Like is it a Diet Pepsi commercial? Is it a fashion show gone wrong? The world may never know.

Cohesion: C-

I mean, I suppose there is that EDM vibe that is pulsating through the release – EDM track, EDM clothes (if you’re loaded and can afford them), EDM album covers (ripped off straight from the source of course). It’s a simple, vapid theme and they commit, I guess.

Execution: D+

T-ara’s pool of vocal talent is as deep as a kiddy pool unfortunately so they usually rely on the song to make things work and usually things work. They have released fun, solid tracks in the past and have made waves in K-pop with them. This time, however, the song just drags them down. Boring melodies accompanied by jaded vocals – even the girls don’t sound like they are enjoying singing this song. The verses are boring, the chorus is boring (and that is a huge red flag in itself), and the only things exciting about this song are the pre-chorus and the bridge.

Final Grade: D+

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