Album review: BoA - Woman

Album review: BoA - Woman | Random J Pop

Ever since Only one, BoA has slowly started to crawl her way towards finding her sound. Only one had a couple of good songs, but no real identity. The music video for the album title song defined it more than any of the music, and it's just as well; because Only one would have been pretty forgettable otherwise. Its follow up Kiss my lips was a much stronger affair. The album had a lot of filler, but had nothing on it I could call out as terrible. But what this album did was set a loose sound-frame for BoA - something that One shot, two shot and Woman would extend upon and really hone.

BoA's One shot, two shot EP surprised me because it was far better than I was expecting it to be, given BoA's track record of really mediocre albums. And Woman is equally a surprise. Marking what is, for me, one of BoA's strongest albums to date.

As BoA has gotten older and taken more control of her career, her sound has become much more focused and channelled. It feels like we're finally hearing her for the first time. However, the crazy thing is that BoA's first shot into taking the reigns of her own music came on her Japanese album Identity in 2010, where we first got a taste of BoA's sound preference. But it wouldn't be for another 5 years that we'd see this bleed into her Korean releases. And every Japanese release which came after seemed to back pedal from Identity. BoA has a thing for sensual grooves with R&B and jazz elements. That's her thing. She made that abundantly clear on Kiss my lips and she's letting us all know it with Woman. It's taken almost her whole damn career to get to this point, but she's here now and Woman is better off for it.

Woman is a different beast to One shot, two shot. Where-as One shot, two shot felt like BoA was playing a character, much of that gets stripped back on Woman. If One shot, two shot was her full blown 'Sasha Fierce', then Woman is more of her 'I am'. But the common thread through both albums is that BoA sounds like she's having fun and is engaged. She's singing like her heart is in it, as opposed to singing to fulfil a contractual obligation.

Album review: BoA - Woman | Random J Pop

BoA has always been an artist that's chased trends to an extent and that's not really changed. Songs on Woman like "Encounter" and "No limit" are clearly influenced by Major Lazer, specifically "Lean on". These are probably the album's weakest moments, because BoA doesn't really own these songs in the same way she does all of the others. It also reeks of SM entertainment forcing the sound onto the album just to show that they're in alignment with chart radio in the US. SM always latch onto a particular sound and then dish it out to all of their acts. But even so, "Encounter" and "No limit" aren't bad songs. They just didn't need to be here and don't feel as exclusive to BoA as everything else. It's not difficult to imagine literally any body else on these songs.

Woman shines brightest when BoA isn't hopping on any discernible trend and when she's allowed to just be herself. Ironically this isn't on the album's title track, which is one of the worst songs amongst this 10 track set. It sounds like a Girls' generation song. This isn't a diss. It is what it is. "Woman" sounds like a Girls' generation song. It's throwaway and not all that catchy. And the video is a mess with about two looks and 4 concepts too many. But thankfully it's followed up by one of the albums strongest cuts "Like it!". BoA's music videos have all been pretty shitty as of late. The last good one she did was "The shadow". So, whilst I would have liked "Like it!" to have gotten a visual, I doubt it would have done the song justice. But it's worthy of being a promo song. It has a similar vibe to it as "One shot, two shot", but overall feels much more complete as a song. It's killer from start to finish and what I would now deem the quintessential BoA sound, in good company with the likes of "Kiss my lips" and "One shot, two shot".

BoA also taps into throwback forms of Pop ("U&I"), R&B ("Good love" - a fucking bop) and Disco ("I want you back"). She nails each sound and in each instance finds a sweet spot. Where-as BoA's previous albums have either been a clusterfuck of mediocre pop (Hurricane Venus) or leaned too heavily into feel good Disco tinged songs which completely off set the lead promo song (Kiss my lips) Woman strikes a much better balance. And keeping the album to a lean 10 tracks helps greatly and ensures this album doesn't outstay its welcome. Although some may feel there aren't getting much more here than they did with One shot, two shot - which featured 7 tracks in total. A deluxe edition of Woman which featured an extended tracklist with selective tracks from One shot, two shot may have been a better deal. "Recollection" and "Always, all ways" would have fit right in.

There are no ballads on this album, which is an achievement. I love me a slow song. But on many of the idol K-Pop releases they always sound the same and feel more obligatory than they do a case of an artist genuinely delivering one because they want to. With "Only you" BoA showed that she could deliver a song with the sentiment of a ballad without it sounding like a typical K-Pop ballad. The closest things we get to a ballad on Woman is "Irreversible", which is a stirring mid-tempo, not miles away from One shot, two shot's "Recollection". And we also get a laid back acoustic bop with "If".

BoA has been an artist that I've always given flak to, because her music never matched the potential that I always saw that she had to deliver. Woman is finally that realisation. BoA knows what works for her. SM still managed to shoehorn their trend led sounds onto this album, but not to an extent that it derails it. BoA is finally at a point where she's able to release the music she wants. BoA's too old for that shit and has been in the game too long. SM still have their hooks in BoA's music, but it's not as bad as it once was and there is at least some compromise being made here. SM's A&R department at the very least stay on point, because they picked a selection of great songs from European songwriters and producers to make up this album.

Woman is not revolutionary by any means. It features sounds that BoA has delved into many times before over the course of her career. But the problem with BoA's albums in the past is that they were always a case of two really fucking good songs and then ten tracks of shit. Now we're finally getting extended and full length releases from her with some quality control. I'm finally getting albums from BoA that I can contently play from start to finish.

It's a mess that it's taken 18 years for her to deliver an album this good, but it's better late than never...I guess. And after a period of inactivity and boredom from BoA, its great to still have her in the game and releasing good music. The fact that she's still growing as an artist even now isn't something I can knock her for. Especially at a time when artists that I admire are releasing absolute trash and are regressing. Yes Crystal Kay, I'm looking at you.

Woman is a solid album with a very fitting title.
I knew you had it in you, bitch.

RATING: 7 / 10

Album highlights
■ Like it! ★ J's fave
■ Little more
■ U&I
■ Good love ★ J's fave
■ I want you back

Give it a listen: Stream BoA's Woman on Spotify, Google Play music & Apple music / iTunes

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