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Album review: BoA - Outgrow

Album Review: BoA (권보아) - Outgrow | Random J Pop

From the moment BoA debuted in 2000, a bitch was BUSY. Every year for the next 6 years, not only would she drop a Korean album, but a Japanese one too. Sometimes she’d even drop a Korean and a Japanese album in the same year. The release schedule started to change in 2006 however, with the release of one album in particular. Outgrow.

Outgrow seems like a pretty typical album title for a teen pop star who is on the cusp of adulthood and going through an image change, but there was a lot more meaning behind the album title. Because it wasn’t just about ‘I’m grown now, I can pop dis pussy in dis lil’ skirt and nobody can’t tell me shit’. By 2006, BoA had actually outgrown her Korean pop career and the expectations that SM Entertainment had for her success in Japan. Ayumi Hamasaki’s back was able to rest from holding up the whole of Avex because of BoA. She was so big in Japan to a point that her Korean career had to get put on hold for 4 whole years whilst she focused solely on releasing music and touring in Japan.

BoA never outgrew her sound though. And this wasn’t a bad thing. At least not yet. But Outgrow saw BoA refine her sound to a point where she did feel kinda new off the back of her previous Japanese album Love & Honesty and her previous Korean album Girls on Top. There was this new gloss to BoA. Her voice was a little sharper. The music no longer sounded as dated. The production on everything was tighter. Outgrow felt indicative of exactly how BoA should’ve sounded and looked at this point in her career across the board. It was a necessary alignment and emergence into a new phase of who she was as a pop star.

Album Review: BoA (권보아) - Outgrow | Random J Pop

True to the album title, outgrow shows a surprising amount of variety for an artist like BoA, who from the start was confined to a strict set of sounds on each album. And the sounds she had been stuck to like glue saw some refinements here, giving BoA better renditions of the international sound she’d been chasing since the beginning.

BoA was never an artist you’d expect to surprise you, but she did just that here with “Do the Motion”. It’s a complete curveball because it is not of the vibe you would have expected from BoA at this point in her career, but it really suits her. I can’t imagine it’ll go down as one of her coolest moments because it’s not edgy or funky enough for K nor J-Pop. But it is a great song that those with taste will appreciate. The Latin Jazz vibes continue on the song “With U”, which was also a B-Side to “Do the Motion”, and again, it’s a surprising turn, but one which works far better than you’d expect it to. A foreshadowing of a sound that BoA would revisit and make a fixture of hers years later with Identity and her later Korean releases.

Not every style works for her though. “Love Is Just What You Can't See” has a good concept in having it have this New Jack Swing-lite Hip-Hop-esque backbeat, but the production makes it come off like it’s trying to be Hip-Hop, as opposed to actually just...being Hip-Hop. It has very Hikaru Utada First Love vibes about it, which would be more forgiving if the song were recorded and released in 1999 and not 2006. C’mon y’all. This would have worked far better on Love & Honesty, which had other songs of this vibe, and a general 1999 - 2000’s sound about it. “Cosmic Eyes” is another misstep for Outgrow. It sounds like a leftover song from the Sonic R soundtrack, which is blasphemous for me to say, because “Cosmic Eyes” doesn’t slap like anything on the Sonic R soundtrack. It’s just too cutesy and SEGA Saturn era videogamey for this album. The song is actual trash. At least “Love Is Just What You Can't See” is a half decent song you can vibe too.

Outgrow features all of the A-side singles (“Do the Motion”, “Make a Secret”, “Dakishimeru” and “Everlasting”) in addition to each of the B-sides (“With U”, “Kimi no tonari de”, “Soundscape” and “Long Time no See”) with the exception of “Before You Said Goodbye to Me”. It’s a shame that “Before You Said Goodbye to Me” got left off, because it’s a really nice song which has BoA on that funky lounge jazz tip that she would lean all the way into later in her career. But I completely get why it was left off of the album, as it wouldn’t have fit Outgrow as it was.

Album Review: BoA (권보아) - Outgrow | Random J Pop

BoA’s vocals...aren’t always great, ‘cos they grate. On songs such as “Dakishimeru” BoA tries to go high on the hook, but she does this thing where her voice sounds like it’s all coming through her nose, and it just sounds bad. It’s one of the reasons why “Dakishimeru” was never a song I got into as everybody else did. The way BoA sounds on the chorus always threw me and made me say ‘Nope’ and turn off the song. But it is a good song. I can’t deny that. The same goes for “Outgrow ~Ready Butterfly~”. A good song, but with a chorus where BoA has to transition into high notes in a way where she just does not sound good. It’s strange, because it’s not like BoA can’t sing high and sound good. Pretty much the whole of “Kimi no tonari de” and “Soundscape” has BoA singing moderately high and she sounds really nice. But what I will say is that BoA’s mid-range is her sweet spot, which factors into why she sounds so good on the likes of “Do the Motion”, “Everlasting”, and “With U”. Even when she sings high on “Kimi no tonari de” and “Soundscape” it’s not truly high, but just a slight step up from her mid register - which is probably why she sounds good, as opposed to “Dakishimeru” and “Outgrow ~Ready Butterfly~” where she’s actually high and sounding like she’s about to collapse from a lack of oxygen.

Album Review: BoA (권보아) - Outgrow | Random J Pop

I’ve often found that when K-Pop acts first jump over into the Japanese market, their sound changes slightly. It becomes a little more generic, but also a little more grown than their K-material. There’s no real alignment or consideration of matching tones across releases. But with BoA and Outgrow, and pretty much all of her albums up until it, it was a different scenario. BoA’s Japanese albums in many ways felt continuations of what she was doing for her Korean releases. Outgrow sounds how you would expect a BoA album to sound following My Name and Girls on Top. I’d even argue that it’s a better and more fun album than the both of them.

Outgrow is also the first of BoA’s albums which doesn’t sound like it’s of the time, as was the case with her previous Japanese albums. I listen to Love & Honesty and can’t believe it was released in 2004, because half of it sounds like it was produced at the turn of the millennium, which is basically how most of BoA’s Korean releases sounded. So again, at least there was a sense of consistency between her Korean and Japanese material, something that would be lost over the next 6 years as SM and BoA focused heavily on her Japanese career whilst her South Korean career would be put on ice.

Album Review: BoA (권보아) - Outgrow | Random J Pop

Outgrow feels like an album where there was a very clear objective and intention as to what everybody wanted BoA to be. And it was also an album that her K-Pop fans could get into, as BoA’s sound didn’t completely change. Outgrow feels more like the follow up to My Name and Girls on Top than it does a follow-up to Love & Honesty. “Outgrow ~Ready Butterfly~” even sounds like an alternate take on “My Name”. Outgrow offers a consistency that BoA's album didn't always have and would eventually lose for a few years. 

Outgrow is a decent album. The sequencing isn’t great. Everything about “Outgrow ~Ready Butterfly~” screams ‘album opener’, so it’s strange that it is the fourth song on the album and comes after the albums’ big ballad. But the album as a whole is still a pretty tight and consistent top to bottom album which had BoA on the right track for where she was at this period in both her career.

VERDICT: *GOOGLES 'BOA'. SEES SNAKES.*

Highlights
■ Do the Motion
■ Kimi no tonari de
■ Outgrow ~Ready Butterfly~
■ Dakishimeru
■ Stay My Gold
■ Soundscape

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