It’s no secret that I love Secret (and apparently horrible, horrible puns). But I cannot tell a lie: ever since “Shy Boy,” Secret has been something of a huge disappointment for me. What started off as a group generally unafraid to push both musical and conceptual boundaries — and one that boasted a rare combination of solid vocal talent with decent dance moves — ventured too easily and quickly into the the safer territory of feigned cuteness, aegyo, and excessive amounts of winking and puffing out one’s cheeks. By the time they tried to recapture their old muse with “Love is Move,” even I thought it might be too late — and it didn’t help matters that, despite a great color scheme and some impressive styling for the music video, the song was tired and lackluster. I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to get through it even once.
Just shy of a year has passed since Secret’s last Korean endeavor, and when my watch once again struck Secret Time (contrary to what 2PM would have you believe, it is actually the hottest time of the day), I was somewhat apprehensive. Sure, the girls once had that magic (LOL are you tired of these puns yet?), but none of their recent efforts — really, none — inspired in me any confidence that they would release something of “Madonna” caliber. Nevertheless, the teaser of “Poison” appeared promising, and now that the music video has dropped, I think it’s fair to say that I underestimated them. Is “Poison” a perfect effort? No, but it is a marked improvement over much of their older material.
Let’s start with the song.
In terms of structure, “Poison” is remarkably similar to “Madonna” — after a brief introduction, it starts with a sharp and punchy rendition of the chorus that sets the pace of the whole song. “Poison” is also backed by a similar ensemble of big band instruments; here, Secret followed 4Minute’s lead by employing a five-note saxophone hook that holds the song together and makes it easily distinguishable from most other K-pop songs. In terms of saxophone use, I’d actually argue that “Poison” is more successful and consistent in its implementation of the saxophone hook than was “Volume Up,” in which it felt slightly out of place; however, that could be my obvious bias talking, coupled with the fact that I cannot stand that thing that 4Minute does where they layer Hyuna‘s godawful rapping over a high note. Anyway.
Onto the music video. As seems to be the trend these days, the folks at TS Entertainment have gifted Secret with a crime/detective concept, which made earlier appearances in SHINee‘s “Sherlock” as well as Dal Shabet‘s “Mr. Bang Bang.” Styling for the video is one of its strong points; from the shocking red of Hyo-sung‘s dress in the opening scene (creates a brilliant contrast with the muted browns of the detective office) to the sleek crimson pinstriped-jackets-with-hotpants combo (highly reminiscent of SNSD‘s marine girl outfits, but I’m gonna let that one go), the girls look sexy, sharp, and in their element. My only complaint would the white dresses that appear in some of their dancing sequences; they seem too ostentatious in comparison with the rest of their costuming.
In terms of the plot, like I said, the crime/detective thing is stating to feel slightly overdone. While it’s true that their detective video is not wholly like or wholly unlike the others (rather than going for the Sherlockian British vibe, they’ve opted to stick with classic American), it still feels a bit like Secret is hopping on the bandwagon instead of finding their own ground. The story revolves around Secret’s conspiratorial attempt to steal the world’s most obnoxious diamond and some pearls; together, the girls manage (in a way that isn’t clearly explained or clarified at all) to get the code to a safe that holds the goods, kill the other gangsters who try to stop them, and dupe a detective. Why or how the gentleman canoodling with Sunhwa came to have the code to the safe written on his neck is a mystery in and of itself. In any case, the plot is subject to some of the same complaints that many people make about these sorts of music videos; details are vague and/or nonsensical, plot holes and inconsistencies are rampant, the girls are far too inappropriately dressed to be committing grand larceny, there is girly (and also inappropriate) celebrating once the heist is successfully pulled off, etc. Doesn’t necessarily mean that the video isn’t aesthetically pleasing or fun to watch — it’s just important to remember not to take anything too seriously. Ultimately, the storyline and video complement the song’s vibe well, which is probably most critical at the end of the day.
I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t express my one great disappointment with the video, which would be the overly gratuitous number of crotch shots. Oh, and the excessive use of the soft-core porn camera angle to film the girls. As I’ve stated before (many, many times, it must be noted), I really have no problem with the healthy implementation of sexuality in K-pop; however, I often question the autonomy behind the sexuality employed by most girl groups, and that is no different here. The choreography for “Poison” contains an almost ridiculous amount of hip thrusting and gyrating (again, not a problem in and of itself, perse), but nearly all of it is filmed from an upward-looking angle. Sorry, but I just don’t need to be that intimately acquainted with Sunhwa’s hotpants. I understand that Secret’s energy for this video is aggressively sexual and sensual, but the choreography plus the camera angles really just serve to cheapen the whole thing.
Conclusions? “Poison” is a vast improvement over “Love is Move,” and strongly reminiscent of Secret’s glory days of badassery — but it isn’t exactly a NEW side of Secret. Rather, it’s more like an old side re-invented. Perhaps this — this sexy, powerful, big-band-inspired genre — is Secret’s comfort zone, but I wonder why they have consistently flipped back and forth between overtly sexy concepts and sickeningly cute ones without branching out too much. Was “Love is Move” an attempt to try something new that flopped, thereby leading them to return to something decidedly “Madonna”-esque? I suppose we won’t know until Secret does truly come out with something divergent, but for the time being, at least they’ve nailed down this tried and true concept. And hey, it works for them in a way that the cutesy ones didn’t — who am I to complain?
Overall Rating: 4.2/5