Spica debuted earlier this year with “Doggedly.” They profited from Lee Hyori’s appearance in the video, but somehow failed to gather much attention. “Russian Roulette” came along, with a more more public-friendly sound and K-pop fans were kind enough to throw them on their nugu-radar. “Painkiller” delved even more into the world of R&B and while it didn’t come near the success of “Russian Roulette,” it was a more than decent follow-up. The trifecta assured Spica an identity: they were confident, mature and somber, without stepping into JYP’s emo syndrome. Most of all, Spica’s appeal consisted in the accent placed on music. Their package didn’t include the usual cocktail of gimmicks, but instead, impressive vocals and suitable, emotional songs.

Then, “I’ll Be There” happened. When the teaser for the video surfaced, I cringed as I detected my least favorite K-pop item: the aegyo-fied concept. As I started my countdown, the news of Ju-hyun dating Shinhwa‘s Junjin raised my concerns about how hard Spica will try to impress. Unfortunately, my hunch was right:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXugfiaxLYQ&w=500&h=281]

“I’ll Be There” is not exactly the average cutesy pop, but it’s not very far either. As it was presented by their company, it’s 90s pop combined with dance music and seasoned with the unnecessary, but recurring hip-hop breaks. The guitar induces a clear Spice Girls vibe and the song itself sounds familiar, like a thousand other pop songs you’ve heard before, but assembled as to give the track a life on its own. Boa, Ji-won and Na-rae take care of the melodic verses with their sweet, mellowed-out voices, while Ju-hyun handles the rapping sequences. The chorus features Boa and Bo-hyung, who flawlessly deliver an energetic and spunky message. The music is fun, cheerful and awfully generic.

The songwriting forays into the potent, but slightly monotonous world of motivational messages. A special someone is in pain and the girls plan to help that person get through his rough times. The lines are a combination of all things sweet, cheesy lines and catchphrases. Fortunately, they don’t go overboard with the sugar and avoid the risk of sounding too cute. In short, Spica asks the boy to stop acting tough and reveal his true feelings because they will be supportive:

You don’t need to act tough
I already know you’re soft at heart (yes, I know)
You waited and you tried – tell it to my heart
When you’re struggling, just tell me

As for the video, it starts with an ambulance siren wailing and a little girl that appears to be lost. She’s frightened, but then she sees the SPICA constellation (plus the name of the group) and the wall behind her gets filled with shiny stars. The video is the average set-based one, with the girls dancing in different rooms (or the dead end alley). The only thing that stands out is the club scene with a cow as the DJ? Maybe they use the cow as a symbol for patience and stability? Neah, I go for completely random. The video is colorful, with pastels that breathe some life into the white studio and their clothes. There’s no plot and I’d usually look for their choreography, but it lacks anything noteworthy. Another minus goes for how awkward the girls look. The age-appropriate image they flaunted before makes it even more painful to watch them cheerleading on bubblegum pop. Otherwise, it’s not necessarily boring, but I wouldn’t call it entertaining either.

Don’t get me wrong, the song is not bad, but its mediocrity comes as a stab in the stomach to those who have been waiting on Spica. The second-hand embarrassment comes from the impossibility of fitting everybody into the same shapes. Not all the girls and boys look good doing cute; also, only a portion of the entertainers can pull off sexy. Moreover, beyond the two concepts lies a world of possibilities. Each group or solo artist has a genre of music or an image that they tailor for themselves, so why insist on these two meaningless and dried-up-to-death images? I probably wouldn’t be so revolted if at least they looked comfortable with what they were doing. Is “I’ll Be There” an experiment or an attempt to diversify their style? No, I don’t plan on fooling myself, they resorted to a cheap tactic to win over a wider public. But hey, they had three promotional songs in one year without undergoing the “cute” or “sexy” rite of passage so I guess we should have seen that coming? Luckily, it doesn’t look like a permanent image change so it’s worth keeping them on the watchlist.

“I’ll Be there” is not completely unsatisfactory and just a little above good; like Ailee’s “Heaven,” the group’s vocals and charisma turned a rather bland song into an enjoyable listen so my final rating is 2.7/5. What about you, Seoulmates? Did Spica’s “I’ll Be There” meet your expectations?

(Loen Ent, Daum)