If an award for resilience could be given for K-pop acts, T-ara would probably take it. After the whole bullying debacle, and having performances cancelled in the wake of it, they have seemingly re-emerged unscathed within months. And what better way to show the K-pop Universe they are pleased to be back than with an up-tempo single?

While the drama version (reviewed here) is the usual Core Contents Media showcase, it’s the dance version that would probably end up being more commonly watched. Firstly, it is far shorter making it more suited for television views and secondly, for those who want to learn the dance, it is the only version to watch.

So the question is, is “Sexy Love” a worthy musical comeback, and a perfect diversion from troubles past?

The music video opens in a futuristic setting showing the members in boxes, as packaged dolls. Just then a man walks in, and wheels in Jiyeon, who is also nicely “packed.” Thankfully, just as one starts musing on doll fetishes and whether idols are also literally as packaged for the public gaze, the metaphors end there.

The members come to life, begin ripping away the covers of the boxes and begin dancing in line. Just as one thinks they would probably break free after getting pout of their boxes, the lights in the room come on. But instead of making a run for it (Tahiti style), they get together and decide to give us a little dance? Interesting.

Speaking of the dance, while it was called the robot dance, it appears to owe a fair amount to Girls’ Generation’s “Gee” (wait a minute, mannequins also came to life in that one!) and “Visual Dreams” (same slightly stilted robotic moves there). While the temptation to accuse them of copying off the SNSD dance book there, the endless number of comebacks and debuts, coupled with a finite number of dance moves or genuinely fresh ideas that work, mean that at some point of time, concepts do converge (or in Apple’s terms, infringe) on each other.

The dancing and posturing then continues for a fair while, with a few changes of scenery, from the lighted factory storage area, to a dance stage and at times, inside the packaging. Looked like the factory escape plan was called off after a while.

Outfit wise, the black and sliver ones kind of sit nicely between tasteful and adequately sexy, so not much to complain on the front. However, in an (expected) bout of CCM style experimenting, the later scenes feature what could be best described as star-themed clown costumes, which while keeping with the theme (dolls can be dressed however one wants!), certainly did few favours for the eyes. And that monstrosity known as Hyomin’s wig, well pictures speak far better.

The song is a Shinsadong Tiger composition, which means it bears most of the hallmarks of any past T-ara hit (Bo Peep, Roly Poly, Lovey Dovey). For starters, it is very catchy, with a catchy title, catchy hook, and a catchy lyrics. Basically if one has heard a past T-ara hit, it is very much out of the school of earworms. Having said that, it’s not a bad listen, especially for those who really love their songs stickier than melted candies, and it makes for nice, mind-numbing listening, especially on boring afternoons when all one wants is just music up one’s ears. Plus, that catchiness does help make for easy singing along.

If there is one thing worth criticising of the song though, it would have to be the very heavy-handed vocal processing employed on the tracks. What could have been nicely distinct voices all end up sounding like a mix of adequate, if not exceptional singers. Apart from one or two high notes in the chorus (done by either Soyeon or Eunjung), there is very little to distinguish between the different singers. It seems to be quite a shame, for it makes the girls sound like worse singers than they probably are.

The heavy processing also ruins new member Ahreum’s rapping, making it sound like an auto-tuned and vocoded mess, rather than like singing. While it might be easy to blame the poor rapping on Ahreum herself (and yes, T-ara have been known to screw up raps a fair number of times), the way her singing was processed makes it unfair to judge her on this song alone.

To sum up, with this comeback, it was as if nothing had ever changed for T-ara, with them still sticking to the same old formula that had brought them success. Nice videos with slightly iffy execution, reasonably talented people whose voices get processed to one slightly pitchy harmony and being quick to pioneer oddball trends, those are what have very much made them. Problem is, scandal or no scandal, do they really want to be remembered for being fad followers, or true trend-setters in K-pop, and being one of those groups that strangely feels less than the sum of their parts.

While part of me as a T-ara fan was glad for how quickly they had managed to brush away the scandal, part of me also wonders why CCM had to abandon what was a perfectly fine electronic-pop sound at the altar of success, for the far less musically accomplished earworms.  What CCM should have done the last few months was to reflect on changing T-ara’s musical direction for the better. And while we wait, “Sexy Love” in this version lumbers to a 2.8/5 rating.

So Seoulmates, what are your takes on T-ara’s persisting with their current musical direction?