The Bittersweet Career Trajectory of Chocolat
What are the first things that come to mind when you first saw that name? Chances are you might have thought it was a misspelling of the much-liked dessert, or the name of one of those many girl groups that “could have been”. If you guessed the latter, then you’re correct. Happily though, with a comeback coming up soon, it’s a good time to pull them out of obscurity with a recap of their career so far.
By now, most of us have already to some extent been jaded to the sheer number of girl groups that debut each year, but when Chocolat debuted back in 2011, we were still sort of new to the whole idea of girl group saturation. It seemed back then that maybe, there would be a time when every imaginable niche could be filled. Also there was that concern that maybe there was not enough space for girl groups beyond the big names which had already debuted and found their footing long ago (think SNSD, KARA, T-ara, 2NE1 et al).
Of course, those fears of not standing out have proven unfounded with time, as shown by the number of groups doing okay post debut, like Hello Venus, but back then the fear was palpable, as shown by every girl group seemingly having a unique selling point, no matter how tenuous.
There was Coin Jackson, whose main claim to fame was R’n’B influenced pop. Didn’t really work out. Then there was Chi Chi, which claim was to out SNSD the SNSD. Two years on, SM Entertainment bosses still sleep soundly. And there were the groups with members that were unique for height, bra cup sizes and just about anything not really to do with music.
So what did Chocolat bring to this party? The unique selling point of having more than half their members being mixed race Koreans, which does lead to some expectations in terms of looks and language abilities, and of course raise some questions on their ability to integrate into what essentially is a homogenous genre, and what it means for race to be a selling point.
At the end of the day though, not too many of those questions were really answered, largely due to their modest success. Whether it was due to not being able to stand out in a crowded field, or just not enough promotions, or just lacking that last ounce of luck, we would never know. One thing for sure, the music could take some blame for it, which after some retrospective listening, appears to sit in the halfway point between “mediocre” and “acceptable, if not particularly memorable”.
The debut single, “Syndrome”, could be best described as a middling debut at best. Favouring a synth-heavy beat and vocals tuned to the last degree, it made for reasonable listening, as shown by a positive review back then (if for only the music video). Unfortunately though, the song was considered a weak link, and listening to it now just serves to show how poorly it has aged, with it being rather forgettable after a while.
Far more preferable would be their later release, “I Like It”, which favoured the harder, more intense electronic sound that was in vogue back then. That certainly did turn up the excitement factor for the group. Although an MV was never shot for this song (a quick check on their official channel shows only dance practice videos and live performances), that is not exactly a bad thing.
Rather than focusing the energy on trying to shoot another plot-free, fan service filled video, far better to just put the camera on stage to capture the dance, which does well to reflect the forceful choreography. The vocals however could still do with some work, with one or two higher notes sounding rather forced.
The most recent effort in 2012, before going into their extended hiatus, involved an image change and resulted in this late-90s pop inspired tune called “One More Day”. Running through our archives, our reviewer liked the song, saying it “worked with the girls’ vocals” better, and was positive about the use of “an actual rapper” for the rap break. However, he was not a fan of the music video at all, calling it “creepily pedophilic, cheap, and not (giving) an equal amount of attention to all members”.
So how does it stand up listening to it a year later, and together with all the prior releases? With foresight, maybe “One More Day” should have been released as the debut single, given how good it is a year on. Also, judging from how sexualized girl group MVs have gotten recently, maybe Chocolat were just unlucky to be listed as the prime offenders. Some parts of that chair choreography still makes for uncomfortable viewing now though.
Summing up Chocolat could be best done this way: Unique selling point, let down by average tunes and weak promotions, but with a surprisingly strong ability to constantly improve. It would be interesting to see how their comeback in 2013 will play out.