With over ten years of experience in being a performer, her extensive discography — Fannie gave us the essentials in our most recent exchange, and her status as one of K-pop biggest veterans (at only the young age of 25!), it’s easy to say that BoA has become such an irreplacable and influencial leading figure in K-pop. With her growing presence in the K-pop scene as of late through her recent variety appearances and her judging of SBS‘s K-pop Star, there was much anticipation for BoA’s Korean comeback, her first Korean effort since 2010 with “Copy & Paste.”

Said comeback with her seventh studio album Only One had BoA digging back into her roots a bit and shed most of the glitz and glam of previous effort Hurricane Venus. Gone are the flashy outfits and aggressive electronica of Hurricane Venus as Only One featured a lot more casual attire and a much more serene sound. And I don’t mind this at all as while I recognize Hurricane Venus as one heck of a quality album, I preferred her less trendy sound closer to her earlier days.

Starting out as a performer at only the age of thirteen, it’s blatant BoA has grown a lot not only as a person, but as an artist. That growth can definitely be traced in her discography as while Only One features a sound closer to her younger days, it still maintains a maturity and confidence that reflects on BoA’s experience. While the sound is familiar from the sound BoA originally presented to the Korean public as a girl — a demographic BoA has grown detached with due to her foreign promotions, Only One now presents BoA as a woman with both wisdom and experience to share to her juniors. Furthermore, with BoA getting more creative control as her seniority and longevity can only speak for itself, it’s easier to see what she wants out of herself, with this album being a reflection of that, her personality, goals and talents.

The album starts off with title track “Only One.” “Only One” is a dreamy mid-tempo, R&B-influenced track written and composed by BoA herself, and it has an air of wistfulness and reflectiveness that captures the entire essence of the album. The soothing and light instrumental is simply gorgeous, complementing BoA’s relatively thin voice perfectly with its light feel. Consisting of a delicate piano loop, stable beats, and tasteful use of acoustic guitar, it gives a feel of reminiscence and longing without sounding too depressed which is perfect for the message and feel of the song. While her range may be limited in comparison to some other singers out there, BoA definitely makes the best with it with her wonderful control, and it definitely shows in this track. It isn’t the most vocally-taxing song but what little vocal runs included go perfectly with the song, and BoA’s emotional delivery is similarly impressive.

The only noticeable blemish about the song is that it lacks a middle-eight, but it manages to avoid sounding repetitive due to the well-transitioned changes in pace. It might leave some feeling like they missed something in the song, but the lack of a true climax fits with the melodic nature of “Only One” and its theme. Also, it allows one to keep listening to the song without really getting tired of it. Using the song as a title single was definitely unexpected, but it manages to stand out with its airy feel, making its use successful.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQjovLrnvVo&w=560&h=315]

Next track “The Shadow” is a dance track that picks up the pace a bit. The complex track is full of layering and unexpected tempo changes that make for an interesting listen that manages to keep your attention throughout. The mood shifts and vocal experimentation in BoA’s voice work greatly with the changes in tempo and add little spice and sass to the otherwise forgettable song. The verses manage to build a rhythmic feel before the pre-chorus builds up an undeniable heat that unfortunately sizzles with the slightly lackluster breathless chorus. The bridge with BoA rap-whispering was an interesting addition that I didn’t expect, and while I have mixed feelings about it, it served its purpose in keeping the gritty song from getting repetitive.

Following uptempo “The Shadow,” we slow down again with the ballad “Hope.” The instrumental intro is very reminiscent of the very distinctive sound of Kelly Clarkson‘s “Already Gone” and Beyonce‘s “Halo.” Following the intro, the pace slows a bit by the start of the soothing verses, slowly picking up again by the pre-chorus before the song climaxes in the emotionally powerful chorus. Furthermore, the bridge of the song was just spectacular, fully showcasing BoA’s vocal capabilities and emotional delivery, which is similarly strong, her voice carrying strength and passion even in the quietest moments. Hope” is a slow, yet fairly busy song with a layered orchestral sound. A stable drum beat and minimal piano melody package the track, but while the instrumental can tend to be a bit busy and distracting at times, it manages to work with BoA, picking up when she does and slowing down when she does.

“Not Over U” follows, and while it has its moments, the song just ended up directionless despite so much potential. Starting off with warm acoustics, the sound is later added onto with song intriguing synths and later a drum beat during the very appealing verses. However, the instrumental starts to get really messy in the transitions to the chorus, and the chorus itself doesn’t manage to clean up its sound either despite showing some promise. Also, the end transition from the chorus back to the verses seemed abrupt, and it sort of disrupted the flow of the song. But while the instrumental was somewhat confusing, at least it worked pretty well with BoA’s voice, which sounded very sultry and dynamic in the song. There were some really good moments in the song, but as great as those moments were, the end result ended up being confusing and fell short.

“The Top” is next and keeps the fast-paced and alluring vibe of “Not Over U.” But while “Not Over U” sounded confusing, it at least experimented with sounds. Unlike the previous songs, “The Top” sounded rather safe and tame. But while it didn’t really present anything new, little details manage to keep one’s attention. When added by BoA’s charismatic and dynamic singing, it makes for a more cohesive and catchy listen. The rap break and quirky synths in particular were intriguing, but they don’t really manage to save the song from falling into filler-zone.

Contrary to what the very excited exclamation marks suggest, next track “Mayday! Mayday!” is actually a thought-provoking ballad. The instrumental is again, fairly dynamic for a ballad, as it features multiple sets of strings including electric guitar and a very stable beat. While I would have preferred a simpler sound for the song to better showcase BoA’s vocals, it still fittingly stays quiet for the verses before picking up at the chorus along with BoA’s voice. And talking about BoA’s vocals, once again, she delivers as she’s able to convey the nostalgic feeling of sadness the song speaks of. Particularly vocally memorable was the last chorus, as it features some great vocal runs, harmonies, and vocal layering that really created a climax for the song.

The last song of the relatively short album is “One Dream” featuring SHINee‘s Key and Super Junior-M‘s Henry. If it sounds familiar to anyone, it also served as the main theme of SBS’s K-pop Star. The boys’ rapping sounded energetic and fun in the track, adding some diversity and youthful edge to the album. BoA handles the chorus very airily, soothing a bit of the edge Key and Henry brought and transitioning everything together. The song is notably cheerier than the rest of the album, but it doesn’t sound too of of place as there’s a similar dreaminess and confidence to it, making it serve as a happy ending of sorts to the generally bittersweet feel of the album. Furthermore, the R&B elements present also help blend the song with the ones before it, with said influences added onto by a particularly triumphant-sounding electric guitar. My only complaint with the track is its abrupt end as the song could have gone on and build itself a bit further, ending the album with one big bang, but missed the chance to do so.

While it may be one of her more minimalistic comebacks in both sound and content, the minimal approach allowed BoA to be seen more of an artist with her own vision rather than a manufactured performer as she’s been called countless times before. As said by herself, she really didn’t create the album to try to please the entire public; instead she wanted it to make it for herself and those who can relate to it. of the songs don’t follow the trends that BoA’s own company, SM Entertainment, is notorious for starting, and BoA sings with a comfort and assurance that comes with having creative control, with the message of the album solely hers to deliver. The slower and the mid-tempo tracks carrying stories to tell are the main highlight of this more tranquil and comfortable album with the faster-paced dance tracks, while sufficient and — for the most part — wonderfully executed, sounding slightly passive.

Despite being a reflection of sorts of the past, Only One can serve as a start to a more in-control and more confortable era for BoA. While she’s been growing as an artist for years now, this release can only keep the momentum going in allowing BoA to grow even further, now with more control in how she wants to grow and what she wants to grow into. Overall, Only One just proves that BoA is here to stay. It has its flaws, but it’s hopefully a gateway for more great things to come.

Ultimately, Only One gets a 4.1/5 out of me. But what did you think Seoulmates? Did you think BoA’s Only One lived up to the expectations that comes with being a figure as big as herself? Or did you think it was too minimalistic for your liking? And also do you think BoA is here to stay for much longer? Make sure to leave your thoughts below!

(SM Entertainment, Naver, MrEverythingKpop)