I don’t get it. Prior to its latest release, Hello Venus has released just one MV and promoted two singles since it debuted with “Venus” in May, and yet it’s considered to be amongst the best debuts of the year as evident in the many year-end polls floating around, even garnering nominations for best rookie girl group from Mnet Asian Music Awards and Seoul Music Awards.

In a year where rookies have fought vigorously to stay relevant by making comeback after constant comeback, Hello Venus has generated enough hype and staying power despite limited rounds of promotions and being without one of its members due to injury. Whereas groups like B.A.P (five promoted singles) and Spica (one pre-debut single and four promoted singles) have set a new standard for the number of promotions possible within a single year, Hello Venus has been promoting at a more reasonable pace and relying on its debut hype to carry it through 2012. Five months since promoting its digital repackaged single (which puzzlingly came unaccompanied by a MV), “Like a Wave,” it has recently returned as a full six-member group with “What Are You Doing Today?” Was it well worth the wait?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1pM6FB6u_4&w=560&h=315]

Not really. It’s not that I don’t want to like Hello Venus; I really do want to like it. I generally enjoy the products put out by Pledis Entertainment. One thing Pledis does really well is create well-defined and original concepts for each of its artists. Of the most memorable are After School’s drum line concept in “Bang,” its tap dance concept in “Shampoo,” Nu’est’s anti-bullying concept in “Face,” Orange Caramel’s table tennis concept in “Lipstick,” and Son Dambi’s crazy lady who dances with aliens concept in “Dripping Tears.” Creativity and originality are two things which I have associated with and taken for granted when it comes to Pledis artists. And thus, I’ve discovered the origins of my disappointment in regards to Hello Venus.

Before we get to its latest release, let’s talk about the misfires from its debut single, “Venus.” A lack of originality and imagination seriously hinders the song. Parts of the chorus and verses consist of a direct sampling from After School’s Japanese single, “Rambling Girls.” In addition, the “I’m your Venus” lyric, while catchy and enchanting, is so obviously inspired by a CF soundtrack for a popular razor line. Copyright issues aside, the track’s unoriginal composition and chant-like chorus makes it feel like a forgettable theme song for a TV commercial. Furthermore, a concept based on Venus, the Roman goddess of love, was already done to much greater avail by Shinhwa in its long-awaited return (also entitled “Venus”) just a month before Hello Venus’ debut. Given that Pledis had no control over this last factor, these blatant knock-offs of previously done elements couldn’t help but make Hello Venus seem like a bunch of unoriginal copycats at the time of its debut.

Pledis has a track record for carving out highly discernible concepts within an established niche. For example, Orange Caramel established a unique identity for itself by redefining aegyo with its exaggeration of child-like mannerisms and cosplay to go along with a theme of love and romance within the surreal wonderlands depicted in its concepts. Hello Venus also has a running theme throughout its releases, but its concepts fail to really stand out amongst the vast sea of aegyo girl groups. The members are energetic, spunky, and confident, but so are many other girl groups out there. The likes of Dal Shabet and Fiestar immediately come to mind but I’m positive that there are quite a few more. The point is that aegyo has been overly done and unless groups start going to extremes like Orange Caramel, subtle differences aren’t going to make enough of a statement to allow rookie groups to distinguish themselves.

With that said, let’s explore the concept of its latest release. The light colors and quirky outfits sported are much like the fashion forward aesthetics of f(x), but much more girly. Combined with a rollerblading concept, this MV comes with more specificity than the one for “Venus,” yet its overall theme is still far from inspired. Like many aegyo groups, Hello Venus expresses the angst of a girl wanting a guy to like her. The lyrics of the song actually convey an intention to act upon such desires by simply calling him as the members are seen doing in the MV using the latest wireless cup phones. Like “Venus,” the colors are bright and alluring, the mood is fun and light, and the group reflects a feeling of genuine joy.

Another element that’s transferred from Hello Venus’ debut is the sound. The thing that jumps out about “What Are You Doing Today?” is that it’s addictively upbeat. One commonality between all of Hello Venus’ releases is that its music possesses a lively energy which does not fail to captivate the audience’s attention. Although there are spots where the high pitch aegyo voices get overdone, the overall sound is light and easy on the ears. The most outstanding vocal element of the group comes from rapper, Lime. Her delivery is smooth and clear, and most importantly, it isn’t done in an annoying aegyo squeal. Unfortunately, her rap verse is shared with Yooyoung who contrasts Lime’s natural delivery with a deliberate aegyo rap. Overall, it’s an enjoyable listen and a slight upgrade from its first two singles.

“What Are You Doing Today?” brings back the same rag tag team of Jo Young-soo, Kim Tae-hyun, and Kim Eana – the trio that produced “Venus.” It’s an odd combination because of each person’s diverse industry affiliations. Jo Young-soo has worked with many CCM artists, most notably with T-ara, Davichi, and Yangpa, crafting slow and sentimental pieces. He’s made a living off of ballads, being the primary producer for SG Wannabe and more recently for 2BiC. Kim Tae-hyun’s resume consists of creating sexy hits for girl groups, such as After School’s “Bang” and T-ara’s “I’m Going Crazy Because of You.” Kim Eana is K-pop’s most touted lyricist, having written songs of substance with mature themes for Brown Eyed Girls and Sunny Hill. For Hello Venus, she brings her experience of writing pre-adult lyrics for IU, creating themes intended for younger audiences. Why it takes two hit-makers and a renowned lyricist to create average bubblegum fare is beyond me, but it does show the level of investment Pledis has put into Hello Venus.

In conclusion, despite my pessimism over where Hello Venus fits within the overall spectrum of aegyo, it does have a few selling points which may possibly explain its hype. Its major strength is through its cohesion of concept and sound. While neither is outstanding or mind-blowing, they gel to form a neatly packaged product that’s meant to cater to a demographic whose hunger for aegyo girl groups is never satisfied. After all, the reason there are so many identically similar aegyo girl groups is because there is such a huge market demand for them. As oversaturated as the industry is in this category, companies are restlessly searching for the right formula to create the next major breakthrough which will propel their resident aegyo girl group into superstardom status, as exemplified by SNSD’s big break with “Gee.” Hello Venus is Pledis’ attempt at striking gold in the aegyo lottery.

While certain rookies this year have chosen to put out release after release in hopes of expediting the breakthrough process, Pledis has played it safe by pacing Hello Venus’ releases more moderately. This is very telling of Pledis as a company that is able to secure profits without relying too heavily on any one artist. Unlike B.A.P and Spica, Hello Venus needs not to rake in tremendous profits for its company to grow. Its promotional strategy is much similar to that of SM Entertainment’s Exo which has promoted only one official single since its debut to go along with two pre-debut singles, and yet it’s a heavy favorite to topple the rookie awards this year. More established companies simply enjoy the luxury of building hype and holding off on a group’s comeback to increase the tension of anticipation. It’s good to see that Hello Venus does not participate in the fury of promotions we’ve seen from rookies and veterans alike this year and instead focus on establishing solidarity of concept to build its reputation in the industry.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

What are your thoughts about Hello Venus’ promotional strategy? Is it worth the hype? Who is your favorite female rookie group of the year?

(chHelloVenus, Images via Pledis Entertainment, LOEN Entertainment)