20130527_seoulbeats_100_1100%, a T.O.P Media rookie group produced by Shinhwa‘s Andy Lee, debuted with their first single album We, 100% last September, which wasn’t too bad for their first outset. Their next release was the typical “Bad Boy” (see what I did there?) to “flower boy” concept changer through “Guy Like Me,” which didn’t fair as well on the charts as their first single. However, I personally came across 100% not by their original singles, but by their plethora of covers of K-pop’s hits, from “I’ll Be Back” to “Mirotic.” These covers have made the world well aware that 100% is not a black hole of talent, which is nice considering that we have half-a-million rookies to sift through nowadays. At minimum, they have certainly made me more interested in what they had to offer in original material. I finally get the chance to experience them live, as 100% now returns with their first mini album, Real 100%, and their next promoted single, “Want U Back.” The name alone is enough to tell us 100% clearly wants us back, but let’s find out as to whether we want to reciprocate that. And no, just promoting “Chocolate Abs” is not going to cut it.

Real 100% begins with an gorgeous intro section that I really wish had been seamlessly tied into the following song, because after the one minute or so of “Real 100%,” the actual song, “Want U Back,” paled against the intro.  “Real 100%” is basically an a piano and synth extravaganza that is better heard than described. It’s based upon the underlying instrumentation of “Want U Back” and even ends with the first few seconds of the actual song.  This actually makes the beginning of “Want U Back” somewhat awkward when listening to the album continuously, because the intro seems redundant.

20130526_seoulbeats_100_wantuback“Want U Back” is your standard K-pop electronica affair, packing the same bright punch and grand instrumentation that we’ve seen from songs like UKiss‘s “Neverland,” and 100%’s own “We, 100%.” Being as generic as it is, it’s hard to not focus on the shortcomings of the song, since really all you can focus on given that there is nothing else particularly exciting. That’s not to say that the song is actually terrible; there are some nice elements in the song, and I did like the vocals during the bridge and closing parts of the song (props to Rokhyun and Hyukjin there, who vocally are 90% of 100% and bring 100% of the power).  “Want U Back” is best described as a very safe song, staying within the confines of basic boy band K-pop and consisting of lot of vocal processing and a snappy hook. 100% is very obviously trying to appeal to the masses with the inoffensive “Want U Back,” and for their minimal investment, they’re only going to get minimal returns.

The MV doesn’t do anything spectacular either, focusing its energy on the same visual tones that I think I’ve seen 100 times before.  A deep blue palette is the basis for the MV, with black and white costumes I think I’ve seen before, and a out of place storyline. To be honest, I don’t even know what the storyline is actually trying to get at.  The MV opens with a couple parting ways in the morning which seems to be after an interesting night.  There’s an awkward scene with the two of them holding hands in a bed of roses, and then we see them crossing paths in an dark alleyway a couple of times, passing what looks to be film. At the climax, both are armed and meet in the same bedroom as before (are they spies or something?).  The girl pulls a gun to the guy’s head who then is promptly flipped over by the guy.  The gun somehow disappears and I think they end up sleeping together, though I’m not too sure. The MV’s plotline closes with the lead guy crushing film in his hand. If this MV is supposed to be some strange form of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” it’s not being very clear about it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxXCVxFZf2Q]

Aesthetically, the MV is a conglomeration of ideas that don’t quite fit together. It’s as though the director decided to make a dance based MV and then realized half-way that he had to actually put in a “storyline” and just threw together what he/she thought sounded cool.  The scene with the roses visually clashed with all the bluish hues of the rest of the MV, and the storyline had a rustic/vintage tone that fight against the modern/futuristic dance shots. However, the dance sets are as crisp as the boxes you find over at SM Entertainment on a regular basis, and the lighting is decent enough that it’s not problematic. As for the fifteen seconds of impossible to see shirtless that I have a feeling that everyone is dying for me to talk about, well, I frankly found it hilarious. I mean, if you’re going to put in a shirtless shot, then just be forward with the fanservice! Mixing it up with the strange mustard color shirt scenes and strobe lighting does nothing to satisfy fangirls. Just sayin’.

Only U” is basically summery filler (though not too bad for filler), so I’m going to move on to “Flavor,” a surprisingly interesting uptempo RnB ballad. What’s unfortunate is that this song is 90% Hyukjin and Rockhyun as well, which is not so good if you’re trying to promote seven members, as great as the duo sounds. “Flavor” may have been a unexpectedly easy listen, but I would be kidding myself to imply that there was anything innovative about the song. Despite that, I think that “Flavor” is at least worth a couple listens, though I don’t think it will become a staple in our playlists.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5CmJBuZw8E]

The final song on the mini is “Why” which may be the best non-instrumental song in the album. (My heart lies with “Real 100%,” by the way.) I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my musical weakness lies in retro-esque songs, and “Why” is certainly no exception to that. “Why” is also the most fluid of the songs on the mini when it comes to transitions from vocals to rap and back, which scores extra points with me. The song doesn’t boast stellar composition or anything, but I like the feeling of effortlessness that I get out of the song.  There’s a bit of harmonization to boot, and the song doesn’t sound as forced as the rest of the album. The difference between “Why” and the rest of the album is that “Why” sounds like 100% is just having fun singing the song, while the rest sounds like they’re putting too much effort into sounding good.

That self-aware kind of music isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is going prevent an album from rising from being just “average.”  In fact, that’s what Real 100% is to me: an average, but solid, effort that doesn’t try to flex 100% muscles. (Musical muscles, that is. They do plenty of abdominal and bicep flexing.)  All and all, I would say that it’s worth giving Real 100% a chance if this is your first exposure to 100%, for it is a considerable improvement from their debut work. If you’re already a fan, you’ll definitely like the mini (which I don’t even think I need to say).  But for those who seek intriguing K-pop releases like I do, Real 100% is not quite what you’re looking for.

As to whether this mini is representative of the “Real 100%” however, only time will tell.

Score: 3.6/5, for an average and inoffensive album gets an average and inoffensive score.

(T.O.P Media, YouTube [1] [2])