After releasing three digital singles, over a year since their debut, duo 15& has come back with their first album, Sugar. Sugar has finally given the JYP twosome they’ve needed: a definitive sound. While their first three releases were all over the musical map, Sugar took its cue off “Somebody”, creating an airy, jazzy work with some funk twists that suits both their personalities and voices perfectly.
Sugar opens with “Star”, a mid-tempo number. It really sets the tone for the album in general, with light, jazz-inspired instrumentals. It’s a very confident number, with the girls singing about their hopes for the future. The metaphor chosen is pretty clever. Usually, when musicians sing about wanting to be stars, they’re referring to being famous. 15&, though, means it literally. They compare themselves to celestial stars, burning bright for all to see, with their beauty undependant on an audience. Jimin in particular sounds phenomenal.
Next is the title track Sugar. The opening is fabulous, giving the whole song the impression of being something created at a jam session rather than a studio. “Sugar” is a continuation of the sound of “Somebody”, very sassy and very jazzy. While “Star” flaunted Jimin’s higher range, “Sugar” is perfect for Yerin‘s lower tone. It’s also extremely catchy. I fully expect anyone who hears this song to start asking their morning coffee to show them how said coffee shakes it.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pjuHcP5hsM]
“Shy Ma Boy” is up next, and dear lord, does the world need more songs like it. Contrary to what the title might make you think, it sounds nothing like Sistar19’s “Ma Boy”. Instead, it’s a very stripped down funk sound, letting the glorious vocals of 15& just shine. The lyrics are just fabulous. No sitting down for a life of unrequited love for these ladies! Instead, they ask the boy to grow a pair and confess. They know he likes them, and if he won’t admit it, they will. “Shy Ma Boy” just oozes confidence and fearlessness, made even more impressive by Jimin and Yerin’s tender ages.
What follows is “Oh My God”, another mid-tempo song. While still enjoyable, “Oh My God” lacks the punch of the previous tracks. The instrumentals seem to almost clash with the vocals. It’s also a bit more generic than the rest of the album, bar one song. It’s such a shame that the music falls flat, because lyrically, “Oh My God” is my favorite track.
I may look young but I know what I should
I may look immature but I am in love
Don’t tell me that it’s self-delusion
Like you know everything
It perfectly captures young love. 15& keep insisting that they’re in real, actual love, brushing off concerns about their young age. In reality, it’s probably not, but no one has ever managed to figure that out without getting their heart broken the first time. You just need to have the Ben & Jerry’s ready for the inevitable.
Luckily, that’s not too long a wait. “Rain & Cry” is the requisite heartbreak ballad for Sugar. Somehow, it manages to have a much more distinct sound than “Oh My God”, despite belonging to a genre where everything sounds the same. This is done by bringing the earlier jazzy tone back. It’s subtle, but gives an otherwise standard ballad a bit of freshness to it, which is expanded upon by 15&’s performances, striking the balance between technical needs and emotional performance.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zE9nJdN5n]
“Rain & Cry” may be the sad end-of-relationship song, but “Not Today, Not Tomorrow” is the hope-you-didn’t-like-those-tires song. It’s more of a jazz/funk hybrid, but it works really well. The staccato beat drives the song, as well as sounding pretty pissed. The message is pretty fabulous as well: your significant other treats you like crap? Dump them, you’re worth more than that. “Not Today, Not Tomorrow” acknowledges the difficulties of doing that, but still makes the point that you do not need someone to make you whole.
“Silly Boy” is the last of the original songs on Sugar. It’s, appropriately enough, firmly in the Silly Love Song category of music. It gives a good twist, though. When faced with a crush on a boy who doesn’t notice them, 15& don’t wallow on being unworthy or plain. No, their thoughts are effectively “Dude, you’re an idiot. Still like you, though.” “Silly Boy” is the only real bubblegum pop song on the album, but that just allows for better enjoyment, as you’re not drowning in it. Plus, it still has that 15& sass so omnipresent on the rest of the album.
“Somebody” is the first already-released song, and it actually fits pretty well, in both music and lyrics. As stated previously, Sugar’s whole sound is taken from “Somebody” over “Can’t Hide It” or “I Dream”. It’s jazzy, upbeat and confident. The lyrics are all about love, but not just any love. They want a special love, not a run-of-the-mill puppy love that others are willing to settle for.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnM-PQwLxC0]
“Can’t Hide It” really doesn’t fit. Not just on the album, although it stands out there, too. 8 tracks of jazz and funk only to be hit with a crooning R&B number is jarring, to say the least. No, what really doesn’t fit is this song and these singers. Vocally, they’re fine, better than fine. The issue is that “Can’t Hide It” is too mature for 15&. All their other songs have been good choices for a couple of 16 year-old girls. Songs about their dreams, that first relationship, et cetera. They’re young and inexperienced, and their songs reflect that. “Can’t Hide It” is a song of conviction, one that says “been there, done that” to teen angst. It doesn’t just clash with their image, it clashed with Jimin and Yerin as people. They’re girls, and “Can’t Hide It” is a song for women.
The final track is 15&’s debut, “I Dream”. Symbolically, I get why it’s last, but it was a bad choice. “I Dream” is bland. It would have been better placed earlier, as a nice lull, rather than as the final song. Remember, the goal is “leave them wanting more, then don’t give it to them”, not “This is kinda dull, and, ugh, it’s the last song.”
Sugar has a great message for young women. Way too often, music reinforces the ideal of shy girls, who do whatever they’re told and have no sense of self-worth as the ideal. Sugar tosses that out the window in favor of a new kind of girl power: confidence. It’s not on the nose, but rather, a reoccurring theme. Know what you’re worth. Don’t sell yourself short. If guy doesn’t notice you, that’s on him. These are things that no girl can ever hear often enough.
Overall, Sugar is a good album. Great without the last two songs. It’s light, fun, and nothing else out is like it. The big standouts are “Sugar”, “Star” and “Not Today, Not Tomorrow”, but all the original songs are worth listening to once.
(Images via JYP Entertainment, JYPEntertainment)