The viral 2018 hit “BBoom BBoom” was a turning point that brought an entirely unexpected success for the then-unknown girl group, Momoland. Every comeback since has been unable to escape mention of the infectious song. This is especially so considering their subsequent comebacks relied on repetitive brass beat drops at the chorus. Of course, this has not gone unnoticed by K-pop fans, who often criticize the group for milking their viral formula dry, even going so far as mocking them of self-plagiarising.

However, most people fail to acknowledge the conceptual shift of the group. In some of the best comebacks of 2019, girl groups such as Twice and CLC find themselves musically and conceptually maturing. While Momoland are taking a much more gradual approach, there has also been an obvious shift for the group this year — away from blatant carnival fun towards a more retro, glam and sophisticated look and feel. While “Baam” was a clear follow-up to “BBoom BBoom,” “I’m So Hot” and “Thumbs Up” deviated from their predecessors with the increased use of harmonies and more sleek styling.

“Thumbs Up” features the Momoland girls simultaneously playing two sets of characters: quirky express delivery workers and glamorous showgirls. The MV’s bright colors, use of green screens, and the rather random inclusion of the animated penguin character Pingu and two kids contribute to the familiarity of a loud, crazy, and colorful Momoland MV. Although this is not the first time Momoland’s videos feature this, the shout out to their large fanbase in Southeast Asia is also an endearing touch to thank and acknowledge fans.

The girls are now fiercer and more confident, and Hyebin, in particular, is clearly feeling the sexier approach to their performances. With just six members left from their original lineup of nine, more underrated members such as Nayun and Ahin get more noticeable chances to shine. The individuality of all the girls can finally be felt, something that seemed harder in previous comebacks, where Nancy and JooE took center stage and most of the other members became victim to uneven screen time.

As the MV progresses, their tasks as express delivery girls only increase in difficulty. They are seen beating the obstacles and reaching new heights each time, both literally and metaphorically. They climb up countless flights of stairs and travel to the South Pole to deliver to the satisfied customer Pingu. At the end of the video, their final package is sent to the moon via a shipping rocket.

In this sense, Momoland let viewers know that they are very human and not robots with no room for error, though promising to always deliver what people come for eventually. This could very well be a symbolic representation of the group overcoming the challenges they are constantly met with. It is also a nod to them meeting expectations of the general public, an audience who very much associate them with the song’s sound.

As female empowerment becomes increasingly prominent in recent girl group title tracks, it is great to see Momoland keep up with their streak of self-love anthems after the sleek, swing-influenced “I’m So Hot.” Although the quality of the lyrics in both title tracks leaves much to be desired, it is fitting of Momoland’s brand of wacky, guilty-pleasure fun.

However, that is not to say that everything about the song is flawlessly executed. JooE’s rap feels forced and pays an unnecessary amount of homage to all their recent comebacks. At the very least, rapper Daisy‘s departure from the group meant that the 2-part rap is changed up slightly with the incorporation of vocals from Ahin. The song also nearly tires its hook, but manages to be saved by the adlibs and belts by Jane at the final choruses. Her vocal potential has finally been showcased as of late, albeit only after the loss of several core members.

Most disappointing of all, however, is the song’s choreography. Simple and repetitive, the choreography was clearly made to be viral, copied and covered by even the layman just like with other Momoland title tracks. With fewer members, the choreography could not even be spiced up with the use of creative formations. The result is the girls being clearly limited and held back by their dance. This shortcoming is especially unfortunate since the song had the sound and styling that could potentially incorporate dance genres such as swing, vogueing and waacking.

Fans that listen to more than Momoland’s title tracks will know that their albums do include quite a bit of musical variety and versatility. In their ballads, the members’ sweet vocals shine through, which is something that is often overshadowed in the punchy, instrumental hooks of their title tracks. If the vocal and dance skills of the members are better utilized in future title tracks, it would be easier for Momoland to embody a distinct sound while not losing their musical identity.

For a group from a small company, it is understandable that they would take fewer risks, and move away from a tried-and-tested formula at a slower rate. However, in order to not alienate or bore present fans, the group should consider avoiding single albums like with “Thumbs Up,” and instead release at least mini-albums to provide some variety for their fans through their b-sides.

Though the group ironically does not take an express route to find a sound that can sway critics and stick with their signature sound, “Thumbs Up” shows that they are getting there slowly but surely, and there is clearly more to come for the group.

Ultimately, whether you are a fan of their sound or not, Momoland fill a gap in the K-Pop industry for guilty pleasure earworms that will stay in your head. Despite being a rather young group, their career has been full of tumultuous ups and downs, and it is rather inspiring to see these girls bounce back with unabashed positivity each time. All in all, though not drastically so, “Thumbs Up” is a step in the right direction for the group if viewers do not dismiss it just for its chorus hook. For that, Momoland deserves a “Thumbs Up,” or maybe multiple.

(YouTube. Images via MLD Entertainment.)