There are few groups who have managed to stick with a sound for five years, but Oh My Girl is one of those rarities. Debuting five years ago, they quickly established their music as dreamy, airy synthpop. Over the last half decade, they have become the undisputed masters of delicate, sugary pop music while still managing to grow and mature as artists. However, five years is a long time in the music industry, and while their singles may have always stuck to their lane, Oh My Girl’s b-sides have let them branch out into music that is more grounded, more organic, or more biting.
From their debut ep Oh My Girl, “Hot Summer Nights” is, in many ways, similar to their usual title tracks. However, they have swapped the electronica for organic instrumentation, building on an acoustic guitar and drums (or at least drum machines). This gives their lighter vocals something sturdier to play against, and infuses the track with a sense of warmth and ease. It causes the playful thoughts of summer love to come across as a snapshot of a summer romance in progress rather than a flight of fancy. It allows for a sense of genuineness that Oh My Girl can sometimes lack.
Closing out their second EP, Closer, is “Round About”, a frenetic internal war between insecurity and inner confidence. Oh My Girl perpetually dart back and forth between complete confidence as they pursue their crush and the utter inability to follow up on those moments of ego. This is all backed by an absolutely slamming electric guitar riff; bouncy, infectious, and with touches of 70s punk crunchiness. Of course, the bridge is the clincher, with the instrumentation dropping out to allow Jiho and Sunghee to flaunt their vocals before the chorus slams back in, full blast, because they might not have the guy, but they have their girls, and that’s just as good.
That said, girls come with their own drama. “Knock Knock,” from Pink Ocean, is all about the drama of best friends. A pop/R&B crossover, “Knock Knock” is a throwback to the brighter sounds of 90s Mariah Carey. It is a song that feels comforting and familiar, something that Oh My Girl’s impressive harmonies only enhance. Then the lyrics come to undercut the relaxed vibe as cattiness and jealousy take center stage. Oh My Girl is steeling themselves to confront their best friend about ditching them for a new friend, but the circumstances are ambiguous. They might be correct, or it might be paranoia and projecting their own issues onto a potential new friend, with no definitive answer given either way.
Coloring Book was Oh My Girl’s first release after the departure of JinE, but they did not miss a beat. “Real World” is the antithesis of Oh My Girl’s typical track, which is rather appropriate for a group whose music is often described as “dreamy”. The artfully constructed synths are thrown out in favor of a rougher, almost jangling production. It pulls from mid-2000s pop rock, with emphasis placed pickups on the guitar and more overlap in the layering for a fuller sound. The content, too, inverts Oh My Girl’s dreaminess. They have always excelled at wanting, at the fantasy, but “Real World” is about the moment when you actually get to have. The giddiness and disbelief at getting what you want when you never truly considered that an option are captured perfectly.
The Fifth Season was my pick for the best album of 2019, so of course there are a couple tracks listed here. First is “Checkmate”, Oh My Girl’s take on the Latin trend. Here, we see Oh My Girl entering a mutual seduction, comparing the push and pull between them to a chess game. Anchored by a classic latin horn riff, the playful nature of the track belies the power play beneath it. Both parties might be working towards the same goal, but there is absolutely going to be a winner and a loser, and the sharp iciness of the vocal delivery makes it clear that it won’t be the ladies. Yet pitched against the groove, it is equally clear that the battle is what makes the entire venture worth Oh My Girl’s time; placing the fun in the chase as much as the victory.
Rounding out the list is “Vogue”. Sleek and seductive, “Vogue” is the dark mirror of Oh My Girl’s discography. Carefully constructed synthpop; each layer placed with precision. The delicate vocals are given just enough support from the instrumentation and placed at the front of the mix to allow the emotive delivery to hit with full strength. “Vogue” is airy and feminine, bordering on ethereal. But rather than true love and sweet dreams, it’s a siren’s song, beckoning the listener to fall under their spell. The vicious undercurrent is made plain; Oh My Girl promising manipulation and pain with such glamour and excitement that whatever happens will obviously be worth the price.
Over the last five years, Oh My Girl have shown they are the masters of their brand of feminine synthpop. But they have also shown that they can do much more, with genre, content, and even tone, and will hopefully continue to grow as artists for the next five years.