T-ARA shine on much-wanted comeback release ‘Re:T-ARA’, but fail to stand out

The second generation group’s first release in four years maintains their DNA but can’t match up to their best work

It’s fair to say that the world of K-pop has changed a lot since T-ARA’s last release, the 2017 EP ‘What’s My Name?’, which was also their final record under their former agency MBK Entertainment. The second generation girl group return with more eyes on Korea’s music scene – and wider opportunities for far-reaching impact – than ever before.

‘Re:T-ARA’, the four-piece’s long-awaited comeback single album, is a shiny, sultry reunion but doesn’t quite go the extra mile to bother any of the classics in their back catalogue for their throne. Lead track ‘Tiki Taka’ is T-ARA to its core, but feels like, musically, it glides by turning points that could elevate it from good to great. Case in point is the booming climax that ends the song, which feels like it’s about to take off into a euphoric coda but instead dissipates into nothing.

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‘All Kill’ fares slightly better in terms of sonics, mixing things up with a melancholy, spaghetti western guitar line that brings drama and dynamics to the verses. It’s all going well until mid-way through the infectious chorus, when a juddering EDM drop lands out of nowhere, creating a jarring effect in a song that already has shown all the range it needs to nestle its way into fans’ hearts.

Luckily, on both tracks, the four members – Qri, Eunjung, Hyomin and Jiyeon – sound flawless, their vocals as rich and plush as ever. On ‘All Kill’, those velvet tones add even more atmosphere to their poetic lyrics, drawing you into their tragic story. “You who left under the red sunset,” purrs Jiyeon. “It’s a story that hasn’t ended yet.”

On Eunjung’s dark rap verse, Hyomin’s voice brings a feathery soft contrast, weaving in between her bandmate’s descriptive storytelling. “I’m a vagabond who’s sad from losing my way,” Eunjung declares despondently. “You lift up the gun of break-up / Aim it at me and load it again.”

The quartet are similarly doomed on “Tiki Taka”, which tells the tale of a relationship where those involved keep hurting each other “back and forth”. “I won’t be fooled anymore, such a thing like clumsy love,” assures Jiyeon. “I know you won’t be able to keep that promise.” It’s less flowery than its neighbouring track but still manages to pack a punch with T-ARA’s cool, expressive delivery.

What T-ARA’s future holds now – be that more comebacks, reunions with other past members, new contracts at an agency or another four years of silence – remains to be seen. ‘Re:T-ARA’ might not sparkle as boldly and brightly as some of their best work, but it doesn’t tarnish their legacy by any means. Should they keep working on new music, it could be just the building block they need to begin their ascent back up to their very best. No matter how much K-pop has changed in the years since we last saw T-ARA, there’s always room for that.

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