Girls’ Generation – ‘Forever 1’ review: K-pop’s most illustrious girl group prove why they’re timeless and boundless

On their first album in five years, Girls’ Generation keep their classic flavour, but elevate it with new sounds – as expected of a veteran act

Longevity isn’t a defining trait of K-pop as an industry, but whether you got into this yesterday or have been here for a hot minute, the name Girls’ Generation is inescapable. For a while there, some fans were worried that one of K-pop’s most revered acts would be relegated to the top shelves over time, but judging by the furore around their 15th anniversary, it’s clear that the K-pop halls of fame will always have a permanent shrine for SNSD.

When examined with the aforementioned lens, the motivations behind ‘Forever 1’, their seventh album and first as a full group in five years, become quite clear. It is, of course, a joyous celebration of their bond. Threaded into its sound is stark nostalgia, but also a determination to grow. Over the 10 tracks of ‘Forever 1’, SNSD revisit a lot of their classic sounds and songs and recast them into a more modern, mature image, creating a charming medley of the past and the present, pulling on the strings that made them so likeable in the first place.

Right out of the gate, they shoot the aforementioned nostalgia into our veins with ‘Forever 1’. Written and produced by Kenzie – who penned their debut single ‘Into The New World’ – the track is the uplifting assurance that every Sone has been hoping for all these years. As harmonious choruses soar over a classic pop-sound, we see the members of SNSD thriving in their present solo careers, but still coming back home to the stage together as one – a literal full-circle moment where their individual paths drive them towards a collective goal.

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Some of the best offerings on the album are those that list the group members in their credits, proof of how their individual journeys enhance the SNSD sound. The R&B-dance number ‘Seventeen’, written by Sooyoung and Tiffany, is a cinematic experience. With heavy drums and playful piano melodies, the song does justice to the giddy moments when you feel attraction swirling, making you feel adventurous and younger than ever.

More notable, however, is the stark contrast it strikes with ‘Villain’, which was also written by Sooyoung and Tiffany. The wholesome piano melodies on ‘Seventeen’ are replaced by heavy bass and drums. With the experts at the reins, we go from juvenile charm to seductive danger – a delicious sonic whiplash and a taste of how Girls’ Generation take listeners through a spectrum of emotions within the same album.

Nothing, however, will prepare you for the ride that is ‘You Better Run’. The track shares an electro-pop base with its 2010 predecessor ‘Run Devil Run,’ but that’s where the similarity ends. While the threat and hunger on ‘Run Devil Run’ was somewhat smooth around the edges, ‘You Better Run’ shows none of its restraint. A choppy progression is held together by booming beats and electronic loops, over which SNSD layer delightfully versatile vocals, going within seconds from an almost lazy delivery to rushed declarations – they promise to end this “devil’s” reign, and you believe them wholeheartedly.

Segueing from that unbridled power and confidence into what can only be described as the shimmering sound of summer is jarring – but only a little. Almost as quickly as ‘Villain’ and ‘You Better Run’ put us on edge, ‘Closer’ soothes us with its nu-disco inspirations. As the exhilarating piano riffs transition into steady measured beats, the tension bleeds out little by little.

It serves as the perfect bridge between the taut energy of the more hard-hitting tracks and the soft, lulling effect of ‘Mood Lamp’. Like its namesake, the R&B track – characterised by soft guitar and near-muffled beats – never overpowers in its intensity. Even when SNSD’s collective vocals ring out on the chorus, they’re controlled and calculated, working in tandem with the slow arrangement rather than cutting through the veneer and breaking the spell. They carry this vibe seamlessly over to ‘Summer Night’. The mid-tempo track features bouncy synths à la ‘Closer’, but unlike the latter – where the frenetic pace sets the stage for a summertime party – this one is more languid, like walking down the beach at night as the festivities wind down.

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As if right on cue, the dreamscape introduced during ‘Closer,’ ‘Mood Lamp,’ and ‘Summer Night’ pulls us in deeper on ‘Freedom’. We’ve gone from disco to the distinct notes of synth-pop, fit for the serious yet exciting realisation that love truly sets you free. While the diversity of sounds on ‘Forever 1’ is testament enough to SNSD’s command of their craft, it’s the little things – like the impressive ad libs on ‘Freedom’ – that reinforce their legacy act status. They know just what it takes to give a relatively simple song a unique touch.

That’s why you don’t mind much when they return to some tried and tested sounds on ‘Lucky Like That’ and ‘Paper Planes’. Both tracks lean heavily into their conversant pop sound, but SNSD wield their vocal work as an additional instrument here, giving otherwise familiar arrangements a breath of fresh air.

It’s also why ‘Forever 1’ sounds like a fitting album at this point in Girls’ Generation’s career. Fifteen years into one of the most illustrious runs in K-pop, ‘Forever 1’ could have been a collection of their usual crop of sounds – trading on nostalgia would have been the easy thing to do. On ‘Forever 1’, however, SNSD choose to retain their old flavour while still expanding their sonic palette on almost every song – not only celebrating the classics, but also providing perhaps the most vibrant picture of themselves as a collective yet. Their willingness to evolve is what makes them timeless. Acts may come and go, but Girls’ Generation is forever.

Details

Girls Generation Forever 1 album art
  • Release date: August 5
  • Record label: SM Entertainment
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