Greatest Hits albums are very much not the norm for K-pop groups – so rare that this reviewer couldn’t think of any off the top of his head and had to resort to Google, and even then there were only a handful for the very biggest of veterans like Girls’ Generation and Big Bang. But here’s the thing, MAMAMOO have never really been a typical K-pop girl group. From their focus on vocals above all else to challenging K-pop beauty standards, this four-member group of Wheein, Hwasa, Solar and Moonbyul have never been afraid to break the mould.
The quartet’s latest release ‘I Say MAMAMOO: The Best’ encompasses all that and more, putting a fresh spin on many of their fan favourites, including ‘2021’ versions of songs like ‘Piano Man’ and the now-classic ‘Décalcomanie’. It also features a bunch of remixes that speak to the group’s identity of being experimental and unconventional. Though some, like the sublime rock version of ‘Gogobebe’, work better than others (‘Ahh Oop!’ without eSNa just doesn’t sound right).
Given all that, it’s unfortunate that the album’s lead single ‘mumumumuch’ is very much par for the course for K-pop in the 2020s. It’s yet another light-hearted, disco-tinged tune that is as pleasant as it is catchy, but nothing about the track particularly stands out. Maybe it’s something to do with the way the vocals are layered, or perhaps the overall mixing of the track, but MAMAMOO sound distant and almost disengaged from the song they’re performing – aside from that singular guttural “beast” moment from Wheein.
The record’s other new track, ‘Happier Than Ever’, fares slightly better. This mid-tempo R&B song, which recalls B-sides like ‘Rainy Season’ and ‘My Hometown’, allows the quartet to showcase their soulful vocals, but doesn’t do much beyond that. If these had been standalone releases, they might be viewed in a slightly more positive light, but being surrounded by the group’s very best and most popular songs drowns both ‘mumumumuch’ and ‘Happier Than Ever’ in MAMAMOO’s lustrous legacy.
Luckily, the pair of songs barely make a dent on this otherwise gleaming and very hefty 23-track Greatest Hits album. The only other thing about ‘I Say MAMAMOO: The Best’ that could be of worry is that it seems to signal the beginning of the end for the group. There’s not much to go on by K-pop standards, but Greatest Hits albums by boybands or girl groups in the West have more often than not been followed by a disbandment or long hiatus – The Saturdays, Girls Aloud, Backstreet Boys, the list goes on.
And while, yes, Wheein has said that she would continue on as part of MAMAMOO despite signing with another label, groups can technically stay together and not release new music for years (we’re looking at you, Girls’ Generation). Then again, MAMAMOO have never really been the type to follow the norm, so here’s hoping that the quartet continue bucking trends with more music in the near future.