When it comes to female idols going solo from their groups, few can claim quality quite like Secret. Leader Hyosung has been not only been redefining what it means to be sexy but also innovating with her song choices. Lead vocalist Song Jieun, back on her own now with “Bobby Doll”, has had one of the strongest solo careers to date for a female group idol. Her work with the Latin genre, seen here again, and on “Pretty Age 25” (one of the best tracks of 2014) has been absolutely stellar.
Now back with much worn doll concept, Jieun is probably hoping to build a proper solo career for herself given Secret’s lack of promotion. Her skill as a vocalist is not in doubt but does she have the songs and taste to back it up?
The doll concept is an interesting choice for an artist like Jieun. I would have thought that older idols would be inclined to avoid the misogynistic connotations unless a commentary was involved. With “Bobby Doll” it’s hard to see where she falls in the argument.
Written and produced by Park Suseok and Park Eunwoo (regulars of TS Entertainment and the OST world) “Bobby Doll” is a Latin-inspired track that showcases Jieun’s impressive vocal range. The main guitar riff is evocative all by itself, creating a sensual but precise atmosphere. It’s carried by a strong jazz beat and eventually reinforced with similar electric guitar riffs and small chime details. The production is a great example of less is more as the song is still busy and exciting without being overcrowded.
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It’s Jieun’s voice that moves the song around in the absence of any big musical transitions. This makes the first listen a slight disappointment as the chorus takes its time to properly reveal itself. The first chorus seems underwhelming as Jieun doesn’t belt out the big vocals, preferring more rhythmic repetitions of “I’m your Bobby Doll.” However when it moves back into the verse the song slows down revealing Jieun’s many talents;this transition is also helped by a great drum beat that mimics the sound of a wind up doll. First is her usual beautiful voice, then a sort of rap/singing that hits precise marks with her higher pitches. She also goes down to a whisper as if adding a whole different person to the mix. Here the tension is created that makes the second chorus so much more effective. From there the song holds the sensuous but dark feeling, with Jieun’s “la la las” adding a creepy element to the doll concept.
Lyrically this concept is approached in a disappointingly generic fashion. It positions Jieun as the doll, begging to be looked at. She brags about her looks, long straight legs, my skin looks like honey.” Throughout the whole song she is only ever an object desiring a man. The title also seems to be a way of just avoiding copyright issues from Barbie. It even references Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” which I think is a great touch and could be seen as the self-aware moment that unlocks this song.
The music video presents an opposite reading of the doll theme though. Directed by Zany Bros (makers of many K-pop videos including from this year 4minute’s “Hate” and Gfriend’s “Rough”) it again shows Jieun as a doll yet works to criticise the one who looks at her.
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It doubles down on the objectification by having the main creepy male character looking at Jieun through a series of cameras. She sings and dances to his great pleasure on screen. A clear metaphor for how female idols are used and looked at it in the K-pop industry. What’s most interesting is the ending and how it seems aware of how using this concept is almost impossible to be really critical. After seeing herself in the mirror Jieun can finally escape from her voyeuristic prison.
The mirror is an important image. It could mean that finally being allowed to see herself in this position she understands how to stop it so she can finally leave. Yet not long after she steps out into the open she is pulled back in with little difficulty. Even when aware of being controlled by male eyes, and the male-dominated entertainment industry, there is little one can do to stop it. In the end when she looks in the mirror she isn’t seeing herself with her own eyes but merely self-objectifying through the male gaze that designed her. It’s easy to criticize the industry but much harder to actually step outside of it.
“Bobby Doll” turns out to be a mishmash of ideas both good and bad. Musically she is on as good a form as ever. “Bobby Doll” is a beautifully balanced track with new intricacies to find every listen. Jieun’s sound is one of the most mature in K-pop and I hope her and Hyosung can go back to Secret stronger than ever.
“Bobby Doll” is also however a weird culmination of ideas about female objectification. The video and lyrics are a complete mismatch with the lyrics being a reductive view. The video, although indulgent in the things it takes issue with, has moments of clarity that highlight an interesting if frustrating idea of this theme.
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