*In loving memory of the late, great, Goo Hara
While the 29th of March might seem like another ordinary day for many, it’s a monumental date for the K-pop industry. That’s because 13 years ago, on this day, the world was introduced to one of the greatest girl groups of all time. Their name was KARA, and they would go on to completly dominate both Korea and Japan for the next 7 years. While KARA experienced a number of member changes over their 9 year career, the ‘golden configuration’ of Hara, Nicole, Jiyoung, Gyuri and Seungyeon are probably the members most are familar with. Not only were they one of the biggest girl groups of their generation, but their flawless singles run between 2009 to 2014 is a thing of legends. And while stone cold classics like Lupin, Mister and Pandora are all incredible, STEP is the groups untouchable masterpiece.
For those who don’t know me, I should begin by saying that i consider KARA to be the greatest girl group of all time. Not only do i think that they have some of the most instantly powerful and recognisable k-pop songs of all time, but the sheer consistency of their discography astounds me. This is most likely thanks to their extended work with legendary producers Sweetune, who imbue all their tracks with the kind of anthmic heft and soaring melody that i froth over. For me, KARA are for girl groups what INFINITE are for boy groups. And much like INFINITE’s magnum opus, STEP isnt just brillinat k-pop song, but a phenomenal “pop” song, defying language barriers to become one of the most widely respected and critically acclaimed asian songs of all time.
In the years prior to STEP’s release, KARA had been releasing multiple singles a year in an effort to gain as much popularity and ubiquity as possible. This makes sense, and is a strategy that still works incredibly well. But for STEP they changed the formula. It was the only Korean single the group released during 2011 making it seem like DSP media had taken all their available resources and thrown them into this one, blockbuster comeback. And the results definetly show. STEP feels like a culmination of everything that makes KARA and producers Sweetune so great, channeling euphoric dance pop through a delightlfully retro lense. There have been many party starting tracks In K-pop, but few have ever come close to STEP‘s jubilant blast of dance pop perfection. From that immense 80’s inspired synth pop dance beat to the gorgeous vocal layering, there isn’t a moment where the track lets up, rocketing to it’s gargantuan hook from the moment you hear that instantly iconic opening synth loop. It’s an absolutely euphoric listening experience, and an example of a group performing at their definitive peak.
In a modern K-pop landscape where a rap break almost always signals a lurching trap breakdown, STEP‘s rapid fire rap segments are exhilirating. Not only does the track continue its thrilling dance floor assault, but there are no unecessary breakdowns to be found! And boy is it incredibly refreashing. And while most of the track perfects the bright bouncy style of anthemic dance pop that i adore, my faviourite moment of the track is probably that breathlessly beautiful middle-8. Most of the tempo and bright synths drop out here, giving way to a gorgeous melodic section that acts as the perfect bridge for the tracks climactic hook. I especially love how even in these slower sections, the track constantly feels like it’s gaining momentum, leading to that aforementioned chill inducing climax.
I have stressed the severe lack of “fun” in recent pop music, but for a song like STEP this isn’t an issue. It’s one of the most deliriously enjoyable tracks ever released, pulsing forward with a brilliant sense of propulsion. Sweetune have produced many fantastic girl group songs both before and after this track, but none have ever come close to touching this masterwork of modern dance pop. It would seem that the general public back in 2011 would agree, as upon release STEP not only topped music charts all over Korea, but also in Japan, signalling to everyone that they truley were the leaders of the Hallyu wave. And that’s why it undoubtly deserves a place in the K-pop Hall Of Fame.
Final Rating: 10 / 10