Good news, everyone! K-pop’s most underrated girl group may finally be getting the attention they deserve! The nine months of inactivity that passed between Oh My Girl’s previous comeback with “Coloring Book” and this album was worrisome, and even more upsetting was member JinE’s decision to leave the group to take care of her health. But a member leaving any group is always big news, which may have been a factor in the success of new title track “Secret Garden.” Taking everyone by surprise, “Secret Garden” soared on the charts, hitting #2 on Melon, Naver, Soribada and Genie. It’s the break Oh My Girl should have had a long time ago.
There’s just one thing. “Secret Garden” isn’t as good as OMG’s past title tracks. I should speak more judiciously—it’s not as unique as OMG’s past title tracks. It’s nice, but it lacks that hint of weirdness upon which Oh My Girl’s identity is built. In comparison to songs like the ethereal “Closer,” the cheeky “Liar Liar,” the unpredictable “Windy Day” or the quirky “Coloring Book,” this comeback has no individuality. That’s alarming, and I dearly hope WM doesn’t take the success of “Secret Garden” as a sign that the group needs to ditch the oddness for good.
Okay, yes, “Secret Garden” is a good song. Coming from a group for whom I had lower expectations, it wouldn’t have been a disappointment. There’s a classic, almost traditional sound to it, both in the orchestral synth production and in the prolonged, measured phrasing of the well-crafted vocal melody. And to be honest, the lyrics are better than many of OMG’s older songs. The girls sing of a “secret garden” within themselves where they’ve “planted something interesting and amazing. You can’t see anything yet, but if you wait for a while, you’ll meet it.” It’s a very pretty concept, a little reminiscent of “Closer,” though it doesn’t have the fairytale effect that “Closer” had due to its brighter melody and blockier percussion. “Secret Garden” certainly deserves to get big. I just wish it didn’t have to come at the cost of the group’s individuality.
The rest of the EP impressed me about as much as its title track did. There are weaker moments and stronger moments. One highlight was “Love O’Clock.” The verses kick off with positively sumptuous vocal harmonies backed by the ticking of clocks, and it’s one of the coolest moments on the EP, though the hook loses much of the atmospheric effect. “Butterfly” carries on OMG’s tradition of the token acoustic pop B-side, which always features a beachy guitar, a subtly sweet melody, and plenty of sparkly showers of sound in the high end of instrumental. There’s only one track with any significant stylistic variation from the rest of the EP, which is very out of character for Oh My Girl and very concerning to me. That song, the glossily electronic “Magic,” begins with a comparatively spare instrumental and accumulates layers of background vocals to construct a full-out sonic feast. It’s definitely the standout on “Secret Garden,” and it would have been nice to hear more distinctive tracks like it.
Ideally, the success of “Secret Garden” can put the group in a position to strengthen their identity with their next comeback, now that they’ve cemented their place in the public’s awareness. WM Entertainment has been good about giving their groups some space to breathe in the past—OMG’s older brother group B1A4 self-produces much of their music, and little brothers ONF had a very promising debut last year—so I’m inclined to hope that “Secret Garden” was more a failed effort to replicate the atmosphere of fan favorite “Closer” than an attempt to set off in a whole new direction. Either way, OMG will go on being talented, so I guess we’ll have to see what their next project brings.
SECRET GARDEN: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? I mean, it’s a bop, just not as much as a bop as I wanted.
Take a look at Oh My Girl’s “Secret Garden” MV below: