How do you measure success when you’ve spearheaded one of the biggest music phenomena your country has ever seen? Just keep dancing, says BoA.
At 31 years old, BoA (Kwon Bo-ah) was only a teenager when she released her first album ID; Peace B in 2000. A favorite at home and in Japan, and one of the first artists to release an English-language album — which charted on the Billboard 200 back in 2009 — the K-pop icon is known as a dynamic star who has grown up in the spotlight. Last month’s EP One Shot, Two Shot is the first such release of her career, after well over a dozen full-length albums, and explores the artist’s sound through the inclusion of new music styles and featured artists she’s rarely worked with in the past, as a way to challenge listener expectations.
“You just can’t stop repeating ‘One Shot, Two Shot,’ right?” BoA asks over the phone from Seoul, switching between English and Korean as she discusses the titular single. Describing the deep house track as “sort of EDM but not really EDM-EDM. It’s pop-ish EDM,” the Korean icon explains how the single’s varying pitch and addictive refrain gave her the ability to express a fuller range of sounds. “I want people to hear my lower vocals, my middle range and low range. I thought that I can play around with my vocals on that track.”
Her charming, distinct vocal tone is key to BoA’s popularity, but so too are her powerful dance performances, and her dedication to incorporating stylized choreography was something that shaped One Shot, Two Shot’s diverse sound palette.
“First of all, I’m a performer, so people really want to see my performance in different styles and genres,” she explains. “We tried to do hip-hop and EDM, and very energetic performances through ‘Camo,’ ‘Nega Dola,’ and ‘One Shot, Two Shot.’”
Each of the singles featured on the EP — including “Camo,” released last year — explored alternate perspectives and approaches to matured romance, reflective of the stage of life BoA is in. She wrote the lyrics for the romantic “One Shot, Two Shot,” and co-wrote the assured, empowering “Nega Dola.” “I think it’s really important to show new styles of song and music,” she offers. “I think that’s what people want to see and hear from me.”
The music videos for each of the songs similarly showcase different sides to BoA: “Camo” oozes sensual confidence, “One Shot, Two Shot” is based entirely around its dance elements, and “Nega Dola” is a vibrant ode to her independence, featuring several scenes that depicts the singer as a sharpshooter. “The music video director really wanted to incorporate the imagery of guns into “Nega Dola” because the lyrics are very aggressive,” says BoA, referring to the song’s warding off of unwanted attention from a man she has no interest in. “It kind of portrayed a very strong image. So that’s how we connected weapons and the imagery of a dangerous atmosphere.”
In contrast, the music video for “One Shot, Two Shot” features BoA as a dancer on a subway platform pairing off with a stranger for a dance duet — before a final shoot-out, returning to the gun motif — and it also predominantly focuses on her performance, as she’s backed by a team of dancers. The different sets each feature diverse fashion takes for the star: the paired dance showcases her in a comfy leather and jeans look, while the group setting has her wearing sleek bodysuits, in what BoA describes as a way of taking ownership of her femininity.
“For ‘One Shot, Two Shot,’ the important aspect of the music video was really to emphasize my body line through the choreography, so that’s why I was wearing tight-fitting outfits. I’ve never really done [that] feminine style before. I didn’t hate it, though it was too tight, so I couldn’t eat much,” she explains with a laugh. “I was pretty worried about my stomach. I had to go on a diet.”
One Shot, Two Shot features four other tracks aside from those released as singles, including “Always, All Ways,” featuring the smooth-crooning Chancellor, and “Your Song,” with Korean-American rapper Junoflo. Though BoA is one of the most prominent artists at SM Entertainment, a powerhouse of K-pop talent, the star opted out of the the obvious featured artists from her label for this album to breathe some freshness into into her music.
“Your Song,” like the title single, was a song that stood out to BoA as being a bit off-kilter from her usual fare, and perhaps something that her audiences would be wary of. “I thought that ‘Your Song’ may be too hard for listeners, but some people really love that track,” she says. “The song is a little bit intricate. We have a breakdown dance part for the bridge and the melody line, and the topline is not normal I think, especially [the] pre-chorus.”
BoA’s music is often created by outside, often international, producers; each of the three singles featured on One Shot, Two Shot is composed by songwriting teams from North America or Europe. When crafting the album, or any of her music, BoA says she’s always thinking about her audience and — due to the widespread popularity of K-pop — thinks in terms of sounds and styles that can resonate with global audiences.
“Because the Internet made us borderless, I think we need to focus, not just on Korea but the world,” she offers. “Even if I did [focus on making music for Korean audiences], it’s not going to happen. Everyone’s going to hear it through YouTube, iTunes… Our job is just to keep making great sounding music and great performances.” She hopes that more soulful, R&B-tinged songs become popular in the future, and would like to see, and sing, more songs that have deeper meanings behind the lyrics.
Despite K-pop’s emphasis on youth and only a handful of female soloists with any sort of longevity, BoA is poised to keep going for years to come. “I mean, I am young,” she says, citing Madonna and Britney Spears as inspirations for artists who have been able to mature with their careers, while still singing and dancing on stage. “I never thought that I would be a dancer this long term, you know? It’s really blessed that I can still go on stage as a performer, and I will keep making great sounds and performances as much as you guys expect of my music.”