The final week of February propelled my entire year of K-Music into space with some iconic releases (most notably SHINee!), as well as some truly exhilarating comebacks (ONF!!!) – My soul has been reignited and I’m remembering why K-Music feels so good since the week was jam-packed full of absolute hits (choosing to ignore the truly mind-boggling news from the personal lives of a number of people – you can read up on some of that in KatherineDoesKPop’s week summary HERE). I am finally ready for the year of music ahead – let’s take a look at exactly why.
Disclaimer: I haven’t been able to write about every single release, but I do try to at least provide a link to the key songs released over the week. However, it is entirely likely that I will have missed many – drop me a comment with any tracks from the past week that you think I should not miss.
SHINee – Don’t Call Me
You can find a full recommendation list for SHINee songs broken down by album HERE
The event that I had been waiting for more than two years finally arrived on our doorstep – SHINee’s post-military comeback (I mean… not really because Taemin still hasn’t gone but…). The group make a powerful return with their seventh album ‘Don’t Call Me’ and title track of the same name. It has been quite a while since SHINee have released a title track with this much punch, and wow, what a direction. SHINee have been a group that have frequently challenged the status quo with their music, and ‘Don’t Call Me’ certainly does that with its hip-hop beat merging with their traditional melodic style, creating a satisfying blend that feels edgy without all the EDM industrial racket from recent trends (this is why second gen groups are my staple). Although the repetitive hook doesn’t inspire much in the way of lyricism, I low-key appreciate it for its message (because I agree), and I find that it serves its purpose as it leeched its way into my brain after just ONE listen (a RARE event). What made its mark on me most were the extremely clear and poignant vocals from each of the members (I’ll always be wowed by Onew though). and all of the expertly positioned ad libs, adding that true SHINee edge. I don’t know how the group manage to release music that just gets better and better – but here they are again trying something new and succeeding with it. This is a comeback that was much needed and will likely sustain me forever (haha!).
Favourite song from the album [Don’t Call Me]: Heart Attack / I Really Want You / Body Rhythm
SUNMI (선미) – 꼬리 (TAIL)
After spearheading the retro train last year, Sunmi is back with new single album ‘TAIL’ and title track of the same time. This is a mid-tempo track with a sultry, alluring energy that counters the vibrant backbeat. ‘TAIL’ cleverly weaves familiar sounds from Sunmi’s earlier works with more modern elements to bring this song, and her style, into the present day. The way that her voice effortlessly glides over the chugging instrumental feels smooth, unhurried and enticing, whilst the pacing of the music, with its subtle retro textures, brings a feeling of desperate chase with it. This song exemplifies a side to Sunmi’s musicality that she just does so well – a mysterious, sensual energy that she emits from both her vocals and her performance style, and it speaks so clearly to fans of second generation girl groups, who will hear some familiar qualities embedded in this song from eras gone by. This is exactly the kind of song that I expect from Sunmi and as always she steps up and delivers.
Favourite song from the album [TAIL]: What The Flower
ONF (온앤오프) – Beautiful Beautiful
Not many people have been surprised at how excited I was for this comeback since ONF occupied a huge spot in my playlists through 2019 and 2020, but, even though I know ONF to be of outstanding calibre, I could never have prepared myself for this. After the subtle groove of ‘Sukhumvit Swimming‘, I can’t say I was expecting this rousing single, with its high energy and abundance of funky 80’s synthwave sounds. Although that synthwave train is on its way out, this is an example of how to expertly revive it without sounding unnecessarily dated, and without following an ‘already done’ trend. ‘Beautiful Beautiful’ feels fresh, fun and exciting and is home to some satisfying syncopations and outstanding vocal displays (those harmonies! the way the vocal lines make HUGE vaults! the way the top line is written unpredictably! that almost ‘barbershop’ style rendition after the bridge!!!!!). When I look at this song completely objectively (without my bias/J-US hat on), I can’t think of a title track from the past two months that reaches near to the level of excitement that this track brings with it. What a hit – I’m really looking forward to having this album accompany me through spring.
Favourite song from the album [ONF:MY NAME]: The Realist (I cannot stop watching focus cams for this song)
J.DON (이승협) – Clicker
Seunghyub, my favourite member of N.Flying, has revived the J.DON name for his solo debut release ‘Clicker’, which comes from single album ‘ON THE TRACK’. As always, Seunghyub brings a bright, carefree nature to his music, embodying everything that I love about N.Flying and inserting it into his solo music (specifically the way that N.Flying rarely take themselves too seriously and know how to have fun with their music – that vibe totally comes across here). ‘Clicker’ is a mid-tempo pop track that emphasises more of Seunghyub’s skill as a rapper, and along with the injections of vivid instrumentation, his charismatic skills and recognisable tone really do come through. His composition and songwriting prowess has already been proven in the past, but this time he is able to tailor the sound to match his abilities, weaving funk and groove in with that classic N.Flying pop-rock sound. I find myself getting drawn in more with each listen, finding that laidback energy irresistible, and that chorus just so endearing. Although I acknowledge this isn’t the newest sound, it feels like it has been a short while since I have heard this kind of tongue-in-cheek vibe in a KPop track – it feels so comforting to the ears.
Favourite song from the album [ON THE TRACK]: Clicker / Superstar (feat. CHEEZE)
WONHO – LOSE
After Wonho’s truly gripping (and somewhat unexpected) solo debut ‘Open Mind‘, he makes his comeback with the second part to his ‘Love Synonym’ series, with title track ‘LOSE’. This new song takes that groove from ‘Open Mind’ and shaves it down to its bare bones – keeping aspects of that retro funk, led by some mysterious bass and guitar riffs. Although ‘LOSE’, compared to the debut single, feels understated, this is a song that builds as the music progresses. Elements continuously layer throughout the song as Wonho’s light and airy vocals take us on a journey, crafting the soundscape as we go. What we are left with towards the end of the track is a single that feels enticing, mystifying and utterly irresistible. ‘LOSE’ is the kind of track that draws you in with no expectations, and leaves you with a desire to hit repeat so that you can relive the curiosity that it forces you to feel. Since ‘Open Mind’ was such a strong opener (still a firm favourite), I wasn’t sure what to expect from a follow-up, but ‘LOSE’ demonstrates that Wonho is driving towards a sound with endless funk – a style that matches him well – and that he is committed to delivering hit songs, no matter what.
Favourite song from the album [Love Synonym #2: Right for Us]: LOSE / BEST SHOT
WEi (위아이) – 모 아님 도 (All Or Nothing) (Prod. Jang Dae Hyeon)
Rookie boy group WEi made their comeback with second album in the ‘IDENTITY’ series, ‘IDENTITY: Challenge’ and title track ‘All Or Nothing’, produced by WEi member Daehyeon himself. Although I wasn’t 100% sold on their debut single ‘Twilight‘ since it felt too touched by Hui (Pentagon), this song goes in the opposite direction of what I expected, bringing the clattering EDM synths that are all too common for younger boy groups into this eclectic mix. I like that the group are diversifying their sound and trying out new a style and concept, but I’m afraid this just comes across as convoluted with the scratching pitch of the synths. However, despite the distracting instrumental and arrangement, this song does give a good go at showcasing the group’s skills, inserting specific moments where the members’ vocal and rap strength is emphasised (for example in the wonderful vocal part in the bridge), which certainly proves that that group have the necessary abilities to deliver – but maybe the next concept needs a little less noise and a little more melody (and in my opinion, a little more Donghan – that’s just me).
Favourite song from the album [IDENTITY: Challenge]: Breathing / Winter, Flower
[DEBUT] PIXY – Wings
Brand new girl group PIXY (former Cherry Bullet leader Mirae’s new group) have made their punchy debut with single ‘Wings’ – a song that blends edgy elements of high-profile girl groups (like BLACKPINK), with mysterious, and somewhat terrifying, atmospheric insertions (is it Halloween again, round two?). As far as songwriting and composition goes, this song doesn’t necessarily have many specific faults and is a relatively decent listen, but nothing about it really makes it stand out from the pack of songs that sound pretty much exactly the same as this. This EDM distortion that younger KPop groups have been adopting as of late certainly attempts to make a bold statement, but now that we’ve had so much of this style, it almost does the exact opposite of its intention, and for a debut song I feel like a group needs something that really pops. Having said that, PIXY show off some delightful vocal texture in this track and some really appealing layering and ad libs, so although I feel like this debut track doesn’t have much longevity, it is a sign of really promising things to come.
[DEBUT] ATO6 (에이투식스) – Runway (Prod. VIINI)
YG KPlus’ first project group ATO6 have made their debut with single ‘Runway’, which was produced by agency-mate and former JBJ member VIINI (Kwon Hyunbin). This release REALLY confused me because YG KPlus is a MODELLING agency so what is happening right here? But this surprise release has left me oddly satisfied with its quirky R&B style. The song is mostly driven by understated instrumentals – the chugging synths and backbeat carrying the momentum, whilst VIINI weaves in empty space to emphasise the sultry energy of the track. On first listen, I couldn’t help but feel like the song was really bizarre – it felt like two different songs in one, but, even still, I somehow was weirdly drawn to it. As I have listened to ‘Runway’ more, I have come to appreciate its interesting leaps across styles, and the way that the members’ individual tones really shine through, revealing some attractive vocals (one of them has a vocal tone that makes me pause every time) and some appealing rap sounds. Although this probably isn’t the most impactful of songs, its seductive nature and captivating chorus keeps me curious – and I’m over here wondering what the exact plan for their future is.
Other notable releases
IMLAY – Too Good (Feat. CHENLE of NCT)
YEOONE (여원) – 우리, 다시 (Begin Again)
CL – Wish You Were Here
SM Entertainment (Scream Records) DJ IMLAY is carrying on his collaboration with the Chinese members of NCT (previously having worked with Yangyang) in this latest single ‘Too Good’, which sees Chenle bring his delightful vocals to the mid-tempo dance track. IMLAY crafts a single that feels optimistic and dreamlike and bridges the gap between house music and pop (specifically KPop) – creating a song that feels relatable to multiple markets, especially outside of the Korean music sphere. The music and imagery is only strengthened more by Chenle’s crisp melodies, painting a stunning backdrop with his clean tone. As we don’t always get to listen to Chenle sing alone, it is a pure treat to hear how much his skills have developed and ‘Too Good’ is a sound that is the perfect match for his style, tone and personality.
With UNIVERSE (PENTAGON’s fandom) still reeling over Hui’s recent enlistment in the military – we were all looking for something to bring us joy, and member Yeo One certainly delivered, treating us another of his self-composed tracks ‘Begin Again’. This new single is a rich pop ballad track that perfectly highlights Yeo One’s heartbreaking tone in each and every soothing melody. As the instrumental gently tinkers along in the background (albeit with a slight dated edge – it kind of reminds me of those old karaoke instrumentals), Yeo One drives the mood forwards wistfully with his poignant vocals, really reaching out and touching listeners’ hearts. Yeo One’s growth as a songwriter has, over the years, been evident, and I really hope that he gets more opportunity to spotlight his skills in future PENTAGON comebacks.
CL released new single ‘Wish You Were Here’ as a heartfelt tribute to her mother who sadly recently passed away. The song, sung almost entirely in English, is a mid-tempo R&B track, supported by steady backbeat and led entirely by CL’s honest and emotive lyrics. The pared-down soundscape helps listeners to reflect on her words, her experience and to consider their own relationship with the meaning of the song. Certainly for me, the song spoke straight to my heart, moving me beyond expectation and encouraging me to reflect on my own personal loss – in that way, ‘Wish You Were Here’ is a lifeline to some who have had similar feelings but have been unable to arrange their thoughts, as CL bares her own emotions, showing us that feeling this way is natural. A truly special, and personal song.
BIG Naughty – Joker (feat. JAMIE)
In the MV, when the camera pans up the stairwell, the stairs form the shape of a triangle – did anyone else think that was a smart link to H1GHR MUSIC imagery – or am I overthinking it?
Following on from pre-release single ‘Girl At The Coffee Shop’ at the start of the month (review HERE), rising rapper BIG Naughty has released new album ‘Bucket List’, with title track ‘Joker’ – a soulful R&B song that expertly provides opportunity for BIG Naughty to, once again, showcase his vocal side alongside his loveable rap sound. The instrumentation on this slower tempo single embodies jazzy guitar riffs and piano runs, emphasising a certain funk amongst the subtle vibes of the composition. On top of the smooth instrumental comes BIG Naughty’s impeccable vocals – I have always thought that he has a lovely vocal style, holding so much texture to it and possessing more of an indie tone befitting of the guitar twangs that accompany this track. Hearing more of his vocal shine through is a wonderful reminder of all that he is capable of – making music that feels well suited to him, and further diversifying his recent discography. To top it off, Jamie, as ever adds her clear, perfectly matched R&B voice to add contrast to the sound profile – a stunning partnership. ‘Joker’ is the intoxicating jazz-R&B crossover that I was not expecting to get.
Favourite song from the album [Bucket List]: 10 Years Later (feat. Paloalto) (Prod. Minit) / Bucket List (Prod. DPR CREAM)
lIlBOI (릴보이), Wonstein (원슈타인) – FRIENDS (Prod. Slom)
Not at them casting Sejeong in this MV for a hot second – cute, but also all the movie references, and then the reference to ‘Infrared Camera‘
My soul is on FIRE – this is the enviable friendship from SMTM9 – the LilBoi and Wonstein friendship. Throughout the season, nobody hyped up Wonstein more than LilBoi (much deserved) and, more importantly, their sounds, whilst completely distinctive and separate from each other, are just so in sync. Since their explosive energy on ‘Freak‘, I have been waiting for them to get together again, and this cute single brings out the soft adorable sides to both artists that the public know and love. Wonstein’s clear, unmatched vocal tone sets the pace for the song, bringing a slow, chilled groove, whilst LilBoi’s skilled and playful rap syncopation lifts the track out of any sleepy pitfalls that it might encounter. I love the creativity in lyrics, style and delivery that these two bring to the table – notably that ‘Friends’ reference that had me clapping like a seal. They demonstrate a commitment to making music that is fresh, dynamic and relatable at every turn, and this sweet, chilled track, with all of its external references, does exactly that. Exciting times – I need more of this combination in the future!
Favourite song from the album [FRIENDS]: FRIENDS
CHEETAH – Villain (feat. JAMIE)
Following last year’s dreamlike single ‘So Sorry‘, Cheetah is back with new track ‘Villain’ which features the vocal stylings of Jamie (she really has been busy). ‘Villain’ is a lower tempo funky pop track with an alluring mood that builds in groovy bass riffs throughout whilst throwing in textured synthwave-style synths in good measure. Cheetah’s mysterious sing-rap tone, as well has her statement rap flow, adds to the seductive feel of the sound, switching her tone from light and airy, to confident and bold throughout the track, generating new sections and corners with her voice alone. Jamie adds a certain bright clarity with her crystal clear vocal tone, softening the moody edge of the instrumental and breathing melodic life into the pre-choruses. But ultimately it is Cheetah’s strangely hypnotising chorus that makes its mark on me – sending me into a total trance with every listen.
SURAN – Sunny
Ethereal vocalist Suran is back with new single ‘Sunny’, a single which, by title, you would think might be bright and breezy, but in true Suran style, is steady, dreamlike and enchanting. The track’s instrumental makes use of synth chords, gentle guitar flourishes and a middling backbeat, to bring that recognisable reflective soundscape, letting Suran’s mystifying vocal tone carry the song with delightfully trancelike melodies. Suran’s distinctive voice is well matched for these types of songs, that paint their otherworldly picture, making the music feel unique and captivating – if it were any other artist, the song might feel a little drab and unremarkable, but Suran’s sound and dedication to the concept ensures that listeners’ interest is always piqued instead.
PARKMOONCHI (박문치) x Young K of DAY6 – What a Wonderful World
The way PARKMOONCHI is vibing in this MV is totally me – that’s what I would be like if I was in Young K’s presence
Indie artist, PARKMOONCHI, who is known for her retro electronic sound, is back with new single ‘What A Wonderful World’, which features the distinctive vocal stylings of Young K from the indie-pop band DAY6. In a change of direction from the full-on retro energy from previous single ‘We’re Cool‘, PARKMOONCHI creates a song dripping in cool vibes, moving away from the dated sound into more of a modern R&B territory. The instrumental feels gentle, relaxing and comforting – the perfect style for Young K to add his smooth, indie vocals on top of. Although I feel somewhat at a loss for losing that iconic and cheesy PARKMOONCHI old school vibe (genuinely thought I might get Young K singing a song with a flamboyant 80’s feel), this song is still hypnotising and truly magical nonetheless, with both artists bringing their skills together in perfect harmony. A charming listen.
Paul Kim – Love Letter (사랑하는 당신께)
Paul Kim, one of Korea’s highly regarded ballad singers, has made his anticipated comeback with new single ‘Love Letter’, the follow-up to previous single ‘Hangover‘. This new song, with its tender instrumental (and surprising brass addition), works to highlight Paul Kim’s instantly recognisable and evocative vocal tone, carrying the emotion of the song almost solely within his heartbreaking words and soft, soothing melodies. The gentle, familiar instrumental movements bring the feeling of Spring with them, in the way that they move with a light tender motion, and Paul Kim’s delivery emphasises this subtle mood, as he sings each phrase with measured sombreness. Another heartbreakingly beautiful single from this wonderful ballad singer, and one with just a stunningly peaceful persona to it.
GSoul, BEN – 사랑이 공평할 수 없을까 (Can Love Be Fair?)
It feels a bit weird for me to put a GSoul song in the ballad section suddenly, instead of in the R&B section, but this wonderful new ballad track bridges the gap between both worlds, blending GSoul’s unmistakeable tone with the rich instrumentation of much loved ballad songs. Coupled with the intoxicating vocal profile of BEN, ‘Can Love Be Fair?’ is a shining example of a ballad track with soulful roots. The song expertly highlights the unique vocal styles of both artists, each of whom have vastly different tones and shades, but somehow blend together with impeccable ease as the song reaches its climax. Both vocalists create wonderful harmonies through the bridge, uniting their distinct textures into one unexpectedly soothing sound. This was a pairing that I couldn’t never have dreamed up, but it sure does work well!
She Would Never Know (선배, 그 립스틱 바르지 마요)
River Where The Moon Rises (달이 뜨는 강)
Replay: The Moment (리플레이: 다시 시작되는 순간)
Hello, Me! (안녕? 나야!)
Mr Queen: The Bamboo Forest (철인왕후: 대나무숲)
Header image credit: SM Entertainment; She Would Never Know image credit: HelloKPop; River Where The Moon Rises image credit: South China Morning Post; Replay: The Moment image credit: Soompi; TIMES image credit: KPopMap; L.U.C.A.: The Beginning image credit: OtakuKart; Hello, Me! image credit: HelloKPop; Mr Queen: The Bamboo Forest image credit: BakaMitai; Sisyphus: The Myth image credit Sepasi.