Rapid(ish) Reviews: August 2017 (GFriend, Sunmi, Winner, and more)

Frequent readers of my blog will know I started out mainly writing reviews of K-POP’s latest releases.  I still really enjoy doing those, but they’re super time-consuming.  On average, it takes me about two days to do all the research, make GIFs, and actually write the review…and that’s when I’m focused! If I did that for every group I liked or I was interested in, I’d be forever behind. And there also just times when I don’t feel I have enough material to fill up a whole post.  So I’ve come up with a new solution!

Rapid(ish) Reviews will be a blanket post for multiple artists at once. I’ll still use the same scoring system, but I’m going to focus on what I feel is most pertinent rather than every single little thing. I’m still going to do the big reviews for artists that I really like and/or feel I have a lot to say about, but I think this is an easier way to share my opinions when I’m pressed for time.  Because there were so many comebacks in August, I’ve split this into multiple posts.  This one will cover the more well-known idols or ones who have been around for a while.  I’ll make another one about all the rookies / Produce 101 alum.

Table of Contents:

  1. Gfriend, “Love Whisper”
  2. 9Muses, “Love City”
  3. Winner, “Island” and “Love Me Love Me”
  4. Sonamoo, “Friday Night”
  5. Sunmi, “Gashina”
  6. Vixx LR, “Whisper”
  7. Hyuna, “Babe”

If you’d like to know more about what I look at in my reviews, look here for groups and here for soloists.  I also did individual reviews for SNSD and Wanna One, which is why they’re not included here.

GFRIEND, “Love Whisper”

Song: 15/20
Lyrics: 7/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 16/20
Center/Formations: 8/10
Music Video: 15/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL77/100

GFriend has become part of a pattern of girl groups trying to change their concept, only to go right back to whatever they were doing before. While “Fingertip” had some minor issues, it was an intriguing attempt at something that truly different for them. So it’s a little disappointing that “Love Whisper” brings us right back to the GFriend we’ve known since 2015. I’m not saying they should abandon the powerful innocent concept – after all, it’s their brand and their strength. What bothers me is that “Love Whisper” doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.  It copies their formula instead of building on it.

For months, I’ve seen people complain all GFriend music sounds alike (minus “Fingertip”). Up until now, I disagreed. But “Love Whisper” has no distinctive flavor like their previous releases.  It’s cute, but there’s nothing that really grabs at my attention.  It legitimately took me over a dozen listens to remember the melody. More importantly, it sounds like a generic cute and innocent song any rookie girl group could have. That’s definitely not ideal for idols who supposed to be at the front of the pack.

It doesn’t help that the music video is equally underwhelming.  It doesn’t look cheap per se, but you can tell that the budget is much smaller than it for “Fingertip.” (Guess they spent all their money on that pond) This leaves the dance as the only stand-out element, and that’s more because of GFriend’s advanced skills than the choreography itself.   There are parts of it that look genuinely difficult and taxing, but it also has a lot of posing and filler for a group of their level. For all my complaining, I don’t think there’s anything truly wrong with “Love Whisper.” It’s just very flat compared to their previous hits. I’m sure Buddies love it, but this is not the song that will bring in a bunch of new fans.

STYLE MVP: Sowon, who has mastered looking simultaneously elegant and adorable.
Sowon-Love-Whisper

***

9MUSES, “Love City”

Song: 16/20
Lyrics: 7/10
Line Distribution: 9/10
Choreography: 17/20
Center/Formations: 10/10
Music Video: 15/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL82/100

While I think 9Muses is underrated and under-appreciated, I still have a hard time getting into their music.  For some reason I usually really like the verses, but they lose me at the chorus. It’s the same with “Love City.” It sounds fierce and sassy, but then all of a sudden it gets really cute.  A little “song within a song” syndrome is fairly common in K-Pop, but those vibes are hard to reconcile because they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. And while I love Sojin, that deep gravelly voice she’s doing sounds out of place. It was way better suited for the dark and mysterious “Remember.”

“Love City” is a very typical girl crush song.  The music video has a promising premise, builds on the lyrics of 9Muses being too good for a guy. The ladies reject romantic gestures, punching teddy bears, throwing gold cards like darts, and stomping on chocolate.  Kyungri even sticks a Ken doll in an animal trap and smashes a toy sports car – that clear symbol of masculinity.  The problem is that 9muse’s fandom is probably largely male and/or into them for their sexy concepts.  The Youtube thumbnail is literally of Sojin’s thighs.  So because there can’t be too much overt man hating, the girl crush concept gets pretty watered down in all other respects.

Nonetheless, I think it’s a solid song and that it’s even better when you watch it with the on-point choreography.  It’s kind of a shame that it came after “Remember,” because in my opinion it’s weaker.  But these ladies definitely have talent, and I’m one of many who thinks that Star Empire should take better care of them.

STYLE MVP: Hyemi, who’s rocking that flower crown

9Muses-Hyemi

***

WINNER, “Love Me Love Me” and “Island”

“Love Me Love Me”

Song: 16/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 18/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 17/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL85/100

“Island”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 10/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 19/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 18/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL90/100

I remember reading a while back that Winner said they started writing these two songs before “Really Really.”  I can’t find the article now (surprise surprise), but it makes a lot of sense if it’s true. “Love Me Love Me” is a little bit country disco, and “Island” is a little bit rock and roll tropical. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that reference) But both songs follow that same formula of keeping it simple and making it classic.

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re a big fan of “Really Really” and its laid-back vibe. They’re both songs that are fresh and fun, perfect for summer. I’ll always be puzzled over why Winner isn’t big on dance after all all that work on Who Is Next, but the choreography is easy to learn and fun to dance along to.  And the music videos were both shot in Hawaii, so you automatically know they’re going to be beautiful.

The only real bummer is that I kind of forgot about Winner in the insanity that was August.  I listened to the songs a couple of times, and then got distracted by Wanna One other music.  It was bound to happen because Winner’s music is very low-key easy listening. When you’re multifandom and pulled in a million different directions, that kind of music doesn’t always stick.  But “Love Me Love Me” and “Island” are solid songs, and they’ll definitely be at the top of my playlist next summer.

STYLE MVP: Seunghoon.  I know I picked him last time, but I’m digging the longer hair.

Winner-Seunghoon.gif

***

SONAMOO, “Friday Night”

Song: 18/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 7/10
Choreography: 18/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 17/20
Styling: 7/10
TOTAL85/100

Every K-Pop fan has their group that they swear up and down is underrated and needs more love.  Mine is Sonamoo.  I seriously never see anyone talking about them, and it’s so sad.  They’ve got catchy music, difficult choreography rivaling trendy groups like GFriend and Red Velvet, and nice visuals (since that’s important, like it or not). Since debuting, they’ve struggled with their image.  They started out with a strong hip hop concept, which I loved. Then they switched to a fun and bright feel, which I was less enthused about because it didn’t help them stand out.  This time they’ve gone for girl crush, which is a good compromise and a perfect fit.

“Friday Night” is a catchy and sassy bop.  It’s exactly the kind of music you listen to when you’re putting on makeup for a night out and you want to feel fabulous.  I’m an introverted homebody, and this song makes me want to put on my sparkliest outfit and go out.  The dance is fun and fierce, and the slight nods to disco are the perfect touch. The music video is a little too engineered for the male gaze (so many butt shots), but I like the colors and the shadowing.  They were wise to focus on the dance, even if it was probably because of the budget.  They’ve also made a smart move in pushing D.Ana more, since she’s got a little recognition from Idol Drama Operation Team.

The only real misfire here is the styling.  It looks good, but I didn’t recognize half of them in the first group teaser. I had to look carefully to figure out which one my bias was, which should say something.  They’re still stunningly beautiful, but such a drastic change makes it feel more artificial than it already is. But since visuals are a low priority for me, it doesn’t really matter.  I’m so here for this comeback, and I sincerely hope more people check them out.

STYLE MVP: Nahyun.  She’s always been pretty, but more in a cute way. The jet black hair makes her look so glamorous.

Sonamoo-Nahyun

***

SUNMI, “Gashina”

Song: 18/20
Lyrics: 10/10
Performance: 20/20
Music Video: 18/20
Styling: 9/10
Artistry and Image: 19/20
TOTAL94/100

I am fully ashamed to admit I’ve been sleeping on this gem, despite all the love it’s been receiving recently.  Both the song and music video are good but not my personal style, which was most likely the problem. But I recently watched a performance, and I was hooked. Sunmi is known for her iconic dances, and that choreography is addictive and absolutely flawless (thank you Lia Kim). It might be because I’m a dancer, but it totally won me over.

Now that I’ve taken a more in-depth look, I think “Gashina” is one of those comebacks that’s really solid on all fronts.  It’s catchy, fierce, and confident.  Its lyrics about getting dumped are poetic and relatable (break-up anthem of the year, in my opinion). The styling is a little eccentric for my tastes, but she still looks gorgeous. And the music video is a highly stylized look at all the emotions you cycle through after you’ve been dumped.  A lot of K-Pop is superficial, and that’s totally fine. This blog is proof that I love my mainstream hits.  But if you want a break from that and are looking for something more artistic, check this out.

Favorite Fashion Moment:

Sunmi

***

VIXX LR, “Whisper”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 9/10
Choreography: 17/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 18/20
Styling: 9/10
TOTAL88/100

After the pretty but melancholy “Beautiful Liar,” I wasn’t expecting anything like “Whisper.” A smooth and sensual dance number was actually probably the last thing I was thinking of.  But it works! Leo and Ravi are an interesting pair, given that they have such different aesthetics and styles. Yet they both manage to fit the concept while keeping their own individual flair. The best thing about this comeback is the music video, which highlights those differences every visual way you could think of: color, lighting, camera work, editing, etc.  Because of that, the music really helps unite the two of them and make it work.

This comeback is incredibly subtle for members of a group known for their dramatic flair.  Though subunits shouldn’t have to directly reflect the larger group they come from, the lack of a concept is a little surprising.  However, the beautiful thing about this is that it makes us focus in more on the technique: Leo’s beautiful vocals, Ravi’s smooth rapping, the well-written lyrics, and the clean (and sexy!) dancing.  Vixx may be the concept kings, but they’re so much more than that.  “Whisper” is concrete proof.

STYLE MVP: Leo.  They both look good, so this is just my personal preference.

Vixx-LR-Leo

***

HYUNA, “Babe”

Song: 16/20
Lyrics: 6/10
Performance: 17/20
Music Video: 15/20
Styling: 8/10
Artistry and Image: 16/20
TOTAL78/100

I try to be confident about being an older K-Pop fan, but sometimes I just feel straight up like a grandma.  I really look up to idols in their late twenties who are embracing their more mature sides in this ageist industry. So when Hyuna – a grown woman who’s only two years younger than me – releases a song about wanting to feel like a teenager again, it’s guaranteed that I won’t like it. To be fair, I think that “Babe” is supposed to be about being with someone who makes you feel younger and more carefree.  But the lyrics’ clear focus on the decreasing age and lines about wanting to be pampered like a baby give off the wrong impression.

Raging age complex aside, I appreciate that Hyuna is trying different things.  She’s one of the reigning sexy queens of K-Pop, but straight up sexy can get boring pretty quickly.  So it’s nice that she changes it up and that no two songs are completely alike. But I personally think this song is too subtle for Hyuna, and it’s weird to see her playing kind of demure.  She’s at her best when she’s being cheeky and playful like in “Red,” or embracing her free-spirited party image like in “How’s This?”  Not everything she releases needs to be a booty shaking dance jam, but “Babe” lacks the strong impact that she usually has.

Favorite Fashion Moment:

Hyuna

***

VIDEO SOURCES: Cube Entertainment (Hyuna), Jellyfish Entertainment (VIXX LR), JYP Entertainment (Sunmi – “24 Hours”), MAKEUS Entertainment (Sunmi – “Gashina), Source Music (GFriend), Star Empire (9Muses), TS Entertainment (Sonamoo), YG Entertainment (Winner)

Additional Sources: Netizenbuzz (Blogspot), 1Million Dance Studio

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