Rapid(ish) Reviews: August 2017, PRODUCE 101 EDITION (Pristin, Weki Meki, Samuel, and More)

August was the magic month for Produce 101 reunions. Wanna One arrived on the scene, almost half of I.O.I. returned in their new groups, and alumni from both seasons either released new music or made their debut.  Who would have thought that this show would help jump start the careers of so many young idols?  Let’s look at all how all of these rookies are faring!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. CLC, “Where Are You”
  2. DIA, “Can’t Stop
  3. Pristin, “We Like”
  4. gugudan5959, “Ochu Ochu”
  5. Weki Meki, “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend”
  6. Samuel, “Sixteen”
  7. Jung Sewoon, “Just U”
  8. N. Flying, “The Real”

If you would like to know more about what I cover in my reviews, click here for groups and here for soloists.  If it seems to you like a key group is missing, I already reviewed Wanna One’s debut here.

CLC, “Where Are You”

Song: 18/20
Lyrics: 10/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 18/20
Center/Formations: 10/10
Music Video: 18/20
Styling: 10/10
TOTAL92/100

CLC is on my personal list of underrated groups, and I think they should definitely be more popular.  While their music is fairly mainstream, their retro influence gives it a bit of a unique twist.  “Where are You” may be understated, but it’s definitely a gem.  The song is pretty, the choreography is elegant, the music video is gorgeous, and the styling is flawless.  My only two critiques are that Yeeun’s rap bridge is unnecessary and that Elkie should have more lines, but those are very minor issues.

Despite the extremely good quality of this comeback, “Where are You” didn’t make much of an impact – with either the Korean or the international community.  Unfortunately, that’s probably because of their other 2017 release.  I’m still not sure how well “Hobgoblin” did in Korea, but Tumblr the international community definitely took notice.  While it was a little polarizing, CLC got a lot of recognition for their new fierce and badass image.  So it was a surprise and a bit of a shame that they didn’t continue that momentum.  I know it’s not really up to the girls themselves, but why would Cube brave all of those 4Minute/Hyuna copycat comparisons only to switch tacks again?

Personally, I really love “Where are You.” It’s a beautiful 90’s inspired R&B ballad. And when you look at it overall, it’s more put together than “Hobgoblin” was. However, I admit part of me was disappointed they didn’t return with another girl crush song. Concepts are everything, especially for rookie groups.  Part of the reason that CLC has struggled is because they’ve changed concepts so often – the retro influence is in their music, not their aesthetic.  “Hobgoblin” was awesome, but switching images again turns their fierce stint into a gimmick.  They should have followed it up with something in the same vein, and saved “Where are You” for when they had a more established fandom.  But I will always keep checking in with CLC, and I hope others do too.

STYLE MVP: Sorn – SO PRETTY. Also, yay Southeast Asian idols!

CLC-Sorn.gif

***

DIA, “Can’t Stop”

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

I struggle with DIA a lot.  I want to like them really badly, but their management is so terrible that it literally ruins everything for me. Their debut was promising, but their music gets less inspired and original as time goes by.  If I had reviewed, “Will You Go Out With Me?” back in April, it would probably have gotten the lowest score I’ve ever given. When Chaeyeon got into I.O.I., all the members got pushed aside except Huihyeon…sort of.  And then to top it all off, MBK added two more members when they were already struggling balancing seven.  At least Chaeyeon has less of an overwhelming presence here, mostly shining in the music video instead of taking all of the lines and center parts.

I’m pretty ambivalent about “Can’t Stop,” but I concede that might be my subjective taste. If you like cute innocent concepts, you might be more into it.  But I really don’t think this image does anything for DIA. Their creative team tries to make them unique, but it’s so half-hearted.  The ribbons in the dance are interesting yet lack any real purpose.  The music video has a fun aesthetic at the end, but we have to get through two minutes of generic schoolgirl shots first.  And while the outfits and hairstyles are slightly edgy, they don’t match the sweetness of the song. (Also, they buy into the annoying notion that idols with very short hair have to be dressed as boys).

DIA has a lot going for them that they could use to their advantage.  A lot of them compose their own music and play instruments, which would be cool to see as the main focus of a comeback. They’ve also toyed with a quirky image in the past with releases like “Mr. Potter,” and that could really suit them as a main concept.  Their sub-unit releases “Darling My Sugar” and “LO OK” have this vibe, and they’re both catchier and more interesting than “Can’t Stop.” Going quirky would be mainstream enough to appeal to the general public, with just a touch of individuality to set themselves apart.  Though I wish more girls were going to participate in The Unit (what about Eunjin or Eunice?), hopefully it make them popular enough for MBK to start managing them properly.

STYLE MVP: Huihyeon, who is total girl crush material.

DIA-Huihyeon

***

PRISTIN, “We Like”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Line Distribution: 8/10
Choreography: 18/20
Center/Formations: 9/10
Music Video: 18/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL87/100

When I first heard “We Like,” I really wanted to hate it. In fact, I had a pretty negative immediate reaction.  It had nothing to do with Pristin themselves though, because I like them a lot.  It just dawned on me how much girl groups rely on repetitive sounds and catchy hooks in their music, and the “dudududududu” seemed like a hurdle that was too hard to overcome.  But as is common in K-Pop, repeat listens won me over. Now “We Like” is sitting pretty at the top of my playlist.  It may be frustrating, but it sure works.

Another thing that I struggled with are the two dueling concepts at play.  I initially thought that “We Like” was a cute concept masquerading as girl crush.  And since girl crush is my absolute favorite concept, I generally don’t like watered down versions of it.  Groups who embrace it are already hard enough to come by! But the sassier aspects of the song eventually won me over, especially when the dance comes into the equation.  The last minute or so is straight up fierce, especially the ending.

In general, I think Pristin is a promising girl group that will probably hit it big in the near future.  Everything about them is fun and appealing, from their music to their dances to their music videos.  Who isn’t amused watching them play around in a mall after hours? Only two releases into their career, they’re already proving they have many different sides to them – though it would be better if they either showed them off separately or mixed them more cohesively. If Pristin can successfully blend their cuteness with their fierce femininity, they could release some great stuff.

STYLE MVP: Rena, mostly for that Harley Quinn T-Shirt but also because she looks fierce in general and I love it.

Pristin-Rena

***

GUGUDAN5959, “Ice Chu”

Song: 15/20
Lyrics: 8/10
Line Distribution: 10/10
Choreography: 15/20
Center/Formations: 8/10
Music Video: 19/20
Styling: 8/10
TOTAL83/100

gugudan5959 is a smart move for the group as a whole.  Rookies need a lot of promotion rookies, but Sejeong’s drama puts a full group comeback on hold. They can’t move forward without one of their main vocals (and the face of the group!), so a subunit is a great solution.  Mina is an obvious candidate, as her I.O.I. status makes her the most recognizable member after Sejeong. And Hyeyeon is a good partner because she’s a strong vocalist and an even better dancer.  Their debut is pretty much everything you’d expect of the maknae line: cute, peppy, and colorful.

As much as I like gugudan, “Ice Chu” doesn’t do much for me.  I’m usually ambivalent about cute concepts, and I’m kind of at a point where I’m over it. So while I think the song is cute and the dance is fun, it’s just not something I’ll keep coming back to.  Also, I was a little disappointed with the choreography. Aside from a whacking dance break, there’s not a lot to show off their skills as main and lead dancer.  The music video, however, is their strongest point.  It has an eye-catching aesthetic and a hilarious story, and it’s just peculiar enough to fit in with gugudan’s overarching theatrical concept.

Honestly, there are other members that I’d prefer to see in a subunit – my personal pick would be Hana, Nayoung, and Sally – but gugudan5959 is a solid effort.  Their design and concept was clearly well-thought out, and it’s definitely promising.  It’s too bad they kind of fell by the wayside with all of the music releases in August.  While it’s not my style, it’s enough to make me excited for whenever gugudan’s comeback is.

STYLE MVP: Mina.  Like VIXX LR, it’s personal preference because they both look good.

gugudan-Mina

***

WEKI MEKI, “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 8/10
Line Distribution: 7/10
Choreography: 17/20
Center/Formations: 8/10
Music Video: 16/20
Styling: 7/10
TOTAL80/100

(I was going to do a separate review but ran out of time, so this one is gonna be long) After seeing the rest of I.O.I debut in their respective groups, anticipation was high for Weki Meki.  The girls stormed onto the scene with their Sporty Spice “teen crush” image, unique amongst a sea of cute concepts.  It seems opinions are divided over their debut, but what’s undisputed is that people definitely took notice.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been waiting for this for almost a year, but I was a little underwhelmed by their debut.

Most of the reasons why I’m iffy on “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend” are subjective. Some are really minor, like the “American” sports jerseys they probably don’t know are inaccurate (it only bothers me because I saw that red Celtics one). But the fundamentals are harder to move past. Devine Channel songs are usually hit or miss with me, and this one is a miss.  I find it catchy and fun to listen to occasionally, but it’s not something I’d personally have on repeat. I also think the lyrics are a little messy. Being jealous of a crush’s girlfriend is a great idea for a song, and being angry at the crush rather than the other girl gives it a nice twist. But the lyrics aren’t consistent, and the girl’s emotions seem all over the place.  To be fair though, I remember my emotions being out of control when I was a teenager – so maybe it’s actually accurate.

The dance is where I really struggle, because it’s usually my favorite part. For what it’s worth, I do think the key points are fun and memorable. They actually sort of remind me of a Zumba routine.  But I can’t get past the choreography not always matching the mood or the rhythm. The bridge drives me insane because the dance slows down while the music speeds up.  This song should have a dance that builds up energy, and this kind of technique takes away from the strong and powerful image they want.  Weki Meki’s already showed they can be fierce, so I’m kind of surprised this one missed the mark.

The final problem is that over half the members barely get any exposure, and that’s definitely a legitimate issue.  It’s understandable Fantagio would push Yoojung and Doyeon as some of the more popular I.O.I. members.  Yoojung is a huge asset because she’s a triple threat (quadruple if you count her variety sense). And while Doyeon’s talents shouldn’t be ignored, she has a big job as the visual.  Suyeon gets some attention as the main vocal, but that still leaves five out of eight members without many lines or dance parts.   I still can’t tell Elly and Rina apart.  An easy solve to this would have been a more distinctive music video –  lyrics like that just begging for a story.

Basically, I think there were a lot of missed opportunities with Weki Meki’s debut. They have a great foundation and a lot of hype, but their management didn’t use it to their advantage. I do think they have potential, and I’m intrigued to see what they’ll do next.  I hope they’ll keep their teen crush idea, but maybe polish and refine it a little.

STYLE MVP: Lucy.  It’s hard not to pick Doyeon – who’s serving up visuals – but I’m going to prove my point.  And I like Lucy’s hair and makeup!

Weki-Meki-Lucy

***

SAMUEL, “Sixteen”

Song: 17/20
Lyrics: 8/10
Performance: 19/20
Music Video: 16/20
Styling: 9/10
Artistry and Image: 18/20
TOTAL87/100

Samuel was one of my favorites on Produce 101. Though I was able to read the signs better than I did with JR, I was really hoping he’d make it into Wanna One.  He proved on the show that he’d be such a valuable boy group member, and I was a little worried about how he’d fare as a soloist.  Luckily my fears were completely unfounded, because his agency did a good job and his debut was great.  I’m really happy he got so much love!

To be honest, I have a hard time connecting with “Sixteen.” It’s all about being a teenager, and in my case that over a decade ago (!!!). But even though I don’t relate, I can tell it’s a really strong debut.  He’s a good singer with a solid stage presence, and his music has a clear theme and genre that’s easy to identify. His agency was smart to push his dancing, which is probably his greatest strength.  I’m always impressed by soloists who can pull off complex dances while singing, and his ability to make difficult choreography look like freestyle leaves me in awe.

After School Club called Samuel “Korea’s Chris Brown.” Though I’ll never get why K-Pop idols love Chris Brown so much, I have to agree it’s somewhat accurate. I’d say his bright and fresh-faced image is more like Justin Bieber circa 2010, but it’s true that the dance skills are very similar.  In any case, he’s in a great position right now.  He has a lot of love from Produce 101, he appeals to both Korean and international fans, and his solid debut proved he has the skills to back up his popularity.  He has so much potential, and I can’t wait to see where he goes.

FAVORITE FASHION MOMENT:

Samuel

***

JEONG SEWOON, “Just U”

Song: 19/20
Lyrics: 9/10
Performance: 17/20
Music Video: 17/20
Styling: 9/10
Artistry and Image: 19/20
TOTAL90/100

Like Samuel, Sewoon was one of my personal picks for Wanna One. I really wanted to see him debut, so I’m beyond thrilled that he got a solo and that it did so well. It topped the charts, and if I remember correctly he got nominated for first place on some music shows! I think his accessible music is the key to his success. “Just U” is charming and will easily attract fans, but it’s also the kind of song that can appeal to people who generally prefer other music to pop.  If charts were less influenced by fandoms and more based on casual listening, it would be an even stronger contender.

Aside from the song, I also really like the music video.  Falling in love and having a crush are like the cornerstones of K-Pop lyrics, and the concept’s been done hundreds – maybe thousands – of times.  The video for “Just U” is low-key, but it has a lot of interesting images and visual references that represent infatuation.  Some of them are more obvious, like emojis appearing over Sewoon’s head. Some are more subtle, like reading books titled “love” as if it’s something that can be studied.  But they’re all clever.  My favorite is how there’s an empty battery over his head that fills up when they get close.

While Sewoon had some standout moments on Produce 101, I felt like he never truly got to show everything he was capable of.  He definitely got overshadowed by a lot of the other vocalists. I’m glad for this debut because it shows us his talent as an artist and his unique perspective. He’s training as an idol, but he started out as a singer-songwriter with a guitar. And now he’s using his experience from both fields to create an interesting musical identity. Though he didn’t compose “Just U,” this kind of sound is probably just a taste of what we could get from him in the future.  And I can’t wait to hear more!

FAVORITE FASHION MOMENT:

Sewoon

***

N. FLYING, “The Real”

I’m not going to do a full review for this one. I’m not that familiar with N. Flying, and I don’t know K-rock bands as well idol dance groups.  But I wanted to include this because I really liked it and I’m happy that Hweseung got to debut!  The song is a lot of fun, and the music video is hilarious. It shows the members chasing a giant long haired woman across the ocean in a Moby Dick parody.  I won’t spoil who the woman turns out to be, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s a Produce 101 alum, and I actually screeched with laughter when I got to the end.  Like full-on hyena cackle.  Just watch it; you won’t regret it.

***

Produce 101 started right when I got into K-Pop, so it’s been a huge part of my experience these past couple of years. It kind of feels like I started with the new generation of K-Pop. I know the show has its pros and cons, but I think it’s great that so many contestants go on to debut like they dreamed of.  And the sheer amount of new music it brings in is great for someone multifandom like myself!

VIDEO SOURCES: 1theK, Arirang (After School Club), CJ E&M, Brave Entertainment (Samuel), Cube Entertainment (CLC), Fantagio Entertainment (Weki Meki), FNC Entertainment (N. Flying), MBK Entertainment (DIA), Pledis Entertainment (Pristin), Starship Entertainment (Jeong Sewoon)

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