While there are definitely successful solo acts in K-pop (Psy, IU, Ailee, Eric Nam, etc.), it’s very telling that a lot of soloists come from previously established groups. I would argue that in K-pop it’s very hard to go solo. Part of the reason these groups get so wildly popular is that there are so many different members to appeal to fans’ various “types.” And these members focus on specific skills to build a unit together, as they are in charge of different things. Even if the group itself isn’t successful, there’s a chance of one member pulling attention to the group. If you’re a soloist, you don’t have that safety net of fellow members. You have to pull in the fans with everything you’ve got. There’s a reason why the first member of a group to go solo is usually the most popular or well-known. It’s because the company believes that he/she will be able to bring in money without the support of their group.
I still have a system of 100 points, but I’ve changed some of the criteria and categories. Some of the things that I think are important to note about a group don’t apply here, like line distribution and if they all get a decent amount of attention. My general train of thought in a group comeback is how well all of the elements adhere to the concept that they’re pushing. With soloists, I’m inclined to say that it’s more about their artistry and their image standing alone. I should mention that at this point in time I only really look at soloists who are (or were) part of a group.
As I’ve said before, I’m by no means any expert on all things K-pop. I’ve decided to make it more from my perspective as a general listener and fan, adding in more critiques about things that I do know about (dance and music videos) The scoring isn’t so much how “good” or “bad” something is, but rather how well it answers the questions that I’ll outline below. Also: depending on the question, “yes” is not always positive and “no” is not always negative!
REVIEW – 100 points
MUSIC (30 points)
- Song (20 points): Since I know little about vocal technique and music composition, the questions will be more from a casual listener standpoint. Do I like the song? Do I enjoy listening to it? Would I put it in a playlist or put it on repeat? Does it have a natural flow and progression, or does it have song-within-a-song syndrome? How are the vocals and the rapping? Does the rap section fit in with the rest of the song? Does the overall song fit in well with the group’s signature sound?
- Lyrics (10 points): Meaningful lyrics are great, but not all pop music is like that. A lot of times pop music is about fun music to dance to, so I feel that it would be unfair to grade them on how profound or shallow the lyrics are. Not to mention that I can only rely on other people’s translations. So instead of grading them on whether they’re deep or meaningful, the main questions will be: Are the lyrics clear and easy to understand? (Giving wiggle room for any translation errors) Do the lyrics fit the concept? And do the lyrics fit the actual song itself? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up the lyrics to a song and found out that what I thought was a sweet song was actually a melancholy one.
PERFORMANCE (20 points)
This can get tricky because it depends on the soloist. Some go for ballads, which means that when they perform they’ll essentially be singing while still. But some also release dance tracks and appear surrounded by backup dancers. So I’ve come up with two different ways of evaluating them. But the common question is whether they are capable of capturing my attention in a solo performance.
- If it’s a dance number: I’ll try not to favor harder routines over easier ones, because the idol does have to sing the whole song while moving. However, there are some routines that have a high level of difficulty that should be acknowledged, like Taemin’s “Press Your Number” or Luna’s “Free Somebody.” Is there actual choreography, or is it a lot of easy filler? Does the choreography match the song’s rhythm and mood? Are the key points fun and interesting? Does the idol stand out from the backup dancers? How is the idol’s stage presence? Does he or she manage to stay the center of attention? Would they be able to capture my attention if they were dancing on stage alone?
- If it’s a ballad: This is a little harder to judge, but the primary factor here is stage presence. I am already someone who’s not super into ballads, and I have a low attention span. It’s very easy for me to lose focus when someone is just standing there and singing, and I can’t imagine I’d be the only one. So the big question is: is the idol able to command the stage and captivate us, solely with his/her voice?
VISUAL ASPECTS (30 points)
- Music Video (20 points): Does the music video fit the idol’s aesthetic and image? Is it too little, too much, or just right? How is the aesthetic? The composition? The editing? Is there a story that’s being told? If there is, is it done in a way that the viewer understands? Is there enough balance between different types of shots (stylistic/story-telling, close-ups singing and/or dance shots)? Will this draw in viewers and make them want to follow the idol?
- Styling (10 points): How does the styling fit the idol’s aesthetic and image? Is it too little, too much, or just right? Does the hair and makeup suit them? If they are pulling from a different culture, is it done so thoughtfully and respectfully?
ARTISTRY AND IMAGE (20 points)
This is a category that I made specifically for a soloist review. Getting an opportunity to release solo work is very special. I don’t know how much really happens behind the scenes, but it looks like soloists have more freedom to build their own image and focus on their own preferred types of music. Well, within reason. We don’t really see Hyuna doing ballads or Eunji with electronic pop. Sometimes they like to do something completely different from their group like Taeyeon, sometimes their work is kind of adjacent to the group like Zico, and sometimes it can fit right into the discography like Jun K. The key question here is if the the soloist succeeds in building their own image, and if they are able to establish an identity separate from the group. Are they capable of keeping fans from their group and bringing in new fans?
I also want to say here that I’m not a hater of any group or any specific idol. If I’m not into it, it’s not because of them personally. It’s probably more because I don’t like the music or am ambivalent in general. Although these reviews will contain critiques, I really do want my favorite idols to succeed. These are just my opinions on if they are doing well, and what I think they could do to be better!