Baek Ah-yeon of talent competition K-pop Star fame — on which she achieved a commendable third place — has recently come back into the eyes of the public with her official debut album, I’m Baek. Now signed under the company of one of her mentors, JYP Entertainment, Ah-yeon is the first of her K-pop Star peers to have an official debut, preceding winner and now labelmate Park Ji-min and YG-based SuPearls. Her debut was justifiably met with quite a fair amount of fanfare, meeting the support of her fellow JYP Nation-members, as well as encouragement from former-mentor and K-pop queen BoA herself. Lead by the gorgeous “Sad Song, the album makes good use of Ah-yeon’s skill, skill she previously showcased during her run on K-pop Star, as well as her natural and refined charm.

Starting off with previously mentioned “Sad Song,” the whole album itself is mainly ballad-based and slower paced, allowing Ah-yeon’s delicately powerful and clear voice and enthusiastic execution to be the main highlight throughout. The familiar genre stays in a zone Ah-yeon is comfortable with, but provides enough challenge to show her improvement over the past few months under her new agency.

As described by Nabeela in her MV review of “Sad Song,” the song does not disappoint at all as a lead single, doing much justice for Ah-yeon. The song starts off with some nostalgic strings and Ah-yeon’s mournful voice before picking up considerably by the climactic chorus featuring some strong beats from a snare drum. The transition from the quiet verses to the strong chorus was jarring in a good way, a sudden yet meaningful change in pace and desperation that gave this writer goosebumps. While the impactful chorus was definitely the highlight of the song with Ah-yeon’s glorious melancholic elongated notes sounding so devastatingly wonderful, the quiter moments of the verses carry quite a bit of punch as well.

Ah-yeon executed the song wonderfully, her enunciation and delivery perfect. Something I really appreciated in the single was how it was able to showcase Ah-yeon’s vocal potential without resorting to the dramatic and powerful, but oftentimes misused and over-glorified, belting and “over-singing” that most soloists take part in to prove their vocal prowess. Ah-yeon was able to highlight her range while keeping her delivery subtle and meaningful, the concluding high note toward the end sticking out particularly. My only real complaint was that there were moments where I felt the song was a bit too mature of the young Ah-yeon to handle, but those moments were few and far between, making for an overall exceptional single.

Next song “Stay” cools the pace down a bit after the impactful and dynamic “Sad Song.” Starting off with a relatively simple piano loop before slowly getting added onto with some strings and a stable beat, the song is a light one perfect for a nostalgic rainy day. The use of flutes toward the end were particularly intriguing, but otherwise, nothing else in particular is notably remarkable. While it is not at all a bad listen and goes perfectly with the mood of the album, there isn’t a climax in the song, creating a slightly forgettable listen.

Following the slightly drab “Stay” is the more chipper and triumphant “Love, Love Love.” The song features some pretty warm acoustics and some light and fleeting synths as well as Ah-yeon’s dreamy and airy execution. The feel of the song is a perfect complement for Ah-yeon’s delicate and girly timbre, and she pulls it off well, her falsetto giving the song a mellow and hum-like feel.

The next song of the album is “Always,” a song written, composed, and featuring 2PM‘s Junsu (otherwise known as Jun.K). Junsu did an absolutely great job with the song, giving it a gorgeous yet simple down-low feel that works perfectly with Baek Ah-yeon. The jazzy and charismatic piano in particular was a wonderful addition I loved. Ah-yeon’s vocal work in this song was probably my favorite in the entire album, her elongated notes in the chorus once again sounding glorious and her vocal acrobatics following the middle-eight being absolutely stunning, giving a song a proper climax the previous songs lacked. As for Junsu’s rap toward the end, I unfortunately have mixed feelings about it. He sounds fairly great in it, but the rap was a bit too intense for the rest of the relaxed song to the point where it stood out. Furthermore, it didn’t create the most satisfying of conclusions, sloppily tying things up and leaving listeners waiting for more. Another repetition of the chorus by Ah-yeon or even a harmony from the two potent singers would have made more a much more satisfying closer.

Finally, the album closes with song “You’re Leaving.” The song starts with the sound of a clock ticking before Ah-yeon starts singing and other uniform and constant percussion joining her. The song makes good use of silence and electronic embellishments as the repetitive progression of the instrumental makes you have an expectation of what would come next, only for the song to alter that pattern ever so slightly but meaningfully. As a closer, “I’m Leaving” proves to be mainly successful, ending the consistent with a lingering note that would make the experience more memorable.

Overall, I’m Baek graciously showed Baek Ah-yeon sticking to her roots, remaining the natural and genuine girl that charmed the public through K-pop Star, still relying mainly on her distinguishable and ever-improving talent. Ah-yeon stays in a comfortable genre, but who could fault her at this point? Sure all of the songs in the album were very similar in terms of format and styling and a more upbeat song would have been nice. But Ah-yeon’s just trying to present her strengths as best as she can, and the best way to do that is to put her voice at the center, which is exactly what these songs do.

Furthermore, I’m glad Ah-yeon joined with JYP. The company’s music influences can be clearly heard in some of the songs in the album, and Ah-yeon just sounds absolutely great with it. This album is actually very reminiscient of JYP’s resident (but seriously under-promoted) soloist Joo‘s work, but mixed with Ah-yeon’s personal vocal footprint. Overall, Baek Ah-yeon’s I’m Baek is a perfect reintroduction, showing the girl more polished and stronger than ever before.

Ultimately, Ah-yeon’s I’m Baek gets a 4/5. It’s not a perfect effort, but it shows promise for Ah-yeon’s future, especially considering her capability of improvement shown even in the show she participated in. But Seoulmates, what do you think? Wowed by the simple elegance of Baek Ah-yeon? Or was the effort too drab for your liking? Leave your ever-appreciated insight below!

(SBS, JYP, AsianDreamAudio4, newkpopmelody09)