samuel-kim_1501212603_2At 16 years of age, Kim Samuel has been through quite a lot. He started as a trainee under Pledis Entertainment, then debuted under 1Punch alongside rapper One – which was disbanded after One joined YG Entertainment following the 4th season of Show Me the Money. Samuel most recently finished 18th in the second season of Produce 101. Following his surprise elimination, international fans started a petition against Mnet asking for his – and eliminated favorite Kim Jong-hyun of NU’EST – inclusion into upcoming group Wanna One. Whether as a result of the petition or by happy coincidence, Brave Entertainment seized the opportunity to reassure Samuel’s fans of an upcoming solo debut. Less than 2 months later, his solo debut, Sixteen was released, much to the delight of Samuel’s fans.

Pity that said delight was probably short-lived. Aside from the title track, Sixteen feels rushed, and is just an all-around disappointment. As Samuel’s history states, age may be no indicator of experience, but Sixteen makes a pretty convincing case that youth is no guarantee of innovation either.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the autotune. Samuel’s vocals are absolutely macerated with it throughout Sixteen, and coupled with his naturally airy voice it loses its welcome halfway through, reaching a near-grating quality on tracks “I Got It” and “123”. I have no problem with autotune by itself; when used sparingly — such as in One’s “heyahe” — it can add versatility to an otherwise ordinary track. Paired with stellar production, such as on Travis Scott’s Rodeo, it can make a lyrically lacking album memorable. However, when you overuse Autotune — spending it on shallow lyrics, weak hooks and dime-a-dozen beats — it resembles less of a stylistic choice and more of a means to hide vocal incompetency, such as on Canadian rapper Nav’s self-titled mixtape.

20170803_seoulbeats_samuelsixteen4Which brings me to my next point, the insipid lyrical content. Throughout Sixteen, Samuel is a boy in love, wooing his love whilst asking us to not treat him like a child (“Sixteen”), imploring us to understand that “age is just a number”. Whilst I’m sure Samuel’s older fans would appreciate the sentiment, the overall effort is rather unconvincing. Perhaps it was the light, young voice. Perhaps it was him breaking the fourth wall to ask listeners to go stream the album on “Jewel Box”. Perhaps it was him naively trying to buy himself the affections of another with his self-professed wealth on “I Got It”. Whatever it was, one finds it hard to take Samuel seriously throughout Sixteen.

Stay with me girl

You can get whatever you want

If you need something (I got it)

If you need something (I got it)

If you need something (I got it)

I got it for you

Regarding “Jewel Box”, even though it’s likely he’s addressing his fans who’ve waited patiently for his debut, I can’t help but feel it would have been a better listen had he chosen to take out the last 13 seconds, and simply address his fans at his debut showcase. It can’t be that hard, can it?

Also, the hooks on some of these tracks might have been more memorable had Samuel’s voice remained unmolested by the trappings of autotune. “123” falls victim to this particularly hard. Over an already chaotic instrumental, verse and chorus are barely discernible as Samuel describes spending his Friday dancing in the club. The topic is already generic, Maboos’s rap sounds phoned in, and the relentlessly monotonous vocals do nothing to elevate an already weak hook.

That isn’t to say Sixteen is without its redeeming qualities. Over a buoyant, synth-filled instrumental, Samuel woos us with youthful exuberance and charm on the title track of the same name. Lyrically, it’s his strongest track, with him bonding over his crush over their shared age.

Whoa, I think I saw you before.

Whoa, where do you live?

Whoa, how old are you?

Tell me everything about you

Oh my God, you’re Sixteen too?

Changmo shines in particular on his verse, describing how he met his love when he was young and in school, and cursing missed opportunities to confess. Now, as a rapper, he wonders whether she remembers him at all. As she listens to his music, he hopes it’s enough to bring them back to when they were young and sixteen.

“With U”, whilst still suffering from the album’s flaws, is saved by a well-executed feature from Chungha. Contrasting against Samuel’s processed vocals, Chungha’s voice is like a breath of fresh air, as the two sing that as long as they’re together, everything would be alright.

samuelsixteenUltimately, though, it’s not nearly enough to save Sixteen. After all the furor and hype surrounding Samuel’s debut, I expected more. The lyrics are generic, the hooks are weak, and the autotune was senselessly overdone. I understand that voices aren’t fully developed at sixteen years of age, but the treatment could definitely have been less heavy-handed. Samuel’s only sixteen, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as he grows older that Sixteen was merely a misstep in the grand scheme of things. Still, listening to the album again, I can’t help but wish that when Samuel proclaimed that “I’m ready”, someone at Brave Entertainment had the good judgement to tell him: “No, no you’re not, not yet”.

(WordPress (1), YouTube (1), Images via Brave Entertainment)