Hyuna’s “Babe” is a mixed bag of good, bad, and creepy. Regardless of the likability of song itself, though, it’s an immensely successful release for one key reason: It’s something different for Hyuna. Cube haven’t tried a complex ballad, which is a strategic win on their part, nor have they kept Hyuna’s release in the same vein as her past other tracks. Talented as she is, Hyuna was becoming dangerously typecast, and with CLC edging in on the 4Minute market, that didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for Hyuna. To see her branch out with a more varied sound as a lead single, which still plays reasonably to her strengths, is a pleasant surprise because it gives fans hope (and not many things Cube does give me hope these days).
The theme of the track is an interesting one, of Hyuna feeling younger through the love her partner has for her. Hyuna’s unrepentant nature and the feeling of freedom in this song are a strength; “I’ve become stranger”, she sings without apology. The lyrics, visuals and the music fit the concept, such as the lines “I’ll have changed”, and “Someone I don’t know, someone you don’t know” which fit the odd, mystical visuals. But it is jarring to go from the English “You make me 26” to the English-Korean hybrid lines “You make me yeol ahob”. Clearly “nineteen” just doesn’t rhyme as well as it does in Korean, but the English flat out doesn’t work in cases like “You make me baby girl”, which spoils an already lacklustre finish to the track.
The idea of freedom, happiness and feeling young is a great thing, especially when it seems empowering and carefree. But the other, infinitely creepier side, is the sexual component to youth that K-pop always manages to inject. It is always concerning how sexualised young idols are, and how sexualised the idea of youth is. Therefore, the sub-theme of reaching out to the kind of uncle fans who want to pretend Hyuna still is a school girl is distasteful. Oddly, it is the “youngest” costume, the school-girl outfit, which acts as a contrast and reminds the audience that she is older. Yes, the school girl costume relates to the concept of youth, but it’s terribly contrived, the green screen visual cut-outs around it look cheap and tacky, and in the context of K-pop marketing, it is creepy and distasteful.
Musically, the sound is current yet stands out — the heavy use of xylophones sounds almost reminiscent of Indonesian Gamelan music and it fits in with the tropical theme of this summer while being quite unique. Hyuna’s singing style fits the theme well, with a light, airy tone, and it’s good to see her have a chance to play around with that sound again. However, the singing is also a bit of a downside, particularly in the parts where she is repeating the word “baby”; it’s a bit obnoxious. Cube were limited in that Hyuna is not a vocalist, and it showed here. The end section is not convincing; her notes are high, but flat, like she hasn’t quite nailed the required note and if it was one line, it wouldn’t be so bad, but the repeated refrain is hard to stomach. Musically, it feels like it should be built up, but peters out, and lacks charisma.
But Hyuna is, as always, absolutely gorgeous. She has gone for an innocently flirtatious look, with whites, and pastels, more natural looking dark hair and lighter eye makeup. (Bad luck for the costumes of the poor backup dancers though, it’s hard to look good in those pom pom leotards.) Yet the whole “innocent” look falls apart a little when she’s on the floor; it’s hard to forget her sexual allure when the dancing is so in your face and again, this treads a fine line. The chorus, however, is where this young, innocent theme shines, with a dance that’s both subtle and cute. It is reminiscent of the scenes in movies where girls have “the kiss” and one of their feet comes up. Of course, the dance rather immediately goes back to super-sexy, which isn’t a problem if we ignore the “young” part, but is also not terribly consistent.
Visually, Cube have gone a bit experimental again. We have the inside dancing set, a kind of “crystal planet”, the “space” look as well as the flowers. Additionally, there’s some trippy effects in the scene changes, like warping and smearing of imagery, and the acid effect. They won’t necessarily be everyone’s favourite, but they’re not bad and match well.
For the most part, the visuals suit the song, but the “storyline” (or what serves for one here) changes abruptly, jumping around different scenes. This wasn’t an issue until she looked unhappy and stopped dancing. “Wow,” I thought, “Are we getting some real-Hyuna? It’s getting serious!” I was actually really intrigued to see where it was going to go, breaking the narrative and looking for a second like it might break the fourth wall. Then she got in an elevator… and… suddenly she was on crystal planet. Unless that’s a metaphor for getting really drunk, that’s never happened to me before when I’m sad.
The dance sequences interspersed with the field of flowers or space haze wasn’t an issue; that seemed to fit with the song just fine, but the “sad” visual was really jarring because it sets the viewer up for an emotional payoff which simply never arrives. That said, there was definitely at least one little problem: companies need to stop with the cultural appropriation, hair or otherwise, and that dance move at the 1:34 mark is also dubious.
All in all, “Babe” was a mixed bag, the good, the bad, the creepy, but most importantly, the chance for Hyuna to spread her wings and venture a little further from the norm. Ideally the future will see Hyuna return to a rap track along the lines of “Ice Ice” or “Follow Me”, but for her growth as an artist, she needs to get her teeth into something meaningful; not a ballad, but the chance to show something other than “sexy”, “cute” or “club” (none of which are actual emotions, by the way, Cube). Hyuna was able to carry the solemnity on the track “Hate” (off of her new album Following) very well, and that’s a good direction in which to begin adding depth to her solo career.
(Youtube, Images via Cube Entertainment)