Not too long ago, my fellow writer Mark wrote about the return of the female soloist. In his article, he mentioned how female soloists have returned to power in K-pop, appearing more often and enjoying a positive reception from the Korean public. Indeed, we are definitely seeing more female soloists these days, whereas in the past the spotlight was reserved for girl groups and boy bands. However, many of the popular soloists these days are rather new — Ailee, Lee Hi, and Juniel all debuted just this year. But lady soloists are far from new to K-pop — one such example would be the lovely R&B queen, Hwayobi.
Hwayobi is regarded South Korea’s “Queen of R&B,” renowned for her beautiful, soulful voice and powerful performances. Not just a singer, but a lyricist and composer, she makes many of her own songs. Hwayobi’s talent earned her awards for Best Female R&B artist and Best Female Ballad Singer from the Korean Entertainment Art Awards in 2005 and 2006. Having been in the industry since her debut in 2000, she has over ten albums, some in Japanese. Her appearance on the variety show We Got Married in 2008 helped boost her popularity among the Korean public, and she has most recently been featured on Immortal Song. Recently, Hwayobi has released her newest mini-album, I Am.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_78KTw5uAiI&w=560&h=315]
The first track on “I Am” is “I’m Dangerous,” a smooth song about a woman’s frustration with her boyfriend and decision to break up with him. The song opens with an interesting whirling and twinkling noise, like something from a sci-fi film, before breaking right into Hwayobi’s vocals. Compared to the classy, sultriness of the song, accompanied by a piano and clapper, the short instrumental at the beginning was rather odd but easily overlooked. My biggest complaint about this song would be how it failed to create a build-up until it was more than half-way through. The absence of an increasing tempo or scale caused the song to lack desired emotion. However, it’s still pretty, and I began to like it more towards the end.
“I Like,” the second track, starts out with a sultry, sort of jazzy rhythm, with Hwayobi moans over it. This song is definitely sexy, the kind you’d hear playing in the background at a club. I love the electric guitar and strong beat throughout, creating a firm base for Hwayobi’s voice to build off.
“I Live Like This” has a return of the clapper, but with an accompany of strings and horns. This song is more dramatic than the others, with the dun-dun-dun before Hwayobi breaks into the main parts. It wonderfully showcases Hwayobi’s range, but I was a little surprised by the suddenness of the ending. Whereas the beginning had a short intro on the xylophone, the ending came to a sudden end. Still, it’s one of the jewels on the album.
Hwayobi’s final song, “Going to Drive Me Crazy,” features an English rap by Illinet. Compared to the husky, moan-filled earlier songs, this song is a little more upbeat. The rapper had surprisingly coherent English, but seemed rather odd between her full vocals. I found this song a little boring than the others, the style of it failing to draw me in, with a sort of structure I feel that I’ve heard in other songs.
Hwayobi’s mini-album was good, filled with heartfelt R&B songs. The best songs would have to be “I Live Like This” and “I’m Dangerous,” but “I Like” is a personal favorite of mine. 4/5.