The latest in old school K-pop’s senior class to comeback is R&B powerhouse vocalist Gummy. After leaving YG and signing up with the ever-expanding CJeS, Gummy has teased us with a single (“The Lyrics – No. 4” in January) and made guest appearances on tracks and performances of all three members of JYJ. With I Loved… Have no Regrets, it’s time for her to give us a bit of that vocal magic missing after an almost four-year absence.
First track “Let’s Play” enlists the help of JYJ’s Park Yoochun as the spirited boyfriend and baritone to Gummy’s second soprano in the final moments of the song. Incorporating an island pop composition á la Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” the song is playful and a somewhat unexpected opening for the vocal queen’s first album of any kind since 2011’s Japanese mini-album Loveless and her first Korean album since 2010’s mini of the same name.
It’s a simple song, telling the story of a woman who doesn’t want to waste the sunshine and asks her boyfriend if he’d like to, well, go out and play: “Then, let’s go play. Let’s trust each other and open our hearts. I say let’s go play. The wind is nice the moonlight is nice. Just the two of us.” It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the song is cute, and the counterpoint of Yoochun’s baritone and Gummy’s higher register is rather soothing.
The placement of the opening track is a bit of mystery because what follows for the rest of the album are nods to R&B and emotional ballads. The following song, “Are You Happy Now” actually sets the album’s overall tone. The track is more indicative of the type of vocal prowess Gummy usually displays. It’s a sassy track, Gummy belting out the proverbial, “You’ll never find another quite as good as me.” It’s this bravado that Gummy usually gives us with her throaty second soprano growl. “Let go of your thoughts, Lover. Look around you, Lover. Happiness is near you with a person like me.”
With this return to her R&B roots, there’s a shift in musical tone and color. Suddenly what started out as an album about enjoying the day with the one you love turns into an album about bitter feelings and heartache.
Lead single and title track “I Loved… Have No Regrets” is more of what we’d expect from the power vocalist. It’s emotional, evocative, and showcases her incredible range and tone. It’s a lilting lament that illustrates the passing of time after a relationship has finally fizzled away. The well-placed crack in Gummy’s voice throughout the verses and during the chorus expresses an emotion that most can relate to: being in love only for that love to fade away. The resignation, pain, and finally acceptance in letting go of something that was so special to you is verily felt in both the lyrics and Gummy’s subtle vocal delivery. “We completely drank ourselves up and couldn’t take it anymore and spit it out a goodbye. Our deep breathe like happiness and pain. Just letting it go, letting it go.”
The rest of the album seems to follow a particular storyline commonplace on many female vocalists’ albums: the woman who’s slowly trying to get over the loss of her lover. As is to be expected, the road to moving on is paved in tears and broken glass. “Because I’m Alone” paints that picture very vividly, if not in lyrics, in tone and emotion. “I’ve been alone since the day you left me. You took everything I had. Hope and expectations were not mine. I’m alone and all I have left are sad memories.”
Though lyrically a bit overdramatic, the music is actually quite lovely. There’s something very reminiscent about the track, the composition similar in texture to a grainy 8mm film clip, lens flared and wobbly, looking back on a pleasant memory of beaches and lovers holding hands. It matches the melancholy in Gummy’s voice and the lyrical content so perfectly, as if the singer were truly reminiscing on something from her past.
“Loving You Back” is another song plucked straight from the OST of a romantic comedy, another song regaling the listener with the heartache of being away from the one you love. As it’s a theme and song that’s already found a place on the album, the track seems a bit redundant and even unnecessary in the grander scope of the album. The lyrics tell the same old story of need, yearning, and heartache: “I only wish for you. I want to stay with you forever. Teach me how to love.”
The next track, however, stands out for it’s (mostly) purely R&B inclinations. The tinkling piano throughout adds a layer of depth, and the flavor of the song fits Gummy’s personality almost more than any other track on the album. The addition of rapper Loco (rapper on Jay Park’s label AOMG) obviously aids in bringing the heavier R&B influenced sound to the album; however, his contribution isn’t exactly that interesting. Perhaps it’s his youth (being only 24) or his admitted shyness that leads to his verses being just a bit underwhelming.
Maybe enlisting the help of someone with a bit more agency in his voice to match Gummy’s (along the lines of Soul Dive, another veteran of Korea’s music industry) would’ve made a better impression. But that’s neither here nor there. It’s a solid track composition-wise and lyrically, taking the falling in love trope a step further by adding the complication of friendship: “Sometimes I hate that we’re friends. I think I’m going to go crazy when I feel something. I can’t say the truth, that this is how I feel. I can’t explain it.”
Musically the title track is, unsurprisingly, very much in the OST style that most ballads have presented themselves as of late. However, there’s an edginess to this sound that better fits the bitterness of Gummy’s vocals. That being said, the typical ballad tropes befitting the most sickly sweet love stories pervade this comeback. It’s unfortunate the singer didn’t take a bit more time to construct a fuller album that better illustrates her vocal range and musical vocabulary, which if you were to take a look at her discography includes R&B, Soul, and Blues. Only one of those genres makes its presence known on the mini.
I Loved… Have No Regrets, while not the most incredible comeback this year and lacking a bit of the power we’ve come to expect from the singer, is a commendable effort. Her crooning ache hasn’t lost any of its steam since lying a bit dormant for the past four years. It seems the switch to CJes will prove to be a healthy relationship, one in which Gummy will be given the chance to explore multiple genres and release more of the music she wants. Hopefully as time passes she’ll have the confidence to release a full-length album and give us more of that signature sassiness and power singing that saw her become one of the most celebrated vocalists in K-pop.