Most people love a good underdog story. There’s just something so immensely alluring about watching someone or something surmount all the odds stacked against them, and rise to the top of their game, whatever it may be. For me, the pleasure in watching an underdog story play out comes from vicariously experiencing the amplified joy of each minute success, and the smug satisfaction of finally getting the last laugh as the dark-horse triumphs over the established front-runners, proving the naysayers wrong. In the K-pop domain of current rookie groups, the underdog is K.A.R.D.

Hailing from the almost defunct DSP Media with the added risk factor of being a co-ed group, things weren’t looking too good for them in the beginning. Nonetheless, their first pre-debut release, “Oh NaNa”, enraptured many with its one-of-a-kind (for K-pop) dancehall-pop composition, earworm hook, and the unique formation that the group showcased. Their follow-up project singles, “Don’t Recall” and “Rumor”, continued along a similar vein and amassed them even more popularity from the international fandom.

At this time, we are at a crucial point in the underdog story — the moment when K.A.R.D is finally released onto the playing field of Korean music; where they will have to compete against more well-established groups; where they will either drown in the saturated market, or thrive off of their special appeal. Although that has yet to be seen, their debut is a a solid start, giving the domestic market a taste of precisely what got them attention from the international community.

“Hola Hola” encapsulates the essence of K.A.R.D: it has the tropical reggaeton/ electronic fusion sound that we’re all so used to hearing from them by now, the fluid dancehall-inspired choreography we’re familiar with, and the four members heralded in all their full glory portraying the sibling/ close friend dynamic ever-present in their pre-debut days. There are even not-so-subtle references to their project singles such as the unmistakable “Oh NaNa” line in the pre-chorus, and segments of the choreographies for “Don’t Recall”, “Oh NaNa”, and “Rumor” embedded conspicuously within the MV. A treat for their ride-or-die aficionados who have been avid supporters since the “Oh NaNa” days, these references invoke a sense of nostalgia — reminding fans how far K.A.R.D has come thus far.

Personally, I always loved the realness of the quartet that has remained consistent throughout all their releases; the fact that you can’t easily conceptualize them as “cute”, “sexy”, “tough”, or the gender-exclusive “girl crush” set them against the usual idol molds. They are simply K.A.R.D, a group with an affinity towards the island/ reggaeton/ dancehall sound; a group of four seemingly fun-loving individuals in their early adulthood who just so happen to be idols.

This down-to-earth image comes off especially clear in “Hola Hola”. When BM shoots hoops and goes skateboarding with Somin while Jiwoo is absorbed in her phone as she passes by J. Seph chilling on a set of stairs, they almost look like LA natives (well, BM actually is one, but that’s beside the point). They go on a road trip with the top down, fool around in their hotel rooms, and visit some scenic spots in both Vegas and LA — looking like a normal group of friends enjoying the pleasant weather rather than K-pop idols filming an MV. Perchance a random passerby on the street encounters them, they could just as easily pass off as YouTubers filming a lookbook, or fashion killa Instagram personalities having a blast on a photo-shoot.

This is a marked departure from their pre-debut MVs — shedding the dark themes, settings, and filtered lighting, and focusing instead on rich hues and the luminous outdoors. Which is appropriate, considering the bright upbeat-ness of “Hola Hola”, in comparison with the moody ambiance of their previous releases.

The lyrics of the song aren’t extremely remarkable; they essentially epitomize a love song that’s slightly on the cloying end, as far as love songs go. However, it works perfectly within “Hola Hola” by virtue of vivid descriptions like a “sunset” with a “pastel tone film”, a “green utopia”, and “an ocean view spectrum”; allowing the lyrics to double as an ode to summer. The title itself has a dual meaning as well, as “Hola Hola” could be interpreted as the Spanish greeting we all know, or the set of Korean characters romanized as olla, meaning “heat up” — which makes more sense in the context of the lyrics.

While I’ve said mostly good things about their debut single, I still can’t help but have reservations about their success as rookies in the K-pop world. Sure, old fans might be pleased with the continuation of their previous sound, but will their song be enough to make an impact in the Korean market? If not, then will they be able to go down the Seventeen or BTS route and become so popular internationally that they attract sizable attention domestically?

But despite this, I still want to root for them — the underdogs. I want to experience that smug sense of satisfaction as K.A.R.D proves me and others who have similar doubts wrong. However, until then, I can at least enjoy the small success that is their strong debut.

(YouTube, Images via DSP Media)