2018 was the year of the female solo K-pop artist, with queens BoA, IU and Taeyeon topping the charts as well as Sunmi and Chungha further establishing themselves as strong, successful artists apart from their former groups Wonder Girls and I.O.I, respectively.

Chungha, who originally debuted with the Produce 101 group under YMC Entertainment, went solo under MNH Entertainment in 2017. In the following year and half, she released two mini albums and defined her sound with upbeat EDM and tropical house styles in her singles “Why Don’t You Know,” “Roller Coaster” and “Love U.” Despite coming from a lesser-known company, Chungha gained attention and fans with her charisma, visuals and dance skills. She also appeared in big-name collaborations with Red Velvet’s Seulgi, GFriend’s SinB and (G)I-dle’s Soyeon as well as Super Junior’s Yesung.

Now that she’s carved out a place for herself in the K-pop landscape, Chungha has the freedom to try on new sounds and aesthetics, and she dives into a darker vibe with her new single and MV “Gotta Go (Already Midnight).”

In the song and the accompanying video, Chungha goes against all the trends fans might associate with her singles, eschewing light, fun and flirty in favor of powerful, dramatic and seductive. The song starts with a sultry flute-sounding synth sample that is soon peppered with driving percussion beats. While Chungha’s previous comeback lyrics have focused on generic feelings of new love, in “Gotta Go,” she explores longing, frustration and regret as she feels her chance at love slipping away.

It’s a bummer, it’s already 12
What to do? It’s already 12
Don’t wanna let you go
I know, how you feel it

I wanna whisper love along with the music
Honestly, we both feel the same
Gotta go gotta go 12 o’clock
I know we feel the same
But I can’t get any more honest
Gotta go gotta go 12 o’clock

Like Chungha’s previous MVs, “Gotta Go” doesn’t have any sort of plot, just a series of sets for Chunga to dance around. “Gotta Go’s” color palette matches the song’s dramatic tone with dark blacks, reds and other jewel tones, and Chunga is draped in heavy sequins and bulky shoulder pads. She’s also traded in playful elements such as glowing lipstick or a poolside pineapple for rich, luxe props like a chandelier, a hall lined with velvet curtains and a staircase perfect for a sassy strut flanked by backup dancers.

Unfortunately, along with this dark aesthetic, Chungha’s face is often covered in darkness, especially during the group dance shots on the black-and-white patterned floor. This is a shame since Chungha’s charisma comes predominantly from her enticing facial expressions. There’s brief illuminated flashes of all the work she’s doing with eyebrow arches and powerful stares, but it’s mostly obscured in shadow or shown from long-distance in the video. There are still plenty of still, close-up glamour shots of her, but the MV frustratingly fails to capture her performance skills and the attitude she’s serving.

There’s a strength and theatricality to the song’s choreography. With her waacking background, Chungha’s past tight, rapid and dainty choreography has relied predominantly on her expressive fingers, hands and arms to create cute, quickly shifting shapes and frames for her face. In the dance for “Gotta Go,” hand motions still abound, but instead of fast flourishes of her fingers, Chungha is throwing aggressive finger guns and 12:00 signs. She’s hitting and holding poses and gyrating within them, using a wider, more grounded hip-hop stance to create intense, sexy head-to-toe body rolls that put her past little hip pops to shame. Even her hard double clap before the second part of the chorus exudes swagger.

Her floorwork is also more aggressive than her past sweeping floor moves. In one of the video’s most striking moments, Chungha gets down on her hands and knees and twists her right leg in a hypnotic circle behind her. The move is reminiscent of a peacock tail-like mating move as well as a snake about to strike.

The power of her moves matches a previously untapped power in her vocals as well. Known as a dancer and rapper in I.O.I, Chungha has been pushing her vocals more with each solo release. While she still has a high, soft vocal timbre, the song sits in the richer, more stable and powerful part of her range, adding to the song’s more mature sound. In the final line of the breakdown toward to the end of the song, the backing track drops out entirely, allowing Chungha’s voice to dramatically soar as she sings, “I’m really trying to make you see.”

Overall, the song is a pleasing change of pace and tone for Chungha, but the song’s structure is a weak point. The choreography smartly allows Chungha to really live in and emote through certain moves, but the lyrics and instrumentation don’t have enough pauses for the song to really breathe or be dynamic. With the two-part chorus and repetitive beats, the song begins to drag and blend together with no stand-out killing part. The song also doesn’t build to anything after her high note, tapering off unsatisfactorily.

The MV itself fails to capture Chungha’s strongest point, her captivating charm, by obscuring her face during her choreography sections and leaving her pretty but blank-faced in close-up shots, which doesn’t match the emotion in the lyrics or her voice. Showing a little bit of acting or her expressions would’ve helped sell “Gotta Go” and given the MV and song greater impact.

Despite the flaws in the song and MV, the release is perhaps Chunga’s most interesting title track yet. This darker, more powerful style suits her voice, her dance skills and her attitude, proving she’s capable of much more than the summery pop releases she’s given us before.

(Youtube. Images via MNH Entertainment. Lyrics via Pop!Gasa.)