Two and a half years on from the disbandment of Produce 101’s first group, I.O.I, member and overall winner Jeon Somi is finally back with her first solo effort, released under the YG Entertainment sublabel, The Black Label. Long awaited by fans of both the group and the show, Somi returned with her debut song and MV “Birthday” last week, accumulating over 12 million views in just three days.

The 18-year-old Korean-Canadian first became known after appearing in the 2015 JYP Entertainment survival show, Sixteen, competing with fifteen other female trainees to debut in the group that would eventually be known as Twice. After being eliminated in the final round, she went on to participate in the first season of Mnet’s Produce 101, this time successfully entering the debut group I.O.I and ranking as the most popular out of all 101 contestants.

The group saw huge success during their one year together, releasing hits like the JYP-produced “Very Very Very” and winning several awards whilst being nominated for others. After the group disbanded, plenty expected its members to come back as solo artists or in new groups under their original labels. Most did (to varying degrees of success), but Somi’s activities were few and far between, limited to small jobs like variety show appearances and web dramas. Eventually, she left JYP Entertainment and moved to The Black Label, most likely in hopes of a more active solo schedule.

Almost a year on, Somi has finally made her debut with “Birthday”, a track by YG in-house producer Teddy with co-composing credits that include Somi herself. The song is a fun, energetic pop number with sassy lyrics and peppy guitars, and its MV is just as bright and colourful.

Considering that expectations for Somi were high, “Birthday” is not a bad debut at all, both in terms of production quality and individual style. Musically, “Birthday” perfectly reflects Somi’s playful and mischievous character, giving her plenty of space to shine with high vocal melodies and rap parts full of attitude. While there are moments that border on corny, Hannah-Montana-style American pop (especially the pre-choruses), the song counters potential cheesiness with a quirky drop and catchy rap lines, such as the iconic “Oops, you’re not invited” and well-delivered English verse:

I got all the boys coming round to my yard
I’m shakin’ that thing like a pola- polaroid
I’ll give you that ooh
You give me that too
It’s always a surprise
When I step up in the room it’s like

While the drop and her rap lines are the highlights, she performs well throughout and the song flows smoothly and cohesively from beginning to end. It’s catchy enough to keep listeners coming back, and those who don’t know who Somi is at the beginning will definitely know by the end.

The MV, while fun, is the weakest element of the debut. Somi herself performs well in front of the camera, as she always has, but the MV is a visual overload. There’s just too little content to make it particularly interesting or rewatchable. There’s no narrative and – considering that Somi is a great dancer – disappointingly little choreography shown. There are shots which hint at Somi’s more humorous side, but no laugh-out-loud moments or committed attempts at comedy.

Somi changes outfits too many times to count, and while she looks great in most of them, there is too much visual information to process; it would have been more effective to choose two or three memorable looks instead. The same goes for sets – in the space of three minutes, Somi is shown in a car, a school hallway, a graffitied room, a theatre stage, in a cannon, in front of giant presents, a ball pit and on a giant cake, among others. Multiple settings can and usually do work well for an MV, but in this case they just seemed messy and overwhelming, not helped by the fact that each uses neon rainbow colours. Finally, the lighting is quite harsh, and in combination with the colour scheme creates a slight tackiness and artificiality; a more harmonious colour palette might have helped, as well as softer lighting.

Though the MV leaves something to be desired, overall “Birthday” is a solid debut. It’s full of the exact kind of spunk and attitude that Somi herself radiates, and in that sense it’s ideal: she can stay true to herself while establishing a fairly unique style. It plays perfectly to her strengths, utilising her English skills, vocal tone, rap ability and most importantly, her larger-than-life personality to maximum effect, successfully differentiating her from the crowd.

Having been around for several years, it’s easy to forget that she’s still only 18; while the concept might have seemed immature from an older artist, Somi is in the perfect position to adopt this kind of image. It leaves her with plenty of space to experiment and mature with future songs, and the success of her debut makes it certain that those will come soon.

(YouTube [1]. Images via The Black Label, YMC Entertainment. Lyrics via Pop!Gasa.)