As with every year, the post-Chuseok season welcomed a veritable flood of releases in October, ranging from the debut of Super M and the long-anticipated return of Super Junior and Brown Eyed Girls to the beautiful, artistic MVs of TXT and Winner. However, what should have been a fun and exciting month proved instead to be exceptionally tough, with the passing of Sulli, and the departures of much loved idols — The BoyzHwall, Stray KidsWoojin and Monsta X’s Wonho — from their respective groups.

Amidst everything, a few releases slipped through the cracks here at Seoulbeats. In this month’s edition of Unsung Artists, we take the opportunity to highlight a few comebacks and debuts that deserved a closer look.

ONF, “Why”

Following Laun’s abrupt departure from the group after this comeback was announced, ONF opened October 2019 with the beautiful and moody “Why” (an appropriate title in rather meta way, since fans are still wondering why Laun left). “Why” is both a ballad and a dance track, and talks about a dangerous and obsessive love. The song’s persona questions why he holds on to it, despite being scarred and hurting deeply. Its haunting melody and synth-heavy hook carry a feeling of desperation that may leave the listener feeling slightly anxious.

The song is accompanied by a bleak but cinematic MV in which the ONF members appear to face off against one another in a simulated, dystopian world. The settings are scenic: shots of beautiful green mountains intermingle with abandoned buildings and empty museums. Keys, guns, portals, and other game elements appear and disappear. Desperation and darkness cloud the members’ faces. The boys’ struggle against one another brings gravity and depth to the lyrics as the song’s persona struggles against himself, and a love that has now gone bad.

Ladies’ Code, “Set Me Free”

The ladies of Ladies’ Code returned as confident and sexy robbers in a fun MV for “Set Me Free”. The girls emerge at the start of the MV as divas in high heels, driving a bright red car and flaunting their wealth. But something’s off — Zuny and Ashley are waving guns at the camera. The girls rob a high-end clothing store and then hit the casino, where they once again pull a gun covered in a paper bag, to escape. At the end, the “gun” is revealed to be nothing more than a banana, and the girls have bluffed their way out of a dangerous situation. This is not quite the “free” the lyrics speak of, but it certainly makes for a more fun MV.

The lyrics talk about being attracted to somebody or something new. The girls want to be set free of this attraction by going along with these emotions. “Set Me Free” is yet another song that uses a synth drop in the hook. It does not utilize the members’ vocals as effectively as it could, but it does have a fresh and upbeat vibe that promises to energize the listener instantly.

Stray Kids, “Double Knot”

“Double Knot” is widely believed to be a precursor to Stray Kids’ next mini album, Clé:Levanter, now scheduled for release in December. It may be noted that this “Double Knot” is different from the track with the same name on 3racha’s 2017 mixtape Horizon. If in a recent comeback Stray Kids talked about the “Side Effects” of growing up – pain, anger, and confusion – they now tighten their shoelaces (“Tie it tighter, double knot!”) and run forward. The MV fittingly shows many scenes of the members running. Their determination is reinforced by their gazes, which are hard and fixed firmly ahead at all times.

Now I’m free! Get up
I can go anywhere
Free! Get up
I’ll go my own way, so get out of the way

Sadly, on October 28, it was announced that Woojin had terminated his contract with JYPE and left the group for “personal reasons”. As with ONF’s Laun, there were no prior indications, and it is unknown what could have led to such a drastic decision. We wish Woojin the best in the future. May he and Stray Kids keep running forward on their paths.

Jung Daehyun, “Aight”

It’s been a busy month for Babyz as Daehyun, Zelo (“Drunken Master”), and Youngjae (“Forever Love”) all shared solo music. Dae-hyun returned with the single album “Aight”, his first release since signing with a new agency, STX Lion-Heart Entertainment. “Aight”, with its heavy emphasis on electronics and a catchy hook, is not the ballad we expected — and therefore, a pleasant, unexpected surprise, coming from the vocalist. Daehyun even tries his hand at rapping. While he isn’t very good at it, fans will certainly enjoy the effort.

It’s great to see Daehyun take on new challenges, but at the same time, a good comeback also utilizes the performer’s strengths. Unfortunately, this is where “Aight” fails. The song relies almost entirely on production to try (in vain) to catch one’s attention — which is what the lyrics demand: love and attention. Similarly, the MV, a rather basic choreography MV which flits between different sets, fails to add any value. Even Daehyun’s gorgeous visuals are obscured for much of the time in the dark lighting.   

As a Babyz myself, Daehyun already has my love and attention. I hope that in his next solo effort, he plays to his strengths, while continuing to experiment with sound and genre.

AleXa, “Bomb”

Former Produce 48 contestant Alex Christine debuted with an exceptionally powerful concept in “Bomb”, where she becomes a cyborg ready to take on the world. In the MV, AleXa is dropped — discarded — amidst a pile of other bodies, whom she wakes up with a single touch. They go on to join her as her back up dancers. Hard hitting choreography accompanies EDM with a Latin influence to create a unique debut.

Interestingly, the MV also features the word “संसार” (sansar) or “world” in Hindi, and a romanized “saṃsāra”, which in Sanskrit refers to the cycle of life and death to which the world is bound. This may be a shout out to her Indian fans, as AleXa has toured in the country pre-debut, but may also be elaborated upon in later songs — as the “Bomb” MV ends cryptically with the words “Project 0” and “Search Project 01”.

It is worth noting that AleXa truly is aiming for the world. ZB Label has capitalized on her fluency in English to deliver a ton of pre-debut content geared towards international fans. The strategy seems to have worked, for “Bomb” debuted at No. 7 on Billboard‘s World Digital Song Sales chart, making AleXa one of the few female K-pop stars that have landed their debut solo single on the Billboard charts.

Monsta X, “Follow”

Monsta X returned with a loud, fun and addictive sound in the form of “Follow”. The song retains their signature explosive energy, and blends EDM with a taepyeongso, a traditional Korean wind instrument heard prominently throughout the song. The MV also incorporates traditional Korean elements, such as hanbok-inspired outfits, in addition to a Middle Eastern-ish backdrop. Worthy of special mention is I.M and Joohoney‘s rap, which adds some unexpected, aggressive personality to the already distinctly Monsta X song; and the many gratuitous frames of Wonho’s well defined chest in the MV (not that we’re complaining).

It is impossible to mention “Follow” without also discussing the immediate post comeback departure of Wonho from the group due to ongoing controversy. The album was released on October 28, and Wonho left the group on October 31, on the day of Monsta X’s first music show appearance, which was recorded with all seven prior to the announcement. Believe it or not, the remaining six boys went on perform again the next day on Music Bank, with choreography already adjusted, and Kihyun taking over Wonho’s parts.

At the time of writing this article, fans have been trending Wonho and Monsta X related tags on twitter for over 48 hours, and they are planning a vigil outside Starship Entertainment‘s office, in an unprecedented effort to bring Wonho back.

Taeyeon, “Spark”

“Spark” came amidst the heartbreaking news of Sulli’s passing, and Taeyeon had understandably postponed its release by a few days. However, it is easily my personal favorite song from the month, and ended October with a dose of much needed encouragement, energy and power.

This is the right time
It’s time to open your eyes, it’s dawn
Awaken that spark

Burn it up even more
So it won’t turn off

Taeyeon sings of her “Spark”, thereby encouraging the listener to ignite their own small spark, and keep going, until it is an unstoppable fire. The MV complements the theme — the backdrop is red, whether the red of a wall, the fiery sky under a setting sun, or the colour of sparks that by the end, have ignited into a full-fledged fire. Taeyeon’s clothing is similarly black or red, accentuating both the concept and Taeyeon’s superstar persona.

There is a reason pop is so well loved — when done right, it hits all the right notes with astounding ease. “Spark” is an easy example of the best of this oft-looked-down-upon genre. Taeyeon’s powerful vocals lead the rhythmic instrumentation to create a melodic, fun, and catchy song.

Dear readers, were there any other releases from October deserving of our attention? Share them in the comments!

(YouTube [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]; Images via Starship Entertainment, SM Entertainement; Lyrics via popgasa)