Weki Meki has had a busy 2020. Their most recent comeback, “Cool”, is their third so far, supported by their second EP of the year and fourth overall. This is because, despite their promising start with two former I.O.I. members right after their disbandment, Weki Meki is still searching for that elusive breakthrough hit that will push them above the glut of K-pop acts. As New Rules shows, their issue might have been that Weki Meki has been chasing trends rather than properly utilizing their own strengths.

Weki Meki’s last few singles have shown them following in the noise rock-flavored EDM that has propelled groups like ITZY to stardom, and lead single “Cool” is no exception. It is warped and futuristic, cultivating a dark and depraved atmosphere. The fuel behind it is the juxtaposition of the frenetic beat, the rubbery, adventurous bass, and Weki Meki’s melodic yet detached performance. They absolutely mirror the lyrics of being too cool for school, with “Cool” as an active attempt to cultivate an above it all image. The best moments from the song also come purely from Weki Meki’s vocals — a sudden shift to R&B when the instrumentation drops out, and Suyeon’s gorgeously clear notes.

“Cool” is followed by “Sweet Dreams”, a charmingly insidious track. Like the previous song, “Sweet Dreams” is built on juxtaposition. This time, it is the gentle vocals against the darkly sweet production. The instrumentation makes a firm pivot to R&B here, which is maintained throughout New Rules. The music is more melodic and flowing, though it still maintains the crowded noise typical of Weki Meki’s title tracks. However, this gives the instrumentation an aura of menace by giving the sickly sweet synths an underside of darkness bubbling away. The vocals further enhance the feeling of being too sweet, so much so that it is unsettling by leaning completely into the lovestruck girl mold, but working in the lower register and drawing notes out a hair too long. The end result is a song that embodies seduction by manipulation, with Weki Meki playing the ingenue to make the hero fall in love, but giving away enough to hint at their true natures as the femme fatale.

“D-Day” completes the shift in genre, going full R&B. It hits a potent mix of warmth and vulnerability thanks to the use of an acoustic guitar as the primary instrument, backed with handclaps for percussion. Rather than stripped down, “D-Day” comes off as more intimate than anything else. The vocals melt into the instrumentation with careful harmonies and drawn-out sighs. It is just as seductive as the previous track, but far more genuine. Here, the the seduction is buried behind the honeyed sounds, sounding nearly innocent in their desire to spend time with their love. However, the vocals have that hint of edge against the subtly suggestive twang in the guitar and “stay up through the night” gets highlighted just enough for Weki Meki’s point to come across.

Closing out the original tracks is “Just Us”, which is arguably the weakest. “Just Us” is my favorite kind of love song; rather than pining or confessing, Weki Meki are savoring the feeling of being in love and spending time with someone they love. The song also drives home how vocally cohesive and melodic Weki Meki are. Doyeon’s bridge solo followed by Suyeon’s held note, the harmonies, the clarity of the notes; this is what Weki Meki is best at. Sadly, the production is fairly bland, even with a bit more pep in the instrumentation than a typical ballad. Still, the vocals alone make it worth at least one listen.

The last song on New Rules is “100 Facts”, an English version of “Cool”. While not terrible, it is jarring to slam right back into EDM after settling nicely into the more melodic tracks of “Sweet Dreams”, “D-Day”, and “Just Us”. This particular track also highlights just how much tunes like this one waste Weki Meki’s vocals by burying them under noisy, crowded production and sticking to chanting rather than singing for the unison lines. There is also the shift in tone. While “Cool” is about Weki Meki trying to establish themselves as cool and distant for their own edification, “100 Facts” leans more towards acting as such specifically to attract a guy, and it is not a good look. Weki Meki come off as desperate try-hards more than anything.

As a whole, New Rules has a lot going for it. It really proves what Weki Meki can do when given the right material. Their harmonies are gorgeous, Suyeon and Doyeon’s vocals are enchanting, and the habit of having Lucy rap fast-pace over slower, gentle instrumentation works fabulously. If the group moves completely to a more R&B-influenced sound, they will probably find more success than their current club sound, because it plays to their strengths and, bonus, does not reek of trend-chasing.

(YouTube. Images via Fantiago)