Since their debut over five years ago, WJSN (Cosmic Girls) have honed their own specific style of pop to perfection. Instead of choosing one of two K-pop’s girl group tropes (“hard” or “cute”), they choose to take the middle road by releasing dance pop that is somehow hard-hitting without being aggressive, and sincere without straying into aegyo territory.
With their recent EP Unnatural, WJSN departs from their comfort zone of space-themed, fantastical pop. Yet despite this stylistic shift, the album retains the group’s sonic hallmarks like lush vocal layering and crisp production. Exploring new territory while maintaining WJSN’s own distinct style, Unnatural is one of the most consistent and impressive albums released so far in 2021.
Unnatural is so consistent, in fact, that no one song stands out as the absolute best. It is difficult to find highs and lows within this album, given the caliber of each track. Title track “Unnatural” is strong, but b-sides like “New Me” and “Last Dance” could have convincingly taken its place, too.
“Unnatural” is a song marked by contrasts: starting out with a sparse, meandering verse (seemingly influenced by current boy group trends), the title track quickly explodes into its full-throated prechorus. Soobin and Yeonjung give an especially impressive performance. Meanwhile, the lyrics are a girl group classic, featuring breathless consternation about a crush:
Every single one of my actions are awkward
All the smiles around my mouth, everything
Oh no, oh what should I do?
Despite these shifts, “Unnatural”’s core pulse remains constant, maintaining a consistent level of energy. This club-influenced song may be a few steps away from WJSN’s typical space synth sound, but it nevertheless presents a convincing evolution.
Similar to “Unnatural,” “Last Dance” thrives on its thrilling juxtaposition. Here, WJSN once again tackles standard boy group styles (hard-hitting percussion, almost like the revving of a car’s engine) but with a twist: fairy magic. “Last Dance” opens with an ethereal series of tinkling notes — the instrument here seems to be the celesta, which is famously used in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
Somehow, “Last Dance” amalgamates delicate celesta, EDM percussion, waterlike ripple distortions, and hi-hat whispers, all without ever becoming piecemeal or disjointed. By including these diverse effects within a single song, WJSN puts a fresh spin on familiar (and even generic) sounds within K-pop.
B-side “New Me” is every bit as strong as “Last Dance,” but revolves around consistency rather than juxtaposition. Here, WJSN joins the 80’s retrosynth craze currently sweeping through K-pop, to sublime effect. This particular genre’s constantly-pulsing style matches particularly well with WJSN’s smooth, layered vocals.
“New Me” is also notable for its empowering lyrics; while the rest of Unnatural largely concerns itself with romance, “New Me” only focuses on self-confidence:
Watch me to be born new, a new me
The light that changes little by little
The color that gets darker
Nobody can control me
No one can change me
This anthem of renewal and self-discovery is particularly apt given Unnatural’s place within WJSN’s discography — with this latest EP, the group is indeed displaying a “new me.” With Unnatural, WJSN leaves behind fantasy pop, which they have already explored so extensively (see “Save Me, Save You” and “Secret”); but even working within new genres, WJSN remains recognizable thanks to their trademark vocal processing and detail-oriented production choices.
WJSN’s attention to detail is evident in “Super Moon” and “Yalla,” which both sport brisk, funky beats. The vocal distortion applied to “Super Moon”’s prechorus lends extra grit and interest to an otherwise sugary-sweet confection. Similarly, “Yalla,” which has a relatively weak chorus (at least when compared to Unnatural’s other tracks), is redeemed by its luscious harmonies.
Although “Rewind,” the obligatory end-of-album ballad, does not reinvent the wheel, it is yet another solid addition to WJSN’s catalogue. Its instrumental steadily gains power, starting as stripped-down piano and building to an orchestral crescendo; this inertia is predictable but quite pleasant. The lyrics nod to WJSN’s “cosmic” branding, with a dose of OST-ready bittersweetness:
Like a dream that will be forgotten in the dark night again
I’m afraid that the stars will fade
I can’t let you go
Don’t let go of my hand
Unnatural departs from WJSN’s past conceptual leanings, as it is decidedly less spacey and fantastical than previous releases. But even so, Unnatural still bears WJSN’s distinct markings; the genre may have changed, but WJSN’s style remains. It is to their credit that Unnatural is so consistent throughout. Time will tell if the group chooses to return to their uniquely cosmic pop, but for now, Unnatural more than suffices.