Can you believe that we are already halfway through the year? It feels like just yesterday we were bidding adieu to the hellhole that was 2020, and now it is already time for Seoulbeats’ Mid-year Reviews! As we recap the first half of the year, let’s take some time to highlight some of the June releases that flew under the radar, too:

Zelo — “On a Roll”

Barely eight bars into this track and I was rushing to add it to my playlist. Familiar with his fast rap style from the days of B.A.P, I love hearing how it captures his own evolution over the years. Now representing himself and co-producing with Kinda (formerly Nakta of Topp Dogg), Zelo directed the above MV himself; the dizzy camerawork and fast cuts are in-sync with Zelo’s own energy and rejection of capitalism in favour of genuineness.

This energy is tempered somewhat on the other track of his new release, break-up track “Ill Love”. “On A Roll” speaks more to how Zelo sees himself as an artist right now, making it the more natural choice for promoting with a single. Zelo no longer gives a fuck — he is on a roll now and nothing is going to stop him.

Just B — “Damage”

Speaking of B.A.P, new agency Bluedot Entertainment’s advertising of their link to Bang Yongguk definitely got me to listen to “Damage”. The debut single from six-member boy group Just B starts off cocky but quickly turns into an earnest affirmation of the listener, lamenting the damage dealt by society’s rigid expectations. The chorus is a standout, especially the backing vocals that add to the eeriness of the world created in the MV.

With the ambitious cinematic universes being built in K-pop, the self-contained storyline of “Damage” with an open ending is welcome. It’s simple, yes, but I am all for people reclaming the red pill-blue pill metaphor that has been appropriated by incels (much like the term ‘incel’ itself).

Bobae — “Baby I Miss”

Singer-songwriter Bobae’s latest single tackles the theme of romantic loss. As Bobae sings on a video call, the desktop screen is overrun with video files and Google searches. From a bird on a windowsill, to a plane in the sky, we segue into the cockpit as the beat slows.

Catharsis comes by the transition from observation to interpretation, skittering hi hats the only remnant of the earlier frenzied search for understanding. As Bobae winds down from her spiralling thoughts, a guitar is strummed and the video turns to animation.

Ra Mi-ran, Mirani — “Ramirani”

This fun collaboration was birthed from the fact that actress Ra Mi-ran (Reply 1988) and rapper Mirani have similar sounding (stage) names. A silly premise for a song, but Unnies member Ra is more than capable of keeping up with the young rapper. With an energetic riff and uplifting message, the duo seek to make “Ramirani” more than a novelty, and have been promoting it seriously. With their different backgrounds, both are definitely benefitting from the exposure to the other’s audience.

B.I — Illa Illa

While B.I has released music since his departure from iKon, “Illa Illa” marks his official debut as a soloist under IOK Music with album Waterfall. “Illa Illa” follows the album name as B.I emerges from the sea and eventually makes his way to the studio. His tears are evaporated by the sun as he sings:

Oh, at the end of my sleeves is a beach
‘Cause I wiped out the water flowing on both cheeks

Before rapping:

Though I know it will crumble
I’ll probably build a sandcastle again

Days before his album Waterfall‘s release, B.I was indicted in the ongoing investigation into former YGE director Yang Hyun-suk‘s cover-up of his alleged drug use. While B.I returned a negative drug test result in early 2020 as part of the investigation, his admission of purchasing drugs in 2016 led to the indictment.

While the timing of this album drop feels unfortunate, “Illa Illa” gives us an emotional track of indefatigable hope that grabs the attention of casual listeners and dedicated fans alike.

(BBC, Dispatch, Sports World, YouTube: [1][2][3][4]. Lyrics via Zelo Lyrics. Images via IOK Music X 131 Label)