This summer has been particularly kind to us, music-wise. We’ve been gifted with summer bop after summer bop—from Twice Nayeon’s “Pop” to the “Queen of Sparkle” Chungha’s “Sparkling”, to the recent reunion of the queens of K-pop, Girls’ Generation.
Yena, who stuck her stake in an upbeat pop-rock sound in her solo debut, Smiley, joins in the summer fun. Following up on her January debut release, the bubbly former main rapper of Iz One has returned with the mini album Smartphone and a title track of the same name. “Smartphone” is a pop-rock summer bop that adds a Yena flair to the recent rock revival. Satisfying synths, an energetic electric guitar, and an addictive chorus (starting with an emphatic “Push! Swipe!”) combine to support this retro-tinged comeback alongside the strong Y2K aesthetic of the MV.
Although “Smartphone” is about, well, Yena’s cell phone, the MV leans into the Y2K trend in full-force, especially through its styling and set details. While the exuberant colors and the sheer amount of objects in each set are almost overwhelming, “Smartphone” maintains the perfect balance to make the MV fun and encourage viewers to dig through details. And the Y2K details do not disappoint.
The stylist, makeup artist, and hair stylist translate Yena’s cheerful personality into bold styling, taking risks while remaining sophisticated. They also keep the fun of the Y2K revival without making it tacky and forgettable, now that the aesthetic is back in the mainstream consciousness. Yena often sports bunchy pigtails and electric-colored hair bands that will take any person who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s back to their childhoods. She also brings back the short spaghetti strapped dress over a T-shirt look for the scenes where she plays games in her room, making the style effortlessly cool. For the same outfit, the 22-year-old artist dons plastic pink necklaces and heart hair clips in similar colors as her elastic hair bands.
A boxy computer from the 2000s is what video gamer Yena uses in the MV, contributing to the blast-from-the-past feel. “Smartphone” also pulls from the 2000s with its retro graphics, including the old video game aesthetic that is interspersed between shots of “real life” Yena. Nostalgia and clever fun collide in these few moments, reminding the targeted generations of the games they used to play on older TVs, like the first versions of Mario Kart—including the distinct sound effects—or early phone games.
“Smartphone” adds to the visual and auditory playground of the aesthetics and the track itself through a simple yet engaging narrative. In the MV, Yena is a successful gamer who has won first place in the opening scene. Cameras flash as she holds up her trophy in triumph, and droves of heart emojis and “I love you!!” messages from her livestream appear on the screen. Despite this achievement, Yena never encounters another human being throughout the rest of the MV. Instead, “Smartphone” is focused on her video game friends, who, as one would assume, live inside of her cell phone. A hologram Yena beckons human gamer Yena to play, which leads the artist to discover that her animal friends have been kidnapped by an evil duck character.
This MV continues Yena’s superhero persona from her debut, “Smiley,” but changes the character a bit to better accompany the narrative of “Smartphone.” One way this is achieved is through switching between real life Yena and Yena as her video game avatar, a fun twist to an already clever MV. Two-dimensional electronic Yena occasionally makes an impactful appearance, leaping over barriers in the video game and shooting her choice of weapon at the evil duck. “Smartphone” brings viewers into a first-person point of view, too, by filming scenes inside of the game, as if we were fighting alongside Yena.
Of course, with a song called “Smartphone,” it is expected that technology will play a major role in the MV. Quick cuts, often as transitions, build out the technology theme in subtle ways. A wall of 3D emojis marks the transition from the press photographing a victorious Yena to cozy gamer Yena in her room. There is also a brief scene where she selects her video game avatar’s outfit and weapon; the yellow outfit the singer chooses has “power” and “cute” to the max in the strength breakdown diagram.
Despite its cheerfulness, there is more to “Smartphone,” just like there was more under the bubbly surface of “Smiley.” As apparent in the plot of “Smartphone,” besides being someone whose cell phone is her “best friend,” Yena is also a protective friend. The track and the MV has a strong playfulness, but the track has its solemn moments as well. Yena knows how others see her (a “loner”) and addresses this in the bridge when the upbeat instrumentals become more mellow. However, she possesses an unyielding self-confidence, as she sings:
What you say what you say I’m a princess
What you say what you say, I’m a goddess
This is my star where anything can come true
Persistence and self-esteem characterize this track, which Yena has songwriting credits on, and it also comes through in the MV. Video game Yena gets up again and again in the face of the obstacles that stand in her way, including the classic banana peels. Her character may have lost all of her lives at one point, but Yena recollects her power through sheer determination, re-energizing her once more.
All in all, “Smartphone” is a feast for the eyes and ears that’s super fun and super Yena. The narrative and Y2K aesthetic is obviously not new, but the sets and graphics, styling, and Yena’s irresistible performance, especially her wide range of facial expressions, elevates the MV. The choreography is simple and TikTok challenge ready, but it maintains the theme of “Smartphone.” Smooth pushing and swiping gestures match the chorus, for example, creating an eye-catching and entertaining choreography to match the dance-around-your-room earworm track. While “Smartphone” carries similar elements from “Smiley,” like the pop-rock foundations of the tracks, this latest comeback only proves that there is much to look forward to from Yena the solo artist.
Yena is one of those artists who have established their sound and aesthetic very quickly—and excels at what they are doing. She successfully channels her natural bubbly and energetic personality into her artistic identity while acknowledging that this brightness dips sometimes because she is human after all. As “Smartphone” and its dynamic MV shows, this just is Yena.
(YouTube. Images via Yuehua Entertainment.)