Since she first burst onto the K-pop scene as the center for Produce 101’s “Pick Me” six years ago, Choi Yoojung has shown her numerous talents and natural charms through her activities as part of groups I.O.I and Weki Meki. Now, she undertakes a new challenge with her solo debut release Sunflower. Debuts are meaningful moments and for Yoojung, who was given the golden yellow flower as a symbol from her grandfather, the title of the album and lead single is a fitting name to mark her new venture as a soloist. With various vintage and R&B themes, Sunflower oozes personality and screams Choi Yoojung all over.

The title track “Sunflower (P.E.L)” is an easygoing pop R&B song that matches well with the end of summer. Its accompanying music video makes use of this vibe and follows Yoojung around as she adventures through the sunny city of L.A.

Focusing on the lively hip-hop dance, the video opens with Yoojung and dancers in a spacious backyard pool area before promptly cutting to other choreography scenes. The backgrounds are very diverse including a graffiti-filled skatepark, a sweeping desert landscape, and even some hip areas just around the local neighborhood. This in tandem with the bouncy camerawork and rhythmic film cuts keep the audience engrossed and energized despite the languid air from the track. There are several sunflower-inspired items and extra yellow pieces with a warm color scheme throughout the video that add to the nostalgic vintage aesthetic. It also helps that the outfits are strongly Y2K-inspired and capture both Yoojung’s ‘lovely’ and ‘swag’ sides.

And with the energetic choreography, Yoojung’s performance is engaging and charismatic as you would anticipate from the talented all-rounder. However, perhaps because of prior expectations that were built up from her fiery stages as an I.O.I and Weki Meki member, the production seems too simple to be a lead single specially for someone with as much star power as Yoojung. There are some intriguing elements in the instrumental like the mellow guitar sounds, whimsical synths, and fast-paced drum rhythms, yet the lackluster vocal melody prevents the song from standing out. The chorus lacks a memorable hook and feels a bit dull which is somewhat ironic considering the lyrics are about “power, energy, and love.” “Sunflower (P.E.L)” fits the record’s concept but comes across more as a relaxing B-side than as a promotional title track for a solo debut album.

In comparison, the second number on the record “Tip Tip Toes” is a medium tempo R&B piece with an interesting, dynamic vocal arrangement that was absent in “Sunflower (P.E.L).” This combined with the sleek brass and piano instrumental helps to shape an alluring and mysterious ambience. The lines in the chorus are especially catchy and spirited:

Yeah, dangerous tip, tip, tip, tip toes

Only obvious tic-tac-toe X, O, taking a red

Tip, tip, tip, tip toes, keep on tip toes, tip toes

More freely (Tip toes)

Overall, the tune is a fun mood lifter that captivates listeners and effectively showcases Yoojung’s vocal skills while still maintaining a vintage sound.

Bringing the single album to a sweet close is the tender R&B ballad “Owl.” Here, the vocals take center stage as the airy melody allows Yoojung’s distinct timbre to shine through. The groovy percussion and dreamlike synths create a hazy, almost mythical aura, as if the listener is walking through a misty forest illuminated by a full moon. It’s the perfect addition to an evening or late night stroll playlist as the seasons begin to change and the weather gets cooler. If “Sunflower (P.E.L)” expresses the end of summer, then “Owl” represents the start of autumn and colder months of the year.

All in all, Sunflower is a calm and laid-back release that, albeit pleasant and cohesive to listen to, does not utilize Yoojung’s talents as much as expected. The vintage theme for the album is a suitable match for the charming artist, and it’s clear that Yoojung enjoys the R&B sound with her passionate stages, so it’s a bit regretful that she wasn’t given an impactful single that could show her abilities more. There’s no denying that Yoojung is incredibly talented, she just needs that added zest in her tracks before she fully blossoms as a soloist.

(NME. YouTube. Images via Fantagio.)