July may have been jam-packed with comebacks, but August took it one step further. The veterans of K-pop, both soloists and groups, made their mark this past month, adding a sweet touch of nostalgia to their newest releases. Thus, August’s Unsung Artists segment is dedicated to the experienced musicians in the K-pop world who are carving their own paths.
Girls’ Generation (SNSD) — “Forever 1”
Five years after Girls’ Generation went on hiatus, and just in time for their 15th anniversary, the group announced their long-awaited comeback with a full-length album. Forever 1 and the accompanying MV was released on August 8, a date that reflects the number of members and Girls’ Generation’s bright legacy. To say their return shook the K-pop world would be an understatement. Although “Forever 1” is nothing K-pop listeners have not heard before, the energetic EDM track is colored with a Girls’ Generation stamp through the members’ powerful vocals. The point of “Forever 1” is not to break the mold but rather restore it. The iconic group is back and doing what they do best.
Glitz, glam, and smiles define Girls’ Generation’s highly anticipated comeback. Of course, the “Forever 1” MV features the staples of K-pop title tracks, including cuts of member solo sets. The members stand on various stages, such as Taeyeon looking out to a crowd with a practiced smile on her face as a blinding spotlight encircles her or Sooyoung stepping out onto a red carpet, flashing cameras following her everywhere.
Despite the members becoming successful in their own solo endeavors, something special is added when the eight are together. Reminiscent of the nautical styling of their “Genie” era with tight white shorts and striped boat shirts, this first group choreography moment sparkles with Girls’ Generation’s chemistry. There is genuine joy in their smiles, movements, and voices. As they sing clearly in the bridge, “‘Cause we are the one,” there truly is no one like Girls’ Generation, and they are truly “Forever 1.”
Soohyun (UKISS) — “The Soju Fairy”
Compared to the flashier, dramatic MVs much of K-pop leans towards, UKISS’s leader Soohyun takes a simple and relatable approach in his solo debut, “The Soju Fairy.” The minimal MV budget is clear, but Soohyun still creates a sweet work of art, relying instead on his honeyed vocals and his cheerful energy. “The Soju Fairy” is set in just one location, with the vocalist dancing around food trucks that wait for midnight snackers. A mini storyline also makes an appearance, as a couple talk comfortably over some snacks and, of course, soju.
There is a musical flair to the peaceful yet upbeat ballad. Back-up dancers join him during the chorus, the no-fuss choreography creating a feeling like “The Soju Fairy” could be a solo musical number. Soohyun’s voice and the familiar scene just about pulls viewers into the moment and encourages them to take a seat next to one of the food stalls. “The Soju Fairy” is a perfect song that gently closes a long, hot summer day, something that is especially needed now.
Junny — “Not About You”
While Junny is not a K-pop veteran in the same sense as Girls’ Generation or Soohyun, he can be considered one thanks to his work in the K-pop production space. Having produced and written for NCT’s units, Kai–including “Mmmh”–Baekhyun, and IU, Junny is no stranger to K-pop. Despite being an artist in his own right since 2017, Blanc marks his first full-length project and establishes his unique voice in his solo work. Junny’s new album also came just ahead of his first world tour, which kicks off on September 4 with a show in Los Angeles.
Centered around an art and museum theme, “Not About You” adds new colors to Junny’s sound. As an experienced producer, he can adapt to other artists’ identities, but as demonstrated through this track and the Blanc album, he also has a firm idea of who “Junny” is. “Not About You” explores small moments of love and betrayal in an aesthetic setting; each emotion has its own set of colors, creating contrasting moods. The MV opens with Junny meeting someone at an art gallery, as they gaze at the same photo of the ocean. From there, a sweet romance blossoms: the two wrap their arms around each other as they brush their teeth; they experience never-ending laughter as they play video games; and they hold hands while having comfortable chats over coffee.
Although the MV is full of softness, the lyrics juxtapose this feeling with a sharp edge of confident finality. Junny insists that this is the only time he will be talking about the person in the track, otherwise nothing is about them. This self-assurance comes across in the last twists of the “Not About You” MV. Amid shots of the woman trying to talk to Junny after he discovers her in the arms of another, the artist moves freely in his solo set. Located in the same gallery where he met the woman, these scenes are in black and white and the camera follows Junny’s wide movements throughout the space. By the end of the MV, Junny explicitly expresses this confidence he possesses in private as he throws the bouquet of flowers behind him, instead of giving it to the woman he used to love.
Leo (VIXX) — “Losing Game”
Despite being Leo‘s third solo mini album, Piano Man Op. 9 and its title track, “Losing Game,” still has a VIXX flair. 2018’s Canvas and 2019’s Muse have clear visual art connections, and Piano Man Op. 9 continues this romantic thread. Although the title of this mini indicates a stronger music-related theme, the MV for “Losing Game” maintains a sultry and sophisticated color that is reminiscent of past VIXX releases.
Resonant piano chords mark the distinct opening of the track. While these notes sweep listeners into a romantic scene, a dangerous undertone colors the lyrics, the gritty bassline, and the rough guitar lines that form the foundation of the song. The MV also plays with this dichotomy through the location it is set in—a gilded manor. Leo may have everything in terms of material possessions around him, but he does not have the comfort of answers and certainty in his toxic romance, as he sings, “If you can call this love too then I’ll be fine / Because I can’t be without you.”
Meanwhile, red velvet curtains strangle any light that would possibly leak into the mansion. This color of danger and love is later reflected in Leo’s red suit and the red strings of fate that trap him while he plays a sleek grand piano. In a K-pop scene dominated by fast-moving MVs and dark concepts, Leo brings a fresh and sophisticated angle to his latest solo release.
Ha Sungwoon — “Focus”
Like Leo, Ha Sungwoon digs into his dangerous yet vulnerable side in “Focus.” Pulling inspiration from Western aesthetics, Sungwoon, with his bejeweled cowboy hat and fringe on his jacket, hypnotizes his audience. The former Wanna One and Hotshot member trades in his brighter concepts and sound–seen, for instance, in “Sneakers” and “Strawberry Gum”–for flames, low lighting, and disorienting camera movements here. The song features an anti-drop chorus and an emphatic, rhythmic melody, which only builds the tension found in the MV. The scratchy post-chorus hook also makes the track an automatic earworm when coupled with Sungwoon’s smooth dancing.
The MV itself is relatively simple; it rotates between solo shots of Ha Sungwoon, choreography scenes, and glimpses of a mysterious woman with a lighter. As the artist searches frantically for this figure, neon lights pulse in erratic patterns and he loses his sense of place and physicality. While Sungwoon is surrounded by threats and looks intimidating with his piercing gazes, “Focus” is ultimately about losing control despite clamoring for clarity.
(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius. Images via SM Entertainment.)