There’s a saying among Mamamoo listeners that “once you Wheein” to the group, “you can’t Wheeout.” The phrase is a play on member Wheein’s name, and has long been a popular way of welcoming new fans into the fold. It’s fitting, then, that Mamamoo’s 12th mini-album, Mic On, is forged upon layers of playful wordplay and unbridled joie de vivre–core characteristics of the group that have long cemented their status as trailblazers.
A self-assured, limitless parade of good vibes, lead track “1,2,3, Eoi!”‘s carefreeness embodies Mamamoo’s essence in a way that a ballad, perhaps, would not. The title of the song refers to their group cheer before every performance, and immediately sets the album’s upbeat tone.
Characteristic of Mamamoo, “1,2,3, Eoi!” opens with an invitation courtesy of Solar: “Everyone, gather round! Mamamoo and there, hold on tight!” It’s the prelude to a video teeming with joy, as all four of them commandeer a karaoke room with strobe lights, tambourines, and endearing shenanigans that make it impossible not to smile. “Today’s your youngest day! Stay young,” Hwasa sings, as the group grooves and completes increasingly elaborate team handshakes in the middle of a library.
Unlike some groups that occupy celestial realms or elite worlds in their videos, part of the magic of Mamamoo is that they usually bring their party to us on more everyday turf, and in the process remind us just how much fun life can be. Mamamoo’s ethos has always been one of invitation and inclusion (which is not to say their talents aren’t palace-worthy). One of their gifts is the ability to make listeners feel like we, too, can roll up to the nearest karaoke bar and join in on their goofy antics, if not replicate their vocal dexterity.
Moonbyul‘s verse is an endearing example of Mamamoo’s spirit in action. There’s no denying that raps are often designed for groups to lean into their braggadocios side, especially in the form of referencing money or other indicators of wealth. Moonbyul’s verse subverts this, however, as she tells listeners not to “worry about your wallet…[there are] so many zeros in my bank account. Don’t worry, I’m paying.”
Here, Mamamoo’s success isn’t used to reinforce exclusivity or reference Lamborghini’s–instead, Moonbyul uses it as a springboard to joyfully invite all of us along for the ride with them. It’s a small detail, but reflective of the ethos of the group.
Moonbyul has sometimes felt underutilized in Mamamoo’s oeuvre, but thankfully her presence is felt more prominently on this album. In fact, the title track of Mic On, “Illella,” is co-written by and skillfully showcases Moonbyul. She navigates the space between rapping and vocalization with an ease that suits the slower-paced, romantic nature of the song.
“Illella” accomplishes the admirable feat of conquering a new sound for the group–sultry reggaeton–and warping it entirely to their group dynamics. Even the song name feels very Mamamoo: “Illella” means something akin to a tension that has reached its peak, or “to provoke a problem.” In the context of the song, the tension is romantic: will the singer pursue a night (or more) with their lover, or stay in safer territory?
Mamamoo has never been one to play it safe, as Hwasa acknowledges in “1,2,3 Eoi!” “Kids, go away if you don’t know how to have fun,” she playfully reminds us. Latin-inspired K-pop can feel like somewhat generic dance fare, but Moonbyul’s poetic lyrics, coupled with Solar’s explosive ad-libs following the chorus, are part of what elevate “Illella” and give it staying power.
“Leaning against the moonlight, you and I bundled up…hearts about to burst,” Moonbyul sings in the bridge, before launching into the brazenly romantic refrain: “Will something happen? Will I make something happen?” The entire track exults in this playful dance of uncertainty and thrill, but with a sense of self-assuredness that comes with maturity. No rookie group would be able to sing such a sultry serenade with the authority of Mamamoo here, or seem so clearly to be enjoying themselves while doing it.
The production of “1,2,3 Eoi!” harmonizes with the playfulness of “Illela”, as loose, rhythmic guitar and lively synths propel the song all the way through, skillfully sidestepping a curated-for-TikTok dance break. In many ways, “1,2,3 Eoi!” is a fun-filled sonic treat for Moomoos, with references to their past littered through the video. One of the comic standouts is Wheein’s line, “Cats are cute, eccentric Mamamoo.” (It’s well-known that Wheein is a major cat lover, and frequently references her cat during interviews and v-lives).
These winking nods to the quirks of Mamamoo members, such as Solar’s love for pizza and Hwasa’s affinity for tequila (both also referenced in the song), are undeniably endearing in their relatability. It’s hard not to love a group that so revels in their own eccentricity, to the point of embedding those quirks in their lyrics. While so much of the entertainment industry seems predicated on separation, with artists occupying a realm seemingly beyond the ‘everyday person’s’ reach, Mamamoo plays by a different handbook.
Mic On’s final track, “L.I.E.C.,” captures the joie de vivre that defines Mamamoo at their best. Dazzling disco with tantalizing elements of trap, the song’s title means “living in every condition,” and chronicles Mamamoo reveling in life with that infectious spirit. “Let’s take a taxi, eat and drink–I’m feeling alive,” Wheein sings, while Solar follows up with the song’s chorus and call to action: “do what you want to do…let’s go together, everyone, phone down for awhile.” The key word here is together. In Mamamoo’s world, we’re all friends here, and their songs offer a connection to the essence of what life should be about: pizza, cats, and the limitless joy to be found in the nooks and crannies of the everyday.
At the risk of sounding overly philosophical, Mamamoo are noteworthy not just because of their unparalleled vocal prowess, but also because their music presents us with a sort of manual for how to live. “Mic On” is a slim offering, but each of the songs are bursting with Mamamoo’s unbridled zest for life, and the playfully inventive production accentuates the album’s exuberance.
In a world that can feel dizzying, Mamamoo offers us an invitation to join them in their celebration–and in the process, reminds us that even when life feels complicated it’s actually, at its core, pretty cool (or at the very least, can always be made better via a dance party). There’s perhaps no endorsement more ringing for an album than that.
YouTube, Images and lyrics courtesy of RBW Entertainment.