If YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter are any indication, one of K-pop fans’ favorite hobbies is debating title track choices. Was group A’s title track really the best song on the EP? Would artist B’s standout b-side have catapulted them to fame if only it had been promoted as a single? While these conversations can seem frivolous, since fans don’t have jurisdiction over K-pop companies’ song selection process, and time machines don’t exist (yet), a valid point drives the discourse: title track decisions matter.
Whether you agree or disagree with certain selections, there used to be a clear pattern of title track qualities. Because of the performance-heavy promotion cycle K-pop follows, title tracks tended to be confident, loud, and intensely danceable. In recent years though, that standard has become less universal. Perhaps this is because of the viral success of certain atypical b-sides in comparison to their more standard title track partners (think TXT’s “Anti-Romantic” or Oh My Girl’s “Dolphin”). Or maybe because even the most structured industry is not immune to the inevitability of change. Regardless of the reason, softer and, mostly in a good sense, weirder title tracks are emerging. A peak example from this year is NewJeans’ “OMG,” and fellow fourth-generation girl group Purple Kiss have also opted for the path-less-followed with their comeback “Sweet Juice.”
“Sweet Juice” is a gorgeous song, haunting and mesmerizing, as exemplified by the central delicate piano refrain and the members’ skillful, ethereal vocals. The production choices, particularly a fascinating popping sound that serves as the track’s beat, are delightfully unique. Still, “Sweet Juice” is a tricky title track. The song lacks musical peaks and valleys, so its momentum is steady rather than exhilarating. It is also relatively simple, the correct tact to maintain the track’s subtle charms, but another aspect making the song harder to market in typical K-pop fashion. Purple Kiss’ work-around is to infuse this sophisticated gem with elements of camp horror, particularly in the song’s lyrics and MV. This interesting style marriage does double duty: it links the track to the group’s well-established aesthetic and adds a dose of pragmatic and enjoyable theatricality to “Sweet Juice.”
The MV takes place in a creepy, old-fashioned hotel. An unburnished sign informs the viewers that it is called “Insolito Hotel”–insolito being Italian for unusual, uncommon, or extraordinary. Members Na Goeun and Swan are introduced as hotel employees, but the lines between employee and guest, haunter and haunted are quickly blurred. Even as Purple Kiss spend the first half of the MV being chased around the glamorous yet dilapidated hotel by apparitions, the lyrics of the track tell a more complicated story from the start:
Madness in me that was sleeping
Time to wake up
Ah, I need fresh air right now
Come closer, will whisper
You want some Sweet Juice?
It’s almost as if Purple Kiss are trapped in normal life, and it’s the horror world, beckoning slyly to them, that they really desire. This impression strengthens as the song goes on. The track escapes becoming a typical story of innocents being seduced to the dark side by hinting that Purple Kiss’ haunted interests are internally generated, seen in references to their instincts leading them forward, as well as lines like “nothing can lock us up, all get on this wind.” A mid-MV intermission all but confirms Purple Kiss’ agency as an un-identified voice tells them to “run,” and they do, but they move deeper into the fantasy instead of away from the hotel, landing in a snowy netherworld.
The lyrics for “Sweet Juice” deserve praise not just because of their compelling narrative, but because they add drama to the track in an intuitive rather than forced way. By presenting a fraught internal dialogue that Purple Kiss are having with themselves, the song’s lyrical content justifies the subtlety of its musicality while adding urgency to the whole affair. The lyrics are also just very cleverly pieced together. As an example, an audio slight-of-hand is performed when the line “Heaven” in the first two choruses–a reference to the taste of the titular drink–is replaced with “Have fun” in the final refrain as Purple Kiss let all their inhibitions go.
This wit and attention to detail are also found in the MV’s visuals. The fun familiarity of the haunted hotel trope gives the MV many opportunities to drop referential easter eggs, and it wastes none of that potential. From broad similarities to hotel-focused horror media like The Shining (for instance, Chaein encountering twin versions of herself in a hallway) and Hotel de Luna, to aesthetic inspiration drawn from The Grand Budapest Hotel, particularly noticeable in the members’ bell-hop outfits, “Sweet Juice” is packed with recognizable cues that pay homage rather than outright copy. The most fun of these references is the gray, old-fashioned dresses the members wear in one dance sequence, which combined with the alternately fluid and stiff doll-like choreography, call to mind a certain popular horror-movie doll and it-girl of 2023.
Not all of the MV’s visual choices are so successful, though. Despite its solid horror camp style, “Sweet Juice” brings nothing new, or even particularly memorable, to the table. It’s an enjoyable MV overall, and does a great job infusing “Sweet Juice” as a song with theatricality, but few specific images leave a lasting impression. Despite its narrative effectiveness, the MV’s intermission could also have been more smoothly executed. Amidst a K-pop landscape increasingly packed with examples of artful horror-influenced visuals (Dreamcatcher and Red Velvet especially come to mind), it would be worth Purple Kiss’ while to push the originality of their horror aesthetic further, especially since it is one of their hallmarks.
Ultimately, though, the criticisms above are essentially quibbles in the face of Purple Kiss’ wonderful balancing act. Combining their title track’s musical subtlety with lyrical depth and theatrical visuals shapes “Sweet Juice” into a comeback that not only shines, but makes a truly distinctive mark due to its unique mix of ingredients. “Sweet Juice” is a great example of the potential payoffs of an unconventional title track. It makes a strong addition to one of the most underrated and interesting fourth generation discographies, courtesy of Purple Kiss’ musical gifts and bold creative choices.
(Cambridge Dictionary, YouTube. Lyrics via YouTube. Images via RBW.)