Kiss of Life, a 4-member girl group from S2 Entertainment, debuted on July 5th, following a savvily-presented series of pre-debut videos, first introducing each member, then releasing music videos for solo songs, and finally posting videos for two group songs, “Bye My Neverland” and the title track “Shhh.” As a marketing strategy, the pre-debut rollout was effective in distinguishing each member as an individual and investing potential fans in an ongoing storyline. Similarly, Kiss of Life’s self-titled EP is a promising debut that assuredly establishes members’ individual styles, which underscore the group’s themes of confidence and independence.

Kiss of Life exudes the confidence of an experienced group, partly because most of the members are actually experienced within the industry. Natty is a veteran of two survival shows: Sixteen (JYPE and MNet’s program that established Twice) and Idol School (which formed Fromis_9), and she also debuted as a solo artist in 2020. Julie was a trainee with The Black Label. Belle, who trained with SM, has sung background vocals (NCT’s Mark’s “Child”) and written and composed songs for (G)I-DLE’s Miyeon, Purple Kiss, and Le Sserafim (“Unforgiven”). They bring this experience to the album, as all of them have songwriting credits. Natty also choreographed the dance in her song “Sugarcoat.”

Each member has a solo song that establishes her musical identity. Natty’s “Sugarcoat” is the standout for its perfectly executed throwback late 90’s/early 00’s R&B style. The instrumental sets a consistent groove with its metronomic percussion. Natty’s smooth vocal delivery is a natural fit for this genre, utilizing both her lower register and incorporating vocal riffs and runs on the verses. Her vocals just seem to float through the song in a natural and easy way. The song is laid-back yet danceable, which is fitting for the lyrics of the chorus: 

Sugarcoat, I cast off
Whatever you say about me
Just move, as I want
Dancing for myself

With its sleek sound and its lyrics focused on independent thinking, “Sugarcoat” seems effortless in its self-assuredness. 

Belle establishes herself as the group’s main vocalist with power and emotion in her solo song “Countdown,” which she wrote and composed. The beginning of the song features Belle singing about long, sorrowful nights over guitar plucking, and then the song drops dramatically into a chorus with heavy percussion. In the chorus, Belle declares that she is rising up and starting again, while the beats mimic some of its boxing imagery: 

Get down, I’ll start my rebound
Knock down, this is my own ring
Let the gloom out, get the groove in
Better life, feel I’m alive, oh, oh

The song continues to build momentum and become more dynamic as it progresses, with both fuller instrumentation and greater vocal variation: in the second verse, Belle sings in counterpoint to distorted background vocals, and her airy vocals in the second and third pre-chorus crescendo into a yowl to initiate the drop chorus. The electronic and guitar distortion towards the end of the song add to its punchiness and bite. The gradual build of “Countdown” dramatizes the situation of someone who rises up and feels energized again.  

Meanwhile, Julie’s “Kitty Cat” distinguishes itself for its playful yet laid back sing-rap style. The lyrics boast that she is not “your kitty kitty cat” and can unleash the claws, though the song doesn’t show that ferocity. With Julie’s cool and confident delivery, she doesn’t need to—as she says in the song’s bridge, “We just vibe.” The song’s strong percussion beats, however, reinforce the strength that Julie intends to convey.

In contrast to the maturity of “Kitty Cat,” “Play Love Games”, by the maknae Haneul, starts with a child shouting, “Play with me!” Beginning with the chorus, the song’s melody is clearly an interpolation of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and the thumping brass and percussion in the chorus feel straight out of a parade. In the lyrics, Haneul asserts herself as the one who is in control of a relationship and plays the “love games.” While a lighter tone is certainly welcome, the song hews closely to the tune of the original song in a way that is distracting. While quite catchy after a few listens, “Play Love Games” is a perplexing turn from the progression of the rest of the album, which showcases different styles of pop and R&B. 

An ideal album closer would leave the listener with a strong impression of Kiss of Life as a group, which “Play Love Games” does not accomplish. The album could thus have benefited from an additional group track, or perhaps shifting a song like “Bye My Neverland” to the end of the album.

The mid-tempo pop rock track, on which Julie and Haneul have writing and composition credits, explores the familiar theme of leaving childhood behind (as in the lyric “I don’t care what you say, I burned my neverland”). While the concept of a nostalgic coming-of-age pop anthem is not a new one, “Bye My Neverland” perhaps has the most memorable melody on the album, and it is impactful to hear the layering of all four members’ voices in the chorus. . 

During a press showcase, Julie explained, “I think the biggest differentiating factor is that we all have the ability to perform as a solo artist, and our synergy increases even more when we come together as a group.” The title track “Shhh” particularly demonstrates this synergy, incorporating the belting vocals of “Countdown,” the rap flow of “Kitty Cat,” and the groove of “Sugarcoat.” The instrumentals are fairly sparse in the first half of the song, which showcases the members’ soaring harmonies. The chorus begins with the cheeky line “Talk that shhh,” though the sing-talking of the lines do not make for a particularly memorable melodic hook. The refrain “What I really want,” on the other hand, is memorable, but repetitive. Still, there is much to admire in the song, such as the flow between vocals and rap in the verses, and the harmonies in the bridge climaxing in the final drop chorus.  

While they could continue to refine their sound as a group, Kiss of Life’s charisma and confidence as both performers and songwriters are impressive for a newly debuted group. Their journey as a group and as individuals will be one to watch. 

(Youtube, Korea JoongAng Daily, Images via S2 Entertainment, Lyrics via Genius [1] [2]).