It is a truth universally acknowledged that musicians will always seek overseas success. It’s a simple math problem: the more people who hear your music, the more fans you can have. And while most K-pop groups start with their neighbors, such as Japan or China, the United States is usually the ultimate dream. It’s the world’s largest music market, and it’s becoming more viable for K-pop every day.
BTS proved you can crack it with a fanbase, but Fifty Fifty proved you can crack it with a good song. In their wake, it’s not a surprise that (G)I-dle–a group with a solid American fanbase–have decided to take their own swing at the US. Their new album, Heat, is an English-language album tailored specifically for the American market. And that is a mistake in multiple ways. Generally speaking, musical acts are at their best when they sound like themselves, and Heat… does not.
Title track “I Do” is at least clever. A cloyingly sweet track that sounds like 50’s doo-wop filtered through 80s synthpop, it conceals a vicious aggression towards an ex’s new relationship. The overly-saccharine vocals feed into the sense of impotent rage, which the 50s soundscape only enhances. It speaks of rage and heartbreak (G)I-dle weren’t allowed to to feel, burying it until it bubbles up in sinister bubblegum. You’re not sure if they’re planning to kill the ex or the girlfriend or maybe both, but they’re definitely killing somebody.
Sadly, the sugared murder is undercut by the realization that “I Do” sounds almost identical to “Marvin Gaye” by Meghan Trainor, and with that goes the ability to take it seriously.
After “I Do”, Heat is all downhill. The remaining four songs are incredibly generic, leaning into electronica and hip-hop in the most boring ways possible. The beats are dull, thudding, staccato nightmares. There’s the lyrics, which are incredibly repetitive. As in, the later four choruses are all a couplet, a line, or single word repeated ad nauseum. And when they’re not inane loops, they’re lazy cliches lacking any sense of personality. You know, (G)I-dle’s main attraction as a musical act.
Even when there’s a solid lyrical concept, it’s wasted. “Tall Trees” takes on the increased vulnerability of being a strong, confident woman like (G)I-dle; because they don’t let people in easily, it’s far more impactful when they do. Yet instead of expanding on that thought, it’s simply ground into dust. Add in the deadeyed vocal delivery, broken up by occasional bouts of sweetness and melody that never lasts long enough, and Heat is an utter disaster.
One of (G)I-dle’s greatest strengths is that Soyeon, Minnie, and Yuqi are all skilled composers and lyricists, bringing an authenticity to their tracks that resonates across language. They scream, they question, and they bring enough details to let each track ring true. They have been rewarded for that authenticity, including in America. All their Korean albums have charted highly on the Billboard World Album chart, and their last two EPs charted on the Billboard 200. They are in a strong position to play for the American market with the sounds and themes they already established. But that’s all been ignored.
Every distinguishing aspect of (G)I-dle has been thrown out in favor of the generic fruits of a smorgasbord of American songwriters aping the trends of the moment. There is a world of difference between (G)I-dle arrogantly proclaiming their own glory on “Queencard” and declaring themselves to be “crazy, sexy, hot” in a monotone on “Flip It”. The former is believable, the latter is a half-assed blank slate.
And that really defines Heat. Lazy production, simplistic lyrics; this is the musical version of “It’s 4:30 on Friday and I’m not paid enough to care.” Why bother writing anything lasting for a quick paycheck when you can just follow the masses instead?
Which makes Cube’s decision to make Heat in this vein extra baffling, as the Hot 100 is not having a good year. The major forces pushing the charts are Barbie, the far-right spite-buying, the unstoppable power of the Nashville music machine, fandoms, and album bombs. Everything is in one ear and out the other, lacking any true impact on the mainstream public. A 5-year old Taylor Swift b-side is in the top 3, and deservedly. One of the biggest draws for K-pop right now is that the American mainstream music scene is a shitshow, and people want something better. Something that (G)I-dle are usually able to provide. Don’t become the very monster people are turning to you to escape from; its not going to improve anything.
Heat screams “bad label idea”.
I’m sure someone at Cube thought that an English album following American trends made sense. But there is nothing of (G)I-dle on this EP. No sass, no fire, no ego, no vulnerability, no sincerity. And there’s nothing else either. Just hollow bragging, vapid performances, baby’s first songwriting exercise, and a moderately clever idea undercut by its own music. Also, if you want to connect with and grow your international fan base, don’t become the antithesis of what gained you the moderate success you currently have. Just a thought.