This edition of Unsung Artists features two types of releases from September: comebacks from solo artists that assert their musical and visual styles, and from groups with energetic, performance-driven music videos.
It is notable that some of this month’s releases are multilingual, with lyrics in English, Spanish, and/or Korean. Whether by collaborating with international artists or incorporating new styles and genres, these artists work to appeal to a global audience.
Kim Sejeong – “Top or Cliff”
Content warning: violence
Kim Sejeong (formerly of IOI and Gugudan) released her first full album Door after concentrating on her acting career for the past two years. Her title track “Top or Cliff” is an atmospheric R&B song that is mostly downtempo, but ascends in the chorus. Kim Sejeong’s vocals become more fervent as she sings above echoing synth percussion:
Look, I deserve it
No matter who shows up here,
I’ll still prove it I’m sure
She asserts that she belongs on the top, though as she also admits, the high position is like overlooking a cliff to a fall. This sort of tension also manifests in the violent, cinematic “Top or Cliff” MV. Said to be inspired by Black Swan, and with visual references to the horror film Ready or Not, the video features Kim as a bride figure engaging in a bloody battle against her butlers and maids. In one brief but pivotal moment, however, her antagonist switches to a double of herself, suggesting that she is destroying herself.
The MV, especially the extended version, focuses heavily on action sequences; one or two more short scenes about her internal struggle could have made the narrative clearer and more impactful. Still, the video is full of arresting imagery, and Kim Sejeong displays her superb acting ability (especially her physicality and facial expressions), making “Top or Cliff” a comeback that presents all her strengths as an artist.
Hwasa – “I Love My Body”
Hwasa, who recently left RBW and signed with P Nation, released a solo single, “I Love My Body.” Psy brought it to her at just the right time, when she was embroiled in a controversy over making a provocative gesture at one of Mamamoo‘s performances. Though Hwasa did not write the song, lyrics like “Don’t be talking smack, hating on me like I’m worth so much more than that” resonate with both this recent experience and her overall struggles with body shaming in the industry.
“I Love My Body” is a song that is best understood in that context. Musically, it may not be the best representation of her talent: the retro pop song recalls Meghan Trainor more than her past work, but with the additions of some doo-wop background vocals. The pre-chorus and bridge effectively showcase her vocals, but unfortunately, the way Hwasa sing-talks lines like “I love my body and my hair be so shiny” in the hook feels more silly than empowering. The lyrics lack the vulnerability or nuance of earlier work like “Maria.”
The MV is bright and colorful, full of bubble gum pink and aqua blue. Hwasa starts alone in her bathroom, and eventually amasses a crowd of backup dancers all moving in celebration of her, and by extension all of their bodies. “I Love My Body” is a fun take on self-love and body positivity, though Hwasa’s message has been executed with more depth in the past, and hopefully will be again in the future.
Eric Nam – “Only for a Moment”
Korean-American singer Eric Nam returned with an introspective English-language album, House on a Hill. While the song that shares the album title raises “what if’s” about one’s life dreams, the single “Only For a Moment” dramatizes a real possibility: the moment when one envisions a future with another person. As he says in the pre-chorus, “I saw our lives flash in my eyes.”
“Only For a Moment” was co-written and co-produced with British electronic pop duo Honne, and a melding of their sounds is clear. Nam’s accessible melodies combine with rapid, yet soft percussion, which conveys the excitement of the moment. Eric Nam’s vocals are airy in the verses, reflecting the dreamlike nature of imagining a future with a stranger. His voice becomes fuller in the bridge, intensifying to a final post-chorus that asserts, “It wasn’t just a moment.”
The MV initially appears to match the lyrics: Nam and a woman lock eyes while riding a subway car, and they both sing the first verse while seated across from each other. The MV, however, goes in an unexpected direction, depicting unusual passengers on the train, like a boy holding several bloody teeth in his palm. As Nam interacts with these people, the color grading of the video changes to become less cool and more vibrant. It is suggested that by generating this warmth, Nam is in an emotional place to explore his connection with the woman. While quirky, the MV matches the song’s emotional journey.
TXT, Anitta – “Back for More” (Performance version)
Of the two Ryan Tedder-produced collaborations with Western artists that Tomorrow x Together (TXT) has released this summer, “Back for More” is far superior. It may in fact be the best K-pop and global artist crossover this year. It might seem random to have Brazilian singing Anitta singing in Spanish on a mostly English disco pop track that pays homage to Michael Jackson (especially in the choreography and Yeonjun’s and Taehyun‘s ad-libs). Anitta’s verse may not be well integrated into the rest of the song (a problem that plagues many collaborations), but it adds some funk and sensuality. The mix in her section seems to emphasize the rhythmic beats more. Somehow, the seemingly disparate influences work together to create a smooth and satisfying listen.
“Back for More” premiered through a show-stopping performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards, and the official music video hews closely to that number, centering on choreography. The song and music video both play into TXT’s strengths, highlighting the group’s energy, groove, and charisma in performance. The dance break, introduced with high-contrast lighting, a string section, and a soaring background vocal, is a particular standout. With all of these elements, “Back for More” is a fitting MV for a pre-release single, building excitement for TXT’s upcoming album.
Evnne – “Trouble”
Evnne consists of seven members who were former contestants on Boys Planet. “Trouble,” their debut title track in the Baltimore club genre, firmly distinguishes Evnne’s sound and vibe from the bright pop of Zerobaseone. The propulsive beats and slick production are the stars here, as well as Keita, Jeonghyeon, and Jihoo‘s powerful raps.
The thumping bass does a lot of work to carry the drop chorus, which features no singing (aside from Hanbin, and then Jeonghyeon sing-talking “trouble” alongside a distorted background vocal repeating “rock”). Clocking in at over 10 seconds, the empty chorus goes on for a bit too long, especially without more variation in the beats. In the music video, the chorus is intended to spotlight the group’s choreography, which could have been more dynamic and complex.
Despite the flaws with its chorus, “Trouble” is a solid debut. The MV’s concept is a TV news segment (with Keita initially serving as the anchor) reporting on the ruckus and “trouble” brought by Evnne. “We don’t stop at the top,” the news crawl reads, and this line emerges in the pre-chorus. The brash, yet somewhat playful swagger of the members in the song and MV make this bold assertion believable.
Oneus – “Baila Conmigo”
Oneus may be best known as a group that incorporates traditional Korean music elements in songs like “Luna” and “Lit”. In “Baila Conmigo,” however, the group adopts Latin pop and moombahton influences, with Spanish lines in the second verse and bridge. “Baila Conmigo” still feels very much like a Oneus title track, with its horns recalling the brassy synths in “Same Scent” and “Erase Me”. As a whole, the song emphasizes Oneus’ vocals, with main rapper Leedo leading off with his deep voice and continuing to only sing throughout the track. Main vocalist Seoho soars with power notes in the second half.
The group teased their album La Dolce Vita with concept photos of the members as mermen. Evidently, “Baila Conmigo” is inspired by “The LIttle Mermaid,” creating a narrative of the Oneus members as “mermen princes who have been given a single day to dance on land with the one they love.” Visually, the MV evokes the merman concept through sparkling aqua costuming, splashes of gold glitter, and dance sequences on water.
Otherwise, with its simple sets and focus on choreography (particularly a stunning duet between Leedo and Hwanwoong), the MV resembles a performance video, which is fitting for a song about dance. An added dance break and grandiose synth instrumental, which are not present in the album version, ramp up the energy and intensity of the song at the end. One can’t help but want to dance.