Twice’s lead vocalist Nayeon returns with a second solo album Na, which both plays on her first name and the word for “me” in Korean. As with her previous release IM NAYEON, she implicitly asserts that this album represents her. In contrast to the bright, bubbly pop of her debut title track “Pop!”, however, Na has more R&B influences and aims to display different sides of herself as an artist.

Na is not an album where Nayeon is exploring her songwriting. Instead, she is interested in stretching herself by singing and performing in various styles. Na employs different composers and producers than the ones used for Twice’s recent title tracks or IM NAYEON (which was executive produced by JYP). For instance, BTS’ main producer PDogg and others from BigHit Entertainment worked on “ABCD,” while AKMU’s Lee Chanhyuk produced the B-side “HalliGalli.” While upbeat songs like “HalliGalli” feel more similar to her previous work, it has to be said that all of the tracks on Na still maintain some signatures of her artistry — like her bright yet emotive voice — while opening her up to new dimensions of it. 

“ABCD,” the brassy, energetic title track, is a breath of fresh air among the more subdued singles that are currently popular in K-pop. There are clear influences from 2000s pop and R&B, particularly Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”, and “ABCD” brings the showmanship that one might expect from that era. The song features several changes in style and rhythm, from a melodic pre-chorus, to a hip-hop driven chorus, to the compelling horn-filled post-chorus.

The change-ups never feel jarring, however, partly because the song’s energy does not relent once it ramps up, but mostly because Nayeon smoothly navigates through these switch-ups. Whether she is singing in her head voice or lower register, belting or sing-rapping, she projects confidence and brings strength and intensity at the right moments. 

Written in both Korean and English, “ABCD” cleverly utilizes English homophones in its lyrics. Specifically, the first two lines of the chorus include the sounds of the letters A, B, C, and D (emphasis mine):

(Hey, listen to me now) Ayy, you’re gonna be my babe
Every time you see me, fall deeper, deeper, babe
(Hey, listen to me now) A-B-C-D, over and over again
I’ll teach you how to fall in love  

The post-chorus continues the sequence, with the end words of lines in alphabetical order: “fantasy,” “gravity,” “hypnotized,” and “I.” The pattern is subtle, but adds wit and playfulness to the song.

Most of Na focuses on love, and the vocals and instrumentals aptly match the mood and meaning of each song. In particular, “Butterflies” may not match the cleverness of ABCD’s lyrics (lines like “I love you more than a mouse loves cheddar” verge on “so bad it’s good” territory), but it does effectively illustrate its intended emotions musically. The bouncy energy of the song, reinforced by the synths and Nayeon’s vocal runs, aptly replicates the fluttering feeling of having ‘butterflies’ for someone.

Meanwhile, “Something,” driven by UK garage beats, feels fast-paced and urgent. The lyrics reflect the speaker demanding a potential love interest to “give me something, prove that you’re so worth it.” The garage beats and Nayeon’s speedy, rhythmic delivery of lines like “baby don’t mess it up” in the post-chorus reflect the impatience of the speaker’s predicament.  

On the other hand, “Heaven,” a R&B track featuring Sam Kim, has a languid, sultry vibe suiting a song about intimacy. Thus far, Nayeon has chosen her collaborators well (“No Problem” featuring Felix from Stray Kids and “Love Countdown” with rapper Wonstein were highlights from her first album) so Sam Kim’s feature on Na is no exception. Nayeon sings for the first half of the song and Sam Kim comes in after the second verse, but his verse works as a response to hers. Their voices in the second half of the song blend together smoothly, with his ad-libbed high notes emphasizing her lines “Now, you got me up so high, I can almost touch the sky.” His feature complements and heightens the song, which might have felt too repetitive and languid without it. 

Similarly, in the groovy and uptempo “Magic,” (which features Julie, the leader and rapper of Kiss of Life) the two voices work together to reinforce the sass and self-confidence conveyed in the lyrics and playful instrumentation (especially the flute). For instance, they alternate lines in the refrain: 

Come get a touch of magic
Uh, bam, alakazam
I make you feel like magic

In this context, Nayeon and Julie feel like two women who are hyping up each other’s “magic”. Julie’s rap during the bridge further adds a feeling of cool self-assurance to the song.

The album closer “Count It” explores yet another facet of Nayeon’s voice, with her notes softly floating in her lower register to underscore the dreamy feel of the slower R&B track. One can feel immersed in Nayeon’s warm, rich tone and the synth-driven soundscape around it.

Na is a well-executed, cohesive album that exemplifies how an artist can evolve with a sophomore release. Nayeon showcases her versatility as a singer, deftly using her voice to convey emotion and further the storytelling of each song. She manages to delve into a more mature, R&B-influenced sound without sacrificing the energy or expressiveness that marks her discography so far. 

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2]. Images via JYP Entertainment).