Nearly four years into their career, (G)I-DLE’s ‘I’ album series has become the cornerstone of their ethos. Over its six albums – the latest being ‘I Love’ – they have rejected social conditioning and expectations to define who they are, using these insights to inform their own multifaceted portrait of the modern woman, who is as layered as she is flawed.
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While the early albums in the series adopted an introspective lens, 2021’s ‘I Burn’ was perhaps the first time an external event – a break-up – forced them to evolve. ‘I Burn’ and its follow-up ‘I Never Die’ retroactively poked holes in a seemingly perfect relationship, exposing how the guise of love turned (G)I-DLE into something they were not. On ‘I Love,’ this disillusionment has turned into healing in a decidedly (G)I-DLE way.
‘I Love’ is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – confidence renewed, armour reinforced, they have emerged victorious. The group hammer that fact home with vocal manipulation that’s one right-hook after another. In her powerful, deep voice, Yuqi’s braggadocious cries of “peok” on ‘Nxde’ pierce like a spear. Soyeon wields her trademark nasal tone like a weapon, lazily stretching out notes in some places and delivering furious rat-a-tat rapping in others. Softening their sharp edges are vocalists Shuhua and Miyeon, with Minnie providing a solid bridge in the middle.
Since (G)I-DLE have never confined themselves to a genre, members easily switch between rapping and singing. This versatility makes for surprises throughout the album. Its best track ‘Sculpture’ starts with Soyeon’s staccato rapping over bouncy dance-pop beats, but a short build-up gives way to a theatrical jazz-pop chorus, a subtle nod to primary inspirations Marilyn Monroe and her Old Hollywood glamour. It isn’t the red-lipped sex symbol (G)I-DLE are interested in, though, but the woman beyond the veil.
Especially on the cinematic Moulin Rouge-inspired ‘Nxde’, the group draw parallels between themselves and Monroe as women in industries that reduce them to glorified trophies. A showtune-style piano opener segues into chipper instrumentation that accentuates pop beats with powerful horns. All the while, (G)I-DLE deliver scathing commentary on the objectification of women: “Excuse me, to all of you who are sitting here / If you were expecting some rated R show / Oh, I’m sorry, but that’s not what we’re showing / For a refund, go that way.” The song, however, turns out to be more show than substance. The chorus, which aims for anthemic with dramatic drumbeats and grating violin, somehow saps the energy.
Bookending promising segments with uninspired, forgettable arrangements is the fatal flaw on this otherwise cohesive project. On ‘LOVE’, the lightness of finally breaking free of an abusive relationship goes hand-in-hand with the atmospheric pop-rock chorus, where each powerful riff of the guitar marks another step away from the past. To get to it, though, you have to sit through a messy verse riddled with juvenile comparisons.
Songs built on a strong premise – such as ‘Dark (X-File)’, where (G)I-DLE compare the time spent with a partner to an “X-file”, which needs to be erased – fall flat due to filler lyrics and repetitive musical arrangements. ‘Dark (X-File)’ is steeped in dark, noir aesthetics bolstered by slow, alt-rock riffs reminiscent of ‘Villain Dies’. But where the latter capitalised on the group’s diverse vocal range – from sultry, drawn out notes to the crackle in Soyeon’s voice – and a sinister violin on the chorus, ‘Dark (X-File)’ is a facsimile with little experimentation and less novelty.
When moments of mature clarity do come, they crash under the weight of repetitive composition. The loneliness that punctuates ‘Change,’ where the group admit that public affection can never compensate for genuine connection, would have been more profound had its pop arrangement been layered with some complexity. ‘Reset’ does give some relief. There’s a delicate breeziness to the vocals as the (G)I-DLE sing about finally being able to do the things that had been denied them. The balladic arrangement, however, traps the song into predictable patterns and the release of tension never comes.
While the commitment to concept is admirable, now is a good time to wonder whether the reliance on theatrics is ultimately counterproductive. (G)I-DLE go from shackled ‘sculptures’ to self-aware, emotionally intelligent women, but unimaginative arrangements overshadow their progress.
- Release date: October 17
- Record label: CUBE Entertainment