For the past few years, K-pop has used the power of nostalgia as the driving force for many of its concepts and music. We’ve seen singers and groups pay homage to the motifs of yesteryear in various ways, from creating songs that would fit right in during the peak of ’70s disco, to incorporating synth elements that defined the ’80s to incorporating heavy ’90s references in lyrics and outfits.
Despite its prevalence, the retro concept feels fresh in the hands of a talented songwriter and producer like Soyeon – who has branded herself as an edgy rapper with a girl crush image, first as a soloist and then as the leader of girl group (G)I-DLE. Paying homage to the fast-food chains and bright colour palette of the 2000s, her first mini-album ‘Windy’ – a wordplay on the restaurant chain Wendy’s – is a body of work that invites us to reimagine our idea of a summer pop album.
Although dance pop tracks and lyrics about the yearning to be freed from adult responsibilities (“I do feel like I need to save up now / But to earning takes so long / And losing money is too easy”) are nothing new, the project’s title ‘BEAM BEAM’ cleverly uses punk-rock elements to evoke the flippant, happy-go-lucky attitude that drives the track forward. It’s an eccentric fusion that plays to Soyeon’s strengths as rapper, but more notably as a vocalist, toeing the line between catchy hip-hop verses and vocally-heavy choruses.
Another track that plays well with the summer vibe is the cutesy, electropop ‘Quit’. The song, which is driven forward by a deep bass and Soyeon’s light and playful rapping, is reminiscent of her Unpretty Rapstar days and her early solo releases. It’s a nice callback to her beginnings, but the song isn’t the most compelling of the bunch. While ‘Quit’ showcases Soyeon’s ability to effortlessly ride out a beat, the song feels like she’s playing it too safe amid a selection of fusion tracks and off-kilter arrangements.
While most artists focus on songwriting to express intense emotions and weave vivid stories, Soyeon utilises her knowledge of music production to elicit the messages she wants to convey – even if a listener doesn’t speak the same language. It’s certainly evident in ‘Psycho’, where the arrangement matches the dark, tense themes of the lyrics (“As much as the spicy taste is irritating / I can hold a grudge for a pretty long time”). The song weaves between painfully slow verses and erratic, almost panicky raps, mimicking the moment one gets caught in a trap.
Despite its collection of aggressive rap songs, ‘Windy’ isn’t without its much more laid-back cuts. To balance out the mini-album’s high-energy lineup is ‘Weather’, which she previewed earlier this year on the Kakao TV exclusive series Face ID. The track’s strengths lie in its ability to combine two seemingly opposite elements – a midtempo arrangement with a lyrical hook that recalls the bubblegum pop from the ’50s – while shining a light on Soyeon’s smooth, versatile vocals, resulting in a captivating and unforgettable track.
Capping off Soyeon’s first solo mini-album is ‘Is This Bad B****** Number?’, which features vocals from fellow rappers BIBI and Lee Young Ji, a fierce collaboration that is bound to be an instant fan favourite. On it, Soyeon flexes her mic skills with a rapid-fire closing verse, while Lee’s deep and steady voice complements the song’s light and playful chorus. However, it’s BIBI’s unique timbre, which helps build up the song’s overall rich texture, making it a standout track.
It’s not unusual for musicians to experiment on their first album – you only have one chance to make a first impression after all – but for Soyeon, mixing and matching different genres and sounds is part and parcel of her DNA as a vocalist and producer. While Soyeon’s decision to lean into a lighter, playful concept might come as a surprise to some, it’s a reflection of her unwillingness to be boxed into her usual badass persona and need to grow as a musician. There’s no doubt that Soyeon’s ‘Windy’ is a masterclass in versatility and eccentricity that sets her apart from this new generation of K-pop idols.
- Release date: July 5
- Record label: CUBE Entertainment