Being part of a powerhouse act is a double-edged sword: often, it seems that your identity and that of the group merges into one entity. It seems as if the collective shadow you cast darkens parts of your independent ventures as well, making you wonder whether you’ll ever be able to be someone other than “so-and-so from so-and-so act”.
“In hindsight, I was mostly hidden from people’s view,” Moonbyul told The Korea Times in a recent interview. “Many of them just recognized me as a MAMAMOO member, not as Moonbyul… But after putting out my solo releases, I finally felt that I also have an identity as Moonbyul.”
When you’re part of a venerated act such as MAMAMOO, one would imagine that task becomes harder – at that point, it isn’t just about proving something to the world, but also telling yourself that you can do this. “MAMAMOO’s reputation gives me a heavy burden in almost every way, but I am most pressured when I have to prove myself with my music,” Moonbyul added.
As expansive and larger-than-life MAMAMOO’s music almost always feels – the group often come in guns blazing and hips shaking, unabashedly claiming their rightful space – Moonbyul’s presence is quiet and restrained, but no less compelling. She uses her music as a whiteboard, scratching and reshaping things until she’s left with a likeness of her vision. It isn’t just the final product that makes up her identity though – it’s also all the little footnotes she makes in the process.
Take ‘Intro: Synopsis’, the opening track on ‘6equence’, for example: hypnotic riffs become the base for her musings. “Where should I start? I have too much to say, I can’t organize my thoughts,” she says, but as we segue into classic R&B, there isn’t much resolution, much order to her thoughts, only a feeling that there is more of the story to come.
If Moonbyul’s pondering on ‘Intro: Synopsis’ was the proverbial freeze-frame in the story, then each track that follows is a look at a different slice in time. ‘G999’ with Mirani, for example, takes us to the lightness of being that love often inspires in us. The song’s genius marriage of hip-hop sounds from the late-’90s and early-aughts results in a singularly playful and delightful listen, thanks in no small measure to Moonbyul’s easy flow and Mirani’s additions. There is a poignance to this happiness, that leaves us with the feeling that the higher ‘G999’ makes us soar, the harder we will eventually fall.
Before that, however, we go further into space on the sultry, sensual ride of ‘Shutdown’ with Seori, easily the best track on the album. The duo’s voices combine to cast an intense spell, backed against a classic R&B instrumentation. With masterful lyrics that flit from one spectrum of passion to another – “A silhouette of a masterpiece / Our painting is ripening red”, Moonbyul says, before dissolving into repetitions of “She said, you can ruin me” – ‘Shutdown’ feels like sailing on an unpredictable, choppy sea, but loving every minute of drowning in it.
That’s perhaps why when the descent finally begins on ‘Lunatic’, you don’t immediately register it. In that sense, ‘Lunatic’ serves its purpose gracefully and perfectly: for a song meant to capture a relationship souring by the minute, it’s surprisingly upbeat. The disorientation on ‘Lunatic’ creeps up on you like a silent killer, leaving you as dissatisfied and annoyed as Moonbyul feels throughout the track. Still, the song feels too frenetic for its own good.
The crash finally comes on the slow, somber ‘For Me’, where Moonbyul reckons with the inevitable end. “We were tired every day / We knew this is gonna be the end,” she sings, and the heaviness in her voice seems even more stifling against the minimal arrangement in the latter half of the song. At times, it feels like it’s just her and us, reminding us of a simple but relatable and, at times, lonely pain – at others, though, ‘For Me’ just comes off as lethargic.
Then at the end, we’re back to the beginning – both figuratively, in terms of a relationship, and literally as ‘Ddu Ddu Ddu’ is the first song Moonbyul wrote for the mini-album. Here, she describes yearning for what was post-breakup, but it appears the heartbreak is only one-sided. What can she do, however? “That’s how love works”, she says, and you can’t help but agree.
Clearly, there is no happy ending here, and for more reasons than one – despite Moonbyul’s lyrical prowess and the musical ingenuity of tracks such as ‘G999’, ‘Shutdown’ and ‘Intro: Synopsis’, ‘6equence’ falters in the latter half. It’s as if once the crash is set into motion, the energy dissipates, leaving us with two tail-end tracks that sound similar, taking away from an otherwise effective work. Still, as she so succinctly puts it, it was good while it lasted.
- Release date: January 19
- Record label: RBW