Yerin’s ‘Aria’ begins with bloom – not just the introductory track, but the liberating feeling of freedom, of watching twenty thousand flowers come to life at once, of watching the sky turn a brilliant blue under sunlight that sparkles. At first, the soft piano melodies on the aptly titled ‘Intro: Bloom’ amble and languish, then turn into a kaleidoscope of modern looping and twinkling sounds – and you know there’s magic to be felt in the tracks to come. The question is: is it enough?
Disbandments are always hard, but there was something particularly painful about GFRIEND’s. Coming off of what was probably their most successful year – the group featured on numerous year-end lists for the scintillating retro-fever of ‘Mago’ – GFRIEND seemed destined for great things. It probably made the announcement of their dissolution doubly harder – it wasn’t just the loss of an act, but also of profound potential.
When life gives her lemons, however, Yerin makes an entire cornucopia of optimism and confidence. Hence, ‘Aria’ – our introduction to the new, improved, reformed Yerin. In music, an aria is a piece meant for one – likewise, this ‘Aria’ comes tailor-made for the new chapter in Yerin’s life, earmarked by her bright outlook and inner strength. While it is a commendable solo debut, one does wonder whether her vocal chops were underutilized on an album that seems, at times, too sterile for her.
While title track ‘Aria’ is an intelligent lyrical offering for a new chapter of Yerin’s career, its pop sound fails to hold attention for long. She makes it clear that she’s not the person we knew back in GFRIEND. “Erase the appearance you’ve drawn of me, I am being washed by my hidden colors,” she says, before adding a couple lines down: “I’m throwing you away for keeping me locked in, as I gently let go of the breath I have been holding.” It’s a direct, forward-looking, yet pronounced declaration of her faith in the new direction she’s taking – if only the song itself did justice to the spirit. Apart from the bouncy, peppy chorus, there isn’t much to the track – quite literally, given its two and a half minute run.
‘Believer’ also suffers the same fate. While the anthemic number injects an invigorating dose of optimism, thanks in no small part to Yerin’s voice and the lyrics, its peppy pop approach takes away from the overall effect. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss it outright. Yerin’s faith in her path is infectious enough to make you hold till the last note – even if we do hope we’d gotten something diverse.
Fortunately, the smooth, sultry R&B flavor of ‘Lalala’ infuses the album with that much-needed energy boost. “It’s a hectic and repeated view, I fell into it before I knew, a fairytale with nothing to twist with,” sings Yerin, supplementing the mischievous lyrics with equally playful vocal work. She stretches some notes to denote longing, holds some close like a confession, and repeats some as if playing hop, step and jump – she owns the sound on ‘Lalala’ with grace and ease, making it the best track on the album.
The second best, of course, is ‘Time’. K-pop albums are often guilty of the token ballad, but Yerin finds and imparts heartbreak on this song about the helplessness of missing out on the right moment: “I put my time with you on my right side, my memories with you remain on my left side, I’m so glad that I can see you from afar,” she croons, seamlessly transitioning from regretful stretches to hopeless resignation. Poignant and introspective, it seems to be the genre that Yerin excels at.
By any means, ‘Aria’ isn’t a lacking solo debut, but it does leave us with a lot to desire. When a piece of music is tailored to one, it embodies the artist completely – by that comparison, ‘Aria’, while well-intended, seems a unidimensional album from a clearly multifaceted artist. Its collection of pop songs might make for easy listening, might give us a peek into who Yerin is, but it’s clearly the more polished version of her, very pointedly choosing to look at the good and not the gray.
Of course, as time goes on, this tune might expand to show us different, perhaps darker sides of Yerin – we’ll gladly wait for that to happen. If there is anything she’s shown us on ‘Aria’, it’s that she’s not afraid of striking out on her own and trying something new, despite her doubts and fears.
- Release date: May 18
- Record label: Sublime Artist Agency