Life is about contrast; a constant trade off and balancing act between opposing principles. Highs can’t exist without lows, light can’t be defined as such without the divergent concept of shade. That’s something Hwasa understands all too well on ‘Guilty Pleasure’, the MAMAMOO singer’s first solo release in 17 months.
Making peace with the nature of our existence colours each of the three tracks here to varying extents, tying the eclectic range together with its subtle undercurrent. On ‘I’m a 빛’, Hwasa deploys the Korean word in the title to act as a soundalike to “bitch”, but it’s interesting to note that – when not being used onomatopoeically – it means “light”. At a press conference marking the release of ‘Guilty Pleasure’, the star said the track’s lyrics were her attempt “to say sorry to my family and friends in a witty way” and even down to its name she seems to be trying to meld something apologetic with a sense of levity.
“Excuse you, I’m a bitch,” the 26-year-old chants throughout the song, injecting a kind of giddy fun into the statement. If this single is intended to capture the “wave of emotions and downs” Hwasa has experienced since 2020’s phenomenal ‘Maria’, ‘I’m A 빛’ does so coolly. “Life is so incredible, even if I go crazy / My sin is beautiful, baby,” she sings on the chorus over a crisp, minimal pop foundation, purring the words in a way that makes such a situation sound alluring. It doesn’t take long for her to do a 180, though, lamenting seconds later: “Life is now so terrifying.”
Closing guitar-driven ballad ‘Bless U’ uses the record’s central theme of dichotomies to portray its creator longing for an ex, but ultimately still letting herself move on. “You lied to me, now you’re with somebody,” she sighs, but not even that betrayal can dim her appreciation for what that relationship once gave her: “Everything disappeared like a lie / But I bless you.”
Speaking at the ‘Guilty Pleasure’ press conference, Hwasa cited her own guilty pleasure as her tendency to “push the envelope too much to the point where I’m mistreating myself in order to attain what I want”. The single’s opening track ‘FOMO’ is its most striking example of her pushing the envelope in terms of creativity, twisting the all-English song into a completely different beast halfway through.
After one-minute-and-15-seconds of riding through a funk groove, her voice is fed through a processor that slows everything down as if it’s on a tape that’s been worn down to the bone. What comes next is delicate piano ripples, washed with beautiful melancholy that’s contrary to the previous part’s mood. “Every night, left and right, I’ve been fighting,” Hwasa sings when the song is still at its sonic upbeat peak. “Every time, hold on tight, keep smiling.”
These lines, alongside the track’s repeated slogan of “Don’t fear!” feel like the true essence of the record – an acknowledgement that life can be a trial sometimes, but it’s possible to make it through.The star’s outro on the track offer yet more reassurance, her positioning herself as a companion through whatever life might throw at us: “Don’t fear the shadow (I will light you up) / Don’t fear the shark (I’ll defeat it) / Don’t fear anything, I’m always in here.”
Hwasa is often spoken about as one of K-pop’s most badass figures and ‘Guilty Pleasure’ does nothing to diminish that status. Thrillingly, though, in her concessions to the shadows, it also adds more dimensions to her artistry and elevates her to new levels of brilliance.