Kep1er have undoubtedly been one of K-pop’s most-anticipated new K-pop acts in recent years. Comprising nine members – Chaehyun, Huening Bahiyyih, Yujin (also of CLC), Dayeon, Yeongeun, Yeseo, Hikaru, Mashiro and Xiao Ting – the group were chosen by viewers of Mnet’s popular reality TV series Girls Planet 999, and are perfectly primed to become the next big thing.
After a number of delays and setbacks due to COVID-19, the bright-eyed, new girl group have finally released their long-awaited debut mini-album, ‘First Impact’. And while the energetic six-track project record makes for an enjoyable listen, it falls short in fleshing out Kep1er’s identity as an act.
Though, to be clear, the blame does not fall on the members all of whom have, time and time again, proven their abilities throughout their stint on Girls Planet 999. The mini-album simply fails to bring much new to the table, especially when half its tracks are simply re-recorded versions of songs that had previously been featured on the show. While this is not uncommon practice (as fans of I.O.I, Wanna One and IZ*ONE would know), it leaves the three truly new offerings on ‘First Impact’ to do most of the heavy lifting.
The first is opening track ‘See The Light’ a loosely-arranged, sing-talk intro t that does little much besides helping set the scene for the mini-album. The most glorious 15 seconds of ‘See The Light’ are probably its dreamy pre-chorus, where the grinding instrumental quietens down for just a moment to allow Yujin and Chaehyun’s vocals to take centre stage: “I’m attracted to the transparent light / Starry night in front of me / The place I stay in my dreams”. But beyond that, the song, especially as one that leads into title track ‘Wa Da Da’, could have done much more to hype listeners up and bridge the two songs.
On the other hand, ‘Wa Da Da’ is an unapologetically vibrant banger that barely allows you to catch your breath, reminiscent of the now-disbanded girl group PRISTIN’s debut single ‘Wee Woo’. Though the song itself isn’t particularly ground-breaking by any means, the sum of its parts – the crunchy rap verses from Dayeon in particular,soaring vocals by Chaehyun and Youngeun and its high-spirited chants of “Wa Da Da Da” – make the song a gratifying, unshakable earworm.
Then comes the crown jewel and saving grace of the record, the enthralling, spellbinding ‘MVSK’. On this sleek, experimental B-side track, Kep1er march to the beat of their own drum, moving with quiet confidence through its deconstructed, vaguely trance-inspired instrumental. Produced by Jung Ho-hyun of e.one, this song carries the same otherworldly vibe seen in Jung’s previous work such as WJSN’s ‘Secret’, Wonder Girls’ ‘I Feel You’ and IZ*ONE’s ‘Merry-Go-Round’, while still maintaining its own distinct identity.
In spite of elements that could fall flat – its deconstructed, anti-drop chorus (a once-novel tactic that has been sadly milked dry in K-pop), erratic vocal arrangement and unusual staccato rhythm – ‘MVSK’ manages to captivate listeners in a way that feels almost unintentional, but certainly isn’t.
“Fill up all your emotions, so that I can feel them / Open the door and look around, just look at me now / Woah-oh, turn your imagination into reality,” Kep1er urge on the artfully layered final chorus led by Chaehyun, Youngeun and Xiao Ting. ‘MVSK’ might just be the song on ‘First Impact’ that truly encapsulates the group’s utmost potential and unique identity thus far.
The other three tracks – ‘Shine’, ‘Another Dream’ and ‘O.O.O’ – are songs that had been written for and already performed on Girls Planet 999. nd While Kep1er’s versions sound a tad more confident and polished than the original tracks, and these are great for fans of the series, there is little about them that really showcase who Kep1er are moving forward.
Individually, the songs on ‘First Impact’ can be enjoyable, with the ingenious, enchanting ‘MVSK’ being the crème de la crème. The mini-album also allows the group’s talented members to show off their vocal abilities, but falters when it comes to cohesion and establishing the group. ‘First Impact provides Kep1er few opportunities to showcase their own sound and identity, and we can only hope that their producers trust them with more challenging and inventive material in due time.
- Release date: January 3
- Record label: WAKEONE / Swing Enterainment