When Weeekly debuted in June 2020, the seven member girl group felt fresh. Their bright, bubbly sound moved refreshingly out of step with the girl crush concepts that were – and still are – commonplace in K-pop, made addictive use of props on stage and brought an upbeat, nostalgic edge to teen pop. In the nearly two years since, they’ve flourished in that realm and girl crush has only become more oversaturated.
It makes no sense, then, that a girl group with a stronger, more distinctive identity than some acts would pull a u-turn and ditch what made them unique. ‘Play Game: Awake’ – the group’s first single album – is a frustrating development that does them no favours, even if its three songs aren’t bad per se, just not good enough to help them gracefully land the huge somersault through sounds.
“We’re unraveling a story about a universe and this is the phase of a big transformation,” Jaehee explained at Weeekly’s recent media showcase. The sun is the central figure in this new world and the group liken themselves to that burning ball of fire on both the title track ‘Ven Para’ and B-side ‘Solar’. “I’m gonna light it up as if the whole world is shining,” Monday and Jihaan promise on the latter and while you can’t fault their talent, attitude and self-assurance, the songs themselves undermine the band’s ability to fulfil that oath.
‘Ven Para’ is messy and jarring; a cacophony of noise that doesn’t pull you in so much as it makes it difficult to listen to. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste that will be easier to gulp down once this territory feels more familiar for Weeekly, but for now it feels like a bitter pill getting lodged in the back of your throat. There are moments of levity – Monday and Zoa’s rap verse is filled with alluring attitude, while the brief switch to a softer instrumental filled with chirping bird sounds is a nice respite from the discordance.
‘Solar’ is much more cohesive and powerful, but still struggles to really make its mark. With big EDM synths and beats backing up the seven members, it comes on fierce but could easily be performed by any number of current girl groups and not feel out of place. That’s not a particularly great trait for an act that’s still carving out its own space in the industry and for whom getting lost in the crowd could halt their momentum.
It’s understandable that almost two years into their career the group or its agency would want to show more of what Weeekly are capable of. Yet, ‘Play Game: Awake’ feels like they’re being rushed through to a more mature concept when it would be much more interesting to see them balance something older and cooler with the playful spirit that used to be at Weeekly’s core.
The single album’s final song ‘Where Is My Love?’ doesn’t manage to do this either, although it does shine a light on the group’s range. A soulful piece of soft pop, it’s an emotive gem that gently showcases their beautiful voices but still feels like its missing that special spark. “Even if I don’t say much, my heart melts away,” Soeun sighs at one point, calling to mind another story with a focus on the sun.
Icarus’ wings melted because he got carried away and flew too close to the sun instead of keeping balance and that’s a parable that could be applied here – a group headed in all the right places suddenly leaping six steps in front of them and overreaching. Hopefully Weeekly’s next comeback will see them level themselves back out.