K-Poppin’ Off – Episode 3: (G)I-DLE!

We’re going on a musical journey. In this series, I’ll be exploring the world of K-pop, reviewing artists, bands, and albums as we go! Along the way, I’ll offer my unfiltered opinions – so if I criticize your favorite song, I apologize in advance. Let’s start “K-poppin’ Off!”

 

Somebody call Avril Lavigne, because the K-pop band I discovered this weekend is a little, well, “Complicated.”

They’re a girl group called (G)I-DLE, and after a few attempts, I finally memorized where the parentheses and dashes went. It’s always important to get the artist’s name right!

And in this case, the complicated name has a pretty deep meaning. (G)I-DLE stands for a group of unique personalities, working as a team: “I” obviously means an individual, and “DLE” translates to plural, according to this helpful fan-made source. So before I listened to even a single note of their latest mini album “I Burn,” I knew I had to get to know the members of the group first.

(G)I-DLE is a multi-national group, made up of Miyeon, Soojin, and Soyeon (all Korean) alongside Minnie (Thai), Yuqi (Chinese), and Shuhua (Taiwanese). One thing worth noting about these girls is that they’re actively involved in writing their own music, which isn’t usually the case anymore these days!

After doing some more research, I learned some fun facts about the girls: Soyeon was homeschooled as a child (so was I), Miyeon was originally going to be a member of BlackPink, and Minnie is trilingual. All the members have a friendly aura to them, and they seem like ordinary people – besides their fame and international success, of course.

Looking at the writing credits for “I Burn,” I noticed that Soyeon is listed as a writer for all six songs, and the sole writer for three of them. Considering that she’s one of two rappers in the group, writing her own lyrics already made her more impressive to me than many Western rappers. Shade = thrown.

So as I put my headphones on and turned up the volume, the pressure was on. I wouldn’t be able to blame the producers if I didn’t like (G)I-DLE, because they were responsible for their own sound. That made things more exciting though.

Running only 18 minutes, 40 seconds in length, I expected to hear some real artistry in “I Burn.” That’s exactly what I got: the first track, “HANN (Alone in winter)” started with some experimental noises, including a pitch-shifted piano and a cinematic, windy soundscape behind that. The vocal melody was pretty and peaceful, reminding me almost of the Minecraft soundtrack, but eventually the song added in violin swells and harmonies, becoming bigger than just a backdrop. The cliffhanger ending led nicely into the second song, “HWAA.”

That came with a very familiar four-chord progression and a Latin-influenced beat that carried the song forward. During the chorus, the girls placed their high notes perfectly, in a way that was sonically interesting but still easy to follow. The rap break sounded a little under-produced and sparse, but I had no complaints about any of the vocal performances! “HWAA” sounded like something that the producer R3HAB might release, and the clean, jazzy guitars in the bridge were a special treat.

With two songs down and four to go, I heard “MOON” next. Pretty voices and pizzicato violins greeted me, and those led to a variety of new sounds, some digital, others natural. If Beck made K-pop, I’m convinced that this is what it would sound like. “MOON” was weird, hooky, and proof that you can make almost any combination of instruments work together. The girls took their time singing, and their phrasing allowed for a lot of room to articulate each word. The jangly, distant electric guitar in the background was mixed well, without distracting from the girls’ singing.

As a die-hard Calvin Harris fan, I immediately loved the next selection, “Where is love.” Funky bass guitar, smooth keys, and a four-on-the-floor beat made this song a delight to listen to. The pre-chorus utilized a tightly tuned snare and clock – for a second I wondered if Zedd involved in producing it! I wanted a whole album of exactly what was happening in this song. It was hard to believe I was listening to the same (G)I-DLE as before.

“LOST” was tasked with the impossible challenge of following that up, but its solid rhythmic foundation made for a good start. The acoustic guitars sounded artificial, and I’m not sure the rap break was needed, but overall, it was fun. I’d love to see the rap-over-acoustic-guitar idea explored more, but in a different song.

Last but not least, “DAHLIA.” This one carried a long and catchy chorus, proclaiming the girls’ commitment to someone special: “No matter what they say, I choose to love you anyway.” The production was pretty standard, but I liked hearing the reverb and echo dance off each lyric. Their use of deceptive cadence at the end had me asking if that was really the end of the album. It was, unfortunately.

I always appreciate a great songwriter, because without a well-built song, even the best vocalist can sound awful. So after listening to “I Burn” all the way through, I decided that Soyeon is my (G)I-DLE bias (K-pop slang for favorite) in the group, since the best three songs on the record list her as the sole songwriter.

Another takeaway from “I Burn” was the complexity of (G)I-DLE’s sound. It wasn’t easily digestible at times, challenging my pre-conceived notions about what K-pop sounds like. At a time when so much music is cookie-cutter and identical, that was refreshing though. Because of the intricate and layered sound, it felt like even though I listened to all 18 minutes, I was somehow still missing half the album.

In previous reviews, I’ve mentioned that it can be a good thing to cut off an artist after six songs – usually, we get the point by then. But with (G)I-DLE, I have no idea what “normal” sounds like for them, and I found myself wishing that “I Burn” was a full-length. There was so much space for developing that sound even further, and it’s a shame they didn’t release 12 songs instead. The only confusing part of the album was its name, which seemed far too aggressive for the beautiful music it contained.

It was interesting how much their sound evolved over the course of each song. Even though there weren’t many tracks, there was a lot of movement. From the orchestral and experimental tones from “HANN (Alone in winter)” to the middle-of-the-road pop production of “DAHLIA,” this album sounded more and more Western as it went on. I wonder if that was a purposeful choice, or just how things ended up working out.

If the girls wanted to gain more traction on American soil, specifically on radio stations like the one I work for, I’d recommend a few things. For starters, I’d embrace the electronic trappings of “Where is love” and maybe even work with a big-name Western producer like Calvin Harris or R3HAB. I would move Soyeon’s rap lines to the bridge instead of the second verse, and emphasize the long, drawn-out vocals that made “HWAA” so interesting. I’ve never heard anything quite like (G)I-DLE before, and their ability to create a world of sound is something that would have lots of potential here in the ‘States.

Speaking of American radio mixes, there’s a new version of “HWAA” that recently came out, remixed by DJs Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike. That one hurried the pace of the song and chopped up the chorus a little too much for my liking, but the thumping bass underneath was a nice touch. It was cool to hear (G)I-DLE singing mostly in English, but I liked the original better.

My final rankings for the girls look like this:

Persona: 8/10

Vocals: 9/10

Production quality: 10/10

Musical variety: 10/10

Replay value: 9/10

Final score for (G)I-DLE: 9.2/10. I’m fascinated by them, both as people and musicians, and the fact that they do most of the work themselves makes it even more impressive. This type of music, with its complex levels and high-concept production, isn’t for everybody. But it’s for me.