ONEW made his solo comeback earlier this week, with his third solo Korean release since his solo debut back in 2018. O (Circle) headlines this comeback, as part of his first studio length album, Circle. Both Circles follow the release of BLUE and Voice (from his solo debut in 2018), DICE (title of both his second Korean solo single and second Korean mini-album) and his Japanese comebacks last year.
O(Circle) reverts away from the retro city pop that ONEW had opted for his last comeback, and takes us down what almost sounds like a balladry path. But it isn’t like BLUE, which was pretty much your standard ballad with stunning orchestral instrumentation and amazing vocals from ONEW himself. Instead, O(Circle) takes on a softer and delicate R&B tone. The heavy bass line and organ-like synth in O(Circle) helps create a riveting backing piece to the song, while ONEW shines with his velvety vocals. Altogether, O(Circle) comes together to be a dreamy and soothing piece that stands out in the influx of comebacks, debuts and other releases we are experiencing. The use of the gospel choir as a backing to the chorus made for an excellent centrepiece and gave O(Circle) some deep impact. It also helped heighten the message of the song – just like the seasons are slightly different but also similar each year, life is quite similar as we have different experiences, but we are similar in the end. Relatively, it does make the verses sound lacking and very much less memorable. But it doesn’t necessarily stop O(Circle) from being an impactful and gripping song on a whole.
The montage at the start of the video of ONEW singing was one of the most captivating moments in a music video that I ever seen before. And this pretty much sets the aesthetic tone for the rest of the music video. We have some artistic shots of other things throughout the video. At one point, the items are colourful and alive, depicting the happier moments in life. Then, we see a bloodied phone screen, an unlightened light bulb cast aside and some crayons with dust around them, which depicted the darker moments in life to me. In the latter half of the video, we have a similar montage of items. The acting sequence of the video is probably the part that I find hardest to connect to, as I don’t know what is on going on there. At the end of the video, we get another montage of ONEW. It is a lot quicker and looks like the video is buffering. But I see it as a quick montage of a life, with the life being the entire music video.
Just like the music video, the choreography has this aesthetic side to it, which I really enjoyed. It definitely made for a captivating routine. I honestly did not expect to see a choreography routine for the comeback, given the song is very close to the balladry side of music. But I am glad it did, as it makes the live performances worth returning to. I also like how graceful the movements were, which not only fits the song, but give ONEW the opportunity to focus on the vocal work for the performance.
Song – 8.5/10 Music Video – 9/10 Performance – 8/10 Overall Rating – 8.6/10
Finally getting around to another International Song Reviews post. I originally had intended to post one of these every fortnight since the start of September, but I have failed to keep up. So, I am hoping to smash through some of these as fast as I can, especially since I feel like the songs that I cover in this segment of the blog have been really forgotten (on my part) this year. In the last International Song Reviews post, I covered ITZY, Mark Tuan (from GOT7), Jackson Wang (from GOT7), CIX, Golden Child and Woosung (from The Rose).
This time around, I will be focusing on ONEW (from SHINee), Jackson Wang again (from GOT7), MONSTA X, aespa, TXT and Stray Kids.
Life Goes On – ONEW (SHINee)
Life Goes On is the title of both the lead single and first studio length Japanese album from ONEW, the leader of SHINee. It dropped officially back in July of this year. Life Goes On is a cheerful summery track that has a simple message – even in the most boring or hardest times, life will continue. It features a bright and up-tempo acoustic instrumental that really sets the mood and makes you look/think in a positive light, which is the whole purpose of the song. ONEW’s vocals were dreamy and light, and worked well with the brightness that radiates from the song. My only issue (and it is a minor one!) with the song is how it transitioned from the pre-choruses to choruses. The buildup in the pre-choruses was done well, but the chorus slowed down just by a tiny hair. It isn’t much and doesn’t ruin the song for me. But it is one of those things that now I have noticed it, it just stick out me every time I listen to the song.
As mentioned before, the song is quite bright and gives off positive energy. ONEW’s solo scenes are all shot on a beach on a very sunny day and the ocean is just so blue, a perfect setting for the song. Elsewhere in the video, we see actress Hinako Sakurai come face to face with a few hiccups in her day (knocking over a plant, bumping into people, nodding off, dropping her lunch). But while she does become upset over these events, she manages to still enjoy her day, as depicted by her bright smiles and dance scenes. We also see some sadness, so the video covers all bad moments that are possible, but her ongoing dance parties are a nice resolve to get through to the next day. Even the ending, where the world had disappeared, is passed off by her as another day or something to worry about later.
Overall Rating – 8.4/10
Cruel – Jackson Wang
Another July release, with Jackson returning with the single Cruel, another pre-release single from his second studio length album, MAGICMAN (which was later released in September). This time around, Jackson Wang delves into grungier rock territory with Cruel. Personally, I prefer the likes of Blow over Cruel, but I appreciate the nostalgia that Cruel brings forth for me (i.e. the grungy styled tracks from my youth). I also enjoyed the fact that the song is vastly moodier and darker than any song he has put out previously – a nice change to his music. The use of his raspy tone and the filtering of his vocals throughout Cruel were one of the highlights of the song. Another highlight was the way the electric guitar acted as nice detailing to the grungy tones of the song, balancing out the song.
The music video probably the best part of this release. And to sum it up, it is amazing. Essentially, Jackson Wang and the people we see in the video are demons who have wrecked havoc on the world. But now it is the fight of the fittest demon, with all of them fighting each other for ultimate power. Jackson, as the main character, manages to succeed in eliminating them all over a well choreographed sequence which also includes playing some of the other demons as guitars. He takes their souls and faces off the one on the throne, who appears to have overpowered him. But that twist ending where he reappears might suggest he has a few tricks up his sleeve. The setting and even their ashy appearances all worked super well in the video.
Overall Rating – 8.8/10
Late Night Feels – Sam Feldt MONSTA X
Late Night Feels was a fun number between Sam Feldt (Dutch DJ) and MONSTA X. I liked the groovy and funky instrumentation of the song, with the disco undertones and brass giving the song extra liveliness and additional colour. Late Night Feels‘ backing is also quite light and airy, perfect for the type of late night feels one might have to just have some fun and escape their troubles. Pairing up nicely with this element are the vocals of MONSTA X, who also add a further layer of brightness to the song with their higher pitched vocals. The simple melody of the chorus definitely caught on and I found myself humming the song to myself quite a fair bit after its release. Late Night Feels all came together to be a straight-forward and enjoyable track.
I recognized a few faces from the video including LeenaDong, Alan Chikin Chow and Brooke Monk. Essentially, they are treated poorly by their bosses, strangers and loved ones. Instead of continually putting up with such treatment, each of person are transported to a different world, where they are dressed in PJs, surrounded by dancers and neon lighting and get to have fun with some carefree (or awkward in Alan’s case) dances. Their peers end up joining them, and they also lose the serious tones we first saw them in and see them in a more lighthearted manner. The video definitely sums up the song quite well.
Overall Rating – 8/10
Life’s Too Short – aespa
aespa released their first English single, Life’s Too Short, back in June of this year. The single later featured on their 2nd mini-album, Girls, which I will be reviewing soon. Life’s Too Short is a mid-tempo R&B pop single with a simple yet breezy melody that draws my attention to the song. I quite appreciate this release, as it is vastly different to their main EDM-based title tracks, which can be overwhelming at times. Even though this is a pop track and doesn’t necessarily pack a punch like those title tracks I just mentioned, Life’s Too Short still manages to showcase potential behind their vocals, especially when they single together. It is all unfiltered and uncomplicated, which allows the listener’s focus to be just on the vocals. The pop instrumentation is quite light and pleasant, which in turn enables the vocals and melodies to do most of the talking.
Despite having seen this side of aespa through their past remake singles, I still find it weird to see the members in a more innocent vibe. I am just so used to seeing and thinking of them in edgy gear/concepts. But it is a neat change of image (even if it is brief). I guess even aespa needs their off days from their KWANGYA travels. I found the teenage-like concept the members take on board to suit the simpleness of the song. However, I did wish the music video was a bit more interesting, just to make it more memorable, as it is pretty dry for the most part. As for the choreography, it is nice. But pretty typical.
Overall Rating – 7.3/10
Valley of Lies – TXT ft. iann dior
Valley of Lies is also another July release, and features the likes of TXT and iann dior (rapper and singer). Together, they form a neat indie pop rock track that is very easy on the ears. There really isn’t much to this song, if I am being honest. I quite like the heavy presence of the strumming guitar in this song. I really liked the husky and raspy tones that both TXT and iann dior bring to the song, as it gave the song some grit and substance. Otherwise, I would have passed on the track and ignored it. But they gave me a reason to listen to Valley of Lies. Other than that, I don’t have anything else to comment on. This lack of talking points doesn’t mean Valley of Lies is lacking or boring. It is just a simple track that I enjoyed and I don’t think I need elaborate further.
We don’t get a music video for this release. But we did get an official visualizer, which in the grand scheme of things, acts as a music video. In this visualizer, we see an animation of a figure walking through the valley of lies (and at one point, flying through the sky). This appears to be in line with the song, which “speaks about a lonesome journey that one takes towards the end of a relationship, along a trail of countless lies”. I do want to know what the different backgrounds mean, as I feel they add more meaning to the video than meets the eye.
Overall Rating – 7.7/10
Circus – Stray Kids
The final release to be part of this post is Stray Kids’ Circus, their latest Japanese single, which was released in June. A Korean version of Circus featured as part of their latest mini-album, MAXIDENT, which I will be reviewing some time in the future. Circus is a hip-hop dance track that has is centered on a circus theme, which I thought was cool and unique. I quite enjoyed the release, as the members made sure it was dynamic and fun, whilst also trendy and modern. There were many good moments throughout Circus, like the circus theme coming through via the melody during the bridge and the whispery lines at the start of the choruses. There was also a strong showing of rapping and vocals from the members, per usual. But my favourite part of Circus has to be Lee Know’s line in the second chorus. It is super ear catching and goes back to that idea that the song is dynamic. I constantly replay Circus just for that moment.
Like the song, the music video features a circus theme and circus performers, alongside the members. But we don’t see just one set of the members. There are two sets of Stray Kids featured in this video, which instantly bring up the cool factor in my books. One of them are actual circus acts, while the other version of the group sneak in. By the end of the video, the two sides are performing together. Like the song, there are other cool moments in this video, but Hyunjin stole my attention with his visuals. As for the choreography, I liked how they interwoven references to circus acts into the music video. It keeps the circus theme going. I also liked how they kept it punchy and dynamic. I would have loved to see the four members (can’t tell who) do that spinning move they did at the back of one of the scenes of the music videos. That looked cool in the video and would have been super awesome to be pulled off on stage.
I hate to admit it, but I actually forgot about ONEW’s April comeback. I was only reminded of it whilst I was plotting down dates for when certain album reviews would need be to posted by. However, I made sure that ONEW got his mini-album review for DICE, which is the title of both the lead single from the mini-album and the 2nd mini-album itself. This comeback followed his 2018 solo debut, where he debuted with the single BLUE and mini-album VOICE.
ONEW’s second mini-album is astounding, to say the very least. So much so that I ran out of words to describe a very key aspect of the album and ONEW himself – his vocals. So much so that I gave out 3 10/10 songs in this album review. It (probably) makes DICE one of the best albums so far this year (in my opinion). I need to update my personal records to make sure of this. But with such a high rating overall, I am certain DICE is up there.
2. Sunshine – Sunshine goes slightly harder with its pop sound, whilst also staying lighthearted and carefree like the title track. ONEW’s vocals find a balance between being dreamy and light, whilst also complementing that the harder tone of Sunshine (as mentioned). The flow of Sunshine helped make the song fun and captivating for me. The post-chorus, which had a memorable ring thanks to the English phrases and its rap like approach, was probably my favourite part of the song. That is closely followed by his incline towards the final chorus. The ad-libs we hear as the song fades out to a close brings back that dreamy nature. (9/10)
3. On The Way – On The Way takes down the energy a notch with a more subdued track. The instrumental takes on a disco like approach, but it has been refined to be more fitting of the subdued nature of the song/vocals. The winning element of On The Way is ONEW’s vocals. I had to listen to the song a number of times to write this review, simply because I keep on getting distracted by the vocals. Needless to say, they are stunning throughout this song, especially when he effortlessly goes into the falsettos and the more dynamic moments such as the brief jab that is the song’s title. Overall, a very perfect and well-rounded song. (10/10)
4. Love Phobia – Again, we are taken down an extra notch with an even more subdued track. Here, ONEW really conveys his emotions well and gives Love Phobia a fragile and vulnerable characteristic. Just take a listen to the bridge if you have yet to (or another listen at the bridge if you already heard the song). You can hear the fragile nature of his vocals so clearly. It is riveting. ONEW also provides harmonies in this song, helping to soothe the piece. His vocals are backed up by a R&B piece. Together with the vocals, Love Phobia is another undeniably strong track on this album. (10/10)
5. Yeowoobi (여우비) – Excuse me while I pull out the thesaurus. I am running out of ways to describe ONEW’s vocals. Enchanting, alluring, charming etc. All could be used to describe the singer in this song. Unlike in the previous songs, however, ONEW sounds a lot stronger, taking an upfront position in Yeowoobi compared to the subdued tracks that preceded Yeowoobi. I liked this change in pace, which gives us an intense look at his vocals. The chorus is so gratifying to listen to, as well. And the “Your love takes me higher than how I ever been” line is quite memorable and catchy, especially with how it ended the song. This is all over a simple slow rock instrumental, emphasizing the fact the focus of this song is on the vocals with little doubt. (10/10)
6. In The Whale – Both vocals and instrumental throughout In The Whale were captivating (no surprises here, to be honest – just look at every other song on the album). I don’t see myself having any problems with closing my eyes and drifting away to this atmospheric and ethereal track. What does set In The Whale apart from the rest of the album is the fact that the instrumental is quite prominent. The producers do an amazing job of ensuring the track is balanced out (hence why I made the drifty comments) so that ONEW isn’t overtaken. A soothing end to the album. (9/10)
After another brief absence, I am back and coming to you with more reviews. This review focuses on the second comeback that occurred on Monday. The track in question is DICE and belongs to SHINee’s leader ONEW, who is returning to the music scene as a solo artist for the first time since 2018. He debuted as a solo artist in 2018 with the single BLUE and mini-album Voice. Since then, ONEW completed his mandatory military enlistment and last year returned as part of SHINee through Don’t Call Me and Atlantis. He also resumed his acting and musical careers, whilst also releasing a few collaborative singles and solo OSTs.
DICE is a retro city pop track that is extremely pleasant. For those who have been reading my blog knows that the word ‘pleasant’ can either be a good or bad thing. With DICE, the use of the term is a bit ambiguous. The pleasantness of DICE makes it palatable and balanced. But at the same time, however, the pleasantness is a bit of a disappointment, as I expected the song to kick it up a notch along the way. But it never did. ONEW sounds really good in this song, with smooth vocals bringing life to DICE. It was silky and the flow from one end of the song to the other just felt flawless. The retro influence on the instrumental gave DICE a very nice subtle groovy touch, whilst also being rhythmic. For the final chorus, I liked the leadup and that refinement when it came to the mini explosions in the instrumental. There were some smooth hooks and I can see the song growing on me even more as I continue to replay the song. But whilst DICE comes off as a great song, it ultimately lacks oomph. There is definitely potential for DICE to really have a bit more meat to it in both the instrumental and vocals department. It didn’t have to just be pleasant. We all know how good ONEW’s vocals are, as evident through the many hits SHINee have provided us. And we all know how good city pop songs can be if the instrumental was just a tad bulkier or bolder. Overall, DICE is promising and a nice return for ONEW, but it definitely felt like more could have been done.
The music video features ONEW as the main character, who notices the female character from afar. But she is soon kidnapped by these pale green masked people and ONEW goes in pursuit to find her. At the start, you can tell that ONEW is a bit scared and timid when going into the hotel and following the path of green gloop. But as he roles the dice, he becomes more comfortable and relaxed in his surroundings (though there are parts of him that is still scared and timid). He notices some unusual practices in the hotel including injecting lemons with some mysterious substance (that seems to be the life source of these masked people) and the use of chainsaws throughout the hotel. He later finds the female character, who has dealt with the masked people herself (i.e. ending their lives with high heels), and she runs away with ONEW in a happily ever after type of ending. I thought it was a neat video, with a small plot twist and creepy factor, all rolled into one.
The performance felt pleasant as well, which works well the version of the song that we got. But it is bit plain and looked loose. Had DICE had what I felt was lacking from it, and the choreography was intensified and made to look sharper and tighter, this would have been a smashing performance piece.
SHINee is nominated for Best Male Group and Best Album in the 2018 KPOPREVIEWED Awards. Support SHINee and your other favourites by clicking here to vote.
2018 has been a jam-packed year for many groups, with SHINee being a prime example. SHINee returned in 3 back-to-back comebacks (Good Evening, I Want You & Our Page) and a special single (Countless) to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. Since then, the members have embarked onto solo promotions, including Taemin’s Japanese releases, Minho’s movie filming and the recent solo debut for Key with One Of Those Nights. This leaves just Onew who is due to enlist in a couple of days. But this isn’t stopping SHINee’s leader from launching his solo career with the title track Blue and the mini-album, Voice.
Even though I just launched the KPOPREVIEWED Awards for 2018, I am already thinking ahead for 2019. And you can just blame the one listen I had to this song. Blue is a ballad, which isn’t unexpecting. But what is unexpecting is how amazing the song is. And amazing is probably an underwhelming description. It is one of those ballads where the orchestral instrumental and Onew’s vocals tell a story. It has that dramatic flair to really make you feel emotional and if I were to judge the ballad based on that, I would say it was highly successful. The instrumental was stunning. But it is his voice that gets me. You can feel the pain. You can feel the sadness. Onew does an amazing job of bundling all of that up in a matter of 5 minutes and leaving us in awe of the song. Literally, my only complaint about the song is why we didn’t get this sooner!
Once again, the comment section for the music video theorises about the meaning of the video. And I agree with what is being said. This is Onew’s recount of the events, beginning with his hiatus due to a scandal that occurred last year. Due to this scandal, he had to go on hiatus, which is presented by the isolation in the video. The diamond represents SHINee, as there are five diamonds in the mirrors. The shooting star attracts his attention to bring the diamond outside. He proceeds to go outside, walking past fishes, flowers (which I don’t know the meaning of) and blindfolded people who seem to stare at him (maybe due to his scandal). At the end of his walk, he recognises one person (the theories suggest he recognises the late Jonghyun) which surprises him and the diamond is lit up. He takes the diamond back to his house, meaning that these turn of events have told him to take another path and to return to the world. Whether this is correct, I don’t know. Like the song, you can feel the emotions throughout the video and you can tell that Onew is acting in this video based on experiences due to it feeling so real.
Song – 10/10 Music Video – 10/10 Overall Rating – 10/10
This week’s SM Station track features Onew from SHINee and Rocoberry, a Korean indie duo. SM Station’s Lullaby is a remake of Rocoberry’s Lullaby. This song joins the growing list of SM Station Season 2 songs, including Dream In A Dream by Ten (NCT), Would U by Red Velvet, Spring Rain by BoA and many others.
Like what the name suggests, the song is a ballad and a really nice one. It fits into the ‘Lullaby’ style of music. It’s very calming and sounds beautiful. I have never heard of Rocoberry (and probably won’t go investigating), but Roco (the female of the duo and the one you can hear in the song) has an amazing voice that compliments Onew’s vocals, which we all know. Both sound superb and amazing. This track also confirms one thing. We need a solo song from Onew. Given the quality of this collaboration, I have such high expectations. The calmness of the track is quite effective and probably be a track I will turn to in the future if I want to calm down (I was writing an assignment before writing this review). While the instrumental isn’t amazing, the mix between guitar and piano makes it a little interesting. Like most lullabies, however, the track sadly falls towards the more boring side of music. I honestly can’t wish for more, mainly because of its style. Otherwise, I would ruin the track and its calming vibes.
The music video isn’t anything fancy. There are closeups of Onew and Roco by themselves and once we reach the chorus, we see images of a couple dancing in the forest. It matched the song quite nicely and didn’t incorporate anything flashy or ‘loud’ to cause any viewing displeasures. Onew was unrecognisable when I first watched the video, which resulted in me doing a double take and rewatching the video to prove otherwise.
Song – 9/10 Music Video – 8/10 Overall Rating – 8.5/10