[Review] SMARTPHONE – YENA

We return to the usual transmission of reviews for new releases with the latest comeback. This particular comeback belongs to YENA, who made her solo debut earlier this year with the single SMILEY (ft. BIBI) following her IZ*ONE days. Today, YENA returns with a new single SMARTPHONE and her second mini-album of the same name.

YENA continues to delve into that fun style for this comeback, the same approach she took with her debut track. I must admit that I didn’t necessarily fall head over heels for SMARTPHONE upon the first listen like I did with SMILEY. But this fun style is definitely infectious and I was soon enjoying the track by just having a second listen. The instrumental definitely helps out a lot with this, taking on a very upbeat and energetic pop rock style that is pretty much all the rage now in KPOP. I do think SMARTPHONE‘s approach was more blastful, which instantly earns points for me. There was just so much energy coming from the chorus when the pop rock was at its strongest and coming at us relentlessly. I also enjoyed the extra oomph the synths added to the song, which was gave the song some additional appeal points. The pop rock was the more prominent aspect of SMARTPHONE, so the synths acted like detailing in the song. YENA sounds awesome in this song, with her youthful vocals and raps. The energy she brings into the SMARTPHONE is extremely bright, adding more to that fun and perky style of music I mentioned at the start. And it also helps that SMARTPHONE‘s hooks were catchy and addictive. If I had to be critical, I would point out the pre-choruses were the weakest part of the song, in my opinion. They just didn’t have the momentum I felt it should have to lead from the verses and lead to the choruses. But that had minimal impact upon me enjoying SMARTPHONE!

To match the fun and energetic style of SMARTPHONE, the music video takes it all on board with quite a concept. Essentially, YENA is part of a smartphone game, where she needs to save her friends from the evil and menacing duck, who has kidnapped them. She succeeds, giving the evil duck an uppercut. It was quite cute that the evil duck had sent its duck minions to fight YENA, which she easily defeated. In the end, they all party together – friends and foe – showing the light hearted nature of the video. Aside from the concept, I liked that the video was bright and colourful, and never lets up on these fronts.

The choreography looks great. It embodies the energetic nature of the song really well. I also liked the cuteness element to the choreography. Usually, I am not a fan of this. But I find YENA to be very adorable and her expressions just brought the stage to a whole new level. I quite the like the hand movements during the song’s chorus hooks, and the parts where her tongue are sticking out are quite memorable.

Song – 9/10
Music Video – 9/10
Performance – 8.5/10
Overall Rating – 8.9/10

[Special] Personal Favourite Songs from the 1st Half of 2022 + more

As already mentioned on this blog somewhere (most likely the Weekly KPOP Charts posts), we are officially in July 2022. And that means that an entire 6 months has already past. Per usual, a substantial number of KPOP releases have been released, many of which have been on repeat. Keeping to tradition in July, it is time to post a list of my personal favourite songs from the 1st half of 2022.

I am doing things slightly different this year. In addition to the usual 10 songs (in no particular order) for the first half of 2022, I will also be posting two songs from the November – December 2021 period, which were ineligible for the 2021 KPOPREVIEWED Awards due to the cut off date being in October. And I will be posting 3 non-Korean songs (i.e. English, Japanese etc.) by Korean artists that caught my attention so far this year. So without furtherado, here are the list of my personal favourite songs of the year thus far (in no particular order, of course).

From November – December 2021

Personal favourite non-Korean songs of 2022 thus far

Personal favourite KPOP songs of the year so far (January – June 2022)

[Album Review] x‿x (SMiLEY) (1st Mini Album) – YENA

Next up on the album review front is YENA’s solo debut mini-album, creatively titled as x‿x (SMiLEY). It features the title track SMILEY (which features soloist BIBI) and dropped on 18 January 2022. There are four additional side tracks on this album, as well. This release is YENA’s biggest promotion (to date) following the disbandment of IZ*ONE in early 2021.

Overall, another strong album release, this time for a solo debut. It is already led by the amazing title track, SMILEY, which you can read the full review below. And the additional four side tracks definitely showcase more of YENA’s potential as a solo artist going into the future. I can’t wait to see what new tracks YENA will comeback with in the future! Until then, here is my album review for x‿x (SMiLEY).

PS. The second album review that was supposed to come out today will be delayed until tomorrow. 🙂

x‿x SMiLEY Album Cover

1. Before Anyone Else – Starting off her first mini-album is a ballad. Usually, the ballads are kept towards the second half or ends of an album, and I can see why that is the case with this song. Personally, Before Anyone Else isn’t my cup of tea, simply because it a fairly slow ballad. I like my fair share of ballads, but this one didn’t have too much going on in it and felt too consistent from start to end. And it also started off the album in a pretty sluggish manner. Despite that, the ballad did what ballads do best – that is showcase the vocals. And Before Anyone Else did just that, with Yena coming off as dreamy and soothing throughout this song. (7/10)

2. SMILEY (feat. BIBI) (Title Track) Click here to read the full review of SMILEY. (9/10)

3. LxxK 2 ULxxK 2 U continues the rock sound from the title track, combining it with pop. The chorus was extremely memorable thanks to the melody and the energy that comes off it (head-banging in a way). What really stood out to me in Lxxk 2 U was how the rock element complimented YENA, never overpowering or overstepping the artist. Even during the bridge where we got angsty YENA, the intensity of the autotune and rock increased sufficiently to give off that angsty vibe but keep it within the wheelhouse of YENA herself. Compared to the rest of the song, the bridge was a bit of a curveball, but it managed to work without departing too far from the rest of Lxxk 2 U. (10/10)

4. PRETTY BOYSPRETTY BOYS almost comes in as my favourite side track on this album (potentially a tie with Lxxk 2 U), but narrowly misses out. I really like the funky vibes from this track and the retro direction that the instrumental took. It is pretty much on point with what else is going in the industry at the moment. The repetitive hooks throughout PRETTY BOYS really made the song catchy for me. Combine that with the energy of the upbeat instrumental, you have a winning formula. However, when it came to her raps in this song, I wished the instrumental concentrated slightly, just to give those raps a bit more zing in this already upbeat track. (9/10)

5. VACAY – The album ends of with a fairly straight forward pop track. There is some good energy that comes from this track that reminds me of Summer, and I think this is a great song to have on repeat during those incoming hot months (for you Northern Hemisphere people). One thing that I haven’t yet commended YENA on for are her high pitch vocals. And while she does extremely well with them throughout the album, VACAY really showed off her tone and control. I also like how she manages to portray that summer energy in her voice as well. (8/10)

Overall Album Rating – 8.6/10

x‿x (SMiLEY) Teaser Image

[Review] SMILEY – YENA ft. BIBI

Next up on the reviewing block is probably my favourite release from Monday. That title goes to YENA’s solo debut track, SMILEY, which also features soloist BIBI. The track is featured on YENA’s first solo mini-album, which shares the same name as the title track with a cute smiley face preceding it (ˣ‿ˣ (SMiLEY)). For those who don’t know YENA, you might better recognize her with her full name, Choi Yena, and she is one of the former IZ*ONE members to recently make their debut. She does so from under Yuehua Entertainment, which is home to EVERGLOW and WOODZ. She is also known for being Choi Sungmin’s (former member of SPEED and COED School) sister.

SMILEY (the song) does exactly what the title says. It made me smile and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. The amount of times I have revisited the song over the last few days since its release may suggest a bit of an obsession towards the song. I have no regrets and I can’t help it that I am totally loving it. There is so much to point out, despite it being a relatively simple track. SMILEY steers down the pop rock sound, with an energetic and upbeat instrumentation that brings forth a nostalgic vibe of the 2000s pop rock. YENA’s vocals were perfectly executed throughout the song, adding sweetness, cuteness (to give SMILEY a bubble-gum tinge to the track) and is such a great carrier of the melodies and hooks within SMILEY. The pairing of both vocals and instrumentation just makes me want to get up and dance (like the guy in the video) and it is quite infectious. I also like the autotuned pre-chorus, which acts like a mini momentum builder to the chorus and helps makes the centerpiece more explosive. BIBI’s featuring in the song is quite interesting as it offsets YENA. But at no point does BIBI overshadows YENA, and the edginess that BIBI brings to SMILEY helps balances out the song to prevent it from becoming oversaturated in sweetness and cuteness. Personally, I don’t think that was going to be a problem (this time around), but I see where the BIBI’s featuring is coming from. It also helped that BIBI’s sequence also used a higher tone, which compliments YENA’s vocals. Another thing about SMILEY that I really enjoyed is the messaging behind the track, which simply says to keep on smiling. Overall, SMILEY is a fun, addictive and wholesome song that I just cannot get enough of.

I will be honest, the opening to the music video when I watched it for the first time was a bit cringy. While it does set up the music video and YENA’s character as this smiley superhero, it just felt a bit too much for me. Now, after watching the music video a few times, the cringy undertones aren’t really there anymore. Anyhow, YENA’s character is a superhero whose superpower is to spread smiles everywhere. She does so after helping a boy get a balloon off the roof of the building (an important detail). After she spreads her happiness in the diner, she leaves to spread her happiness in the darkest depths of the planet (the Shady, who conveniently lives in the snowiest and coldest place on Earth). BIBI arrives to spread her darkness around, but I think she ends up being more interested in helping YENA by sending some of her power to help YENA combat the cold by upgrading her outfit with a bit of BIBI’s own dark taste. Unfortunately, the cold is too much and YENA collapses. But we do see the SHADY becoming infected with YENA’s happiness and goes out to help her. It turns out SHADY was actually the little boy who appeared at the start of the video and repays YENA’s action by helping her out. So, YENA recovers, continues to spread her happiness around the world (and turns it into a rubber duck in the process), returns to the diner at the start of the video to just rock it out. A fun, cute and playful concept that I really enjoyed.

The performance makes my smile even wider with YENA’s cuteness dominating the performance. Just like the concept of the video, the performance was fun, playful and definitely energetic and bubbly as well. Very suitable for the song and its energy!

Song – 9/10
Music Video – 9/10
Performance – 8/10
Overall Rating – 8.8/10