Album Review: Lovey – 24

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Lovey - 24

Release: June 30, 2016
Label: Independent
Distributor: Loen Entertainment
Genre: Pop, Urban
Rating: 2.5starrating

I am no fan of Korea’s “emotional hip-hop” genre of songs, which too often include half-baked and lifeless pieces that are about as far from emotion as one could get. That said, I loved the 2012 Crucial Star single “Flat Shoes”. Crucial Star’s tasteful arrangement helped to set the song apart, but what really made it memorable was the chorus sung by a little-known singer named Lovey. She was in there for maybe thirty seconds tops, yet her saccharine tone and pointed enunciation nicely complemented the rapper’s dry and drawn-out verses and put a unique flair on the song. That’s a powerful ability, to be able to transform a piece simply by being in it, and nineteen-year-old Lovey had it.*

If she can do that with a couple of choruses, what can she do with an album? That’s the question with 24, Lovey’s debut EP, which follows a single in 2013 and a portfolio of featured performances with artists throughout Just Music and Real Collabo, among other labels.

The artist approaches 24 a bit differently than her featured work. Lovey can sound “cutesy” if she wants to (see “Flat Shoes”), but a core strength of hers is a voice which balances that with depth. She was often situated within hip-hop contexts before and concentrated on rhythmic, sometimes playful delivery; here Lovey settles down and takes longer breaths. Writing and composing all but one song, Lovey builds the EP on easy-listening pop where acoustic guitar and piano take center, and melds her voice into the soft arrangements. The melodies flow in tranquility and are of notably lower pitch than some of her older work, and they allow her to show off a richer, deeper timbre. This pays off the most in pre-release single “Not Enough”, where layered vocals and an elegant string-and-piano backdrop create a reinforced warmth.

Lyrically, the EP is consistent in its depiction of young, vibrant, sometimes confused life at age 24. “Not Enough”, “Take Your Time” and “Give Me Back” (the last by Lovey’s older brother and frequent collaborator BrotherSu) are essentially sung from the same narrator’s perspective: sometimes sweet, sometimes petulant, always earnest.

But that’s where a “problem” arises. As a result of these instrumental, vocal and lyrical decisions, 24 sounds like any number of well-crafted easy-listening EPs out there. It’s probably the most popular style being pursued in indie pop right now, with hundreds of artists doing similar things. It’s a “problem” in quotation marks because it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be in a popular field; it’d also be hard to argue that Lovey’s attempt is particularly lacking. Indeed, 24 is probably above average among its kind when it comes to polish and cohesiveness, definitely exceptional in vocal performance, and a pleasant listen.

For Lovey, though, this is a disappointing piece because of what she has shown in the past. The higher pitched and more punctuated delivery, attitudinal rapping, rhythmic choruses, and playful lyricism of old – these were the things that gave Lovey uniqueness and that song-changing influence. Without these things, and absent truly memorable compositions, 24 is tasteful but not filling, wholesome but bland.

I don’t think it was the wrong decision to eschew some of those distinguished features. What works in a featured performance might not work as the cornerstone of an album. What’s more important is finding new strengths to complement the voice.

The best moments of 24 occur when it dares to be a little different. The aforementioned richness of “Not Enough” is one such moment, and another is the austere reflection of “Burden”. Her subdued tone and reassuring warmth finally finds their place in this pensive track, and her writing shines most: “Maybe what I can do is // Flow along with time so I’m not a burden // Thinking I too will become needed someday, // I lay my still heavy body down”. I wonder if these are glimpses of how Lovey the artist, not Lovey the featured vocalist, can grow into her potential.

*I had forgotten that I had actually heard Lovey even earlier in Alex‘s “Tomboi” (2011), only finding out while doing some extra research after writing the above. I even wrote about her briefly in this review. The takeaway is similar – she also made that track “come alive”.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

  1. 부족해 (Not Enough)
  2. 천천히 나와요 (Take Your Time)
  3. 캠퍼스 로망스 (Campus Romance) – Featuring Giriboy
  4. 짐 (Burden)
  5. 돌려줘 (Give Me Back)

Sources: Photo – Bugs Music; Video – springdays03 on YouTube. Lyric translations by author.

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