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Comeback season: The queens of K-pop return with an affirming message of self-love and flawed authenticity

HyunA releases mini-album ‘I’m Not Cool,’ IU updates with pre-release single ‘Celebrity’

With no end in sight to COVID-19, K-pop luminaries are offering some long-awaited escapist relief from pandemic doldrums with two of the biggest female soloists in the industry, HyunA and IU, returning with a heartfelt embrace of selfhood and all its imperfections.

HyunA’s seventh Mini-Album “I’m Not Cool” 

Released on Jan. 28, “I’m Not Cool” sees HyunA — known for her feature on Psy’s 2012 “Gangnam Style” and hit 2011 single “Bubble Pop!” — return from a year-long hiatus with another feisty set of bangers. Fans have long anticipated the return of the rapper, dancer and singer, as the past two years have not been easy on her. 

In 2018, HyunA revealed her steady relationship with fellow Triple H member E-Dawn (now known as Dawn). In an industry known for labels’ occasionally oppressive control over idols and the publicity of their relationships, her unauthorized divulgence was deemed a public embarrassment, and the label Cube Entertainment subsequently fired the couple, severing its 10-year partnership with the soloist in a high-profile act of ostracism. 

Fortunately, Psy came to the rescue, signing both HyunA and Dawn to his newly formed label P Nation. After taking a year to focus  on her mental well-being, HyunA has made her unapologetic comeback. The 28 year old is no stranger to the tumult of controversy. Her career since the tender age of 14 has been fraught with slut-shaming over risque outfits and provocative dance moves.

Nonetheless, she continues to challenge the taboo of owning her sexuality in culturally conservative South Korea, where the masses often subscribe to double standards: expecting idyllic girlish innocence from female idols and muscular physiques from male idols.

The title track “I’m Not Cool” examines the hardships of being a K-pop artist in an energetic blast of dance-pop infused with moombahton backing and a heavy bass. In her lyrics, HyunA opens up about constant exposure in mass media, the need to look unaffected under scrutiny and the confidence she has distilled over her years in the limelight. 

“I’m not cool I’m not / Cliche, that’s so funny,” she sings during the music video, while garbed in eye-popping fashion ensembles. In an ironic jab that proves the star to be anything but uncool, she offers a snarky refute against others’ hackneyed criticism. Regardless of whether it’s “cool” or not, the artist asserts, she does whatever she likes. HyunA then spreads an empowering message of self-love to fans, “Yeah eh eh to me I’m pretty / I adore myself / You should adore yourself, too.” 

Another highlight of her mini-album is “Party, Feel, Love,” a collaboration with her aforementioned boyfriend, rapper and songwriter Dawn. Now offered creative latitude previously inaccessible under their former label, the couple performs a sultry duet of sensual romance and spiritual companionship. Crackling with the chemistry of lovers going strong, the slow-tempo blend showcases HyunA’s enticing lower register and Dawn’s distinct rap style. 

The mini-album is complete with three other tracks: “Good Girl,” “Show Window” and the pre-release single “Flower Shower.” Together, the five tracks underscore HyunA’s magnetic charm and genuine personality as a rapper, dancer and singer. Reconciling with past challenges and triumphing over shadows of doubt, HyunA presents an unabashed celebration of the self worth a listen as well as a watch.

IU’s Pre-release Single “Celebrity”

Released Jan. 27, “Celebrity” is a delightful, uplifting taste of singer-songwriter IU’s fifth studio album, a full-length album release fans have been waiting for over the last four years. The multi-genre track with splashes of tropical house and electronic synths veers away from the singer’s discography of moving theatrical ballads and pared back pop. Instead, “Celebrity” embraces more conventional K-pop elements, incorporating embellished production and a post-chorus drop for choreography.

Still, IU (known for “BBIBBI” and “Good Day”) brings along an exploration of fame and self-doubt somewhat akin to HyunA’s. The 27-year-old singer alludes to fans’ blind admiration for the facile glory and allure of the celebrity status, reminding them not to lose themselves in the obsession over often unattainable yet insignificant facets of stardom. “The walk, the style / Through the earphones / The music is all minor,” IU sings in her signature clear, buoyant tone. 

What is much more important than any sort of aspirational celebrity status, IU insists in her poignant lyrics, is the realization of the self: “Can’t you see how beautiful / A true uniqueness can be? / You’re my celebrity.” The singer turns the loaded concept of “celebrity” on its head, replacing the image of glitz and glam with a celebration of inner beauty and authentic individuality. 

In a drawn-out winter of isolation from social distancing and looming uncertainties, IU offers some much needed warmth and geniality: “Don’t forget during the long winter / A flower can bloom between the frozen cracks.” IU’s message of refreshing positivity offers much for fans to look forward to as they await the release of her album in the coming months. 


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