Following their victory on the TV show “Queendom” where six of South Korea’s most popular girl groups faced off against one another, Mamamoo released their second studio album “reality in BLACK.” Expressive, varied and addicting, “reality in BLACK” is nothing short of some of Mamamoo’s best work.
Debuting in 2014, Mamamoo quickly established itself apart from other girl groups by foregoing what was expected of a girl idol group: passable singing, forgettable bubblegum pop and cute outfits for a strong focus on their vocal abilities and performing a wide variety of genres. In doing so, Mamamoo painted a new path for girl groups — one that wasn’t limited to just innocent girl group or sexy girl group —one that focused on music and singing.
Their latest album, while not doing anything especially new or special, is Mamamoo at their prime. The lead single from the album, “HIP” features a wide assortment of instruments ranging from an unforgettable funky saxophone to claps that brings the song together. The opener of Hwasa’s breathy vocals quickly established this song’s tone — playful and bouncy without veering into bubblegum territory. The chorus of Wheein singing “close up, close up, close up” is mesmerizing, as are the rap breaks by both Hwasa and Moonbyul. In the last third of the song, following Moonbyul’s rap break, an earworm of a breakdown with the aforementioned funky saxophone and guitar plays as the chorus ends the song on a strong note.
The majority of the tracks on this album are fairly laid back and chill, especially the two ballads on the album, “Hello Mama” and “Ten Nights.” Despite both being ballads, they have very different energies. “Ten Nights” is noticeably much heavier than “Hello Mama,” with the former having very intense vocal performances and high notes, and the latter being much more relaxed and smooth. The two songs do share one constant though. Moonbyul, the lead rapper who seldom sung in previous albums and extended plays, takes the stage and shows she isn’t a one trick pony. This is accentuated with Moonbyul’s high note in “Ten Nights” with the line “This night makes me want to pretend that it’s nothing, I just want to live like that” before she goes on to harmonize with Wheein, singing “Whatever others say, in the most splendid moments, we loved each other.”
In exchange for having a wide variety of sounds, the album suffers from having no focus. Although this may vary from person to person, the lack of having an underlying knot tying everything together to form an album hampers the album to some degree. On the other side, having no variety in the instrumentals and messages, as seen in The Courier’s review of “Feel Special” from TWICE is also a detriment. It’s a thin line to walk, especially for K-pop, which often suffers from songs sounding too similar or groups having no discernable unique sound.
The lack of focus can be heard in the three tracks “Destiny, “4x4ever,” and “ZzZz.” “Destiny,” which debuted on the TV show “Queendom” has a strong country vibe throughout, especially from the wild west sounding guitar opening the song. Each of the members has a chance to shine here, especially the group’s leader Solar. “4x4ever” embodies an almost anthem-like feel, with attention grabbing sirens starting the song off. Moonbyul is the star this time around, having multiple rap breaks among the modulated voice samples that play in the back. “ZzZz” has a very strange opener, with a bubbly synth playing as Hwasa’s breathy vocals sing the chorus line “I just need some fun.” The strange bubbly synth continues as the group sings much lighter vocals this time around, which gives this song a playful and relaxing feel.
The three tracks, especially “4x4ever” are phenomenal and serve as fantastic additions to Mamamoo’s already impressive discography, but have little to connect with each other. “ZzZz” talks about the members being bored, “Destiny” talks about destiny bringing two people back together, and “4x4ever” is about loving yourself. It can be argued that the lyrics in K-pop and pop in general have seldom mattered, and if so, then the lack of focus shifts away from the lyrics to the instrumentals. As mentioned before, having instrumentals that sound too similar to each other isn’t a good thing either, but when there is nothing tying the album together, it just ends up bringing the overall album down.
That being said, it doesn’t bring the quality of each song on the album down. While the overall album experience may be hampered, each individual song, barring the forgettable final track “I’m Your Fan” is well worth a listen. The album being unfocused and having a lot of variety can be a good thing as well. There’s a lot to love here, and with the wide variety of genres, there’s something for everyone. Having an underlying message or theme throughout the album would’ve made this a strong contender for best album of the year.
“reality in BLACK,” while unfocused, features amazing and addicting tracks, especially with the lead single “HIP.”
You can listen to the album here and watch the music video for “HIP” here.