Like I said a few days ago, I’m bringing my reviews back! Writing reviews was actually one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place, so I’m really excited to get back into the swing of things. Since I don’t have as much time as I used to, I’ve chosen to limit my reviews for comebacks or debuts where I really have a lot to talk about – as a result, they’ve become much more subjective in nature. (And they are LONG.) But I will still try my best to strike a balance between entertainment writing and my own personal opinions! My first review of 2021 goes to (G)I-DLE, a group that I’m very fond of. Now that they’re transitioning out of their rookie years, they’re looking to make maximum impact – and their latest song “HWAA” very effectively highlights their creativity and their ambition.
Please note that the criteria for my reviews has changed since 2017. f you’d like to know more about what I look at in my reviews, click here.
The choice of the word “HWAA” for this song’s title is very interesting. In Chinese, it can mean both “fire and “flower.” (Thank you, high school Mandarin.) (G)I-DLE explained that their song uses both meanings of the word to help express one’s emotions after a breakup. It’s also worth noting that a quick Google Translate of the Korean word “화” brings up the translations “anger,” “flower,” “disaster,” and “bloom” – all of which could also be relevant to the concept. “HWAA” uses also nature and the changing seasons as a metaphor: the freezing nature of winter expresses feelings of coldness immediately after the breakup, the flowers of spring represent the fragile yet beautiful love that eventually comes after, and the fire is the burning desire to thaw the iciness of winter and reach spring. Elements of these ideas run throughout the entire comeback, so that’s important to keep in mind.
There are so many different layers to “HWAA” – it sounds very simple and can easily be enjoyed as your average pop song, but there are a lot of detailed elements that make it enjoyable on a deeper level. It maintains a pretty even tempo throughout, so what really drives the song is how the (G)I-DLE members deliver their parts. For example, Soyeon starts out the first verse fairly lowkey and subdued. Yuqi and Soojin slowly build up the intensity, then Minnie tones it down again with her soft and gentle singing. But Miyeon’s soaring vocals push it back up, and Shuhua’s decisive declaration of “불을 지펴라” opens the way for the energetic yet entrancing chorus to take over. It shows off a wide variety of emotions – very essential gto breakup songs – and also highlights the cyclical nature that the lyrics and aesthetics refer to.
I also really love the traditional Asian instruments in the arrangement. Traditional Asian music has always had a sense of elegance to me, and you can feel that subtle grace in “HWAA.” It also helps soften the hard hitting percussion of the chorus and gives the song the same sense of delicate beauty that the production design conveys (we’ll see this later). It would have been really easy to go overboard with this kind of sound, but I think “HWAA” gets it just right.
In my opinion, there are two small parts about “HWAA” that I would change (as a song). The first is that I would have liked them to actually sing the chorus live, because it appears to be recorded. I’m sure there are reasons behind that choice, but the melody of the chorus is so spellbinding (and kind of haunting) that I think it would have had a huge impact if the members had sung it live. The second is that I wanted the ending to be just a little longer – it feels kind of abrupt to me, which is a shame because the rest of the song is so well-constructed. Even just having a full final chorus would have done the trick. But aside from those two things, I think the song is really well done. (Score: 9/10)
I really love “HWAA.” Actually, I’ve been forcing myself to stop listening to it all day every day because I don’t want to overdo it and get tired too quickly. I find the melody super appealing – especially the hook in the chorus – and this definitely fits into the style of songs that I love. I know I will for sure be listening it to for at least the rest of the month. Since I jump from comeback to comeback, it’s rare for me to maintain interest in a song that comes out in January for twelve whole months. I think that only happens with one song every year. One side of me thinks it’s a little too early to tell, but the other side says that I know myself pretty well… so I may as well just go ahead and say it: I think “HWAA” could be that song for my 2021. (Score: 9/10)
(NOTE: There wasn’t a dance practice video available at the time of posting, so I linked videos from (G)I-DLE’s M! Countdown performance.)
M! Countdown Performance
M! Countdown Fancam
I noticed there are a lot of hand and arm movements in this particular choreography. Sometimes when I watch girl group dances, I get flashbacks to my high school dance teacher and her phrase “hand candy” – which basically means lots of unnecessary flourishing which detracts from the overall clean look of the dance. Girl group dances tend to have a lot of that so the movements look prettier, and I do find it distracting. Thankfully, there’s no “hand candy” here! While I do think that there should be a little more footwork involved for a better overall balance, all of the arm movements are very clean and precise. And all of the raising and lowering does help visually project the cyclical idea I was talking about earlier. (Though I do find it a little odd that they missed an opportunity to really play up the fire and flame imagery in their movements – there’s some, but not as much as I was expecting).
As for the chorus, I think it really stands out. I love its duality: the hip bounces and the changing of the arms are sharp and match the beat of the song perfectly, but the head rolls and the body waves that follow emphasize its more fluid nature. The key points very basic for a K-pop dance these days, but I think that simplicity also allows them to shine. I’m generally too busy to dance along to K-pop right now, but this is one dance I would definitely take the time to learn. Score: 8/10
Again, the overall performance for “HWAA” is relatively simple with very clean shapes and lines. There aren’t too many distinct formations, which makes the few that (G)I-DLE does make more meaningful. Personally, I don’t find too many moments outside of the chorus very memorable. And because the choreography leans heavily on arm movements, there’s a lot of walking in and out of formations and not actual dancing. It’s kind of a shame, because I usually find (G)I-DLE’s performances very exciting and engaging. But at the same time, I think this kind of dance looks very elegant and graceful, and that matches those subtle undertones in the song. So while I wish the performance was just a bit more impactful, I will concede that it fits nicely into the overall picture of the comeback. Score: 8/10
My Favorite Key Point Move
Because I love any crown imagery that alludes to being a queen.
My Favorite Formation
So simple, yet so beautiful.
(Please note that I only put my blog name on the image below because it took me a while to do the formatting and color-coding, and I don’t want people to take it and re-upload it without credit. The creators of the song and my sources for the lyrics and distribution are in the picture.)
We all know that (G)I-DLE’s line distributions are a bit iffy, so my expectations were quite low to begin with. That being said, the line and center distribution for HWAA does sort of balance out (with one GLARING exception). Soyeon does have a lot of lines as always – especially in that rap verse – but she isn’t in the center outside of those times, so she doesn’t dominate the song. Yuqi and Soojin have minimal lines, but are the centers for the chorus. Miyeon and Minnie have fewer lines than normal (especially for Minnie), but I think they still shine while singing them. As far as (G)I-DLE songs go, this is okay for those five members.
All right, now let’s talk about Shuhua. Aside from “Lion” and “Oh My God,” she’s always been given an appallingly small amount of lines… but in my opinion, this is really taking it too far. I’ve looked at some comments on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, and I see a lot of fans saying that Shuhua herself doesn’t want to have too many lines because she isn’t confident in her Korean. I can certainly understand that – I live in Korea and I’m constantly anxious about using my Korean, so I can’t imagine the pressure of being a foreign idol where you really are forced to speak it or sing it. However, there’s a difference between giving Shuhua fewer lines to make her feel more comfortable and limiting her to the point where she’s not even singing. That’s just straight up unfair. There are other simple parts she could have easily been given, so I find this totally unacceptable.
That being said, I will be somewhat generous in my scoring here for several reasons. First, because the thing about Shuhua not wanting a lot of lines could be true (even though I don’t have a direct source for that). Second, because the “불을 지펴라” line does seem clearly designed to be a “killing part” or a moment with high impact – which tells me that the production staff is trying to find a way to help her stand out. And third, because it sounds like she could have sung the “hwaa” part of the chorus… it’s not live, but it’s still a contribution. So I’m not going to be as harsh as I planned, but I’m still very disapproving. Score: 7/10
(G)I-DLE has a string of gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing music videos. “Hann,” “Lion,” and “Oh My God” easily come to mind. “HWAA” is yet another of their visual masterpieces, filled with very carefully constructed shots conveying nothing but beauty. The theme of seasons is incredibly strong here – the two main looks of the video shift between an icy frozen tundra and blooming flowers in nature. The winter shots make up most of the first half of the video, and then slowly give way to the more colorful floral aesthetic around the second chorus. And then for the ending, everything is pure red to represent the fire that brought about the change. It’s not a super smooth transition because the music video has to get in plenty of those close-up shots of the girls, but it’s a nice touch that gives another visual aspect to the cyclical idea.
Much like the song itself, the music video for “HWAA” is subtly influenced by traditional Asian elements. It’s mostly seen in the clothing choices and some of the members’ hairstyles, but there are also certain color schemes and patterns in the production design that are reminiscent of certain East Asian cultures. (G)I-DLE has had some issues with cultural sensitivity in the past, so it’s nice to see that the situation is handled properly here. I think the fact that it’s not the focus of the comeback helps a lot in this regard – it’s not “(G)I-DLE doing an East Asian concept,” but rather (G)I-DLE using certain elements to help illustrate and bring their vision to life. So while those aspects are prominent, they’re not directly in the spotlight. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but I think they succeeded. (Score: 9/10)
At M! Countdown (1/14)
At Music Core (1/16)
At Music Bank (1/15)
At Inkigayo (1/17)
Much like (G)I-DLE’s music video and albums, their outfits for this comeback tend to follow three specific themes: winter with the long white dresses, spring with the colorful floral patterns, and fire with its solid bright red. Some of their clothes also have traditional East Asian patterns and colors, and some take on the popular “modern hanbok” look that other girl groups have recently used. A lot of K-pop groups often promote in differently colored sets of the same outfit, so it’s really cool to see such a wide range of costumes for the same song.
One thing I love about (G)I-DLE is that each girl is allowed to be beautiful in her own way – they don’t have to conform to the same look. So I appreciate that their stylists use clothes to really highlight their separate styles and personas (or at least, the images that they’re selling to the public). Aside from the time when they’re all in the same white dress, each outfit is really different and suits each girl. Some of the choices are a little eclectic for my taste, but I think it’s really nice that (G)I-DLE is able to express their own individuality. (Score: 8/10)
My Style MVP for “HWAA” – Yuqi, because I’m obsessed with her short haircut. (I know it’s a wig here, but she did actually cut it short!)
ARTISTRY AND IMAGE
In my opinion, it’s rather rare to find groups (and their production teams) who really think of the whole picture when it comes to their releases. In (G)I-DLE’s case, part of the reason why “HWAA” is such an amazing comeback is because everything is so closely and intricately tied together. Like I mentioned in the introduction, “HWAA” a breakup song with the theme of cold feelings being burned and melted to give way to fragile spring. And you can hear that and see that everywhere. It’s in the lyrics; it’s in the dance moves; it’s in the music video; it’s even in the costumes. I genuinely felt like I was getting swept away in some kind of fantasy story or fairy tale. It’s truly firing on all cylinders, and that level of attention and detail really proves how creative (G)I-DLE can be. And seeing how well-done each comeback is makes me super excited for the next. (Score: 10/10)
K-pop is all about following the trends, but (G)I-DLE has always played by the beat of their own drum – and I think that’s what their fanbase finds so appealing about them. They’re already pretty well-known in South Korea, but I think that “HWAA” can definitely further cement that popularity. It’s ambitious, it has a lot of potential, and it’s certainly cut from the same cloth as some of their previous creative triumphs. I firmly believe that it will both satisfy long time fans and bring in new ones. (G)I-DLE has played around a lot with different music in their formative years, and I honestly think they could handle any genre they took on. But now it seems like they’re trying to solidify their signature style, and they’ve created a formula that’s almost guaranteed to be successful. To me, “HWAA” seems like a strong start to a new era of only good things. (Score: 10/10)
PERSONAL INTEREST LEVEL
I like all of (G)I-DLE’s music, but my absolute two favorite songs are “Hann” and “Lion.” “HWAA” gives off a very similar energy – quiet yet dramatic intensity, emotional lyrics, gorgeous aesthetics, etc. So for me, it was instant love. Not only have I listened to it tons, but I’ve watched the music video probably 20 times by now – something I rarely do these days. (For reference, I generally watch music videos five times max.) And I absolutely love the album; it’s probably my favorite (G)I-DLE album so far. They’re usually in my Top 10 girl groups anyway, but “HWAA” has certainly moved them up several spaces. (Score: 10/10)
|Line and Center Distribution||7|
|Personal Interest Level||10|
January is typically supposed to be a slow month for K-pop, so I was really surprised that (G)I-DLE’s comeback packed so much of a punch. They’re really not playing around! I was really pleased that “HWAA” was so excellent; I probably would have given it more than 90 points if the line distribution hadn’t been so unbalanced. “HWAA” is definitely my first K-pop obsession of 2021, and in my opinion, its high quality sets the bar for the rest of the year. I hope all of my other favorites have comebacks this good.
SOURCES: Cube Entertainment, MNET/M2, Soompi (1), (G)I-DLE’s Twitter (1) (2) (3) (4), YouTube
Featured image is a teaser photo for I Burn and belongs to Cube Entertainment.
GIFs were made from the “HWAA” music video (Cube Entertainment) and (G)I-DLE’s performance on M! Countdown (MNET).