There’s been a lot of anticipation for the debut of Cube’s latest girl group LIGHTSUM – especially because it includes Produce 48 contestant Han Chowon, who we now know should definitely have been in IZ*ONE before she was cut by producers in the vote manipulation scandal. And there are some other familiar faces, too: Nayoung and Yujeong also competed on Produce 48, and Juhyeon was on The Unit almost four (!!!) years ago. I do feel some kind of way about Cube making a third girl group when they already have two (more on this later), but I’m always happy to see another female K-pop act arrive on the scene. And I have to say, I’m really enjoying LIGHTSUM’s debut. Actually, I like it much more than I thought I would.
Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting to be that interested in LIGHTSUM. First of all, they’re way younger than I am – some of the members aren’t much older than my former students who recently graduated elementary school. Second, I rarely add rookies to my list of favorite groups these days precisely because of that age difference (since it’s less likely they’ll fit my music or aesthetic tastes). And finally, their teasers looked very cute and we all know I’m usually not into that. I was thinking I’d watch the music video and their showcase performance and leave things there – so basically, just pop by to check out and support and not really engage further. But… I’m surprised to find that I actually really love “Vanilla.” IT’S SO DARN CATCHY.
Though “Vanilla” looks very girly and cutesy in aesthetic, the song and choreography are actually more of a mix of cute and girl crush. And while many girl groups these days like to use a blend of these two styles in their music, “Vanilla” is one of the few songs I think actually strikes an even balance between both concepts. While the verses and the first half of the chorus are very bright and bubbly, the second half of the chorus and the rap verse add a perfect punch of energy. I know I always say I’m not keen on cute stuff – and that’s usually true – but I do like things that have an interesting duality. So, I think this interesting mix of sweet and sassy is why I’m enjoying “Vanilla” so much. (Plus the cute parts aren’t overly sugary, which definitely helps.)
I also like “Vanilla” because it’s kind of quirky, and it reminds me of an older style of K-pop music that you don’t really hear these days. When I first listened to it, my immediate thought was that it sounded like something Red Velvet could have done in their early days – and we all know how much I love Red Velvet, so I mean that as the highest compliment. Its extremely upbeat energy and lively percussion also remind me of Oh My Girl’s “Coloring Book,” which I’ll always remember for its sheer unbridled joy and enthusiasm. So although “Vanilla” is a brand new song from a brand new group, there’s something about it that feels familiar and even kind of nostalgic to me. It’s a style I wish I heard more of, so I’m always very excited when it pops up.
It should be no surprise that I love the choreography, which I think is super fun and entertaining to watch. There are a lot of great key points and highlights, and I find it pretty memorable – especially for a debut song. The movements really bring out the dual nature of “Vanilla,” and they help emphasize all of the song’s unique qualities. I rarely visibly react to K-pop music videos, which is why I don’t make reaction videos. But when I first saw LIGHTSUM switch from bubbly to sassy during the beat drop, I almost cheered out loud. It was really surprising, yet also quite refreshing. Honestly, I could watch the choreography a bunch of times and never get bored.
I also really like the overall color palette and aesthetic for “Vanilla.” It prominently features my favorite color pink, so that’s an automatic like for me… but I also think using so much of it effectively highlights the duality of “Vanilla” much like the performance does. Pink is associated with cute concepts, so you start out the music video thinking it’s going to be a fun and cute song – but when all these girls in pretty pink outfits start breaking it down, it’s an unexpected twist that I find really charming. I also like how the music video uses other pastels like light blue and bold colors like yellow, because it makes everything look super vivid and fresh. Plus it really makes me crave soft serve ice cream (sigh).
MY OVERALL INTEREST LEVEL
(NOTE: My options for each category are “Love,” “Like,” “Neutral,” “Not My Style,” or “Dislike.” But I rarely dislike anything, so I’ll mostly be using the other four.)
I apologize for the following mini-rant, but I have to put it somewhere in this post: I am FULLY side-eyeing Cube Entertainment for debuting a third girl group, because I know this probably won’t end well for at least one of the label’s other acts. It’s rare for two girl groups at one K-pop company to be equally successful – Cube has already been favoring (G)I-DLE over CLC – so throwing a third into the equation is questionable. Even big agencies like SM Entertainment and JYP Entertainment were only really able to juggle three girl groups for one or two years, and then the older ones ended up either going on a long hiatus or disbanding. So while I was happy to hear about LIGHTSUM’s debut, the multifan in me had mixed feelings. It probably means I’ll have to say goodbye to CLC soon, and it’s possible (G)I-DLE might get shoved aside too. But none of that is LIGHTSUM’s fault, so I’m keeping my thoughts about them separate from all this.
Though I’m not pleased about the girl group situation at Cube, I can definitely see why the company decided to go ahead and debut LIGHTSUM. Perhaps it’s because half of tehir members have experience and were long-time trainees, but I can tell that they have so much talent and potential. (Chowon and Juhyeon in particular have improved their skills a lot, which is saying something because I already thought they were pretty good when I first saw them a few years ago.) “Vanilla” definitely has rookie group energy, but it’s so well thought out and carefully put together that it doesn’t feel like a debut. And while rookies tend to need a few releases to find their footing, I feel LIGHTSUM has made a really strong impression and clearly communicated what their music will be like going forward.
As much as I love “Vanilla” right now, I’m on the fence about being more than a casual listener with LIGHTSUM. The oldest member is twelve years younger than me, and that’s… a lot. So truthfully, I’m still probably just going to stick with listening to the music and occasionally watching performance videos. I won’t watch their other content or variety shows or anything like that. However, I will most certainly be listening to “Vanilla” on repeat for a while – and I’m already looking forward to what LIGHTSUM will show us in the future.
(“Knee Jerk Reaction” is a column I created to talk about comebacks or debuts when I don’t have a lot of time to write in-depth reviews. A knee jerk reaction is like an automatic response, so it’s a post about my initial thoughts on the song, the music video, and the performance if it’s available. Compared to my reviews, everything is more stream of consciousness and less analytical. And everything is 100% my own opinion!)
SOURCES: Music video and featured image belong to Cube Entertainment.