[Music/Album review] Lee Hyori – Monochrome

I’m not sure if what I’m saying is accurate, but Lee Hyori has this diva, superstar, “Queen of Pop” status in the realm of Kpop, and rightfully so, since she exudes such confidence and sassiness that even men can’t help but give in to her demands. After a three-year hiatus from the music scene (her previous album was hit with plagiarism issues), the queen is now back in the game with her latest album “Monochrome”.  And, boy (or should I say “girl”), was I impressed.

I know this album has been released for several months already, and I’ve been listening to the songs for quite some time too. I’ve been wanting to write a review of this album but I kept putting it off, so I’m only writing this today after all the hype over this album has died down. I’ve listened to some of Lee Hyori’s older songs before, which were mainly teeny-bopper bubblegum pop that weren’t really my cup of tea. I did like her previous album so it was a pity that the songs weren’t original. Hyori has gone for a retro feel for her latest musical offering, which is a unique album concept that gives a much-needed breath of fresh air to an industry that has been plagued with too many auto-tuned songs.

Her title song “Miss Korea” is a slow/mid-paced song whose MV, complete with vintage microphones and 1960s(?) fashion, is reminiscent of that of the Wonder Girls’ classic hit “Nobody”. The song is catchy and easy to sing along too, and I like that the song actually calls for women to have more confidence in themselves and not to be overly-obsessed with being pretty and famous like a beauty queen. But the song’s message seems quite ironic when juxtaposed against the sexy images portrayed in the MV of her second title track “Bad Girl”.

Unlike “Miss Korea” which had a relatively monotonous tune throughout, “Bad Girl” has some high notes that come and go rather quickly, giving Hyori more chances to demonstrate her vocal abilities (which I don’t claim to be outstanding). It took me a longer time to warm up to this song, and I felt there were better songs in her album that were more catchy and worthy of being promoted as a secondary title track.

Most of the songs in “Monochrome” have a distinctive retro, western, country feel that make for easy listening. As much as I like Lee Hyori for her stage presence and confidence, I must admit that her vocals are not among the best. Hyori does a great job at channelling the sassy and somewhat lazy/relaxing feel of her songs, but all the songs stay within a safe range of the music scales that help to cover up for her less than impressive vocal range. This weakness is especially evident in Amor Mio, a slow piano ballad where Hyori’s voice seemed close to being drowned out by Park Ji Young’s stronger vocals. But it is a good song nonetheless.

Overall, I did like the album for its consistent retro theme and unique sound. I hope to hear more of such songs from Kpop in the future. Below are some of my more favourite songs from the album:

Track 5 – 내가 미워요 (I Hate Myself)

Track 8 – Trust Me

Track 11 – 누군가 (Somebody)

Track 16 – 노 (Oars)

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