Kpop 5s Album Review: ’27’ by Kim Sunggyu

'27' album cover graphic (courtesy of Woollim Entertainment)
’27’ album cover graphic (courtesy of Woollim Entertainment)

Throughout my years of K-pop fangirling, there has only been a handful of idol group members I could easily imagine taking on successful solo activities. Kim Sunggyu (김성규), INFINITE‘s (인피니트) lead vocalist, was one of them; and it came as no surprise when he released his first solo EP ‘Another Me’ back in 2012. Despite a short round of promotions, the album was a huge hit, ranking #1 at a certain point on the Gaon weekly album chart. Granted, the fact that INFINITE is a majorly popular group may have helped, but I adamantly give Sunggyu more credit than he may be due because he is undoubtedly one of the best K-pop idol singers of this generation (and I’m not saying that carelessly – a generation in K-pop is like three in normal human years…)

Nonetheless, that’s not meant to undermine Sunggyu’s talent either. In INFINITE, he’s known as not the best dancer – he’s slower than his younger co-members, he’s lazier, and even his fans (lovingly) call him “grandpa”. But this is understandable. All his care and energy is expended on his singing and onstage presence. His voice adds character to INFINITE’s songs and is a top reason why I enjoy their work so much. I was over the moon listening to ‘Another Me’ and realizing how nicely it stays true to its title. Its flavor is different to INFINITE’s usual: ‘Another Me’ is more mellow, a little more pop-rock, a caress of ballad, and just more airspace for Sunggyu’s amazing pipes and their dynamic range.

But I digress. This review is not of ‘Another Me’ but of his second solo EP, ’27’, released in May but of which I only managed to get a hold earlier this month. Because my imagination is limited, I expected a comeback of mellow-rock guitar and piano combinations. Instead, what we have is, well, still guitar and piano, but added to the mix are more strings, peppered with EDM and an overall sound that may be familiar to fans of Nell (넬). No worries, you aren’t delusional – the album was actually produced by the indie band’s frontman Kim Jong-wan (김종완).

Another thing that stands out about this album is how Sunggyu takes on a different vocal technique for most tracks. You don’t hear much of his signature harmonizations and acapella, but you can tell he’s experimenting on the opposite end of his range, which, hey, is different. And you can’t hate a venture into difference.

Besides the intro, ’27’ is made up of 5 songs and conveniently serves this edition of Kpop 5s Album Review series (you can check out my first on BTS’ ‘Dark & Wild). You can follow along via this album preview courtesy of Woollim Entertainment; but dear readers, be forwarned. If you don’t like sappy love songs, this album is not for you. I usually don’t like sap either, but I admit my sweet tooth gets the best of me sometimes. If you’re like me, you can cop the whole thing on iTunes here.

The Answer 너여야만 해

(Music video courtesy of Woollim Entertainment)

Although I appreciate the aesthetic emphasis of the music video, it’s not really my taste. As a matter of fact, I’m not particularly crazy about ‘The Answer’, but I recognize that the beauty of it is the poetry within not just the lyrics but the way they come together with the song’s overall sound. It talks of a love lost and a yearning for her return, but with the heavy pulses and the orchestra of strings, there’s a tinge of hope. This combination, you have to admit, bears a story in itself.

Alive

This is the type of song that grows on you over time. In the spirit of difference, I was not feeling the traditional piano, albeit it was a beautiful melody; but I came to appreciate it when I decided to engage with the lyrics. Yes, it’s another lament of a broken heart, but unlike ‘The Answer’, the tone is less hopeful spelled out in a simple yet powerful way. It hits a personal level as it evokes a sense of immobility and mental lethargy in the chorus: “All of my spaces are filled with you / If I move the tiniest bit I run into you; I need to empty myself of you / I need to start erasing you that way / But even if I bite down my lip and put my mind to it / I’m not able to start”.

The juxtaposition of the lyrics to the song’s title tops the poetry off, which can be interpreted arbitrarily. ‘Alive’ may describe nothing more than the state of living, or it may describe the state of living off memories, living within a delusion, or, if you’re a believer (or veteran) of a darker shade of love, living off absolute powerlessness.

Kontrol

(Music video courtesy of Woollim Entertainment)

‘Kontrol’ was the first song I was exposed to from this album, and it’s my favorite for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is one of the prime examples of Sunggyu projecting his voice differently, most prominent being a delicate yet nimble sound and the relative lack of lasting high notes. Secondly, I like the lyrics. Though it’s of the same vein as ‘The Answer’, I prefer the way ‘Kontrol’ packages it.

Sunggyu is missing his former love, but the way in which he asks her to return is not aggressive yet more than passive. This brings in the title of song, which is actually not part of the lyrics because it’s instead a descriptor – he surrenders control over her return by not begging and saying he’ll be there if she decides to come back. (And maybe, just maybe, this sense of hanging on thin rope is reflected by the delicacy in his vocal projection.)

Thirdly, I love the subtle electro influence via the synths – it give the song life and modernity, and it makes the sound incredibly memorable. With that said, the music video also makes ‘Kontrol’ stick (and I’ve argued time and time again that in this godforsaken genre, sound and aesthetics can never be separated in providing that particular K-pop experience).

Off the bat, the music video is understandably tragic. Sunggyu is in a dark place missing and reminiscing. Then again, the music video is also playful. The colors are one thing, but the decision to incorporate a myriad of childlike symbols, such as toys, trinkets, and especially the light sticks; and even the wardrobe choices (Sunggyu looks like the modern spin of a Raggedy Andy doll, to be honest) makes you wonder what exactly is being evoked.

I think it’s the innocent side of love and loss. You know how some children see companionship – they just enjoy each other’s company in a deep yet uncomplicated way; and when they are separated, they question it but they aren’t outwardly volatile. Instead, while they continue to cling onto possibility, they hurt on their own and they tend to keep it inside, just like the opening line of the song: “I’ll deal with all the hurting myself.

Daydream

Just when you thought there were enough juxtapositions, in comes ‘Daydream’ with its charming sound, tinges of auto-tune, and Tablo (타블로). Yes, Tablo – for INFINITE fans, this collaboration is hardly unimaginable as Epik High (에픽하이) used to be under the group’s current agency (before the unfortunate Stanford ‘controversy’ that engulfed Tablo in 2010). But, again, I digress – the lyrics of ‘Daydream’ start off sweet, familiar to anyone who has ever had a person in mind they couldn’t stop thinking about; then turns into a curb during the bridge and leaves you with a lonely taste in your mouth.

The best few lines of the entire song is, expectedly, one of Tablo’s: “My heart is telling me it’s easy, but my body can’t handle it / The easiest thing in this world has apparently been the hardest thing for me.” I want to highlight this as it took me a while to figure out what it could possibly mean. I guess for many things, love included, it is easy to want something and to picture it in your head but hard to have it requited, all the more to make it a reality. (And I thought ‘Daydream’ was going to be a happy song for a change).

Reply 답가

I couldn’t have said it at a better time. Finally, a refreshing change of mood – featuring the delicate vocals of K-pop Star‘s Park Yoon-ha (박윤하), ‘Reply’ is indeed a reply to introspections of the heart (and retrospectively even, everything this entire album is thematically all about). The song starts off by talking about struggles and regrets; this is eventually consoled by Yoon-ha’s verse, in which those struggles are forgiven because what isn’t said is less important than what’s being felt.

Final thoughts

Like I said, being on the more mellow side, ’27’ will not cater to everyone’s taste. But I do believe those interested in lyrical confessions of the heart going through cycles of healing and denial, by which I actually just mean love songs, will find this album an engaging listen.

With Sunggyu’s vocal techniques and a spice of EDM thrown into the already conventional mix of pop-rock and ballad, these are love songs sung a bit differently from others. Besides the fact I am a little enchanted by Sunggyu’s voice, the beauty of this album to me are the lyrics. These songs talk less of butterflies fluttering about in one’s stomach and more of the lumps in one’s throat, a side of love that is hard to genuinely capture. It is one thing to say you are heartbroken, but it is another to describe it via the simply worded expressions of longing amidst the lack of actual determination; caving into reality and attempting to deal with the loneliness and the fear thereof.

For me, these juxtapositions are apt and incredibly genuine, to the point they come off as a mature experience of love. As it is titled after Sunggyu’s own age (in Korean years), the album itself is a somewhat wholesome experience of maturity, from its production to the expression of the content.

Did you listen to Kim Sunggyu’s ’27’? Share your thoughts below!

Disclaimer: The opinions shared in this article are solely those of the author’s and not ATK Magazine’s as a whole. 

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