Album Review: HyunA – Following

Release Date: August 29, 2017

Tracklist:

  1. Party (Follow Me) featuring Pentagon’s Wooseok
  2. Babe
  3. Purple featuring Pentagon’s E’Dawn
  4. Dart
  5. Self-Portrait

Total Runtime: 00:16:24

Recommended for: Pop and/or EDM music fans who enjoy a bit of rapping thrown in

NOT recommended for: Those looking for ballads or heavily vocal based songs

It’s been over year since Cube’s HyunA made a solo comeback with her last mini-album, but she’s here at the tail-end of August to change that. HyunA’s most recent comeback effort is her album named Following, a compilation of five new tracks that span a fairly wide spectrum of pop music. Two fellow label-mates from the rookie group Pentagon make appearances in this album, but HyunA remains that star of her own show as she always has been. It seems like with every HyunA comeback she manages to impress me in some new way, even if it isn’t through her promoted title track, so let’s see what she has in store for her sixth album.

  1. Party (Follow Me) featuring Pentagon’s Wooseok

    First up on the Following album is the song “Party (Follow Me),” which features Pentagon’s Wooseok. After a somewhat strange, robotic beginning to the song the chorus starts, introducing a sound completely different from what the almost ominous first few seconds of the track seemed to have teased. “Party (Follow Me)” has the kind of repetitive hook chorus that borders between catchy and annoying, but I’m going to err on the side of optimism and declare it catchy. HyunA doesn’t say much more than the title of the song itself in the chorus, but maybe it’s the thumping electronic beats of the instrumental or the lyrics themselves because something about it just sticks. The following verse is primarily rap before a second chorus comes in and then the featured guest artist makes his entrance. I’m not sure this song really needed Wooseok’s rap interlude, and it’s oddly drawn out and slow in comparison to the rest of the song. However, I did really enjoy the back and forth between him and HyunA in the bridge of the song, mostly because the contrast between HyunA’s girly vocals and Wooseok’s deep voice creates a really interesting dynamic to this climax. I think HyunA’s voice is somewhat polarizing, and this song definitely showcases her on the more nasally side of her range. But to me it works with the quirky instrumental, which is just unique enough to be interesting but not busy enough that the combination of HyunA’s voice and its eclectic sound is overwhelming. This is the song I’ve come to expect from HyunA as a title track and while this wasn’t the option she chose this comeback for a promoted title, it’s a fun addition to the album nonetheless.

  2. Babe

    Up next is the actual title track of the Following album: “Babe.” It’s definitely a different musical direction for a recent HyunA title track, or any of her main comebacks really. The song carries an interesting motif throughout its run that sounds reminiscent of a wooden xylophone. It’s a very gentle sound, one that doesn’t quite mix with the more dynamic, typically EDM beats that are built into the song as it progresses. I do think “Babe” sounds different from anything HyunA has ever done, or anything really that K-Pop groups or soloists are showcasing right now. But it didn’t manage to leave a strong impression or hook me at first or fifth listen, and it’s a little too busy to listen as background music like a mellow ballad might be. The chorus is just as repetitive as the track that preceded it on the album, but it’s not as catchy and a little discordant. The distorted effect to her voice that closes out the song is somewhat unpleasant as well, and because those are the last notes a listener is going to remember as a song finishes it doesn’t seem like the best decision for an already fairly experimental track. I do think my favorite part about “Babe” is the bridge, where things slow down and HyunA sings in a light voice that gives this song a more melodic, whimsical section that really elevates it. It’s similar to the smoothness of the pre-chorus, another part of the track I thoroughly enjoyed. There really wasn’t anything glaringly obvious that this song did blatantly wrong, it just didn’t do enough things right for me to love it. Perhaps forgoing some of the EDM sections to keep things simple with the softer melodies and xylophone chimes could have changed this, but that really wouldn’t have made for an optimal track to dance to on music shows in the end.

  3. Purple featuring Pentagon’s E’Dawn

     

    Now we come to “Purple,” the third track in the Following album and the second to feature a Pentagon member. This time it’s E’Dawn, who you may remember from another subunit of HyunA’s: Triple H. When this track begins the opening instrumental sounds oddly similar to “Hotline Bling” for a moment before the song takes a different turn with E’Dawn announcing his presence with a drawn out “Yeah.” He goes on to rap in a rather sing-song voice for the first chorus, after which HyunA then follows up with her own spin on the chorus. The chorus is playful in a very childlike way; in fact, it really sounds like it could easily fit in the soundtrack of music for a children’s show. This song feels a lot more like a duet between HyunA and E’Dawn rather than a featuring because he does actually take on a fair amount of lines in both the choruses and verses. In my opinion, this is unfortunately a hindrance to the song more than anything because of just how naturally shrill and nasally both of their voices are. The combination of them rapping together along with the staccato beat and borderline obnoxious instrumental ultimately makes this a track I don’t see myself coming back to and listening often in the future. Especially when Following alone has much better songs in its tracklist.

  4. Dart

    This next song was the one I was most excited for when the audio teaser for the album’s tracklist was revealed. Entitled “Dart,” this song mixes a very trance-esque tropical house sound with HyunA’s vocals and the effect is nothing short of beautiful. And, as I predicted, it is also my favorite song on the Following album. It’s such a refreshing (and well-needed) reprieve from the more noisy, upbeat tracks that preceded it and brings a maturity and elegance to the album that none of the other songs really embodied, though none really seemed to try to in all fairness. Regardless, “Dart” presents a piece that is different – from the extended instrumental beginning that eventually leads into HyunA’s singing to the subtly building pre-chorus. When the chorus does hit, it’s not explosive but it’s so sweet and striking in the way it changes the progression of the track. I absolutely adore the balance between HyunA’s vocals and her somewhat unexpectedly thrown in rap break in the second verse as well. The rap still has all her nasality but none of the aggressiveness of her hype tracks and it suits this song in small amounts, which is exactly what the producers chose to include. All in all, I am happy to announce that “Dart” is everything I wanted and more and altogether a standout b-side for female soloists in K-Pop this year. HyunA never fails to deliver a gem every comeback and this album is in keeping with the trend with the inclusion of “Dart.” I won’t talk this track to death, instead take the time to have a listen to it; if it’s the only song you hear in the entire album it would still be worth it.

  5. Self-Portrait

    Finally the Following album finishes up with the last track “Self-Portait,” a song that stays more stylistically in line with the one that directly preceded it on the album. This song doesn’t take much time to jump directly into the first verse, which HyunA sings in a voice much lower than much everything else she sang on the album. There is a rather simple, almost melancholy electronic instrumental that builds in the background of the song and follows the increasing pitch of her voice. The chorus has thrumming, but still subtle, beats that make a simple canvas for the the lyrics that are sung over it at a rather slow pace. I don’t notice HyunA’s harmonies very often in her music, because she does tend to focus on rapping in her most heavily promoted tracks, but they did stick out to me in this song. It was a nice touch to the chorus and something that was carried throughout the song right up until the final note hits. This track is altogether a rather subdued conclusion the album, but one I personally really enjoy. I think stylistically it’s the least distinctive track of the bunch but it’s also is much easier on the ears than, say, “Purple.” Ultimately I think that is to “Self-Portrait’s” benefit and it makes this song one of the better additions to Following.

Review overview
Summary As a whole, this album's sound is diverse enough over its five tracks to lack some cohesiveness but manages to experiment with styles and instrumentals while doing so. Some songs are excellent, others won't be finding their way back on my playlists. But overall it was enjoyable listen.
3.5
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