K-POP / KOREAN CULTURE / REVIEWS

[Review] [Mini-Album] Son Seung Yeon – ‘Wings of an Ugly Duck’

2013_song seung yeon

written by: Drowningn00b

One of South Korea’s biggest money makers is image. Cosmetic surgery is huge business, attracting multitudes of tourists to the country for the procedures. If too expensive, cosmetics themselves are hugely popular not only with natives, but with foreigners as well. Seoul is becoming a fashion hub, though it’s still trying to find its own identity against Western fashion houses and its eccentric neighbor, Tokyo. K-Pop is image with music attached, going so far as to have specific surgeries that can make someone look like their favorite pop star (source: Asia-Pacific Journal). So it was ironic to see “The Voice: Korea” begin its run on Mnet last year as a show solely based on the human vocal chords as see it take off in a world that seemingly couldn’t care less for vocal talent. I didn’t watch the season, but was intrigued by singer Son Seung Yeon when she won. Nowhere near the hyper-pretty standards of idols, she possessed a strong voice and the conviction to win top billing on the program. Now that she’s out on hero wn, does that translate to a strong debut release?

Unfortunately, this is still South Korea, so Ms. Son was stuck with ‘Wings of an Ugly Duck‘ as the title for her EP. Thankfully, she doesn’t sound as bad as the title implies.

The mini-album starts with the R&B ballad “Replay,” a smooth tune with a great bass line and great energy to kick things off. It’s short and sweet, showcasing Ms. Son’s vocal talent as a singer as well as a rapper. In the same vein, “I’m Only Yours” closes the EP with a lullaby-esque R&B sound, emphasizing Seung Yeon’s higher range. With muted drums and long keyboard notes to contrast the high electronic sounds, “I’m Only Yours” serves as a reminder that she isn’t an idol, but an artist of fans’ enthusiasm.

Since this is a debut, “Wings of an Ugly Duck” has to showcase a range of emotions, or feathers, as it were. Her signature track, “Heart, Heart” is an OST track I can get behind. The instrumentation is nothing new, allowing Seung Yeon to carry the track on voice alone. It’s beautifully sung, with all the pain from loving someone from afar. What sets it apart is the layering of the high notes in the climax, as if Ms. Son and her heart are singing separately. They are both singing the same line: “So please be happy with anyone, please, please” (source: popgasa.com), but Seung Yeon is singing to her crush, while her heart is singing to her. It’s a clever trick, and it works so well with such a talent.

On the other side of love’s pain, “끝이야 (I’m Leaving)” is an angry rocker of a song. With Story Seller in hibernation and Kim Bo Kyung’s “Rockin’” record that isn’t, this song is exactly the I-hate-you-fest I needed to hear. It has all the right elements in the instrumentation, though I could do without the piano. It suggests sorrow, but Son Seung Yeon has a surplus of it for five pianos. “I’m Leaving” is so good, in fact, that on the stripped down acoustic version, the pain is underlined with the aid of one of my favorite guitarists, Yang Ji Wan of AXIZ (acoustic version).

The premise of “The Voice” is one that not many shows understand. To reach people and fans, a great voice with emotional range is necessary. Flash and dance is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much in the long term. This explains Lee Hi’s fast rise to the top with “1. 2. 3. 4” with such poor stage presence and minor emotional understanding. For her part, Son Seung Yeon’s ‘Wings of an Ugly Duck’ EP has everything from great pop balladry, R&B, and pop-rock, and a spectacular voice for each. She isn’t K-Pop pretty, but I’m glad that through the image B.S, Son Seung Yeon found a platform to reach a wide audience.

==

Scorecard

Replay
.75
Heart, Heart
1.0
저 달이 지면
1.0
 Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
보이지 않아도
.75
I’m Leaving
1.0
I’m Only Yours
1.0
Total Points
5.5

Points to stars conversion: [(5.5/6) x 5] + 0.25*

4.8/5


*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.

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