The sincerity of idols
Rieun Kim: fromis_9’s fifth mini album, from our Memento Box, is, like the title suggests, a collection of precious moments they want to keep alive in their memory. “Up And,” the opening track, describes the simple pleasure of tossing seashells as a kind of destiny, while the song “Cheese” captures the desire to record every moment before they pass away. The lead single, “Stay This Way,” is directed at the important people in life who we want to keep around to the very end, describing the summer together at the beach with lyrics like, “the small oceanside, you and me,” and, “we’re hot and blinding.” The brilliance of summer is made up of moments that may flitter away someday, but the fond memories they provide last a lifetime.
“Up And” kicks off with an upbeat Latin rhythm while an equally breezy dance-pop beat fills “Stay This Way” with the electricity of warm summer nights. The way all the group’s members’ voices follow that Latin rhythm sounds completely natural, and Jisun perfectly captures that summer atmosphere with breezy excitement when she runs with the rhythm as she sings, “I feel white sand on my feet when I secretly get out of bed.” Yet at the same time, the summer memories in “Up And” also run thick with the weight of fate in lyrics like, “our fate is spelled out across the sky,” and, “These summer days are all on you,” and the girls sing unembellished in the chorus, imparting the lyrics with a calm, dynamic rhythm. They also sing the chorus of “Stay This Way” with deliberate emphasis on every syllable, with the words “stay this way” repeatedly cut by an ever-intensifying cry of, “I go deeper.” The end result is an energetic pop song with all the vitality of summer with an undercurrent of a more complex feeling—a kind of pressing, brilliant sadness, as can easily be heard in the line, “As if today is the last.”
fromis_9 donned school uniforms to play the part of the shy girl singing about unadulterated love in their debut song, “To Heart.” Four years later, in the series of short Dream version concept films released just before from our Memento Box, the members of fromis_9 portray full-grown adult women on a getaway from work, enjoying the beach and smiling from ear to ear. Between their debut and now, the group took a step back from school and toward the everyday in “PITAPAT (DKDK),” then showed the pursuit of impulsive love and fleeting fun in “LOVE BOMB” and “FUN!” Some time later, songs like “Feel Good (SECRET CODE)” and “WE GO” began to reflect pop trends with funky guitar and bass, and a little later again, once Jiheon, the youngest member of the group, became a legal adult, they released “DM,” showing a more mature side as the subject of the song has the courage to send their love interest a message of directly asking them out. In the same way that Jiheon went from a middle school student at the time of her debut to an adult, fromis_9’s albums naturally grow to reflect increasingly pop and grown-up leanings in their songs and vocals. But, like the title “Stay This Way” suggests, some things never change.
from our Memento Box is an integrated collection of all that which remains unchanged despite the many changes fromis_9 has faced. Put another way, the group’s voices on this album are at the exact middle point between more emotional pop vocals and bubblegum idol vocals. The members of fromis_9 give us a unique R&B groove in deep tones in the intro to “Blind Letter”; in the house-inspired “Rewind,” they give a taste of their maturing vocals. Both are possible thanks not only to fromis_9’s growth in the world of their albums but in their real lives as well. All changes aside, however, they smile brightly at someone out beyond the camera of the music video, wanting for a true love they’re destined to find: “Look at me and stay this way.” The midsummer sun can’t last forever, and girls eventually grow up. Over time, fromis_9 have demonstrated more soulful vocals and the kind of lively energy associated with people who have grown up well. But they express their endless ambition as ever-growing idols through their music—and their dedication to unshakable sincerity, even as they have to move on and relegate the past to nothing more than a souvenir someday. Thus answering what it means for idols to grow and to mature.
Finding K-pop’s simple pleasures
Yunha Kim (Music Critic): In the beginning of K-pop, there was music. You might wonder why an article should open this way, but if you listen to and watch K-pop these days, there is such a sense of identity crisis that we should be constantly repeating this idea. No doubt about it, K-pop in 2022 is a multiverse, each song existing in countless universes. The microcosms of concepts, images, narratives and fictional worlds are all competing in an endless tug of war. And they repeatedly butt up against one another, only to scatter and follow their own ambitions. Music, of course, has long been an element of K-pop, too, but more and more it feels like I have to explicitly mention the music, which I hadn’t done before because it seemed so obvious. That’s especially the case when I see all the worry in K-pop’s eyes as it fixes on all this instability.
It’s too early to say for sure whether this is a natural change following the progression of time. A lot of people are still hopeful that music will be the dominant feature of K-pop. The number of people digging through K-pop artists’ albums in search of good songs is steadily increasing, and there’s a rising trend for people to speak out against songs that are built around showing off dance moves on the stage. Above all else, music has the power to unify fans holding up light sticks of every different color. No matter the era or genre, be it at a K-pop festival or a party hosted by a DJ, it’s clearly the power of song—those three-minute nuggets of perfection—that everyone has come to sing along to.
fromis_9 put the power of pure joy conferred by K-pop in their fifth album, from our Memento Box—a pleasure we seem to have mostly set aside—by filling it with songs that anyone who listens to them will agree they’re good. The lead single, “Stay This Way,” is a continuation of fromis_9’s series of signature funky, high-octane dance-pop songs that started a year and three months ago with the release of “Feel Good (SECRET CODE)” and continued with “WE GO” and “DM.” The new single is flush with impromptu trips to the ocean, time spent with the person of your dreams, the blazing midsummer sun and full moon at night, and the romantic sound of beating waves all throughout. This song would be just at home in the 1990s K-pop catalog as it would be now or anytime in between, progressing along under one cheerful, consistent theme. The same fresh breeze rolls along throughout the entire album. From the gentle vocal arrangement, soft as a kitten’s yawn, of “Up And,” to the buildup of synthesizers, drums and bass in the heartfelt “Cheese,” all the way to the chic pop number “Rewind” that’s brought to life by Seoyeon’s gripping voiceover in the intro, their aim is clear: to use their sincerity, guileless and unassuming, to evoke happiness in the listener. After listening to the whole album, including the only downtempo track, the dreamy “Blind Letter,” everything about the overambitious, complicated world feels like a chore. These songs make you want to get right up and out into the open. They impart the most fundamental joy that K-pop—and, indeed, music in general—has to offer: simple pleasures.