The prospects for a Hyosung music video are much more enticing than an album. When one thinks of the gummy-smiling lingerie model of SECRET, let’s just say that her vocal prowess isn’t the first (second or third) thing to come to mind. Hyosung isn’t a bad singer by any stretch (she’s solidly average as far as K-Pop idols go) but TS Entertainment didn’t give Jieun the group’s first solo opportunities for no reason. Hyosung’s ‘Top Secret” seems to understand this as it’s a lean three tracks that give Hyosung some faster tempos and solid dance tracks while foregoing any ballads whatsoever. It all makes for an enjoyable 10 minutes but the single album’s brevity confirms what everyone’s probably already guessed: a Hyosung solo debut isn’t about unveiling a vocal powerhouse so much as it is about putting Hyosung in the spotlight.
1. Don’t Know Women ft. J’Kyun
“Don’t Know Women” is almost a great track. There’s all the trappings of a pretty retro-2000’s funk track. The guitar licks and horns play off each other wonderfully (saxophones make all pop music better, period) while the emphasis on snare drum over bass helps give “Don’t Know Women” a disco sheen. Hyosung holds things steady, understanding that this is a dance track and not a dedication to diva-hood. She compliments the beat by adding a slight sexiness and breathing ever so slightly so as to give “Don’t Know Women” some personality to go with the grooviness of the beat. Unfortunately, given that there’s some kind of law that demands a rap be inserted into all lively beats in K-Pop, TS Entertainment unwisely decided to shoehorn a rap into “Don’t Know Women”. Making matters worse, they chose something named a “J’Kyun” to add hip-hop flavor to a song which needed none. And to top it all off, the lyrics are delivered so flatly that I’m unclear if “J’Kyun” is a person or a 1990s text-to-speech software program. Remove the raps of the comatose J’Kyun and “Don’t Know Women” would be an outstanding opener (dat saxophone). As it stands, it’s a pretty good one.
2. Good-night Kiss
The song for “Good-night Kiss” is unfortunately unfocused. The beat, by Duble Sidekick, can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. There’s a good, light dance pop beat to start highlighted by some wonderfully timed chimes but it’s undermined by what I assume to be something spliced from a horror movie starring possessed children. There’s a nice hook to go with the chorus (the double-tracking of Hyosung’s voice and the ethereal synth beat help add some much needed meat to the track) but there’s also the cringe-worthy cheer-chants of “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” which shit all over the measured balance that the beat creates with Hyosung’s delivery. Adding to the confusion are the helium-huffed trap breakdowns which seem like they were borrowed from another song altogether.
It’s all just a tad disparate and Hyosung, for all her strengths, doesn’t have the voice to bend the entire production to her will. She brings an awesome light husk to the verses and adequate strength to the choruses but Hyosung more or less hangs on while the beat jerks to and fro between its breathless transitions. “Good-night Kiss’ is frantic and while Hyosung just manages to keep pace, it is hard to fault her given what she’s working with here.
Frustratingly enough, “Good-night Kiss” is the weakest track of the three and it got the single nod because we can’t have nice things.
3. I Hate Night Time
“I Hate Night Time” is a more R&B-ish “Don’t Know Women” and the song is better for it (if for no other reason than “J’Kyun” is thankfully absent). The synths hit harder, the guitars are amped up more and the production leans much heavier on the bass than in the introductory track. Despite the differences, “I Hate Night Time” works for the same reasons that “Don’t Know Women” works. The beat is tight, the structure is formulaic but executed nicely and there’s a nice smattering of horns to add some soul. Hyosung’s strengths and limitations are on full display here (her delivery across all three tracks doesn’t vary much at all) and one can’t help but wonder what Ailee could do with this beat but knowing one’s limits and how to work around them is critical for any solo artist and Hyosung does that in flying colors with “I Hate Night Time”. A strong closing track that has some good replay value.
With ‘Top Secret’, Hyosung does just enough to make all the songs engaging (after all, it’s only three tracks) and the shortness of the album keeps anything from feeling repetitive. Considering that Hyosung has proven that she can do two things well vocally (sound like a twenty-something pop singer and sound like a squealing aegyo-princess) it is a relief to see that ‘Top Secret’ went with the more mature sound. It suits her well and lends itself to more substantial beats. Three tracks may not be enough to justify an album, and it’s barely enough to justify an EP or single-album, but if more Hyosung solo releases means more of this:
then there will probably be few complaints. If she releases more R&B and funk tracks like those on display here, there will be none coming from this corner.
Final Rating: 2.5 out of 3 stars – Listen to “I Hate Night Time” and “Don’t Know Women” over the video for “Good-night Kiss” and you’ll be maximizing your album experience. -.5 stars for Rap-Bot.