Ever since their debut in 2014, Halo have been on my list of underrated k-pop groups. I worry for them. Despite releasing an excellent pop track back in December, they weren’t even able to film a music video to accompany it. Thankfully, through the crowd-sourcing Makestar platform, their new single Mariya (마리야) gets a charmingly low-budget video that brings added fizz to an already deliriously catchy comeback.
Even when their peers were veering dark or urban, Halo have always clung to their bubblegum pop roots, but this time they go straight to the source of their influences: teen power pop. Yes, Halo have essentially recorded a k-pop version of One Direction circa 2011. This genre is actually pretty common when it comes to Japanese releases by Korean acts, but it doesn’t come around all that often in domestic comebacks. The sound fits Halo like a glove, taking advantage of their playful charisma. On first listen, the sticky chorus seems overly familiar and melodically safe, but its punchy, anthemic surge soon becomes irresistibly charming. The little post-chorus refrain is a nice touch, but could have been expanded on even further and given more of an electronic edge.
Mariya was composed by mysterious new production team (person?) Oreo, who also crafted my favorite track of last month, UP10TION’s Tonight. And like that song, Mariya is a coiled spring of energy from start to finish, bouncing all over the place in a flurry of candy-glossed pop precision. Each section is deftly placed, with the second-verse rap adding a bit of k-pop uniqueness to what otherwise sounds like a very American radio hit. Tonight surprised me with its staying power, and I’m curious if Mariya will do the same. Either way, it’s another super solid entry for Halo, and yet another reason why listeners should be checking them out.