In 2013, Lee Hyori made a highly successful return to k-pop with a sound that balanced a newly matured style with the kind of pop hooks that brought her such notoriety as a solo artist. Fast forward four years later and she’s come back with material that exists even farther from the k-pop mainstream, choosing a musical transformation over easy, more radio-friendly material. For this, she has to be commended, even if new single Black isn’t as purely enjoyable as it is intriguing.
Black is almost cinematic in the way it’s able to paint mood and atmosphere, but it’s a shame there isn’t more meat on its bones. The song’s production is its strongest aspect, blustering forward with rootsy, old-west guitars that paint a sinister tone. This is deepened by a tempo that never quite takes hold, ricocheting instead between a straightforward stomp and a series of lurching, dubstep-influenced diversions. It’s ear-catching stuff, for sure, and miles away from what you’d expect from an artist that originated from a first generation k-pop girl group.
This evocative instrumental makes Black‘s shortcomings even more frustrating. The song itself never really gets off the ground. Hyori beguiles with her hypnotic performance, but the melody doesn’t give her enough to do. The chant-like chorus feels striking the first time through, but loses potency with each repetition. The verses feel more conversational than pop-song-catchy, which is a fine artistic choice but blunts Black‘s overall appeal. As a performance piece, there’s no doubting the song’s success. As a long-awaited comeback to the k-pop world, Black feels slightly underwhelming.