Three years after riding high as one of k-pop’s most successful breakout girl groups, AOA has found themselves in a bit of a slump. After member controversies and the departure of main vocal ChoA, it’s unclear where they’re headed next. We haven’t heard from the girls since January’s double title track release, and I can’t help but think that a long hiatus is probably the worst move the group could make. That’s why Hallelujah (할렐루야), by leader Jimin, is such a welcome (and necessary) release.
I don’t think Jimin will ever record a song as brilliantly unexpected as 2015’s Puss again. And for better or worse, that song’s shadow will loom over everything else she releases. Last year’s duet with EXO’s Xiumin felt a little too slick and sweet for her bratty tone, but Hallelujah strikes a satisfying middle ground between these two vastly different styles. Following up on SF9’s exploration of Latin sounds earlier this month, its instrumental blends flamenco guitar with bright, ska-influenced brass and an unrelenting percussive shuffle. It doesn’t sound particularly “k-pop,” and that’s where Jimin comes in.
Her uniquely pitched tone will always be an acquired taste, but I appreciate the contrast it lends Hallelujah. You don’t expect to hear this kind of voice within such a classically Latin sound, yet somehow the pairing works. It helps that the song employs a simple, relentlessly catchy hook repeated ad nauseam. There are enough “hey” ad-libs alone to fill most k-pop tracks several times over. But even the track’s more grating moments are surrounded by so much engaging ornamentation that they pass by without the opportunity to offend. This really shouldn’t work. But like so many k-pop tracks, it all comes together in the end.