It’s impossible to completely strip bias from the experience of a new k-pop comeback, but writing daily reviews since 2016 has increased my ability to separate a song from its artist. Carefully listening to hundreds upon hundreds of tracks each year will do that. And in Hoya’s case, it’s allowed me to compartmentalize how I feel about him as a performer. He was an important part of my all-time favorite k-pop act, Infinite. But taken on face value, I’m quickly realizing that his solo material simply isn’t for me.
All Eyes On Me represents exactly the direction I would have expected Hoya to go as a soloist. The song is a very modern, internationally-minded take on r&b — the kind that favors vibe and dance over substantive melody. This template should play to Hoya’s strengths, but I’m not convinced that his newly affected vocal style feels authentic or needed. Over the years, he gained a reputation as an idol rapper who could also sing, and his light, higher-pitched tone carries a great amount of charm when it’s left untouched.
With Eyes, his vocals are processed and slurred in a clear attempt to emulate what passes for “cool” and “urban” these days. Instead, the performance comes across as overly nasally and one-note. That’s a shame, because the song itself holds potential. Its verses offer a sparsely-produced groove that melds hip-hop with r&b before opening up to a delicate pre-chorus that culminates in Eyes’ chant-like chorus. It’s a catchy — if somewhat subdued — combination. And as always, Hoya is a wonder to watch. But taken apart from the video and choreography, the song doesn’t carry quite enough oomph to impress on its own.