Over the course of three digital singles, Hyolyn became one of 2018’s most magnetic solo performers. Dally, See Sea and Bae were all completely different in style, yet each mastered its intended sound. Because of this, I had high expectations for Hyolyn’s first 2019 work, the grammatically frustrating youknowbetter (니가 더 잘 알잖아). Making things even more exciting, the song was co-composed by Melanie Fontana and Michel “Lindgren” Schulz — the same architects behind two of my favorite K-pop title tracks this year.
While any song bolstered by Hyolyn’s gorgeous vocals will be a pleasure to listen to, youknowbetter feels somewhat under-cooked. I’m not sure what genre I was expecting, but like Taeyeon’s Voice earlier this month, the track comes across as too generic for its own good. I can’t begrudge its polished, poppy production because that glossy sound is the kind of thing I usually love. But, the instrumental’s self-empowerment chants and thunderous drums lack specificity. I’ve heard this kind of percussive, quasi-ballad too many times. Its smoothed edges lack bite.
Thank goodness for Hyolyn, who imbues even the most treacly of turns with a performance that’s both subtle and powerful. Her airy tone gives the track its own character, even if it feels like she’s just begging for the opportunity to sink her teeth in and let out a few good power notes. But even with a seasoned performer behind it, youbetterknow is bound by its lack of ambition. Worse yet, it comes across as downright conservative when compared to tracks as beguiling and evocative as Dally and See Sea.