It’s quite rare for an idol group to release a ballad as title track. K-pop is wrapped up in performance (ie: choreography), making it difficult for ballads to check all the necessary comeback boxes. But, the Korean charts love a big, sentimental belter. And if any idol group is going to succeed without the dance routines, it’s Mamamoo.
Known for their powerful vocals, Mamamoo have relied on other charms over the past few years. For better or worse, songs like Aya and Hip were much more concerned with their beat than their singing. But with Where Are We Now, the ladies have gone in the complete opposite direction. This is a classic torch song, generating drama from its mighty vocal performance.
The track opens with piano and voice, as Hwasa beguiles with her charismatic tone. After climbing into a knockout refrain, the second verse sacrifices some of Where Are We Now’s power by injecting a sputtering beat. I think the song would have been more successful without percussion at all. If you’re going to go for such a sparse arrangement, you might as well go the whole way. The climax brings a welcome dose of vocal interplay, making me wish the track had more of it. Where Are We Now’s most stirring moments (its chorus) are undercut by segments that feel less intentional. Of course, Mamamoo could sing the phonebook and still deliver an engaging presentation. As a vocal showcase, Where Are We Now does its job, even if I think past ballads like 2018’s Paint Me had more bite.