I didn’t follow IZ*ONE to the extent where I’d know specific details about each member, but as they embark upon the next stage of their careers it’s fun seeing which direction their music takes. If judging purely by post-IZ*ONE debuts, I’d put Choi Yena in first place so far. Smiley is a ton of fluffy pop fun – just the kind of buoyant track I’m hoping to hear more of in 2022.
Yena positions herself as a smiley superhero in the fantastic music video, spreading joy to everyone she stumbles upon. That’s an admirable goal, and Smiley makes a suitable soundtrack for the mission. Its uncluttered pop-rock approach results in timeless listening. This could’ve been recorded and released in the mid-00’s or mid-10’s without many changes. That chameleon-like appeal might be considered generic, but shots of catchy positivity never really go out of style. Smiley sticks to a proven template. In this case, that’s a total strength.
Much of this appeal is due to Yena herself, who brings an addictive energy to the track. She relishes in the sing-into-your-hairbrush karaoke-ness of Smiley and that excitement is infectious. I should hate a song this blatantly cheerful. It’s commercial and predictable. Yet, Yena cuts through that jaded perspective. The producers were smart to bring in fellow soloist BiBi as a foil. Her contrasting approach not only adds texture and depth to the track, but prevents things from growing too sugary sweet. I’d like to hear a whole album of push-and-pull, light-and-dark material from this duo. But for now, it’s exciting to welcome Yena to the K-pop landscape. Long may her smiley powers shine!