Song Review: Onew (SHINee) – O (Circle)

Onew - CircleAfter nearly a year since his last mini album, SHINee’s Onew is back with the release of his first full-length effort. He’s the latest SHINee member to deliver new music before the group’s promised spring comeback. Thus far, his solo sound has incorporated a soft, adult contemporary sheen that fits his beautiful vocal color. It may not appeal to me as strongly as some of his bandmates (Key and Taemin, specifically), but this approach further deepens the group’s overall oeuvre.

I’d file O (Circle) within the category of songs I appreciate more than I fully enjoy. I admire its ambitions, especially during its more rousing moments when a gospel-like choir is enlisted to give the track some heft. I love how the synth plays like a church organ (or is that an actual church organ??). It’s ever-present, adding texture and tension even in O’s quieter moments. And, the song’s chorus is quite effective. It’s gently anthemic, swelling to an understated emotional crescendo.

However, O is held back by its verses. Their brittle percussion works for the song, but not without a strong melody to drive it forward. It’s not that these segments aren’t melodic. They just play more like a series of vocal riffs than a taut set-up for the chorus. I expect further listens will bolster their effectiveness, but at the moment I find myself waiting for the song’s dynamic high points to come around again. And if I had it my way, O would be at least thirty seconds longer, leaving room for a truly cathartic, knock-your-socks-off climax.

Hooks 8
 Production 8
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8
 RATING 8.25

Grade: B


22 thoughts on “Song Review: Onew (SHINee) – O (Circle)

  1. To each their own but my favourite release of the year so far. A release that truly moved me after a long time like it actually had me emotional. The album is relatively upbeat too which I expected from the highlight medley. Really awesome.

    Also, that MV is a masterpiece.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The video made me feel a lot of things. I think the song is utterly beautiful and easily one of my favorites this year, even more poignant than In The Whale from the last album. I’m not sold on the rest of the album, although I like Anywhere and Paradise a lot.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Oh thank heavens for Onew, bringing something interesting back into our lives.
    First it starts out like a Philip Glass composition, all Koyaniskaatsi on us both instrumental and visual. (I presume that is how it is spelled.)

    Then the beat! The beat! Be still my beating heart. The kids over at ReacttotheK will be stopping the press to react to this one. What time signature is this in? I think it is 4:4 with lots of syncopated eighths triplets skipped beats going on in the refrain.

    To answer Nick’s question: background chorus sounds really real. Not a real organ, just a synth.

    That said, yeah the song is a bit subtle for its own good. Low 8’s for me, but worth it! Earned it!

    This is what it reminds me of – Just last night, darling daughter was practicing and recording her horn solo for next year’s band placement, and this section needed a lot of help and handclapping and humming after all the triplets at the start of the main theme. I smiled when Onew started signing because just 12 hours ago I was tapping out something similar.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. I agree with the review. Haven’t listened to the whole album yet but I liked No Parachute more. Onew has one of the best voices around. Regardless if this is totally my cup of tea, I appreciate that senior artists at SM are allowed creative freedom (even if they occasionally might have to take on their A&R) so he is doing what he wants as an artist.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I really really liked this one the moment I heard it, and re-played it several times in a row this morning. Like Nick, I did wish for a longer outro. Regardless, it’s one of the rare highlights so far for me this year.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I love it even more this afternoon. Best song of the year for me so far. If only it were longer! (And here I was just defending shorter song lengths; but this one cries out for more.)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. oh wow, that’s all I’m gonna say. His solo career is such a massive surprise for me. But I think with Dice and this album he finally found his place and sound. I agree that the song deserves additional few seconds to hit that perfect emotional mark, but I feel that I keep saying this about 90% of songs recently. I want to spend few more moments in that world, but nooope, producers have other plans.

    Anyway, it’s a beauty.

    PS I’m a bit worried what will happen to those senior SM artists after whoever will takeover SM. Because I feel like those 1/2 gen idols were really keeping SM quality on decent level these past 3-4 years. SM left them to their own devices (as much as it was possible) and I feel those idols were ready for the challange.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I agree with the review – this is a song that I appreciate as an interesting art piece rather than a song I’d play for enjoyment. And I think that suits Onew. He has always come across to me as somewhat aloof and introspective. I think he does this artsy, meditative piece very well.


  8. I like it! Not quite enough for me to playlist it, but that might be because Cough outshines it so much personally (even though that song arguably doesn’t really go anywhere).

    If I had to describe the album overall, I’d say it’s incredibly comforting. It’s like a warm spring day, with a few cloudy/rainy day songs slid in there. I’m really enjoying it.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Mostly agree with the review, but despite my initial reluctance upon hearing the teaser, I found myself really loving this song! (And yes, it could use a few seconds longer to reach the cathartic climax) Can’t think of anyone else who is willing to take the risk to do this style of music in K-pop and I appreciate Onew for that

    As for the album itself, it feels rather tame compared to Dice (especially after Key’s Gasoline/Killer), but Circle probably feels more Onew (embracing the sound from Voice & Dice), like Gasoline to Key (Face + Bad Love), the album that showcases the range of what they can do. I do really like Anywhere, Paradise and No Parachute though

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Although songs like this one ain’t my cup of tea, I can confirm that I really love it! The song’s production is magnificent, as well as the gospel-esque centerpiece. Still, I wish it lasted a bit longer and thereby developed an explosive climax. 8.5 for me.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. God, it just makes you wonder what it’d be like to be this on top of the industry. Whether you think the song is solid or incredible (that seems to be the range of responses, haha), it’s so self-assured and almost looming, like the song of the untouchable opponent in some sort of underdog movie. I’ll agree that I think it ended just a smidge too early, but I found this one really engaging.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh man this is so good. His voice is so beautiful and he carries these softer songs so well. Lyrically its great. The video is perfect. This is my favorite release this year. The rest of the album had me from start to finish too. No Parachute is, Walk With You, and Caramel were some of my favorites. I loved this album so much. I don’t think I’ve ever not absolutely loved one of SHINee’s solo releases and this is not an exception. This plays to Onew’s strengths and shows why he’s such a great artist.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. We all have different music tastes, but I enjoyed this more than Cravity’s generic “Groovy.” There’s just something so nostalgic and haunting about this song. At this point in kpop landscape where almost everyone goes either retro or shoutathon, I’ll pick “adult contemporary” without a second thought. Gotta love something that you can put on the background while doing your daily chores without “offending” others who may happen to hear it.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I always love Onew’s voice. It’s warm, and bright, and has an unique sound that easily recognized. Listening to Atlantis, and you can appreciate how bright Onew’s voice is.

    SHINee is at the stage when all 5 members (yes, 5) understand themselves as a person, as a solo artist, as a group. So it’s so satisfy to listen to them, because they sound like themselves, they’re being themselves. A bombastic, drama and meticulous Key. A groovy, subtle sexy, holy innuendo Taemin. A gentlemen Minho. An artistic, beautiful melody and lyric, Jonghyun. And then our dubu Onew, warm, bright, calm.

    What I love about this album, is Onew is taking his time. We can see the different between the last album and this one. He takes his time when singing, when ringing. Bringing peaceful to this world.

    I miss Taemin and Shinee all together. Can’t wait for their comeback this summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Man, I love listening to Onew sing. This was beautiful to listen to, though I do agree with the comments about appreciating it more than actually enjoying it. For me, it’s teetering right on the edge of worming its way onto a playlist. On my first listen, I had trouble finding the beat at the beginning, and that tends to throw me off, but I sure found it when it kicked in, he sings it so stinking well, and its downright powerful in places. It’ll probably grow on me.

    The rest of the album is solid as well! Cough was love within the first 10 seconds, and I adore Walk With You. Anywhere, Paradise, and Expectations also got added on a first listen, and I think No Parachute is headed in that direction as well. I’m definitely enjoying the sound he’s leaning into.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Onew is one of my favourite voices in KPop but I don’t find myself wanting to replay this or any song in the album like I did in his first output. Blue was a love at first listen but I think this one will take a while to grow on me.


  17. What a beautiful song that fills my heart. I feel like I’m listening to a song sung by a grown-up, mature artist. His voice is so rich and moving. I like this a lot.


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