Monthly K-pop Round Up – March

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many songs I’ve liked listening to this March. From soloists like Onew, to group comebacks from monster rookies such as IVE and NMIXX, to a debut of a new VR idol boy group called PLAVE, March has offered a wide array of great songs of different genres. It seems like 2023 K-pop is becoming exciting once more!

Circle – Onew

Circle is the first time I’ve heard Onew sing solo beyond his K-drama OSTs. I came with no expectations, but the song is among the most interesting K-pop songs I’ve heard in the last couple of months.

First, the production is very unusual. It lies more on the minimalistic side, but it still packs a punch, especially when the chorus comes in. Even if I expect it to reach greater heights, I’m pleasantly surprised by the rousing affect the gospel choir has on the song accompanied by a gentle crescendo that matches the injected dynamism from the choir. By the time it comes to the final chorus, it felt almost cathartic. Almost. I still feel like it could have gone a bit further unfortunately. I was anticipating Circle of Life-esque levels of grandeur and splendor, and I didn’t get it.

Its hooks are mild, but are effective with further listens. It isn’t the strongest melody out there, but given the concept and song lyrics, it suits the contemplative and reflective nature of the song. The strongest part is still the chorus, rising gradually but still leaving a sense of satisfaction as it resolves its melody.

Onew is one of K-pop’s strongest active vocalists. Circle, while not fully displaying his skills, is elevated by his vocal performance. His sense of control, transitions between register, dynamics enable the song to be as effective as it is.

Overall, a great song, but it may not be for everybody. I would recommend everyone to give it a listen because of how unique it is. It grew on me a lot over the last few weeks as well!

Hooks – 8
Production – 9
Vocal Delivery – 9
Overall – 8.75

Without U – Yuju

Oh Yuju. One of my favorite K-pop vocalists of all time. As she aged, her voice has only become richer, textured, and warm. She is now able to channel her emotions more effectively. Without U is the perfect example of this.

Her choices of vocal inflections, vowels, and dynamics in her vocal performance throughout the song help channel the meaning very effectively. Simply glorious.

Melodically, Without U is quite strong. One may treat it as a mere ballad, but the choice of notes is very memorable. The chorus is especially prominent, ascending into a place where Yuju’s voice shines the most. The verses are no slouch either, showcasing the fullness of her warm chest voice, helping it become impactful.

If anything, I am not fully convinced by the production. I feel like the song could have benefitted from more contrast to maximize the impact of the vocal delivery. At times, there was percussion where I feel like it wasn’t needed. At the parts where the song is meant to be at its highest, it was held up through the melody and vocal performance, but not the production. I wish it fully committed (funnily enough, this is the exact same thing I said about Onew’s release, but its shortcomings are a bit more obvious in this song).

Hooks – 9
Production – 8
Vocal Delivery – 9
Overall – 8.75

Groovy – Cravity

Following the release of ‘Adrenaline’ and ‘Party Rock’ last year (which were among last years strongest boy group offerings), Cravity fully entered my radar, raising my expectations to deliver a strong bright boy group title track every time. Groovy continues this trend, without a hint of slowing down any time soon.

The song writing of this song is great, both instrumental-wise and vocal melody-wise. The synergy between the vocal melodies and production is absolutely perfect, and I would not change it for anything. ‘Appropriate‘ is the perfect word for this situation. I really appreciated the use of dynamics, with crescendos and decrescendos used effectively to pull the song back- only for it to enter a higher peak. It is quite satisfying. I also loved how unrelenting it was, it never paused a moment to keep moving the song forward into greater heights.

Even though I was not the biggest fan of the melody at first listen, its chorus in particular is very catchy, similar to last year’s ‘Party Rock’. Over time, I’ve grown to like the verses as well. It just does things right.

Finally, the vocal delivery was able to bring out the most of the song writing, thanks to Cravity having a number of good vocalists to be able to execute the mixed high notes of the song (for example, the entire chorus). Their albeit generic but pleasant sounding timbres work very well for the song. Their enunciation on the English words is also quite satisfying.

Groovy is another hit, and Cravity has risen to be among my favorite boy groups currently!

Hooks – 9
Production – 10
Vocal Delivery – 10
Rap Delivery – 9
Overall – 9.5

Album of the Month Special Shoutout – MASTER: PIECE by Gravity

To my pleasant surprise, ‘Groovy’ was not the strongest song in their latest album. I’m particularly impressed with ‘FLY’, a peak of quintessential bright boy-group music, and ‘A to Z’, a feel-good hyperpop song with a ridiculously catchy melody, which receive absolute 10s in my book. The production in ‘Baddie’ also packs an immense punch, overflowing with grit and tension. Light the Way almost sounds like church song, but I mean it in a good way. It also has some elements from 90s/2000s boy band songs. Overall, easily one of the strongest K-pop albums I’ve listened to and it was my most played album of the month.

Groovy – 9.5
Fly – 10
A to Z – 10
Baddie – 9.75
Get Lifted – 8.5
Light the Way – 9
Overall – 9.5

Set Me Free – TWICE

With the release of Twice’s 12th mini-album, they have taken further steps into promoting in the USA. Set Me Free certainly sounds more of a western-pop song instead of a K-pop song, and its English ver. (in my opinion) is much more cohesive.

Admittedly, I was not taken with this song at first listen. Non of its melodies (except its verses) stuck in my head. However, after more listens, especially without the pause in the middle of the music video, I got its appeal.

The thing I like the most about Set Me Free is how slick and self-assured its production is. It knew its influences, and stuck to them loyally. It feels polished, mature, and driven with purpose. For the most part, it pulled it off. I loved the use of percussion in particular, it laid the very foundation for the entire track. The timely use of horns, the dynamic stops, and the funky bass further added to the song’s polish.

The vocal performance was great, for the most part. I feel that some of the members did not suit the song and perhaps did not try hard enough to vocalize their lines to adapt to the tone of the song. Fortunately, it is not too noticeable, and Jihyo and Nayeon in particular pulled off the attitude needed to match the confidence that the song’s production emanates.

I’ve loved the verses from the first listen, but I wasn’t so sure about the chorus yet. Fortunately, over time, I’ve grown to like it, and while I am still not sure if it was the best possible way of structuring/writing it, it still works when looking at the big picture.

The worst part of the song is actually the rap, which felt very out of place. I liked the addition of rap in their pre-release in Moonlight Sunrise, but it did not add anything to the song. Its delivery is also quite subpar

Overall, ‘Set Me Free’ serves as another solid addition to their already stellar discography.

Hooks – 9
Production – 10
Vocal Delivery – 9
Rap Delivery – 7
Overall – 8.75

Love Me Like This – NMIXX

Following the release of ‘DICE’ and ‘O.O’, NMIXX has gained a reputation of being a very talented group- but their songs have yet to match their talent. I’d like to disagree, especially how ‘O.O’ and ‘DICE’ have grown on me immensely since their release. Their new title track ‘Love Me Like This’ is their most instantly palatable song to date, and I hope that it will garner them new fans.

The best thing about Love Me Like This is its production. It is faultless. For what it aimed to achieve, it ticked all the boxes. When there was a build up, the song actually build up. When there was a climax, the climax felt like an actual climax. The vocal mixing is also a vast improvement from the muffled mess O.O was (still love you O.O xD). Its simply well done.

Given the vocal talents of NMIXX, it is pretty much given that they would easily gain a perfect score from me in this department. Few idols could pull off all the adlibs that Lily, Haewon, Sullyoon sang throughout the song in the way they did. Lily’s attempt at glissando in the climax of the song was great. It isn’t perfect, but it is essentially the best in K-pop at the moment and must be commended.

About the song’s hooks, its chanted chorus might prove to be a turn off to some listeners, but I personally love it. It is quite effective. I would say that it is a chanted chorus done right, with the production and the other parts of the song melodic enough to back it up, hence it doesn’t feel frustrating.

If anything, I’m a bit picky about the way certain members chant the chorus. None of them could match the way Lily did it, which was absolute perfection. Thank God that she was the last person to say it, which made a strong final impression. I’m not the biggest fan of how some other members say it. This will translate into deducted points in the ‘rap delivery’ criteria.

Overall, this may be NMIXX’s strongest title track yet, although I have a soft spot for the other two so I am not too sure yet actually. Mixpop has really grown on me!

Hooks – 9
Production – 10
Vocal Delivery – 10
Rap Delivery – 8
Overall – 9.25

Special shout out to their album as well! I particularly liked ‘Just Did It’, ‘My Gosh’, and ‘Young Dumb Stupid’. I did not like it as much as Cravity’s, but it was a solid nevertheless. If anything, I don’t like ‘Home’ as much.


IVE had been a 3/3 streak with their excellent singles, namely ‘Eleven’, ‘Love Dive’, and ‘After Like’, and have consequently won the heart of the general public. Kitsch, as the pre-release to their next album, has a very high standard to live up to. While Kitsch may not be as strong as the last 3 singles, I still think it is a solid entry into their strong discography.

Ironically, despite poor main vocalist Liz only receiving 6 seconds of lines, my favorite thing about Kitsch might be the vocal delivery. Wonyoung, Yujin, and Liz did a flawless job executing their lines. Wonyoung in particular is something I want to give a lot of credit for, because while she isn’t technically strong as a vocalist, she really pays careful attention to how she enunciates every line to make it sound as addictive and memorable as possible, which is her pre-chorus in Eleven became viral at her debut. This only continues to be apparent in Kitsch, where her opening lines did not fail to capture my attention even if it was apparent from the beginning that the song’s approach is different from their last 3 singles. Yujin and Liz brought a sense of freshness and brightness when they entered, contrasting Wonyoung’s voice noticeably. It felt like a natural progression. The vocal arrangement was nice, even though Liz should have gotten a lot more lines. (side eyes Starship)

The song’s hooks are milder in comparison to their last three singles. It is still moderately effective however, with its pre-chorus being noticeably strong.

Funny enough, I think that the song falters production-wise. While many fans found the chorus too different from the rest of the song, I believe that if they were going to go for this almost ‘mixpop’ approach, it should have committed more. This may lead them to lose some palatability among the tastes of the general public, but I strongly believe that the song could have been a revolutionary entry in their discography if it ‘fully committed’. Again this is something I said about Onew’s and Yuju’s releases. The final chorus shows some of that promise, but it wasn’t fully there, which feels like wasted potential.

The rap delivery was quite good, and I noticed Gaeul’s noticeable improvement. Rei fully delivered, and I believe she is one of the strongest idol rappers in her generation.

Overall, while Kitsch may not be as strong as their other singles, it is still strong in its own right.

Hooks – 8
Production – 8
Vocal Delivery – 9
Rap Delivery – 9
Overall – 8.5

Wait For You – PLAVE

Honestly, this was an unexpected find, thanks to my good friend who recommended it to me. This might be the strongest K-pop debut I’ve heard in a while.

PLAVE is a 5 member virtual-boy group who made their debut at March 12 with their single album ‘Asterum’, and Wait For You is the title track.

Rare is a K-pop group that harkens back to Western boy-band influences of the 2000s and 2010s. Think of Coldplay and Linkin Park. Take the piano, electric guitar, guitar kit, and fuse it with traditional K-pop voices- smooth, airy, and dreamy rather than the gritty delivery from rock bands. Now, layer sentimental vocals that opt to mix or use falsetto most of the time rather than belting, only amplified by the sense of loneliness evoked from the melodies themselves. Wait For You is what you end up with, and it works splendidly.

If ‘Wait for You’ was released in the Western music industry, it probably would not make any waves. But given that this song was composed and performed in the K-pop context, it stands out like a shining star. They have taken advantage of this un-breached market within the K-pop sphere and claimed this kind of music as their own brand.

The Vocal Delivery of the members tugs one’s heartstrings through the choice of delivery, with the specifics outlined in the first paragraph. It is exemplified further through the vocal processing, which gives their voices a hazy, ethereal quality that adds to the emotional sentiment.

The rap was incorporated seamlessly into the song, even if a traditional western rock band song wouldn’t have such a section, so I’m going to applaud the effective fusion of two different influences that would ordinarily never cross lines.

Honestly speaking I was not expecting the whiplash I would receive from listening to the song. I got goosebumps the whole time.
I would highly recommend anyone to give this song a listen. I am going to keep a close eye on them in the future, and I think we can expect great things.

Hooks – 10
Production – 10
Vocal Delivery – 10
Rap Delivery – 10
Overall – 10

Flower – Jisoo

After many years of waiting, BLINKS are finally blessed to see that Jisoo’s solo has arrived. It might be my favorite solo from all the Black Pink members, but it isn’t something that will move mountains.

Flower borrows elements from Jennie’s ‘Solo’, taking more minimalist approach and an anti-drop chorus.

Flower’s strongest suit are its hooks. It may not be apparent at the first few listens, but the melody lines in both the verses and the pre-chorus are surprisingly well-written. They were given enough time to fully develop before dropping into the anti-drop. The choice of notes are also quite interesting and stands out from the rest of Black Pink solos.

The anti drop chorus also acts as a form of a hook, and it is instantly memorable. I particularly like the addition of the ringing percussion at the second half of the chorus.

The production, while minimalist, feels like it gets the job done. I didn’t feel the urge to say that it needed something more, well, except for the climax, which is something that I’ve had a problem with all Black Pink Solos bar Rose’s. But given the approach of the song from the beginning, it didn’t feel out of place.

The weakest part about Flower is actually Jisoo’s vocal delivery. While she has never been a strong vocalist technically, it becomes all the more apparent in her solo, particularly in the prechorus, where her rough transitions between her chest voice and her falsetto become obvious. She also sounds quite tense at parts of the prechorus. However, the fact that I already cannot imagine anyone else singing Flower is an accomplishment in itself, which means that Jisoo has managed to make the song her own, despite the limiting technique she holds in controlling her voice. I hope she could overcome this in the future.

Hooks – 9
Production – 9
Vocal Delivery – 8
Overall – 8.5

Hold On Tight – aespa (Tetris OST)

Honestly, it feels wrong to have an OST for a Tetris movie to be better than most K-pop releases this year.

It has been unreasonably long since aespa had a comeback thanks to problems going on in SM entertainment, and I almost forgot how much I miss listening to their voices. Their vocal timbres, perfectly match epic, larger-than life productions, almost video game-esque, just like ‘Hold on Tight’.

‘Hold On Tight’ sports incredible music production. It makes use of some of my favorite production quirks- playing with tension and release through the use of tempo changes, dynamics and instrument choices. It makes the song exciting to listen to throughout. The booming percussion along with the more hollow background that starts at Karina’s opening lines inject the sense of thrill, excitement, and tension, only to be released right after the complete silence before the chorus starts- then fully released in the chorus as the production swells and be becomes all encompassing, almost submerging the member’s voices underwater through the use of reverb. Thats some real good stuff right there.

Aespa’s vocal delivery was absolutely perfect. I don’t picture any other group being able to match what aespa had pulled off in this song. NMIXX included. This is not necessarily because of technique, but because the timbres of ‘aespa’ members just add to the whole drama of the song. I cannot picture some of the NMIXX members being able to match the deep intensity of Karina’s voice to the piercing voice of winter. In this kind of concept, aespa are unmatched in the industry. One will understand after giving the song a listen.

‘Hold On Tight’ has very effective hooks. Its opening line was enough to capture my entire heart. It only got better and progressed to greater heights as the song went on, with the chorus leaving you in another dimension. I got a very similar feeling when I first listened to one of my favorite K-pop songs of all time, ‘Reach Out Your Hands’ by Drippin. It’s simply sublime.

The only criticism I can offer for this song is that it is too short, clocking at only about two and a half minutes. This song needs a bridge to blossom into its full potential, and an even more amped up and dramatic final chorus to have everyone floored.

Hooks – 10
Production – 6 (only because its incomplete)
Vocal Delivery – 10
Overall – 9


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