Album Reviews

  

[Album Review] Lee Hyori 'Monochrome'

June 3, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

Monochrome

RELEASED

May 21st, 2013

LABEL

B2M Entertainment

SINGLES

Miss Korea

Amor Mio

Bad Girls

overall score8.3

Community score
72 votes

8.3
About allkpop ratings

Production 9

Concept 8

Tracklisting 8

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by eumag
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Lee Hyori, in my opinion, is the epitome of the face-before-talent K-Pop idol. Her general lack of noteworthy musicality subsequently deprives her of the label (or my label) of someone truly artistic. However, while I'd be lying if I said I've had an epiphanic change-of-face regarding this opinion after listening through the release of her latest album 'Monochrome', in no way do I want to downplay some of the surprisingly enjoyable points contained within this album. While far from groundbreaking in any regard, the indie-reminiscent journey contained within the album's tracks lends itself to be an immensely listenable effort.




The first pre-release, "Miss Korea", is a straightforward, albeit sensuously so, swing track that unabashedly paints Hyori as the pinnacle figure of Miss Korea.  In fact, she needs to reitify her powerful attraction to the Korean masses, she mentions that she is Miss Korea a staggering twelve times (and who said she wasn't a creative lyricist). But now those with watchful ears probably noting this: the phrase "I'm a Miss Korea" is said not twelve, but thirteen times. You would indeed be correct, but I should point out that the last line of the song is translated to "You're Miss Korea". This phrase falls under the context of Hyori confronting someone else who seems to be a cranky goose that they're not this status, as their only care is their appearance to the eyes of others or that they feel bad when something goes wrong. Hyori comes out and basically says, "Oh no, it's OK, you can a Miss Korea too!". I'm not sure if this advice is viewed as sympathetic or attacking towards this fictional perceiver of the message.


In one light, it certainly paints her in an empathetic light by casting her title onto some other lowly figure. But at the same time, it sarcastically reinforces her undeniable position of power by demonstrating the degree of instant gratification, self-centeredness, and undetermined the other can be. In this light, this feels like a jab to the younger K-Pop artists—Hyori is in her 30s, after all—or the various snooty complaining green-eyed daughters of the various daddies of capitalist modern Korean.  Whereas these younger ones may feel that only money and prestige will be able to make them the apple of Korea's eye, the stigma of "Miss Korea" is undeniably, unarguably attached to Hyori regardless of whom the superficial label is attached. Thus, the temporary passing of this label onto someone else seems ultimately like a "shut up/look at yourself" move by Hyori.  But then again, this is probably reading a bit too far into this.


Anyway, I'm not going to argue Hyori's hierarchical position one bit, for I think the outcome and fame from her mainstay endeavors in music, commercial films, and television speak for itself.  The song, however, is quite simplistic and doesn't require anywhere near the highest level of virtuosity to pull off.  However, Hyori performs it as confidently as anyone could ever desire.  Layering her singing over the dichotomous section textures between the refrain and verse results in an overall solid effort.



The other headlining track, "Bad Girls", is an upbeat, beach rock inspired track which has all of the elements to make it a long-stay chart topper.  Again, it's not artistically interesting in any respect, but it satisfies the musical needs of the casual K-Popper.  The lyrics are what you expect with such a title: they glorify the position of a "bad" girl compared to the squeaky clean "good" girl image that is pervasive among most female K-Pop idols.  But the message of the song is overall banal.  OK, I get it, bad girls are great, sing your anthem while it's here and I certainly hope nobody considers this a liberating anthem in the slightest.  Still, the critique is interesting to think about nonetheless.

 

If any female idol could pull off the content of this song convincingly, it would be Hyori, especially considering her achieved status from the latter years of her career.  Her evolution in becoming the eminent sex symbol of Korea clearly places her in a class outside of the "good" girl image set by the standard of naive innocence alone.  Albeit he sex object status still places her in the fanciful gaze of the male eye, and her dollification doesn't necessarily progress feminist representations of the Korean female in any manner.  But Hyori, or her producers, seem to be aware of this in "Bad Girls", and especially so in the music video.  Ultimately, the "bad girl" Hyori is demonstrated breaking such basic tenants as filial piety and chastity in the music video.  While disobeying her dysfunctional family is a rebellious enough of a statement from the young "bad girl" character, openly fulfilling male sexual desires by easily—but tinged with hints of annoyance—exposing her goods to the men breaks the social code of what many see as the ultimate act of Korean female innocence.  She separates herself from the lustful thoughts of sexual desire from males by personally fulfilling their desires in unorthodox and taboo situations.  Thus her actions clearly demonstrates herself as "bad".

 

As can be seen from the above discussion, there is a noticeable theme of Hyori's songs not possessing much virtuosity yet still being enjoyable to listen through.  These theme, fortunately or unfortunately, weaves itself through the album's entirety.  But for the rest of 'Monochrome' to retain the level of replay value that it has speaks wonders to the quality of the engineering and production teams and their ability in transforming Hyori into the product that she puts out in 'Monochrome'.  While most full-length albums tend to suffer greatly outside of the lead singles, there are a surprising number of self-identified gems that I'd like to give proper kudos towards.

 

The track "Trust Me" is highly reminiscent of the elements that strain through Amy Winehouse's 'Back to Black' album effort.  While it would be an insult to compare Hyori in anyway to the late Winehouse on a level of artistry, the unmistakably neo-Motown background feel of "Trust Me" creates a hauntingly irresistible sonicscape to listen to, one that I wouldn't mind hearing more in K-Pop.  Hyori is again serviceable here, but she certainly doesn't detract from the overall feel in anyway—her glissandic note changes are quite nice in this instance.  This song will definitely be on a playlist of mine somewhere for just the instrumentals alone.

 

The following track, "Special", probably demonstrates Hyori's vocal ability the best in this entire release.  This is demonstrated primarily in the well-controlled vocal hiccups during the refrain sections.  While I still doubt Hyori's ability to actually belt out in her songs, random moments like these shows that she does—in this uberly-polished product—does seem to have both a good understanding and control of the pipes she was given. While I was initially put off by the human bass introduction in the beginning of this song, "Special" ended up being an undeniable gem and one of my favorites from the album.

 

Speaking of gimmicky introductions, nothing beats "Wouldn't Ask You" and its ridiculous kazoo intro and solo.  But this revealed to what was a really fun little track to listen to.  It's obvious that Hyori is incredibly comfortable in her duet with the solo acoustic guitar, and she brims with confidence in her swinging, upbeat performance.  However, I find it rather ironic that the lyrics for "Wouldn't Ask You" are rather dark: the protagonist is on the brink of destroying her life because of a seeming recent breakup.  I'm not quite sure if this irony is intentional, but Hyori has been known to be a social critic in the past—"Wouldn't Ask You" could very well be a slapstick mocking of breakups. Regardless, this song, as utterly simplistic as it is, is really quite fun.



I absolutely love the Hyori's vocal quality in "Show Show Show". She has a fuzzy, doubled vocal quality that I found readily reminiscent of sections from my previous favorite release by her, "U Go Girl".  However, unlike that song, "Show Show Show" hauntingly timid quality actually fits the chilling musical scope of the track provided by the near monochord progression of the neo-folk-like instrumental. 

 

For those who are familiar with german pop girl group Monrose, "Show Show Show" is actually a reinterpretation of their song "No No No". "No No No" vaguely describes a failed relationship whereas "Show Show Show" divulges into something deeper. The lyrics here demonstrates the facade of the real and perceived real of performative actions of performers when they publicly perform their art. This songs suggests the inability to express sorrow and sadness to the public, which appears to be a quality that is not only a potential hidden emotional state of Hyori, but arguably to K-Pop idols in general. Like "Wouldn't Ask You", the potential for strong political undertones are present here.  Despite the overwhelming sense of negativity, this song exceed my expectation of Hyori.

 

While I am very much aware this review neglected to comment on other notable tracks that the listener may or may not have had in mind, I believe the summary of these self-identified gems of 'Monochrome' is sufficient enough to prove my overall feeling of the album.  While I don't necessarily believe that Hyori is brimming with copious amounts of sheer talent, this album overall is immensely enjoyable to listen to on a whole.  There are numerous gems, and seeming social critiques, throughout that provide just enough of a sense of thought-provoking moments and completeness which is rarely found in other endeavors.  And for these facts alone, I think this is definitely—and surprisingly—one of the better releases thus far this year.

DON'T MISS

Comments

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guzilla1993
· Posted June 26, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

Wow Eumag, why do you try to interpret Miss Korea so much if you don't even listen to the lyrics? Miss Korea is not at all about Hyori putting herself above others, it's a female empowerment song; and on a very important and socially controversial topic that has never been touched on by Kpop until now.

Why do they choose you to write reviews... you are as horrible a reviewer as they come...

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dc222
· Posted June 23, 2013 @ 3:30 pm
This comment has been removed due to violation of our TOS. (Reason: spammer)
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lita505
· Posted June 18, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

I agree with other comments that the reviewer misinterpreted the meaning of Miss Korea. I found the message to be very comforting and genuine. Overall this album is wonderful, I've had it on repeat for days. My bottomline review: the songs make you wanna dance (fast and slow), the lyrics have substance, and her voice, although not the best around in kpop, is the best I've heard it in a decade. She's grown as an artist and opened up to us with this awesome album. Retro inspired and eclectic, it is certainly a standout among the other  cookie-cutter groups. Props to Hyori~

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jessstanleytho
· Posted June 15, 2013 @ 7:55 am

amazing album

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insecurekillsme
· Posted June 15, 2013 @ 5:55 am

thx for reviewing. for people who dont buy albums and follow many kpop artists, reviews are always welcomed as long as it tries to stay objective and unbiased as possible. i like the song Show Show Show. its hauntingly beautiful and cant help that the MV is just as beautiful with the stunning Miss Lee in D&G in it.

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jessstanleytho
· Posted June 14, 2013 @ 6:23 am

Her songs are so beautiful <3 

This album is definitely a 10 out of 10

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by-chennie
· Posted June 10, 2013 @ 8:44 am

I read the first paragraph and got bored, sorry way too long

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thekpopdream
· Posted June 9, 2013 @ 9:46 am

Wow, she is so beautiful!! 

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kazusaimaiexo
· Posted June 7, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

SHHHHHHHHHH !!!!! UNNIE !!! I JUST BUY UR ALBUM MISS KOREA AND BAD GIRL !!!!!

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2kimberley2
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

Hyori is so pretty. I love Miss Korea and Bad Girl. 

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kylielavigne
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

i didnt even read your review, it's effin LONG!

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TalesOfTheAbyssX
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

I believe this review completely misunderstood the meaning of her lyrics.

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dahlittleunnie
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

omg. i didn't know that 'show show show' is a cover of a song of monrose. xd it's already the second one since f(x) also covered 'hot summer'.. seems like korea likes german music lololo. ~i'm still preferning the korean versions hahaha~

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jacqsue
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

my fav is Miss Korea.

i just love it.

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QueenCL
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

the phrase 'watchful ears' really bothers me. 
Sorry just had to get that out there. EARS CAN'T SEE!!

Okay *cough* anyway I enjoyed this album very much.
 It feels a lot less like the aesthetic kpop that I'm used to and more like the western music that I listen to.
 
I like that Hyori isn't going for the overproduced fast tracks (which i do love btw, but its nice to hear something different) and slow songs with horrible synthetic orchestras and slow drum beats in the background (which make me want to rip my hair out, slow songs don't need all that shit just put a guitar or piano in the background and leave it the hell alone).

 Instead she's taken soul, blues, country and jazz influences in this album that have been dropped in so tastefully was such a nice suprise and really not what i was expecting at all from Hyori.

While I can't say that Hyori has the best vocals in kpop, I feel that this album has been produced in a way that brings her out in her best form.

 Basically I usually listen to Kpop because its fun, catchy and I can dance along. And I loved Hyori's old stuff for exactly that reason (u-go-girl, chitty chitty bang bang etc)

But lately I've noticed a few more k-artists singing in the styles that I love most from the west (like Lee Hi) and its like my two favourite things mixed together! Double bonus.

Overall I think its the production of this album combined with Hyori's more mature outlook that really makes it excellent.

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cathy2ne1
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

i simply love BAD GIRL LEE HYORI!!! GO, GO, GO MISS KOREA!!!! 

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saylalala-
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

I love this album. I think that Hyori has really found her voice in this album, not only vocally, but also lyrically. And I also agree with the other comments about how the writer has missed the bigger picture of the songs like Bad Girls and Miss Korea because they were looking too much at the surface meaning of the lyrics/video. If you take the time to actually read the lyrics, then you will see that Hyori is making a statement about superficiality that coexists with fame, beauty, society etc.

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terenewen
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

I really think you missed the point of the Bad Girls video. Which was, of course, that people assume she's a slut *because* of the way that she's dressed and the way she acts. We never actually see her engaging in slutty behavior-- and even if we did, that would only make her "bad" by the misogynistic standards of society which dictate that a woman needs to remain pure.

In the video Hyori is seen repeatedly speaking back against sexual harassment and the abuse of women. She uses the fact that men don't take her seriously to get ahead in the workplace. She is judged harshly on her appearance and she doesn't change just to please others. She then goes on to lead a protest for animal rights and for the right of women to wear whatever they want and not get sexually harassed.

If this isn't feminist I'm really not sure what is.

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brutaal
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

this review is really critical (wow, big surprise there) i honestly love this album? and the reviewer seems to be really taking backhanded shots at hyori. i'm not saying that this is the top album of all of 2013 so haters beware but neglecting to talk about the songs they liked because the reviews/criticisms for the songs they mentioned were sufficient enough is really kind of sad

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nikkik411
· Posted December 31, 1969 @ 7:00 pm

I wonder if the reviewer actually listened to any other lyrics to the song other than the parts in english because Miss Korea actually has some deep meaning and they're painting it out to be a really shallow song about Hyori's own vanity. It's actually doing quite the opposite and painting a picture of a girl who only thinks of her looks and how other people think about her. Really thought that would be the song that got some of the highest praise for being really catchy on top of having some deep lyrics.