Album Review: Younha – “Supersonic”

This is Younha’s third full-length Korean-language studio album and her fifth overall.  It was released on July 4.

Although Younha does not make an appearance on this cover, I have to say it’s pretty and somewhat tranquil nonetheless. The ‘Y’ design is pretty cool once you look at it. I also think it fits the feel of the album quite nicely, but we’ll get to that later.

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I was really floored when I first heard Supersonic, the album’s title and opening track. The song begins with some heavy guitar riffs and Younha singing behind a veneer of digital finesse, lending the verse an ethereal feel. Vocally, Younha is really kicking some ass here, as she never sounds too breathy or too strained. She is incredibly in touch with her own voice and on this track it shows. I actually felt myself get the goosebumps a few times. This is kind of minor, but I also like how small English words and phrases were peppered throughout the lyrics. They all pretty much made sense grammatically, and listening for them felt kind of like a scavenger hunt of sorts. All in all, this is a great opening track and I definitely feel ready for the rest of the album after listening to it.

People is definitely a Younha song. At first listen, it sounds like a bouncy little tune, but it’s a different song lyrically. In actuality, Younha is singing about life being boring, and I think that knowledge makes her slurred, apathetic delivery in the verse make a lot more sense. Naturally, things pick up a little in the chorus, and the song gains a sense of lighthearted whimsy that creates a nice dissonance between the melody and the lyrics. This isn’t my favorite song on the album but I’m definitely a fan of its complexity.

I have nothing but nice things to say about Rock Like Stars (feat. Tiger JK). Well, mostly. For starters, it’s the first truly upbeat rock track on the album, and Younha adjusts her vocal attack accordingly, and the resultant aggressive sound we hear from her is cool. The confidence in her voice really shines through when she wants it to. In terms of melody, it’s also fairly catchy, although I’m not a fan of the counting she does in the chorus. The main thing that detracts and distracts from the quality of this track, in my opinion, is Tiger JK’s verse. His rapping itself is perfectly fine, but my bone to pick is how abrupt it is. He comes in with little to no introduction and Younha kind of just picks up from where she left off once he’s done. As a result, the verse sounds hopelessly out of place, as if it were copied and pasted from another song into this one. I’d much rather a recut of this song with Tiger JK left out.

I am absolutely, unequivocally, unabashedly in love with Run. Just so that’s out of the way. Let’s move on. The song, which is the lead promotional single for this album, is an uplifting pop-rock ditty with hints of electronica here and there. To go into detail about the style, in my opinion, would be to distract from the real star of the song: Younha’s vocals. I’m going to try to explain why Younha rocks on this song so much by breaking it up into two parts, the verses and the chorus. To start with the verse, Younha did a really good job handling the meter of the song and breaking up lines with small breaths that allowed her to hit certain words with more force and vibrato than others. Without this specific stylistic choice, the song could have been pretty bad, but Younha handles it like a pro. The choruses, on the other hand, tower over the verses and Younha matches them with soaring grace. If you notice, she goes a bit soft on the highest note in the first chorus, but harder in the subsequent choruses, which makes for a nice buildup. Compared to the chorus, the bridge is much smaller than it feels like it should be, but this actually works because this prevents the bridge and chorus from competing with one another. Seeing as I’ve rambled sufficiently about this song, I’d like to conclude with this final remark: it is stunning. It brings me to the verge of tears. Let me repeat that: the beauty of Younha’s voice makes me want to cry. I’m not a sap. That’s how great this song is. (I’d also recommend checking out the video if you’re interested. Try to watch in HD if you can, because it’s truly a feast for the eyes.)

No Limit is exactly what Rock Like Stars should have been: a fun, bouncy rock song with just Younha and her band. In the larger picture of the album, I think this song is ultimately pretty disposable. I guess you could compare it to a side quest in an RPG, which is to say it’s a fun little distraction from the bigger continuity, a breather, if you will. But in the same way, it is a good time in its own right, and I think that this song, considering its placement, is exactly what it needs to be. Not my favorite track, but I get why it’s here.

소나기(Sonagi; Rain Shower) is one of the heavy-hitters on the album. It’s bigger in scope and in sound than most of the other tracks, but it doesn’t sacrifice style for substance. Like Run, the breadth of Younha’s vocal talent is on full display here, from beginning to end. There are some moments, especially in the last minute or so, that send chills through my body, her voice is so gorgeous. The only fault I can really find in this song – and this is really minor here – but some of the stylistic vocal choices in the first chorus I didn’t agree with, particularly in terms of straight tone versus vibrato. Most of the time, I feel Younha knows exactly when to go with one over the other to create the optimal effect, but on the first chorus I felt she was going a little heavy on the vibrato where she should have gone with straight tone. This is the approach she takes on the final chorus, which is why I find that to be the most impactful part of the song. Again, this is a tiny minor thing and I’m nitpicking, but that’s honestly how far I have to go to find fault with this song. Excellent, exceptional work.

There are collaborations that work, and there are those that don’t. Fortunately, 우린 달라졌을까 (feat. John Park) (Urin dallajyeosseulkka; Would we have changed) falls into the former category. I’d not heard of John Park before I listened to this song, but I discovered upon further research that he’s from the United States and made it to the semifinals of American Idol season 9 before packing up for a career in K-Pop. Who knew? Anyway, I have to say this is one of my favorite tracks on the album, due in no small part to the vocal chemistry between Younha and John Park. The two have similar timbres to their voices that cause them to play off one another very well, and the resultant performance compliments the upbeat, vaguely pop-country music nicely. Definitely recommended.

Set me free is definitely similar to 소나기 in that it has a very ethereal feel to it, but ultimately this song is a bit more understated than its predecessor. The buildup is much slower and it has a nice, cloudy day coffee shop sound. I hope that made sense? Anyway. I don’t have much to say about this song other than it’s a bit long but very pleasant to listen to. Also, Younha’s voice on the chorus is cool, because she goes from her really graceful head voice to this nasal, almost sarcastic-sounding sneer. I like that contrast. And I like this song.

Okay, so I have to admit that the title of 크림소스 파스타 (Keurimsoseu paseuta; Pasta with Cream Sauce) made me raise my eyebrow a bit. I mean, I like pasta with cream sauce as much as the next girl, but not exactly enough to name a song about it. Despite that, though, this song is a nice contrast to the one that comes before it due to its upbeat sunniness. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call it “cute,” the music and Younha’s performance have a lightness that make it a nice mood-lifter. However, it’s not so upbeat that it’s a shock after the much more laid back Set me free. So that considered, I think this is a nice choice for this point in the album as well as a good song in its own right.

Spoiler alert: 기다려줘 (Gidaryeojwo; Please Wait For Me)is probably my least favorite song on the album. This is not to say, however, that it’s a bad song. It exceeds my expectations as a K-Pop ballad, but just barely. I mean, compared to 소나기 and Set me free, two ballads so brave and beautiful it seems wrong to even call them “ballads” in the typical sense, I couldn’t help but feel that this felt a bit too much like well-trodden ground, when Younha excels in outside-the-box endeavors. Plus I hate hate hate the key changes in this song; they are so cliche, it’s unbearable. Truth be told, this song just isn’t my taste. Sorry, Younha.

I have to admit, when I saw that Jay Park was featured on Driver, I wasn’t really sure what to think. I’ve never really been a fan of his music, and I couldn’t picture what a collaboration between him and Younha would sound like. Well, I’m happy to report that it exceeded my expectations. Although I don’t think Jay’s presence on the song makes a huge difference to its quality, it definitely doesn’t distract from Younha’s performance. In fact, I think it might even add to the edginess of the song itself. Lyrically, this is one of Younha’s bolder songs, containing what I can only guess are references to her struggles finding and keeping a record label (“I’m gonna take control of my life“). The gritty hip-hop beats and strong synths compliment this message nicely, and I ended up liking this song a lot more than I thought I would.

Hope is pretty much the perfect song to end the album with. With its light acoustic sound and uplifting message, it definitely succeeded in putting me in a good mood. In fact, it is so successful as the last track on the album that I don’t think it would have had the same effect had it been placed elsewhere. Between the layered vocals and the tranquil guitar, I find this song really lives up to its title.

Summary: I was a little concerned about Younha. She’d been keeping a low profile in the world of K-Pop, and I was starting to worry about whether she’d ever return to the scene, an that if and when she did return, she’d give in to a bunch of bullshit trends just to be relevant again. Fortunately, she didn’t, and neither did she have to. Supersonic is jam packed with plenty of quality songs, and there’s not an overtly trendy track among them. In just about every song, Younha lets her natural talent shine through, and that’s all she needs to make a splash. I honestly cannot count the number of times I was moved by Younha’s talent while listening to this album. Truly, I was blown away, and I’d go so far as to say that this could be the album of the summer or even the year. I hope this album settles once and for all what Younha is truly capable of: perfect pop music.

Album Grade: A
Recommended Tracks:
Run | 소나기 | Set me free | 우린 달라졌을까 (feat. John Park) | Hope Supersonic

4 thoughts on “Album Review: Younha – “Supersonic”

  1. Thanks for the excellent review. I discovered Younha in the very early days of Youtube and have been a big fan ever since. In early August, I was looking to see what was new with her and discovered “Run.” I also learned, too late it turned out, that she was in North America. I would gladly have driven the 8 hours form Maryland to Toronto to see her perform. Fortunately, someone put together an excellent edit of the various phone and hand-held videos of the show.

    I have just discovered a Chinese performer called “Rainie Yang,” whom I would consider to be like Younha in that Rainie does not take the well-worn path through Mando-pop but chooses her own way. I see you have some reviews of her as well, so I will go visit those now.

    (Actually, the way I discovered your blog was by typing “compare Rainie Yang and Younha”)

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael. I too was really excited when I learned Younha would be doing a show in Toronto, but unfortunately it was held on the day I moved into college. If I had had the time I totally would have gone up to see her. I’d be interesting in seeing that fancam video you mentioned. I’ll be sure to look it up.

      Rainie Yang is really great. I actually discovered her when she made her little-known Japanese debut, which unfortunately went pretty much nowhere. She, along with Jolin Tsai, are some of my favorite Mandopop artists because they like to do their own thing. Once you’re done reading through my review of Rainie’s album, I highly recommend checking Jolin out as well.

      Happy reading, and I hope you come back soon!🙂

      • Isn’t Rainie Yang a really famous Taiwanese Actress/Singer? I actually first heard of her (and her music) through her dramas, but I didn’t think about her as a singer similar to Younha. You might be right though.

      • Yes she is! I first heard about her through music (her Japanese debut single, of all things). I guess I would compare her music to Younha’s in the sense that they both have a mellow but poppy sound. Either way, I like them both.

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