Suzy, breakout star of miss A and Nation’s First Love, made her solo debut last week with the mini-album, Yes? No?. The project was anticipated for a few reasons: one being Suzy herself, who is arguably the most popular idol of her generation next to SNSD’s Yoona, and another being the involvement of J.Y. Park, who was behind the album’s stunning title track “Yes No Maybe.”
Park has a near unrivaled track record for producing timeless chart-toppers for female artists (dubbed his muses), most of which have made K-pop history and established their performers as formidable starlets. His two most iconic hits are Uhm Jung-Hwa’s “Invitation” and Park Ji-yoon’s “Coming of Age Ceremony.” He also launched the career of fallen A-lister Ivy with “What Happened Tonight” and returned OG Wonder Girl Sunmi to relevance with “24 Hours.”
While Suzy doesn’t exactly go down the seductive path that Park’s previous muses did, “Yes No Maybe” is certainly the darkest thing she’s done outside of miss A. The music video is an unsubtle pastiche of Wong Kar-Wai movies, specifically Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, with a hammy twist murder ending thrown in (just because?). The song, a simple yet unconventional dance number with ‘90s flourishes and a tango tinge, isn’t your standard idol fare. It sounds like a natural evolution from miss A’s daring “Hush,” but still feels a little shocking from a sweetie like Suzy, who no longer has her edgy band mates around to be the big bad unnies while she gets to play innocent maknae. The 22-year-old now sounds like a more vocally-gifted Janet Jackson, with a voice that’s lovely and clear, but also dripping with sincerity and emotion when used correctly.
While somewhat noncommercial for K-pop, “Yes No Maybe” still looks and sounds like a potential hit if placed in the right hands, which is why I’m so surprised to see its middling chart performance. Suzy’s pre-release single, the ballad “Pretend,” is doing as well as all melancholy ballads do in the winter months (i.e. it’s slaying), but “Yes No Maybe” has fallen flat.
For unclear reasons, Suzy has skipped live promotions for her solo album, which is doubly disappointing once you watch the choreography ‘Special Clip’ version of the MV. In the visual, a smouldering Suzy, dressed like a vintage Britney Spears in ripped double denim and tangled in suggestive belts and ropes, dances with the same elegant sexuality as JYP’s early muses. Why not perform it live? It’s a missed opportunity that would surely boost the track on the charts a bit.
I wonder if Ga-In, a true master at mixing seductive concepts with avant-garde K-pop, had done “Yes No Maybe” instead, could it have been as popular as her moody chart toppers like “Irreversible” and “Fxxk U”? Is “Yes No Maybe” just too dark and arty for the Nation’s First Love, whose last hit was a honeyed duet with a member of EXO?
Maybe the problem lies more with the execution and promotion from JYP Entertainment’s end. Instead of a full-blown Hong Kong art house concept with Suzy as a mysterious chanteuse absent from music programs, how about a more traditional idol strategy like Sunmi or Fei; alluring teasers promising a dramatic transformation, elaborate live performances and maybe a music video with some choreography cut in.
What-ifs aside, this is still a strong solo debut - even if it’s not going to have the same impact that Sunmi’s singles did. Now I can only hope that Suzy follows the career trajectory of J.Y. Park’s original muse, Uhm Jung Hwa, who has balanced a fantastic music career with great success in acting for decades. If not, then she’ll be this generation’s Eugene, which isn’t a bad consolation prize.