DIA have been around since 2015, but they’ve already had two lineup changes and have yet to find a sound or concept that’s uniquely theirs. Their style has changed with each release, and their latest, a full-length album called YOLO, is no different. The now nine-membered group have switched things up yet again, but this time around they've had a hand in the music by co-producing and/or co-writing every track on the album.
The direction this time around is surprising, because YOLO seems targeted at older listeners in addition to the usual teen audience. Lead single “Will You Go Out With Me?” mixes trot music with euro-dance, which was a popular fusion in Korea back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when K-pop was starting to become more westernised. This kind of sound isn’t new for MBK Entertainment: their flagship girl group, T-ara, are famous for incorporating retro genres into their music, which made them one of the biggest idol groups among older listeners. From listening to YOLO, you really get the sense that DIA are going for the same thing.
The album even includes a full-blown trot track (“You Are My Flower”) with ‘80s trot icon Kim Yeon-ja and current trot princess Hong Jin Young.
For the most part, YOLO ignores trendy dance-pop and R&B. The girls generally stick to ballads and acoustic mid-tempos that are tailored for the spring season, but they really step outside the box on “Mannequin.” Co-produced by Stainboys (who were behind last year’s “Mr. Potter”), “Mannequin” takes direct inspiration from Mariachi music and Latin rock legends Santana, making it completely unlike anything we’re used to hearing from Korean girl groups. While it’s strange to hear something like this from a K-pop act, it’s also one of the album’s unexpected highlights.
Overall, YOLO can be considered either a really safe comeback, or a really risky one. Safe because a bunch of seasonal ballads isn’t exactly pushing the musical envelope, but dangerous because it’s rare to see a young, somewhat popular girl group stepping outside the usual idol genres to create music that’s going to reach beyond their teen demographic.
Creatively it was definitely a good decision. This is the first time since DIA debuted that they haven’t sounded like another girl group, allowing them to finally stand out against the sea of cutesie groups that have flooded the market in the last few years. Now I just hope that MBK sticks with this concept. With some patience and good promotion, maybe this album could be the one to finally break DIA out.
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