T-ara contains a handful of versatile talents and stars –namely Eunjung, Jiyeon, and Hyomin– but it would’ve been impossible during the group’s heyday for any member to spin-off with a solo career. Pre-scandal T-ara was quite possibly the most heavily-worked girl group in K-pop, and when they weren’t re-releasing their hit albums or promoting overseas, they were busy acting, modelling, and working the variety circuit 24/7. But a lot has changed since Hwayoung threw her crutches to the ground in a fit of rage, and these days T-ara’s had to be a little more flexible in the way they promote themselves.
We got a taste of solo T-ara on their 10-edition J-pop single “Bunny Style!,” followed by the subunits of T-ara N4 and the underrated QBS. Now with girl group soloists becoming the new trend and T-ara’s image still in ruins in Korea (if the chart performance of “What Do I Do?” is anything to go by), the sixsome’s star member Jiyeon has now gone solo with a 3-track mini-album, NEVER EVER.
A few years back, Jiyeon was one of K-pop’s most popular idols and top-ranked beauties, and probably could’ve nabbed a solo smash with almost any song or concept as long as it was catchy enough. But things are obviously a lot different now, so she’s gone for the safer option of a sexy concept with a Duble Sidekick-produced single, titled “1min1sec,” that sounds suspiciously like the inescapable sound that Brave Brothers has carved out for himself with hits like SISTAR19’s “Gone Not Around Any Longer” and Sunmi’s “Full Moon.” However, imitation is commonplace in K-pop, and if true success lies in execution, then Jiyeon is motherfuckin’ Henry VIII because she slayed this shit.
On its own, “1min1sec” is a bit of a non-event. It follows the aforementioned Brave Brothers’ blueprint to the letter –open with a catchy refrain of “oohs” or “aahs,” add some melancholy ’80s riffs from a cheesy instrument like an electric guitar or saxophone, and repeat the opening refrain on the post-chorus– with no curve balls thrown to differentiate it from similar-sounding songs. But it’s much-loved formula that works for a reason, and just like Sunmi’s past solo efforts, the concept and choreography take this from being a good song to a great one.
The music video falls somewhere between Sunny Hill and STELLAR, with equal time given to both art and sleaze. Half the clip consists of stop-motion scenes showing a distressed Jiyeon confined to a one-room apartment where time passes but nothing ever gets better, while the other half has the 20-year-old in short-shorts and thigh-high stockings seductively grinding her hips as rain falls down around her. Much like T-ara N4’s “Countryside Life,” the drama portion of the MV can be viewed as a metaphor for T-ara’s post-scandal situation and the psychological damage that the public’s relentless cyber bullying has had on Jiyeon. The deteriorating house can represent both Jiyeon’s mental state (she was recently told via a reality show that she needs counselling) and her career, while the faceless man represents the netizens that hate from the privacy of their keyboards. Despite her anguish, Jiyeon vows to never give up, but the dramatic finale suggests that her personal hell won’t come to an end until we all free her from it.
The dance portion of the video is total titillation, but that doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of artistic merit. The choreography is some of the most original and expressive that I’ve seen in K-pop in a long time, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch performed live on stage. And on a purely superficial level, Jiyeon looks beyond incredible with a style and physique that trumps most of her contemporaries. She’s only 20, but she looks like a real woman — not some little girl awkwardly attempting sexy because it’s the trend. “1min1sec” definitely isn’t the strongest song of the year, but conceptually and visually it trumps every Duble Sidekick and Brave Brothers’ comeback this year, from Sunmi and Hyosung to AOA and the rest of ’em.
Outside of the title track, Jiyeon doesn’t disappoint with the rest of her mini-album. “Yeouido Cherry Blossom” is a breezy little ditty about enjoying the cherry blossom trees with a lover before spring turns to summer, while the bleak “Marionette” shares lyrical similarities to the STELLAR song of the same name and perfectly fits the bill of ‘B-side you wished was a real single’ just like STELLAR’s “Guilty” or T-ara’s own “Goodbye, OK.”
So far Jiyeon’s doing quite badly on the digital charts, which is hard for me to fathom after seeing her M! Countdown performance — a.k.a one of the best comeback stages of the entire fucking year. But I guess if the perfect “What Do I Do?” can flop, anything can.
It seems that the Korean public are still determined to keep Jiyeon locked in her padded room for the foreseeable future, but even without commercial success on her side, Jiyeon has exceeded expectations and shown that she has everything that it takes to be a solo artist and more. It might not be a mutizen, but it’s still a success in my eyes.