I feel like the immense success of IU’s Eight (and moderate success of Into the I-LAND) has opened the door for a new trend in Korean solo artists. I’m going to label it: “wistful vocalist performs uplifting pop melody over mid-tempo, guitar-strumming instrumental.” That’s a pretty specific way of saying “generic pop,” but singles like Eunji’s AWay and Kim Sejeong’s Whale bear this pattern out. It’s an adult-contemporary sound, more galvanizing than a sappy ballad but usually just as toothless.
On a side note, I really feel for Gugudan fans. That group’s career has basically been tossed to the side in favor of Sejeong’s solo work. She’s certainly an engaging performer, but I doubt that many Gugudan fans signed up for an endless stream of ballads and mid-tempos. In this regard, Whale is unlikely to pacify many listeners. It’s quintessential background music — pleasant and airy and largely forgettable.
Whale bounds out of the gate with its sprightly, guitar-fueled rhythm. The verse has an optimistic drive to it, but in a predictable, Hallmark channel kind of way. This sentiment continues through the chorus, which pulls in additional instrumentation for a fuller, more rousing sound. It’s a shame that the actual refrain doesn’t land with the same impact. It’s pretty, but not very memorable. Sejeong’s vocals are the real standout here. They’re crisp and clear and occasionally attack the melody in an interesting way. High notes are peppered throughout Whale, and often delivered right when the track needs them most. Ultimately, though, the song is too lightweight and amiable for its own good.