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Review: “Girl Sense”: Not Your Average K-POP

When you think of Korean music, you probably don’t think of jazzy synthpop, but that’s what OOHYO delivers in her album Girl Sense. OOHYO herself is a singer songwriter who lives in Seoul, South Korea, though she has spent many years living in the United States. After getting good reactions from indie developers while she was in university, she debuted Girl Sense, her first full album, in 2014.

The album has 8 tracks on it, with half of them sung in English and the other half sung in Korean. One song blends both languages. The songs all run in the same jazz-inspired vein, with traditional jazz instruments being intermixed with an electronic, vaporwave sound. Piano and guitar harmonies will make you feel like you’re listening to a jazz track from the 30s, only to have the drums and synth kick in and inject a new color into the melody. Her more upbeat tracks, like “This Is Why We’re Breaking Up”, rely on sassy guitar riffs that focus on supporting the vocals instead of overpowering them. OOHYO’s vocals are soft and conversational, making what she’s singing sound friendly and intimate, like having a great conversation at 2 am.

As for me, there are a couple of tracks that really stand out. “Motorcycle” is a prime example of jazz chords and vocals being interrupted and manipulated into a futuristic beat. Halfway through what on the surface level seems to be a love ballad, the vocals suddenly start distorting, and then the beat drops. Suddenly this ballad that you might play in the car as you come home from a date has become a song you’d dance to at a club. Another standout is “Teddy Bear Rises,” which brings a distinct acoustic sound to the album. I’m a sucker for jazz guitar, and this song delivers. Of course, OOHYO always adds electronic elements tohas to put a little bit of electronic in her songs, so the last minute adds a fun melody on electric piano that floats above the guitar line. After listening to it, I want to learn this song and sing it with someone, even if I don’t know any Korean.

OOHYO has listed Manceau, Elton John, and Mamas Gun as some of her inspirations, and she recommends The Paper Kites for more exceptional indie music. Critics are describing her as a “singer to look out for,” and she has been called the “female Yoo Jae Ha.” Yoo Jae Ha was a Korean singer in the 1980s who was called “K-pop’s Mozart” and a “father of Korean ballads,” despite only putting out one album due to his death at age 25. OOHYO is certainly living up to the high praise; only one year later she put out her second album, Adventure. Since then, she’s been regularly putting out singles every single year, with the latest being 2018’s Honey Tea.

Girl Sense is a great introduction to the indie scene in Korean music, and while it is vastly different from conventional k-pop, you’ll find something enjoyable in each song. Each track evokes incredibly subtle feelings of melancholy or contentment, which sneak up on you as the track progresses. It’s a testament to her expressive voice and slow melodies that allows her to take you by the hand and invite you to sink into the music.