Author : Jung, Hojai, K-pop columninst Β 

● K-pop's heyday, with high-quality songs and sophisticated stage performances
● Aespa's "Salty & Sweet" and Le Sserafim's "Eve, Psyche, and Bluebeard's Wife", two competing songs
● Regrettable: the Artwork damaged as a side effect of TikTok marketing

Photo : Le Sserafim <Eve, Psyche and the Bluebeard's Wife>, 2023


The first half of this year "2023" will likely be remembered as a pivotal period in the history of the K-pop market and industry. This era witnessed a significant upsurge, most notably reflected in the skyrocketing stock prices of entertainment giants such as SM, JYP, HYBE and others. However, amidst the growing competition for financial resources and the growing enthusiasm for both girl and boy groups in Korea, no particular song has managed to achieve the widespread sensational popularity it once did. This lack of widespread acclaim is not enough to spark a social phenomenon similar to the previous triumphs of the K-pop industry.

While the overall quality of songs has undoubtedly improved, it's important to highlight the disproportionate allocation of standout tracks to larger entertainment companies, resulting in a relative decline for small and medium-sized companies. In essence, the sudden surge in popularity and rise of Β represented an active consumer response to the call for diversity. It's disappointing, however, that the fervour surrounding its success ended in an unfortunate and embarrassing betrayal.

The first half of the year passed without a standout song, but it wasn't until June that two songs really caught the eye. The first was "Salty and Sweet" by AESPA and the second was "Eve, Psyche, Bluebeard" by Le Sserafim. In the case of AESPA, it's possible that certain aspects attracted the interest of many reviewers, especially in light of the dramatic change in leadership at SM earlier in the year. This change marked a departure from the wilderness worldview that had been maintained from the outset and warranted more time for a full evaluation.

1. Lean to Western Code

In the end, Le Sserafim's 'Eve, Psyche, Bluebeard' took the top spot as my favourite song of the first half of the year. While I hadn't given much thought to the somewhat pretentious five girl group HYBE until recently, this particular performance completely changed my perspective. It became clear that this group had much more potential than I had initially realised. In particular, this song was the first time that Jennifer Yunjin Huh's charm really came to life for me.

I must admit that the title seemed "too long" and "pretentious," which fueled my initial skepticism. Typically, critics tend to favor titles that are "catchy" and "intellectual." Interestingly, upon the song's release, numerous YouTube-based critics immediately honed in on the title, dissecting its symbolism. The title brought to light a Western narrative encompassing women's forbidden courage and the challenges posed by history, mythology, and folklore. While the verdict on whether the title is deemed good or not remains subjective, it's worth noting that the younger generation in Korea, known as the MZ generation, seems to have embraced the art of abbreviation, referring to it simply as "Eve, Psyche, Bluebeard."

The pronunciation challenge arises for English speakers since most pronounce "psyche" as "sa-i-che" rather than "p-sy-che," making it difficult to establish a unified pronunciation for the title. While the pedantic and distinctive title might not appear to be an inherent advantage, it's noteworthy that HYBE consistently strives to link Le Sserafim with the "civilization code of Europe."

2. Song is less than Stage Manners

"Eve, Psyche, Bluebeard" is characterised as a straightforward and unadorned song, lacking musical extravagance. It takes a minimalist approach to its composition, akin to the precision and simplicity found in German or Scandinavian watch design. The focus seems to be on what occupies the remaining space, and in this case it's the perceived 'coolness' attributed to Le SSerafim. The choreography is noted for its masculine qualities, suggesting a possible influence from BTS choreographers, who may have contributed many of the ideas to the performance.

Jennifer Yunjin Huh's solo introduction stands out for its androgynous choreography, which displays a surprising level of precision and perfection. This ability is attributed to her extensive training in the U.S. The other Asian members, while possessing an attractive aesthetic, may not embody the same level of 'coolness'. Essentially, the success of the performance is credited to Huh Yoon-jin, without whom the show might not have achieved its impact. A particularly notable part of the choreography is during the background chorus of "mess, mess, mess~", where Huh almost stumbles, creating a sense of weightlessness reminiscent of Michael Jackson's moonwalk. The group's boyish suit, especially during this scene, adds to the appeal of the Girl Crush series' dynamic element.

3. TikTok' side effects

Of course, not every aspect of the song proves satisfactory. This is the crux of this discussion, as it marks the moment I recognised a potential downside to 'TikTok Challenge'. Positioned as the second track rather than the album's title track, expectations for it to become a major hit might be tempered. However, there's an inherent importance to it - an importance that can't be denied.

TikTok is a crucial platform for promoting songs, and it's understandable that HYBE would be reluctant to forgo its benefits. The challenge, however, is that the platform is limited to around 30 seconds, a tiny fraction of a three and a half minute song. The producer's decision to market TikTok exacerbates the problem. Instead of highlighting the best lines of the song, as mentioned above, the emphasis was placed on the catchiest and most seductive segment of the choreography - specifically the heavily promoted line "Boom, boom, boom, my heart is beating~".

In my personal experience, I first encountered the song through the TikTok challenge and unfortunately misunderstood its true nature. At first, I perceived it as a song with Kim Chae-won and Sakura playfully jumping around in a cute way. Although there is an element of cuteness, I failed to recognise the song as a serious piece of music worth listening to. It was only a month or so later, when I delved into the full extent of the song and its choreography, that I was pleasantly surprised by its unexpected depth. Despite the song's eventual success, I can't help but feel that its authenticity was somewhat distorted, at least in my initial perception.

4. A pleasure to watch

I've always found K-pop to be more visually captivating than purely enjoyable to listen to, and 'Eve, Psyche, Bluebeard' is a remarkable example of how K-pop skilfully cultivates visual satisfaction. Notably, there's not much investment in elaborate stagecraft; instead, the members' stage presence and dynamic relationship with the camera crew convey the artistry.

In general, the group Le Sserafim seems to be gradually consolidating its identity in this direction, establishing itself autonomously as a significant force within the industry. This is a declaration of acceptance on my part, after having resisted it until now. "Eve, Psyche, Bluebeard" is undoubtedly a masterpiece, and I believe that the day will come when it will be re-evaluated, further consolidating its place in the musical landscape (end).

Author : Jung Hojai, K-pop columninst Β