Label: MNH Entertainment/88rising
Released: 15th February 2021
We’re so lucky to have Chung Ha. If you’re not already familiar, she’s Korea’s risk-taking pop icon, a real superstar in her own right. In an industry so saturated, she does incredibly well to always stand out and push something different and distinctly wow-worthy.
All of that is apparent on her debut album ‘Querencia’, which arrives five years into an already remarkable career for the 25-year-old. Initially part of girl group I.O.I, formed on survival show Produce 101 in 2016, she made her official solo debut in 2017 with her’ Hands On Me’ EP. Led by delightfully bright bop ‘Why Don’t You Know’, It’s pretty safe to say she’s only ever gotten stronger since.
A string of ever the more impressive singles and their EPs followed – ‘Rollercoaster’ and ‘Love U’ in 2018, ‘Gotta Go’ in 2019 – that saw Chung Ha grow into her own, all culminating with 2019’s summer smash ‘Snapping’. Cementing her as THEE star to watch, it left fans wondering how on earth she’d top it.
That’s where ‘Querencia’ comes in. In the Western world, the record probably sits somewhere in the sphere of Dua’s ‘Future Nostalgia’, Ariana’s ‘Dangerous Woman’ and Zara’s ‘Poster Girl’ (coming soon), with an added major Latin influence, and from the East, there’s a definite influence from other solo powerhouses Sunmi and Hyuna. Except it’s also none of those things because this is Chung Ha and really, there’s no one right now quite like her.
‘Querencia’ is a pop odyssey for the ages. At 21 tracks long it could be a proper slog but it’s not. Bouncing between genres, there’s not even a whiff of a ballad until at least track 15. Split into parts by various interludes, it’s balls to the wall as soon as the intro’s over with, as lead single ‘Bicycle’ kicks in and blows yer face off. It’s a different vibe for Chung Ha, the first time she’s really embraced noisy, industrial sounds and swapped her angelic vocals for fierce rap verses. Obviously she nails it.
Most artists – East or West – would kill for a track as exciting and flirty as ‘PLAY’, a song that builds and builds and by the end feels like the wheels might fall off, and it’s not even the best song on here. No, the best song happens to be the one that kicked off the era; ‘Stay Tonight’, a thumping Euro-disco-club banger that hits the hardest when it drops into the chorus and keeps wowing well into the breakdown in its third act. Following it is her collaboration with Moroccan DJ R3HAB, ‘Dream of You’, an all-English dance bop with its Ariana-worthy X-rated lyrics. It’s a crying shame all three of those singles aren’t hammered on commercial radio.
That ‘SIDE B’ run continues with the slinky earworm ‘Bother Me’ and soaring arena-sized ‘Chill’. Elsewhere, there are standouts like reggaeton infused ‘Demente’, with Puerto Rican rapper Guyanaa and similarly Latin-inspired salsa tune ‘Masquerade’, plus ‘Flying On Faith’, a song about an unstable relationship that’d do Max Martin proud.
Would the record be stronger and tighter if she axed the last few tracks and ended on the powerful ‘X’, aka a huge lighters-up dedication to herself (in the video, she stars as a giant and cradles a crumpled version of her human self) complete with dreamy spoken-word lines? Yeah, it probably would be. The ballads that round off ‘Querencia’, like the slow burning ‘All Night Long’ and MUNA-flavoured ‘Come N Goes’, do show Chung Ha’s softer side, but it’s nothing that isn’t already perfected on ‘X’ and shoutout to her fans’ BYULHARANG 160504 + 170607′. Plus, imagine the power she’d hold if she closed the record on ‘X’s dramatic “you should’ve loved me at my worst, now you just watch me on your TV screen” line!!
All in all, ‘Querencia’ is a record that demonstrates Chung Ha’s incredible journey to becoming the artist she is today. All of those years spent releasing impeccable singles set the stage for a debut record THIS. BLOODY. GOOD. She just radiates confidence and effortless cool.
‘Querencia’, the word, refers to a place where one feels most at home, and where they draw their strengths from. If that’s the case, and a record like this is a reflection of those things for Chung Ha, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with going forward. It’s an album where not only (as she says in the intro) her desires are protected, but where she’s in control of them too.