I like APink in general and Namjoo in particular, but I was not expecting to like “Bird” even before we got to the “BIRDIE BIRDIE YAAAAH” part. This is a Soyeon composition, and it is entirely possible to simultaneously root for idols to get songwriting credits, and appreciate Soyeon at the beginning of a potentially long and fruitful project where she manages to take over half the industry, and not like the actual songs being written. I’ve gone on record as not liking the way Soyeon structures songs, and “Bird” is no different, with that quarter-filled hole where a chorus should be.
Plus, “Bird” doesn’t really feel like it has much to do with the singer. Part of this is probably my fault, not doing a good enough job of resisting the temptation to play Fantasy (G)I-DLE Song with “Bird.” (Miyeon and Soojin split the bridge, Yuqi gets the first “’Cause one-two-three I’m a bird” and Soyeon the second, et cetera.) But part is the music video, although it took me a moment to figure out why I felt that way.
“What do you mean, it’s ‘not Namjoo enough’?” a friend asked me when we were discussing “Bird,” and I couldn’t answer her right away. I follow APink but not so closely that I could describe to you the details of Namjoo’s public presentation at the drop of a hat. Then I came up with the comparison I wanted to make, to another solo debut by a member of a much-loved female group: “Spit It Out,” by Mamamoo’s Solar.
I’m not wildly enthusiastic about “Spit It Out” either, though I like it better than “Bird.” It does have a chorus, and a decent one, but seems to rely a little too heavily on its chorus; seemingly 60% of the song is Solar singing tteugeoun ipsullo baeteo, and I feel like if they’d just found one more element to replace some of those baeteos then we’d have an unqualified success. But the main contrast I wanted to draw between the two songs is in the music video. Solar’s is very much Hot Female Soloist Dances Hotly for Your Enjoyment, and yet there are all these little touches in the video to clue you to not take this too seriously: the over-the-top sharpness of the introductory dance, the costume jewelry worn over dish gloves, the positively gleeful expression Solar wears while biting her shirt. And these touches are important, since while the music in “Spit It Out” places the song firmly in Mamamoo’s wheelhouse, especially the one Spanish line and accompanying Spanish guitar in the second verse, the video lets you know that this is Solar’s solo, and not Hwasa’s or Moonbyul’s.
Because Solar’s ability to establish her own brand is one of the biggest success stories among Korean female idol-pop performers in the last half-decade. She is absolutely Hot Soloist Dancing Hotly for Your Entertainment, but she is also the performer who will take a few seconds out of her own hot-dancing video to juggle oranges in front of a sign that says I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING, and when you’ve finished watching the hot dancing you can watch Solar try to live as a left-hander or get her wisdom teeth out or cast herself as a more arrogant Bob Ross staring down “Byulcasso”. I can’t swear the clown-princess act was entirely Solar’s idea, since Rainbow Bridge was absolutely financing that concept before she even opened her channel. (And if any member of Mamamoo deserves credit for proving that a comic routine would take the group far, it’s Hwasa for “Pink Panties,” the original of which has sadly been disappeared off YouTube, although you can still see reaction videos and live performances.) But Solar has worked very hard to establish herself as entertainingly comic and un-self-serious apart from her group, while not contradicting her female-idol status.
Namjoo, for her part, is also working to establish herself apart from her group, probably partly because she’s not dumb and partly because she’s seen it work well for groupmates Bomi, whose YouTube channel is more sedate than Solar’s but still successful, and Eunji, with her solo work, and I suspect Hayoung’s channel, with its tighter focus on gaming, is going to prosper too. Namjoo has her own channel as of July: it’s mukbangs. I suspect, that if you like mukbang videos, Namjoo’s mukbang videos are extremely high-quality mukbang videos. But it’s hard to translate “very high-quality mukbang videos” into a female-soloist brand.
So what Namjoo needed from “Bird” was something that made her stand out, that reinforces her personal brand the way “Spit It Out” does Solar’s. And the “Bird” music video does an absolutely terrible job of that: there are so many wide shots of the set or the dancing that it’s hard to even see Namjoo’s face half the time. It could be any female idol in there; there’s no argument made that this couldn’t be Bomi’s track, or that of (G)I-DLE’s Soojin. Any sign of Namjoo’s individual personality is relegated to the kinds of videos that only already-established fans seek out, such as the dance-demonstration video or the just-stand-still-and-sing-the-damn-song performance for Dingo Music.
Part of any given comeback, for better or worse, is assessing the group’s status and the managing company’s financial health by gauging how much they’re going to shell out, so with that in mind I’m glad PlayM thought well enough of Namjoo’s solo prospects that they went out and got her a Soyeon-penned song and a choreography from the 1MILLION team to perform to it. I’m just not sure they did her enough of a favor, in the long run.