HyunA's return: defying K-pop conventions, flowers in hand

Sevana Ohandjanian

HyunA continues to defy K-pop convention, coming back stronger than ever

HyunA has finally made her solo comeback after two years with “Flower Shower”. The digital single is her first release since signing to P Nation and her first away from Cube Entertainment, the company she called home for approximately 10 years, from which she was forced out after revealing her relationship with fellow idol DAWN (formerly E’Dawn of PENTAGON).

Since debut, HyunA has been a chameleon: transforming with each release to reveal a new dimension to her pop persona. She’s uncompromising in her confident portrayal of female sexuality, but she’s also open to vulnerability, cuteness and portraying real power in all those versions of herself. It’s these seeming contradictions (which aren’t really contradictions but rather what constitutes an actual person) that make her beloved by fans of all genders globally. She’s somehow both ‘real’ yet unattainable.

She’s risen in a moment when many would’ve fallen into obscurity. K-pop has long subscribed to the belief that fans want their idols single. Idols are placed on a pedestal, unreachable, and in that context they’re to be admired but not touched.

For a long time, HyunA’s power was in how she manipulated this position. She was provocative and unapologetically so, but she was also what the industry would define as ‘pure’. Sure, there were rumours, but no proven controversies. Her image was considered an act she was playing, delivering the performance of desire without subscribing to it.

When her relationship with DAWN was confirmed, it seemed like that perception had been shattered. Being dropped from Cube Entertainment fit the K-pop narrative disappointingly well, but what followed was her writing her own story.

To the music…

Beyond the controversy, is what HyunA’s been doing since her solo career began in 2010 – releasing absolute pop bangers.

The real duality in HyunA is in her ability to deliver perfect pieces of pop with cleverly concealed messages. Sure, you can easily sing along to the seemingly innocuous “Bubble Pop” but look a bit closer at lines like:

“What’s wrong with going out late at night?
What’s wrong with not picking up your phone calls once in a while?
Why do you keep whining, don’t you believe me?”

She’s long been advocating in defence of women owning themselves and their choices without shame, something that’s distinctly not talked about in most music from K-pop artists.

In her ‘party girl’ era, HyunA released “How’s This?”, the lyrics of which were both a general call-out to judgemental boyfriends but also a pointed statement to media who insisted on pigeonholing her:

“Don’t try to fit me inside useless judgements
It’s not fun
Don’t trap me in your gross standards
It’s not interesting”

In 2017’s “Babe” she skewered the K-pop industry’s practice of infantilising women, opening with the lines:

“What are you looking at?
Why do you have that creepy smile?
Like this, huh? Like this, huh?”

The song and music video are precisely tongue-in-cheek. The lyrics could be about a clingy relationship, but there’s much more underneath the surface. In the music video there’s an abrupt moment as she counts down her age in the lyrics (“You make me 19, 19, 19… you make me 17, 17, 17…”), where the music dies out and her discomfort is visible.

Considering HyunA got her start in the industry when she was only 15 years old, it speaks for itself.

When HyunA’s not busy letting the industry know she’s not impressed, she’s the cool and self-assured pop star inspiring young women to own their sexuality. Like in the “Lip and Hip” music video where every scene feels like a provocation: she rides a muzzled dancer, slips off her underwear behind a conveniently placed lamp, and has multiple euphemistic cutaways to fruits, fries and more.

And now “Flower Shower”…

It would make sense if after the intense media scrutiny HyunA was put under when her relationship was revealed, she had chosen to disappear from the public. But she didn’t, because that’s not HyunA’s style.

And because HyunA’s fan and brand power, accumulated over 12 years in the industry, has put her in a unique position.

She embraced the freedom. Her openness in her relationship with DAWN, from posting photos online through to performing a joint showcase for their releases this week, was just one of the many ways in which HyunA gave the middle finger to convention. The pair became a visual power couple, with endorsement deals and magazine spreads. They’ve become the poster children for ‘couple goals’ in the idol world; they’re also the only poster children.

There’s no doubt she suffered a great deal privately, to what extent we may never know. But “Flower Shower” is triumphant in more ways than one.

Musically it’s another dive into a style HyunA hasn’t explored. The song is distinctly minimalist, working against the bombastic electro that’s trending in K-pop right now. It places the focus on her singular vocals, and the music video feels like a breath of fresh air, an intro to her new era.

The lyrics attest to it too, with another not so subtle nod to nay-sayers who would’ve said her career was dead with last year’s controversies. As she says herself:

“Even if I wither, I want to bloom brightly,
Paint the sky with my vivid colours”.

With over 4 million views on the new song already and enthusiastic fans trending her name on Twitter minutes into the song’s release, there’s no doubting HyunA is going to continue flourishing for many years to come.


 

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