2012 powerhouse rookie Ailee has proven time and time and time again that she’s got the chops to pulverize any song with a single belt, for she’s probably the strongest vocalist in K-pop (when it comes to technicality and all out potential) to date. She’s a beacon of hope for idols who pride themselves on their talent more than their aesthetic value, and it’s exciting to see what she can achieve as a singer and as a superstar.
It’s obvious then that anticipation for her first mini-album was at an all-time high, because how could a girl with such strong star quality ever falter, musically, ever? My expectations weren’t even that extremely high per se, but they weren’t exactly beneath her potential either. A listen to her first EP, “Invitation“, however, will prove that even the greatest of the great can miss their mark, which, to Ailee’s misfortune, this does more often than I’m comfortable admitting.
“Invitation” teeters between giving Ailee the right of way to sing her heart out and attempting to ride Ailee singing her heart out to justify the existence of the songs on this album. Meaning, these songs aren’t brilliant at all, but because Ailee is brilliant, her talent alone should have proved them otherwise. It never does, and it fleshes out one of the biggest mistakes labels make when handling powerful artists such as Ailee: giving little thought to the creative construction of their music and their artistic identity in lieu of songs labels know these artists will sound good on. But the thing is, Ailee’s going to sound good on anything. There is no argument; Ailee is an undisputed champ and she slays at singing. But the same can be said about 3/4 of the winners of the last trillion seasons of “American Idol“. Those people were awesome singers too, right? It’s not the singer but the song that becomes the crutch of the talented, and Ailee was served with several in “Invitation”.
“I Will Show You”, the lead single, is a campy throwback to disco fever. The song itself allows Ailee to belt like crazy and be a diva, and she certainly gets a couple moments of it in here, but she goes in for the kill so frequently that the song explodes way too soon and fizzles out earlier than it should have. Then songs like “폭풍속으로 (Feat. 버벌진트)” actually (and probably unintentionally) place Ailee in an odd featurette position where the line between lead voice and featured singer is blurred for her. The featured voice is better defined in “My Love”, but since the song is the dullest in the collection, it doesn’t even matter. “Shut Up (Feat. Simon D)” takes the cake for most uncomfortable to sit through (read: irritating).
It’s a shame to even address an Ailee project this way, because it makes it difficult to enjoy the better pieces of this collection, which come in the form of “저녁 하늘” and (of course) “Heaven”.
“저녁 하늘”, a ballad, utilizes Ailee in all the correct ways. She’s not abusing the delivery of the song and therefore not abusing our listening experience. The flow and arrangement is light and broad enough that Ailee has the space to be as coiled and/or bold as she feels fit, and that’s precisely what we get: an Ailee that steers the ship rather than an Ailee focused on finding her footing while the ship steers itself.
Listen, “Invitation” fails to impress, even more so coming as a release from a singer as gifted and promising as Ailee. Yet, it’s not her fault or burden to carry on her own, because the weakest aspect of this EP isn’t about her, but that the album itself wasn’t very challenged or inspired.
Ailee did what she could with the material she was given, but the loose ends and lapses in untapped opportunities ultimately made for an underwhelming experience.