Samuel returns with edible “Candy”, but potential might be best realized in a group

Before he was known as part of the ‘Avengers Team’ on ‘Produce 101, Samuel was one half of underrated retro act 1Punch. Debuting in early 2015, the one-and-done duo released the fantastic New Jack Swing of Turn Me Back. It’s a sound I’ve always wanted Samuel to return to, and “Candy” sees him doing just that. Paired once more with producer (and agency head) Brave Brothers, the sound is a smart match for his charms — even if the actual song could be stronger.

Brave Brothers is one of K-pop’s most reliable producers, but the work he sells to other agencies is almost always stronger than the material he keeps for his own artists. “Candy” isn’t an exception, as it’s built on so many of his trademark retro sounds, from the heavy use of vocoder to the ever-present synth bass, but it’s missing the kind of clobbering hook that marks his best work. In its place is a perfectly serviceable refrain — buoyant and breezy without demanding much from either the performer or listener. Thankfully, this relatively flat melody is bolstered by an energetic 90s New Jack Swing beat that gives the track instant character.

I’ve been a fan of Samuel’s for several years now, but I’m still not convinced that he should be marketed as a solo act. He conveys an effortless charisma — particularly when dancing — but his vocal tone doesn’t yet have the kind of diversity to sustain interest on its own. “Candy” isn’t a song in need of a powerhouse singer. Instead, it feels like a song in need of a group. Maybe I’ve just become conditioned by the scarcity of young solo pop artists in Korea, but I can almost hear where the obligatory rap verse would be positioned. With Samuel alone at the helm, the song gets by on its upbeat charms and youthful energy. It just never soars the way it could.

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