[Review] Somi debuts with the rather unlovable “Birthday”

It’s been a long road leading up to Somi’s solo debut. As the center for I.O.I, she enjoyed instant fame and shouldered endless speculation over where her career would go after the project group split up. After signing with YG Entertainment’s Black Label (an unfortunate move given recent YGE-related scandals), she’s been paired with producer Teddy for the very YGE-esque “Birthday“.

Given everyone involved in Somi’s debut, nothing about the song surprises me. Most of it is adequate teen-bop fare, but its better instincts are sabotaged by a lifeless drop masquerading as a chorus.

Honestly, I came into “Birthday” expecting the worst. I don’t dislike Somi as a performer, but nothing about her screams “solo artist.” The song’s opening verse helped smooth out some of these worries. Apart from an unfortunate “shake it like a Polaroid” metaphor (complete with vocal fry delivery!), the track bounds forward like 2NE1 at their sunniest, mixed with a heaping dose of Meghan Trainor. That second part isn’t a compliment, by the way. Regardless, Somi sounds fine, and we even get some nice guitar for the pleasant pre-chorus.

But then the dreaded Teddy beat-drop syndrome takes hold. He’s been stuck in this lazy production loop for a while now. Sometimes it works wonders, but most of the time it doesn’t work at all. The instrumental fractures as we hit the hook of “Birthday”, completely killing the energy as the song lurches into warped, half-time nonsense. Instead of a chorus, Somi gives us a catchphrase — and an annoying one at that. I’m not sure it was a smart idea to frame a debut track around the words “oops, you’re not invited.” It was probably supposed to showcase sass, but it comes off as hopelessly juvenile and more than a little entitled.

Debuts are meant to endear an artist to the public — and Somi already has a leg-up in this regard, being well-known to the K-pop industry — but “Birthday” sacrifices much of that goodwill. It’s a downright antagonistic track, candy-coated but unlovable. That’s a shame, because Somi is a magnetic performer when paired with the right song. She’s still young, so I guess we’ll chalk this one up to growing pains.

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