[Review] MAMAMOO’s “Gleam” is a surprising release that delivers little surprise

Sometimes it feels like K-pop releases are preceded by endless weeks of teasers, so Mamamoo’s surprise drop of “Gleam” is a refreshing new strategy. It makes me wonder if an idol act will ever release an entire album without an extended promotional lead-up. Of course, “Gleam” is one of those “songs for the fans,” which means it likely won’t be performed on music shows or given any real attention beyond a music video. That’s probably a good plan for the track. It’s a pleasant piece of trendy pop, but doesn’t stand out within the group’s discography.

Online media has described “Gleam” as a song within the synthpop genre, but I don’t really hear it. Yeah, those icy synths during the verses have a retro flair to them, but the instrumental plays more like tropical pop mixed with trap elements. This trendiness is quite limiting, and “Gleam” works best when it pushes outside familiar territory. Its strongest moments focus on Mamamoo’s always-great vocals, especially as the chorus opens up for a harmony-laced high point. I also like the hint of guitar that directly precedes this moment. In fact, an arrangement consisting of guitar, vocals, and retro synth might have resulted in a killer track.

Unfortunately, most of “Gleam” retreads the same musical territory K-pop has been lodged in over the past few years. A second-verse trap drop goes down about as well as you’d expect, and the overall rhythm is too halting to build much momentum. Like so many songs of this sub-genre, the verses of “Gleam” feel like time-killers until we reach the chorus. Based on its implied purpose, I’m assuming the song is aiming for a celebratory vibe. It hits that note in fits and starts, but could do with a looser, less generic energy.

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