In an article for The Korea Times in late 2013, Shin Bo Kyung, aka Boni, stated dismay in the current R&B landscape in her country. In a money-chasing and fame-hungry industry, Boni argued that “[m]any talented musicians in R&B have converted to other media-hyped genres with which they expect to earn money and fame easily.”
Boni wasn’t off the mark either; One Way, one of the brightest stars in Korean R&B, barely reached their deserved success when Chance abandoned the group for the glitz when he formed Duble Sidekick. Brown Eyed Soul’s sister trio, Eye To Eye, dropped off the map after the Sanulrim tribute project, and prominent R&B divas of yesteryear (the ladies of Big Mama, Lena Park, and Wheesung) are relegated to to OST work because, as Boni stated, “Korean R&B is in the darkness.” Fact is, the popularity R&B had before the Hallyu Wave might never return, which is a damn shame.
That’s not to say the genre is dead, however. Artists like Zion.T and Jinbo, as well as the labels behind them, have kept R&B alive by adding their own spin on it, with pop sensibilities on the one hand and electronic machinations on the other. While it may not sound like the stuff any of us heard in the 90s, R&B music is still going if you know where to look. For her part, Boni’s been hard at work on her follow up to her debut album, ‘1990‘, and after teasing with multiple live performances, the result is ‘Love‘, an R&B record about a woman in love with love and the music she grew up with.
Judging by the album cover, Boni’s new record is inspired by the music she loved as a girl, notably Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Those posters are not by accident; as one of the best vocalists around, Boni has a fantastic range and can use her gift like a pro. On the opening cut “Umm,” Boni’s prowess is immediately apparent, effortlessly moving her way from deep and quiet to high and loud, all within the song. Boni’s vocal acrobatics are in full display on “잠시 길을 잃다 Part. 2,” “Push,” and “똥차라도 괜찮아,” the last of which is impressive because Youngstar’s original track, with minor tweaking to fit Boni’s voice, is just as brilliant now as it was for Hwaji.
In a turn that I didn’t expect, one of her best vocal works on ‘Love’ includes another songstress, Saetbyeol, on “위험해.” On this slow jam to end all slow jams, Boni and Saetbyeol sing about their respective experiences in the whirlwind of beginning romances, and to glorious results. The track culminates with lovely harmonies and fantastic ad-libbing to sink into while the song ends. Boni’s vocal talents are obvious, but ‘Love’ has some great set pieces in which to showcase them.
As many of you know, I’m a sucker for simplicity, and two tracks show different sides of that trait. On “With You,” while stylistically complex on the production side, Boni keeps her singing straightforward. The ad-libbing is there, but she isn’t reaching the rooftops like she can, and being able to hear Boni repeat the hook over and over is a gift that keeps on giving, with the acapella break the hidden gem tucked within. Stripped of all gimmicks, on the other hand, “I Love You” is Boni at her most bare, and is easily the best ballad of any Korean artist this year, regardless of genre. The full force of her voice is on full display here, and while the background vocals are distracting, they don’t detract from Boni pouring out her heart, giving ‘Love’ the perfect ending. Boni’s ‘Love’ record is the titular expression of that concept within R&B, and maybe of this year.
While she may not have achieved all her goals in this go-around, Boni’s ‘Love’ sparkles. Great production with enough polish to let the tracks feel genuine, and one of Korea’s best voices make for an album that shows a woman in love. From the carnal (“위험해,” “Push”), to the romantic (“One In A Million,” “With You”), to that pinnacle of relationships (“I Love You”), Boni’s expressions of love could not have found a better way than ‘Love’ could.