[Review] Nayeon leans into the pop diva image on dynamic and sexy “ABCD”

The solo debut of TWICE’s Nayeon with “POP!” was a pleasant surprise, both in terms of the song’s execution and as an establishing of a solo identity, and the combination set Nayeon down the path of the idol-turned-pop queen concept that’s mostly been left behind of late in K-pop. If “POP!” was turning back the clock a bit to HyunA, then new single “ABCD” goes back to the turn of the millennium to Hyori (concept) and Beyonce (sound), which in the surrounding K-pop environment feels somewhat refreshing.

“ABCD” is surprisingly ambitious, taking the same kind of tack as Beyonce from the 2000s (maybe Jennifer Lopez) or Ailee from the 2010s, and given those blueprints Nayeon showcases surprising vocal competency. She’s obviously not at that level, but Nayeon holds her own and effectively infuses the song with her own energy and charisma, especially during the brief verses and chorus. While the production is nothing we haven’t heard before, it doesn’t overcomplicate a proven formula that was already rather layered, allowing momentum to build and it adds a beat drop for the chorus that made it distinct enough. Meanwhile, the brass exists to demand the listener’s attention, and Nayeon uses her time with it wisely.

The lighter, acoustic pre-chorus was a nice touch before it heads into a clever refrain — fun lyrical stuff in my K-pop?! — of “A, you’re gonna B my babe, every time you C me, fall D-eeper deeper babe“. However, that wouldn’t be enough without the swelling vocal post-chorus that wraps things up, and its structure reminded me of BTS member Jungkook’s “Standing Next To You” in that it’s less of a hook-y song and more just an overall dynamic and authoritative pop track.

While the dance break is removed from the audio version, I actually preferred it left in, as it provides a nice period to appreciate the production before launching back into the rousing finish that really helped win me over. Rather than repetitive, “ABCD” always feels like the song is climbing until the end.

Perhaps just as important to all of this is the music video of “ABCD”, which again brands Nayeon as a Y2K diva kind of pop star and helps to continue distinguishing herself from the prominent image attached to her from early TWICE days.

The styling goes from throwback to elegant, with Y2K nods in both the sets and choreography. Speaking of which, it includes one rather risque move (at least for K-pop) that definitely surprised me coming from her. More than its singular impact in the music video, it’s more important as a signaling of her embrace of the image going forward than anything else, leaning fully into the “I’m sexy, I want you, and I’m gonna make you want me” pop trope that we haven’t gotten from somebody of her stature in a while. “ABCD” is a lot of fun, but it’s also well-planned and executed, providing optimism that there’s great things ahead for Nayeon as well.

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