The nation’s little brother Samuel (if I can refer to someone who is a hundred times more successful and influential than me as a “little brother”) has come back with his first full-length album, “Eye Candy,” led by title track “Candy.” It’s pure pop, in the strictest, most universal sense of the word, even poppier than the poppiest K-pop releases. To be honest, I’m not sure how to evaluate this release, because at the end of the day, I’m not Samuel’s target audience. “Candy” aims at the hearts of people Samuel’s own age, which by international reckoning is 15, and Brave Entertainment assumes that well fleshed-out pop is enough to win teenagers over—even if it has no distinguishing characteristics other than a resemblance to the simplistic, bland Western pop that too often dominates our charts.
The title track is such standard pop that there’s not much else to say about it. It’s clean, streamlined even, and it’s not lacking in hook material quantity or crisp instrumental elements. Samuel’s vocals sound good, especially since Brave Ent finally laid off the autotune that frankly made his debut track “Sixteen” unlistenable (I’m still not over that. Samuel can sing, why did they turn his voice into a robot’s?). Other than that, “Candy” sounds pretty much like “Sixteen”: upbeat, with rapid phrasing and a fairly uniform melody, a rap break, and plenty of lyrical repetition. If I had to pick out a difference between the two titles, I’d say that “Candy” is a little less tropical and a little jazzier than Samuel’s debut. But honestly, the distinction isn’t significant, because to begin with, “Sixteen” isn’t very tropical, and “Candy” isn’t very jazzy. The only reason I mention the word “jazz” in relation to “Candy” is because of the faint horns filling out the high end of the beat. Yes, “Candy” is a well-constructed song, in a very technical way. Personally, though, I doubt I’ll ever listen to it again after finishing this review, because nothing about the song stood out to me. Not a single thing caught my attention, either in a bad or a good way.
My biggest concern about “Eye Candy” is that that there’s no growth here. Yes, there’s a slight change in the genres displayed from the first EP, “Sixteen,” to this album, but change doesn’t mean improvement. Samuel touched, lightly, on hip-hop/R&B in his debut EP, and it worked (“123,” for example, was awesome). I was hoping he would delve into that a little in “Eye Candy,” or alternatively make some new moves—maybe, for instance, dip a toe into the funk-pop trend we’ve been seeing lately in K-pop. Or, honestly, anything. Anything that might develop Samuel’s personal sound. But the first album deviates little, if at all, from the pop core of “Sixteen” that brought the debut its commercial success. The result is the feeling that you’re hearing the same song over and over again as you listen through “Eye Candy.” There’s barely any variation over the course of the album in BPM, let alone in dynamic, production, or atmosphere. When I listened to the pre-release highlight medley teaser, I was pleased to hear some solid-sounding hooks, and I couldn’t wait for them to be filled out by some stylistically or even just melodically interesting verses, bridges, or chorus developments. But “Eye Candy” avoids uniqueness like it’s a plague. While that’s a problem for me, it may not be a problem for Sam’s target audience, so in a way it doesn’t matter. And there are songs I like on the album, certainly more than the title track. “Love Love Love” and “Paradise” are probably my favorites, because of the former’s cool production and the latter’s development of the beat over the course of the track. But basically, it boils down to this: The album is enjoyable, but not memorable.
Obviously, KAYBOP is mostly about appraising the musical side of K-pop—that is to say, the records themselves, not the elements of music video and performance which are equally integral to the success of the industry. In this case it feels a little unfair, because as we all know, Samuel’s greatest strength is his performance. His popularity is built on his striking stage presence and remarkable dance skills. I still wish he had debuted as part of a group instead of a soloist, because while it’s hard to carry an entire album all by yourself if you don’t have knockout vocals, Sam would have shined as a main dancer or center of a group. Of course, Samuel’s previous engagements with SEVENTEEN and Produce 101 didn’t work out in his favor, and Brave Ent thought that it would be better to debut the kid as soon as possible to take advantage of his post-Produce 101 popularity, rather than hold onto him for a couple years and assemble a boy group around him. I would have liked to see the latter happen, but who knows—Korea might have forgotten about him by then in that case. If Samuel does well with this comeback, I’ll be happy, because I’m sure as his fanbase grows, he’ll be freer to start trying out more mature and adventurous genres in the future.
CANDY: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? KAYBOP loves Samuel, but not “Candy.”
Take a look at Samuel’s “Candy” MV below: