Baek A Yeon Drops Ecclectic 'Bittersweet' EP

Baek A Yeon ft. The Barberettes "Sweet lies"
Courtesy Photo

Baek A Yeon ft. The Barberettes "Sweet lies" 

A rising star in the Korean music industry returned on Monday (May 29), when Baek A Yeon released her EP, Bittersweet.

A warm, soulful album sprinkled with surprises, Bittersweet is Baek’s third EP -- and her first since 2013’s A Good Girl. Since then, her mellow vocals have propelled Baek to the top tiers of Korea’s music industry, where her 2015 and 2016 singles “Shouldn’t Have” and “So-So” topped music charts. 

The album’s title, Bittersweet, reflects the tone of the album, with each song offering up a sweet, expected sound before mixing things up with something quirky and altogether unexpected.

The EP is fronted by “Sweet Lies,” a bossa nova-tinged tune in which Baek sings about the lies people tell one another in a relationship. Hopping aboard the K-indie train, the retro-inspired doo-wop trio The Barberettes join Baek on the track, providing backing vocals to compliment the soloist's sweet tone.

The strings of “Sweet Lies” continue in the second track on Bittersweet, “Just Friends.” The funky, electropop song draws on Korea’s recent alt R&B fad for inspiration, creating a midtempo, dreamy vibe before going full on jazz.

The following track, “Jealousy,” draws labelmate Jimin Park into a conversational back and forth, with Park rapping advice to the struggling-in-love Baek amidst a complex melody filled with a bevy of sound effects, with each verse introducing something new to the song’s overall sound, as if emulating the emotions of a young woman struggling with love.

“Magic Girl,” is an echoing track that draws on ‘80s space-age synthpop and it doesn’t play it safe. The song loses its fantasticality for a moment in a post-chorus bridge, bringing Baek down to earth by stopping the melody and breaking into a piano tune before eventually returning to the ethereal synths featured throughout the majority of the song.

The simplest song on Bittersweet is also its most vehement; the swaying, plucking soft rock melody of “Screw You” belies its title. The song’s a slap back after having been lied to, continuing the album’s overall lovelorn message.

The EP closes with “The Last of You,” which, like the other tracks, doesn’t go where it seems to be heading. Beginning as a gentle piano ballad, the song layers additional instrumentals and vocals over Baek’s soaring voice, creating depth to what at first glance seems very simple.

She’s one of Korea’s up-and-coming vocalists, and with her first album in several years Baek could have played it safe, releasing the type of songs that have landed her atop Korean music charts. Instead, Bittersweet is a meandering, impressive, emotionally-driven EP. 

Watch the music video for “Sweet Lies”: