Having released a string of successful singles and mini albums since 2017, K-pop queen CHUNGHA is now ready to take the next step with her debut full-length album, ‘Querencia’.
For the uninitiated: 25-year-old CHUNGHA is a South-Korean singer-songwriter formerly part of the girl group I.O.I. In November 2020, she signed with 88Rising—the American record label responsible for producing such artists like Rich Brian, Joji and NIKI—becoming their first K-pop signee.
On ‘Querencia’, it is clear that the singer draws inspiration from both her Korean and American influences. Title track ‘Bicycle’ is a hard-hitting banger reminiscent of Rina Sawayama and Ariana Grande, her pop contemporaries from across the pond. CHUNGHA’s delivery on the lines “I ride it, I ride, you like it when I ride it,” is almost unmistakably Grande-like. Here, the singer pedals her way to a cheeky euphemism not unlike what Grande did in her own ‘Side To Side’. The song sounds current, and comes with some seriously killer choreography to boot—it wouldn’t be surprising if it managed to sneak its way into the American airwaves.
More evidently, however, is the Latin influence at multiple points on the album. Its title, according to CHUNGHA, is taken from a Spanish word that represents “a place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home”. Sonically, the song ‘Masquerade’ is a brass-filled Salsa jam and immediately a standout track on the album. The bouncy ‘Luce Sicut Stellae’, which follows soon after, is Latin for “shine like a star”. ‘Demente’, featuring Puerto Rican rapper Guaynaa, glides to a dancehall beat and sees CHUNGHA sing parts of it in Spanish.
But for the die-hard K-pop fans, the singer hasn’t forgotten about her roots. The heartfelt ‘BYULHARANG (160504 + 170607)’ is a song dedicated to her fans, aptly named after them. “You held my hand when I was tired and worn out / You were the first to laugh when I was happy,” she sings. The indelible imprint of classic K-pop can be seen on songs like the bubblegum bop ‘Chill’, and ‘Everybody Has’, a ballad containing some of the album’s mellowest moments. “When the dawn comes again / And I can’t fall asleep for some reason / The sad worries come and find me,” she sings in its opening lines.
What ‘Querencia’ demonstrates best is CHUNGHA’s versatility, a dedicated effort not just to cover all grounds, but to push the envelope of what to expect from a K-pop artist. One moment she’s collaborating with Moroccan-Dutch DJ R3HAB on ‘Dream of You’, the next she’s getting her groove on with the funky ‘Bother Me’. Then she’s kicking back on the understated ‘Lemon’, which features Colde from the K-indie group offonoff. Be it in terms of language, genre or subject matter, there’s an air of skilful unexpectedness here that isn’t always easy to achieve on albums as long as this one. Where albums are getting shorter and shorter in timespan, ‘Querencia’ bucks the trend, clocking in at an hour, with hardly any duds.
And if the rousing ‘X’ is anything to go by, the lyrics “You should’ve loved me at my worst / Now you just watch me on your TV screen” make her coolness clear. Like the album’s namesake, CHUNGHA sounds both in power and at ease—and it’s time for the world to take notice of her.