A straight pop release that’s confident itself is a rarity, as you need to fulfill two rather difficult requirements to accomplish this: one, strong vocalists, and two, singers with an affinity for pop music. Having a strong voice isn’t quite the same as having an affinity for pure pop—take my K-pop love Younha for example. She has a strong voice, but zero affinity for the classic brand of pop Aliee sells. I guess Hyorin is the next best thing to when it comes to pop vocalists, but I just don’t seem to like her voice very much. (As to why I don’t is a post for another day, provided that anyone actually wants to hear it.)
Anyhow, before I totally get off topic, what I was trying to get at was that Ailee does pop well. Really well. It’s very easy to see that a lot of her style is derived from her American music roots, but it has enough K-pop flair to to do well in Korea. This is especially apparent in my favorite bubble gum song (2nd favorite overall) from on A’s Doll House, “I’ll Be Okay.”
But as well as Ailee does pop music, I’m sad that she has to keep singing songs like “U&I” as title tracks, even as the show-tune loving person that I am. The reason for that is as great as show-tunes are for the stage, they don’t show Ailee’s true colors as a vocalist. When I listened to her covers as a youtube cover-artist, I felt that I got a greater understanding of Ailee’s voice than I did when she was a soloist performing on music shows. That shouldn’t be happening. Ailee sounds best singing pop-anthems: you see glimmers of it in “I Will Show You,” but I think it was most obvious in “Shut Up” (from Invitation) before the songs in this album came out. The beauty of Ailee’s voice is in that she hits every note with nonchalance and clarity, and sometimes the show-tune style forces Ailee’s voice to put aside that beauty for incessant belting by competing too aggressively with her.
Nevertheless, I still enjoy “U&I” because it’s a song that screams style and confidence. When it comes to this album, there’s no song that she doesn’t sing with a concept in mind, nor where is she incognizant of where to embellish and when to sing straight and raw. What makes the delivery in “U&I” so great is the touch of acid you get from the vocals and lyrics: The “eobseo,” has this great “hiss” sound to it that brings out a cruel vibe, and the dry presentation of the “U and I” reflect the repetitious and dull feeling to the relationship being described. Most of all, I love how she sings without a second thought; no careful deliberations that are obvious to the listener.
It’s that ease in fact, that interests me most as a listener when it comes to K-pop. When singers are fighting to get notes, the focus of attention is on the note being sung and not how that note sounds. I always find myself enjoying artists that can play with the music they sing and truly perform a song as opposed to trying to emulate the CD. Those who fit in this category are few, but these people are the ones who are famous first for how they sing as opposed to what they sing. It’s one of those qualities that gives a singer transcendence.
The separation between what one sings and how one sings it is also where Ailee falters as a singer. I enjoy Ailee’s voice a lot, but I cannot say that her songs are impressive. Actually, while A’s Doll House sounds good, the end product, the actual album, is unimpressionable. I end up focusing on Ailee’s voice as opposed to all the parts of the song together has a whole— to the point that I don’t actually care about the songs themselves. If she continues to remain stagnant in this realm, she will never transcend from just good to great. A voice can only decorate the song, not be the song.
The greatest contributor to most of Ailee’s music’s “unimpressive” quality is that the music rarely speaks for itself, becoming too dependent on the singer. The most unfortunate example is “Rainy Day,” which is actually my favorite song from the album. Despite really liking the song, when I listen to “Rainy Day” I don’t get any aftertaste, no lasting impression. The song comes and goes, and while I find it stunning while it’s there, I don’t miss it when it’s gone. I don’t replay parts of the song in my head like an echo nor do I feel any sense of attachment to it. This feeling continues into the rest of the album: I listen to song after song, waiting for that “Aha!” moment where everything in the album clicks, only to never find it.
“No No No,” “Scandal,” and “How Could You Do This To Me” are even less impressionable than the others, though just as pretty to listen to. They sound fantastic in the context of Ailee’s voice, but they all feel like a caricature; like dolls placed in a doll house. When Ailee (or her company) named the album A’s Doll House, it’s hard not to wonder how aware they were at the accuracy of the title as a metaphor for the album. A doll house usually conceptualizes a house that most can only fantasize, with intricate detailing that can only be regarded with awe. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, a doll house is just a doll house—a plastic box that is filled with even more plastic. Ailee’s album is very much the same way. It’s gorgeous, even stunning at times; but after it all ends, I’m just left with pretty looking plastic.