[Album Review] Ga-in – Hawwah

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Ga-in’s solo work has been impressive thus far, with her gimmick being a particularly mature, if a bit pretentious, strain of sexy. “Fxxk U” from last year covered the very touchy subject of sexual abuse whereas “Truth or Dare” was her declaration of not giving two middle fingers about her haters. The lady knows her concepts are overtly provocative and she owns them completely despite having such a conservative audience, something that I believe many of her fans and even some antis laud her for. Ga-in thrives off of pushing the envelope and being unashamedly bold about being sexy. Burgeoning girl groups in K-pop have much to learn from this veteran when it comes to sexy concepts.

“Hawwah” is a visually and conceptually clear album but unfortunately does not deliver such cohesion on the audio front – “Paradise Lost” is the glaringly obvious lone wolf in the EP and will either be the deal-maker or deal-breaker for “Hawwah”. Sans “Paradise Lost”, the album is rich with jazzy influences and inflections, eclectic finishing touches and flourishes, and material that fans of Ga-in have come to expect from her.

But, of course, her EP is an invitation for the pretentious and the thought-provoked to dust off their literature class notes and to pick at the various metaphors and other literary goodies hidden in the lyrics, aesthetics, and sounds of “Hawwah”. When you’re using the Bible as inspiration, like how many canonical English novels do, you just can’t avoid being critically scrutinized by English majors and the like. And Ga-in seems to be inviting such analyses of her work. After all, intellectual buzz is still buzz for her album, 그치?

Music Video – “Paradise Lost”

Ga-in is undeniably sexy. That is the kind of image that she furiously delivers to her audience and she is unashamed, like how women should be about expressing their sexuality. Ga-in’s past solo releases have often been about discovering female sexuality and “Paradise Lost” is a visually stunning proclamation of Ga-in owning her sense of sexuality.

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The imagery used are dark and ominous and Ga-in evokes the snake, which tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, through her serpentine choreography. Much props to her for accomplishing such physically demanding contemporary dance choreography.

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There were many moves that require a certain level of flexibility and Ga-in pulled them off like a pro, in a very classy and confident manner. Sexy is something you can’t half-ass and certainly Ga-in would be the last person to half-ass sexy.

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As a casual viewer, I was very impressed by the contrasting dark scenes and light scenes, culminating to those beautiful split screen scenes where there is a definite light and dark dichotomy. The music video is stunning on its own and, if I were more invested in film analyses, I would probably have a ball with analyzing this video.

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Regardless, I felt unnerved yet perpetually curious, turned on (if Ga-in can be unashamed about her sexuality, of course I can be too) and always intrigued by this video. There wasn’t a storyline to this music video but it was a smorgasbord of biblical and sexual imagery and somehow, that darkness is beguiling and arresting. In the same way the snake tempted Eve, this video tempts the viewer.

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However, what “Paradise Lost” offers is perhaps a more optimistic message – that there is paradise in the current realm we are in, that there is beauty in knowing that there is just as much evil as there is good in this world, that this is the paradise of awareness. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Even realize that they are naked and are cast out of the Garden of Eden. Though the cost of awareness was the destruction of a paradise in which they were oblivious to evil (naive to the point that they became tempted by evil), the awareness of evil and good in the world is an alternate paradise, one in which we humans are more aware of temptation and can now make a more informed decision to either act upon it or against it. In our world, good and evil, light and dark, coexist and for us to be oblivious to the darkness is to be asking to be taken by evil.

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Although, for all we know, it could be all a jab against religion – “they’re making up a story to control you and me” could very well be referring to the possibility that some random people way back when made up a series of stories and compiled them to become what we know today to be the Bible, a book that, in some very conservative denominations of Christianity, is the thing that controls its followers’ lives. At the end of the day, it’s a K-pop music video; make what you want to make out of it as that is part of the magic of pop.

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For instance, the squirming pile of hot, naked men behind Ga-in during the final moments of the video could very well have some deep, metaphorical meaning or could be a reference to some Biblical moment (my Sunday schooling has failed me in this respect as I have no idea what this could be referring to) or it could just be a pile of hot, naked men squirming behind Queen Ga-in for dramatic effect. It’s all up to you, my friend. Be as pretentious or hedonistic as you desire.

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Music Video – “Apple”

The MV for “Apple” is a stark contrast from “Paradise Lost” and is a modern representation of the Garden of Eden and the pre-forbidden fruit era for Eve. There is a sense of naïveté despite all of the sexual innuendos that this music video is laden with, reflecting the childlike innocence that Adam and Eve had during their stay at the garden.

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In fact, this childlike innocence is prominently portrayed in the video as Ga-in is playing around in the garden like a child, bouncing around on a ball, fiddling around with a garden hose, riding a bike, and so on.

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Of course, all of these activities are displayed through very provocative angles and via sexual innuendos but there is a clear sense of unawareness from Ga-in as Eve. She is merely enjoying herself in the garden but is unaware of the sexual implications that come with her actions.

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This is in complete contrast to the final image of “Paradise Lost”, where Ga-in’s distraught expression is reflecting the sudden realization of sexuality and temptation, as if she now is aware of how promiscuous her playtime in the garden was truly. Whereas in “Paradise Lost”, Ga-in held very sexually charged, almost aggressive expressions, in “Apple”, Ga-in puts on a more demure, passive, innocent persona.

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As opposed to the mixing of dark and light imagery in “Paradise Lost”, in “Apple”, there are only bright, colorful imagery until the very end. There is a marked difference between the majority of the video and the lighting of the ending scene where Ga-in cautiously eats an apple in front of a dark tree.

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The lighting of course is no coincidence and the video in fact cuts the song right after the bridge, before the song repeats the chorus one last time, and, most significantly, right after Ga-in takes a bite of the apple. This marks the abrupt end of carefree, innocent times in the garden and, in the context of the two music videos, the end of the bright and colorful and cheery image of Ga-in in “Apple”.

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“Hawwah” EP

Apple (Feat. 박재범)

“Hawwah” begins with my favorite track out of the entire album. “Apple” is a departure from the aesthetics presented in the “Paradise Lost” music video and this is perhaps one of the reasons why I love this song so much. The titular apple is a reference to the forbidden fruit that Eve was tempted into eating. Temptation has taken many forms throughout the ages but it can be boiled down to this – temptation is the enticement that comes from pleasure.

Humans only want to do something if there is a certain amount of pleasure that comes with doing it and this something can be bad or good. As much as they deny it or attribute it to their religion, the truth is that charitable people are charitable because there is pleasure in helping out, there is a sense of gratification in helping out. It is thus no accident that there are many jazzy elements in this song as jazz evokes the 1920s and 1930s era of American history and this era was the era of extravagance, when pleasure was for the taking, be it at a speakeasy or with wearing flapper dresses. The way the beat bounces along the staccato-laced electronic bursts and horns, the way the jazzy piano instrumentation accentuates every corner of the song, everything sounds wonderfully upbeat and pleasureful and Ga-in’s vocals are lovely to listen to against all that jazz.

Perhaps my only gripe with the song is Jay’s inclusion in the song. Had Ga-in had melodic verses to sing in this song, “Apple” would have gotten an A+ from me but Jay’s raps are more of a distraction than a feature. The melodies of the chorus and bridge are gorgeous so, had the songwriter had the guts to write equally melodically gorgeous verses, this song would have been perfect. Ga-in’s “don’t don’t don’t don’t” must have been her cry for Jay to stop destroying songs.

Free Will (Feat. 도끼)

I am not exactly liking all of the rap features in this album thus far but at least the jazz continues here. The James Bond-esque guitar riff and the dramatic horns drive a very swiftly-paced track. The rap sections here are still distracting but are much more bearable here, given the fast-paced nature of this song. I’m starting to get a very IU “Modern Times” vibe from this song though and I am unsure if I like it as it detracts from the originality of this album. Still, “Free Will” is a fun song to listen to and there are some pretty interesting musical choices in this song.

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Paradise Lost

This song marks a drastic shift in mood in the album, when Ga-in portrays the snake in the story. Similar to the music video, there are some very eerie music elements at play in this song such as the siren-like vocalization during the pre-chorus (“let me do it”) and the ominous piano progression. While the instrumentation builds itself up toward very climactic chorus sections, the chorus are a bit of a letdown and it is due to Ga-in’s lack of vocal power. Her voice never sounds belt-y or rough, which this song’s chorus demands for, but her wispy and sexy voice is perfect for that bridge and during the verses when the instrumentation is calling for that kind of sound.

This would have been a perfect song for Ga-in to collaborate on with someone with strong vocals but of course then it wouldn’t be a solo release, right? And thus this leads me to the conclusion that one of the most distracting aspect of this album is the inclusion of this song. Perhaps “Paradise Lost” is the Achilles’ heel of “Hawwah” because it is the black sheep of the album. Yes, it is edgy and dark but is the rest of the album edgy or dark? Not by a long shot and that is where this album falters. There is a sense that the b-sides were just an arbitrary assortment of songs that Mystic89 procured just to fill up the EP, which would be a rather disappointing reality for a pretentious listener of K-pop.

The English used on this track is also disappointingly ungrammatical. For such a thought-provoking release, one would think the lyricist would craft something that included some deliberately placed English lyrics but it just sounds like some of the English was placed to fill up empty beats.

Despite it all, “Paradise Lost” is a dramatic, intense track that deserves mention. Just, perhaps within the context of “Hawwah”, it loses its charm and intensity as its inclusion detracts severely from the album’s cohesion.

The First Temptation

A very standard electro-pop track from Ga-in, “The First Temptation” is a funky filler that boasts a scratchy, glitchy electronic instrumentation. The song becomes stagnant rather quick though as the song doesn’t exactly evolve into much. “The First Temptation” kind of just trots along and is a huge letdown being placed after the intense “Paradise Lost”.

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두 여자 (Two Women)

Comparisons to IU’s “Modern Times” cannot be more justified with this song as the melancholy and jazzy instrumentation and the chorus especially sounds like a rearranged version of “입술 사이 (50cm)” off of “Modern Times”. Perhaps this is a nod to the fact that the two had collaborated on a track on that album and now Ga-in is trying to show IU how it’s really supposed to be done or it could just be that Ga-in managed to lap up the leftovers from whatever songs IU didn’t snatch up for her jazzy album. Either way, “두 여자” is musically unoriginal as result but Ga-in’s vocals definitely suit this type of music more than IU. It’s a strong if a bit musically uninspired track though I’m sure the lyrics are much more interesting to compensate.

Guilty

The closing track for “Hawwah” sounds like a revamped version of “Truth or Dare” from Ga-in’s last release. The instrumentation sounds slicker and the tempo has been turned up a notch. There are very interesting instrumental choices in this upbeat closer. Of course, “Guilty” ain’t breaking any pop boundaries but it is a solid standard pop track that deserves multiple listens for its sheer listenability and pop sensibilities – the track follows the blueprints of a typical pop track and adds in some original flair into the mix as well. “Guilty” is a strong ending to an interesting EP; b-sides pop at its finest.

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Conclusion

There were many high expectations for “Hawwah” as Ga-in’s previous releases have constantly raised the bar. Her confidently sexy and unashamedly sexy concepts have always been her strong point and, here, it continues to be her ace. Her seductive and graceful performance in her “Paradise Lost” and “Apple” music videos demonstrates her determination to remain true to her sexy image – she worked out and gained weight just so she could show off her assets in the finest way possible. While title track “Paradise Lost” is an anomaly in the album that ultimately detracts from the cohesion of the EP, it is still a strong, intense piece of pop music that is rife with metaphors and literary gold ready for mining by burgeoning academics. In a way, “Hawwah” is a concise reflection of pop music in general – pop music is a mirror of the society it comes from and what we take away from it is ultimately what we want to take away from it. There are no wrong answers in our analyses of pop music and culture because our analyses are precisely the correct answers we seek. So perhaps the scene with the pile of naked men writhing behind a distraught looking and scantily clad Ga-in in the music video has no meaning after all, or I could just not want it to have a meaning because I just want to enjoy the imagery. And that, my friend, is why I love pop.

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TL;DR

Recommended Tracks:

Apple [upbeat, quirky, jazzy opener that is just a pleasure to listen to despite Jay Park’s inclusion]

Free Will [a rowdy, jazzy track that is wild as it is sensual, a very cool listen, Dok2 doesn’t sound too out of place here]

Guilty [“Truth or Dare 2.0”, slick production, standard pop fare that is refreshing to listen to after “Paradise Lost”]

Not-so-recommended Tracks:

The First Temptation [a stale track that never evolves into anything engaging, b-side filler at best]

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