Following the success of their debut studio album in 2014, Girls’ Invasion, and particularly its lead single, Candy Jelly Love, the eight-piece K-pop girl group Lovelyz announced their sophomore full-length album, R U READY?, earlier this year.  The group’s debut album established their colourful and playful style of pop music, which is arguably closer to J-pop, given its undeniably saccharine nature and, in fact, Girls’ Invasion saw greater success in Japan than in Lovelyz’s home country of South Korea, with the album charting first on Japan’s Tower Records album chart.  In the time between the release of their first and second full-length albums, the focus of the group was predominantly centred on performances and promotion, appearing on a handful of major South Korean music programmes, such as M Countdown and SBS Gayo Daejeon.  Whilst Lovelyz’s exposure in the West has been fairly limited, they nevertheless caught the attention of media outside of East Asia when they performed an a cappella version of Michael Jackson’s Beat It on You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook, which was broadcast in the US on Fox News.  Nonetheless, during the time between their two LPs, Lovelyz did also put out two mini-albums and one single album to see fans through until their next full-length release.  Compared to the group’s debut, R U READY? is slightly more mature in certain regards.  The songs that appear could broadly be placed into one of two categories; upbeat K-pop pieces with colourful instrumentation, bright production and lively performances from the eight girls, and the softer tracks that take on somewhat of a ballad approach.  Whilst many of the songs on this album, most notably its lead single, WoW!, reinforce the group’s frolicsome aesthetic that was established on Girls’ Invasion, much of the material on R U READY? also signifies a small but notable shift for Lovelyz towards a more mature sound, with a lot of these tracks putting more of an emphasis on the girls’ vibrant harmonies and dynamic vocal performances, as well as the developed instrumental arrangements.  How this will affect Lovelyz’s performance on the charts has yet to be seen, but there’s most definitely a lot of substance in much of the material on here that makes R U READY? an admirable release for the group.

 

After the short introductory title track, the first full-length song on R U READY? is its lead single, WoW!, which comes through with one of the strongest upbeat, dance-orientated pop songs on the album.  Despite being clearly crafted for optimum radio airplay, with an absolute earworm of a verse kicking in right from the beginning of the track, both the instrumental arrangement and the girls’ vocal performances make for an incredibly well-assembled K-pop hit.  The funky guitar and smooth synth bass during the verse accompany the accented vocal arrangements very well, and the vibe of this instrumental section isn’t massively dissimilar to something that an artist like Mark Ronson might come out with.  The timbre during the chorus takes more of an electronic approach, with a lot of sweet and glitchy synth sounds decorating the instrumental, as Lovelyz provide one of their most infectious vocal performances on the album.  Whilst the rest of the track is rather minimal in its progression, with the second verse being almost identical to the first verse, with the exception of some added vocal flourishes, it unequivocally successfully fulfils its role as a danceable pop track with a great groove and an effective and charming vocal performance from the group.  The next cut, Cameo, continues the record’s lively high, opening with some luscious synths and soft strings, with this track featuring a shamelessly catchy refrain that easily matches that of its predecessor.  What’s more, the pre-chorus flaunts Lovelyz’s rich vocal harmonies that so often decorate their vibrant and buoyant songs.  Later in the tracklisting, Knock Knock is a highly successful track for many of these same reasons as WoW! and Cameo.  All over this cut, the synths are bright and melodious, and the hook boasts an absolutely captivating performance from the group with a charming melody.  Indeed, Girls’ Invasion made it quite clear that Lovelyz perform at their best on the sweet and playful songs that have attracted so many fans to the group, and R U READY? only emphasises this even more, with a handful of these tracks being amongst the group’s catchiest and most memorable to date.

 

The other side to R U READY? exhibits more of a ballad approach to pop songwriting, with Lovelyz channeling some of the contemporary R&B influence that has gradually worked its way into the K-pop scene.  Certain songs, like Emotion, retain somewhat of a ballad hue to them, whilst nevertheless displaying many of the livelier sensibilities of the album’s more upbeat tracks.  The end product is a relatively successful middle-ground between the two most prominent sides to Lovelyz’s music, with some more impassioned vocal performances that are met with memorable melodies.  The softer tracks, however, seldom see the same success as songs like WoW!Cameo and Knock Knock, rather the group approach these songs with less of prominent a discernible identity compared to other K-pop acts.  Morning Star, for instance, takes the form of a soft piano ballad and, whilst it’s a competently written song that is performed rather well, there’s very little displayed here that couldn’t be found in another K-pop artist’s discography, and this song is rather forgettable as a result.  First Snow is another song that suffers from the same lack of individuality.  Even in spite of its impressive use of a wide array of instrumentation and some solid vocal performances from the group, it’s a song that, whilst well-assembled on a technical level, doesn’t quite display the girls’ personality like the more playful and dynamic tracks on this record.  Ultimately, these songs are most definitely capable in both their composition and execution, and they are perfectly pleasing to listen to for the time that they’re on, but one of the key reasons for Lovelyz’s success is their dynamic personalities, which are often not displayed as vividly on these cuts.

 

R U READY? is, overall, an impressive release for Lovelyz that sees their sound develop into a more mature and accessible state, with most of these songs displaying some of the best performances from the girl group to date, which are often accompanied by textured and sweet instrumentals and production.  Indeed, the best moments tend to appear on the more upbeat tracks, on which the instrumental arrangements are incredibly lively and the girls’ vocal melodies are shamelessly infectious as a result of how colourful and frolicsome they are.  Whilst the softer tracks don’t quite display the group’s appeal at its most tangible, they, at the very least, exhibit the girls’ talents and ability to perform well over more subdued arrangements, rather than solely uptempo, dance-based pop tunes.  R U READY? is ultimately an admirable effort from Lovelyz and maintains an undeniable charm that brings out the best in the group, making for a release that is highly addictive during its best moments due to its sweetness.

 

The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10