HYO—”Punk Right Now”

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 3.07.01 PMHYO & 3LAU—”Punk Right Now”
Non-album single
2:58
November 13th, 2018
SM Entertainment
Korean lyrics by Le’mon & Jo Yun Gyeong
Produced by Hyoyeon, Cazzi Opeia, Moonshine, Jon Eyden, Jonatan Gusmark, Ludvig Evers & Justin Blau
Stream: Spotify

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Between going solo as DJ HYO and taking part in the debut of the second Girls’ Generation “subunit” Oh!GG (a group rebranding of the five members still left at SM), Hyoyeon has had an eventful year. In April, she dropped the summery “Sober,” a collaboration with producer/DJ Ummet Ozcan, and this month saw the release of “Punk Right Now,” a collab with US DJ 3LAU.

As befits the DJ HYO moniker, there’s no denying the club-forward mentality behind these songs. “Sober” is a bouncy trop house production with lightly chorused guitar lines sliding atop stacks of synth pianos, hitting a similar vibe to fellow SNSD member Taeyeon’s “Why;” it’s been lurking at the bottom of my favorites for this year, a song which has no overt flaws but seems content with simply executing on a generic formula.

“Punk Right Now,” however, ups the ante considerably. Breaking somewhat from the trends like trop house, moombahton, and future bass which still have their hooks in K-pop at large, the song is instead built around a truly ignorant drop. Plenty of K-pop tracks have drops, of course, but they often happen along with/underneath the vocal chorus, or only appear once. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

It’s hard to discern where Hyoyeon’s contributions on this track begin and 3LAU’s end—to say nothing of the five other credited producers—but given the difference between “Punk” and “Sober,” it’s safe to say that the American pushed HYO into altogether dirtier territory.

Hyo’s attitude is immediately off the charts—nothing in the song says “punk,” exactly, but a bit of generic brattiness fits nicely with the MV’s Americana-kitsch. Within ten seconds we get a tongue roll, an indignant “Huh!” and a “Here we go!” There’s barely time to settle in to the verse before the upward climb to the drop.

That drop is a thing of beauty, beginning with the drum hits that lead us in: a triplet snare and then a higher-pitched snare, an absolutely irresistible rhythmic accent that gives the drop an overwhelming sense of momentum. The bedrock of this section is the massive bass synth, which is carved out of titanium. There are other sounds nested inside it, more trebly, midrangey notes that help give the melody body and presence, but everything is in lockstep. Verse two comes in with a rising theremin and an acoustic guitar figure that sounds like something off the Cure’s Bloodflowers.

Hyoyeon doesn’t sing with the drop; she sneers “I’m so punk right now!” at the end of each repetition, but wisely lets the rhythm, and the ebullient choreo, take center stage. When she does take the lead vocally, it’s for a lilting, woozy bridge that again subverts expectations. If HYO is as serious about becoming a DJ as her several years of study suggest, her willingness to step back as a vocal presence to spotlight the instrumental production is encouraging.

BLACKPINK’s Jennie dropped “Solo” (reviewed here) the day before “Punk Right Now” came out, and it’s impossible not to notice the contrast between the two tracks. The degree to which “Solo” producer Teddy Park did Jennie dirty by handing her a “Heroine” demo is debatable; the sheer body-moving force of “Punk Right Now” in comparison to “Solo”‘s brittle, under-arranged production is not.

HYO may or may not be wearing a fashion show’s worth of designer clothes in the MV like some other idols, but “Punk Right Now” is a bop so solidly great that it’s destined to be underrated in favor of more hyped material. It’s just fun to listen to. Even Hyoyeon can’t stop smiling.

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