Album Review: NAYEON – IM NAYEON

[JYP; 2022]

TWICE have become an ubiquitous staple in the K-pop industry, continuing to skyrocket in popularity – especially in the international sphere – seven years into their career. Needless to say, the members have paid their dues and then some; therefore it makes sense that at this point in the game, new, exciting directions are now being pursued. A while back, when TWICE’s Twitter account posted two ambiguous dates with no context whatsoever, it was only natural to assume the date of June 24 2022 was an upcoming comeback… but that turned out to be only partially true. The shocking twist was that this date was actually when eldest member Nayeon would make her solo debut with a mini-album. After the shared anticipation – like sitting on the grass of a park, waiting for the fireworks to explode across the sky – the glorious IM NAYEON has arrived to give some much needed colour to our dismal days.

As versatile as TWICE’s discography is, it was difficult to predict the sonic direction Nayeon’s solo would take and yet, upon hearing the album, it makes complete sense. The seven-track project highlights the different aspects of Nayeon: her unmistakable brightness, confidence and maturity are all on display here. Focusing on themes of love, both of others and the self, with occasional dips into the pool of introspection, the album has the atmosphere of a warm, sultry summer night where you can hear the neon buzz in the streets. Nayeon’s voice is versatile, conquering the glittering pop and mellow R&B productions with ease

Lead single “Pop” is a colourful, brassy affair that has Nayeon making a bold declaration of confidence. She sings about her ability to captivate and it’s hard to disagree as the song maintains a fun and relentlessly catchy energy (the recurrent “pop pop pop”s in particular seem designed to take residence in the brain for days after hearing them). The song effectively mixes the retro and the modern where Nayeon sounds entirely at ease. An anthem for being extroverted and having faith in your own capabilities is a welcome change of pace in the pop landscape.

The project continues to impress with the highlight (and fan favourite) “No Problem” which features Stray Kids member Felix. An all-English, disco-pop earworm that is Nayeon’s entry to the resurgence of feel-good, escapist music, she finds a glowing happiness in newfound romance; “No there ain’t no problem / For love / With you and me tonight,” she sings over a riveting bassline. In terms of collaboration, Felix’s part certainly fits the track with his rather iconic deep voice providing great contrast against the bright production, yet his appearance feels all too brief. This doesn’t dim the excitement of having the worlds of Stray Kids and TWICE collide though; this marks the second collaboration between the groups and one can only hope there’s more to come.

The effervescent “Love Countdown” featuring Wonstein is a delicious and sugary R&B-pop number consisting of summery guitar riffs, galactic synths and a smooth tempo. It finds Nayeon waiting for someone to admit their feelings for her in a very coy fashion, urging the person to hurry as she’s already at the starting line, while Wonstein’s verse provides a great counterpart in showing the other side’s perspective in waiting for her to approach him. It’s a fun and playful track whose lesson is that hesitation won’t get you very far in pursuing your feelings. Then there’s “Candyfloss” (which boasts involvement from Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix), an 80s-leaning pop track which features an entire spectrum of synths and saxophone. Undoubtedly the most throwback track on the project, the feel-good production and sugary metaphors easily encapsulate the joys of love.  

Although majority of this mini-album is wonderfully luminescent and colourful, Nayeon does a 180 for the second half as she conquers the mature terrain of R&B music with equal aplomb. On the excellent “All Or Nothing” she throws herself wholeheartedly into love while combating inner anxieties; “Life can be a mess / I don’t know what’s next.” While still maintaining a synth-y sound, it’s comparatively minimal and chill compared to previous tracks and the melodies are gloriously acrobatic reinforcing how Nayeon is a great vocalist.

This R&B sound continues on “Happy Birthday to You” which, if one is to guess a track’s sound based on the title, very much subverts the expectation. Rather than a bright, festive celebratory track, we have something more lowkey and vibey. Lyrically enchanting and with an undercurrent of pathos, Nayeon sings to someone about how worries and stress are omnipresent but it’s okay to let things go once and a while. Although birthdays are frequently treated with cynicism, she refuses to let such days be anything but special. It may prove to be the under-looked song on the album amongst such sparkling behemoth pop tracks but don’t let this one pass you by – it’s a comforting reminder that, whether it’s your birthday or not, there’s nothing wrong with taking time for yourself.

Final track “Sunset” proves the album’s most soothing and grown offering with its chill, jazzy production of strings, gentle tempo, keyboards and bass. A sad yet beautiful track where Nayeon takes solace in watching the sunset after a breakup, this is an unexpected ending to such a kaleidoscopic album but one that has the singer giving one of her most emotive vocal performances yet as she sings “In my dream I just gave you my star / I feel silly when I look into your eyes.”

With rumours that more solos are to follow from her fellow TWICE members, IM NAYEON – whether you want to consider it a natural extension of TWICE’s massive discography or a separate entity – is a very strong debut that impresses and makes you circle back to replay the moment the last song is finished. Both fun and grounded, the charm of Nayeon is irresistible and whether you enjoy K-Pop or not, this is worth checking out if you are a poptimist in general. This heralds a new, exciting era.