[SM Entertainment; 2021]

Despite how arduous the process can be, there is beauty and triumph in allowing time for recovery and healing – and this is embodied by K-pop singer Wendy on her debut solo mini-album Like Water. After an unfortunate accident in 2019 left the lead vocalist of Red Velvet hospitalised on (of all days) Christmas, fans were heartbroken and anxious about her future in the industry. Now, a year and some months later, it feels nothing short of miraculous to witness Wendy’s full-fledged return; a complete triumph against the curve-balls life throws at us.

Across five songs, Like Water creates a warm and comforting space that shows off Wendy’s emotive, dynamic vocals and gratitude. This album could’ve easily been about sadness and derailment (and there is one song on here about such themes), but ultimately possesses an unfettered aura of optimism and love. The sound is predominantly built upon balladry, and this proves a suitable and appropriately dramatic route for the singer to take. Make no mistake: Wendy is a singer singer, whose voice illuminates every track to its brightest potential. But beyond her voice, Like Water is so moving and sincere that it finds a way into the stoniest of hearts. During a live stream preceding this album’s release, Wendy herself emphatically said to her fans: “This is for you.” It is a simple yet genuine sentiment that underlines these songs and their healing messages.

The album opens up with the phenomenal piano ballad “When This Rain Stops”, which combines timelessness with adept R&B vocal styling. This track finds Wendy singing about loneliness and being in a dark place while acknowledging that they are many who feel this way. However, the song’s primary message is that when going through such hardships, it’s okay to rest and know that one day it will pass. In a goosebump-inducing bridge, Wendy belts “Breathe again” and it just feels like she’s passionately singing this to herself as well as the fortunate listener. Although this track stays consistently stripped back, each progressive chorus has Wendy’s vocals ascending to higher levels of strength, and even if you aren’t a fan of this particular style of power balladry, it is almost impossible not to be moved by her voice alone.

“Like Water” is an enchanting pop-rock ballad with warm guitar, soaring strings and a general sense of triumph; its love is directed outwards as she offers her shoulder to lean on. The track feels like a song directed at her fans – particularly when she sings “Thank you for believing in me,” which is a heartfelt moment of gratitude to those who waited and encouraged her along her recovery. This also emphasised in the chorus where she sings “My love is like water,” reflecting on how it will heal your wounds and embrace you tightly. Ultimately, “Like Water” a very satisfying and cinematic song that could easily soundtrack the moment when a difficult obstacle has finally been surmounted.

The tempo changes with the unabashedly romantic “Why Can’t You Love Me”; the album’s upbeat moment. Over swinging piano, bass and sweet guitar Wendy sings to a love interest about the cosiness of springtime rain and the warmth they give her; it’s incredibly cute and the type of wholesome pop that always feels absent from the music landscape. In typical fashion, this album highlight is the shortest track on Like Water, but this will undoubtedly be something to play on repeat – whether you’re in love or wanting to be.

We veer back into ballad territory with “The Road”, which starts off with melancholic piano chords. This proves misleading, however, as the song swoons into a dramatic heartbreak track filled with jazzy bass guitar and strings. Wendy sings about the landscapes and roads she’s walked through that have become unrecognisable since her lover departed. No ballad-centered album feels complete without such a track, and Wendy naturally delivers these yearning emotions flawlessly. Final track “Best Friend” features her fellow Red Velvet member Seulgi and is a sweet, jazzy ode to, well, friendship. Seulgi and Wendy’s voices together are magical, as has been proven across Red Velvet’s discography multiple times (for example: “Psycho” and the iconic run at the end of “Eyes Locked, Hands Locked”), so hearing them create their symbiotic magic together on this album is welcome. This straightforward expression of love and appreciation for a friendship concludes the album on a very sweet note.

Like Water proves a beautiful, vulnerable and heartfelt debut project for Wendy, whose astounding voice is the soul of this album. It is an act of love and selflessness – she has healed and so she in turn has given listeners a soundtrack for them to heal. And, after the rough time of yesteryear that still continues in our present times, we need more affirmative messages. Maybe some might be too cynical to enjoy such sweet tracks, but this album really is the equivalent of a warm hug. So, take a bit of time out of your day to just sit and listen to Like Water, and you may find a startling amount of empathy to take some comfort from.

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