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ZONE by Jihyo is an alluring mixed bag

by Toyosi Begbaaji


For her solo debut, TWICE’s Jihyo delivers a pop-focused album detailing the rise and fall of a relationship with the storytelling expertise of a professional.

 

With the release of ZONE — the second TWICE member solo debut, following IM NAYEON in 2022 — it’s now Jihyo’s turn to shine completely on her own as a singer, dancer, and overall performer. ZONE, featuring title track ‘Killin’ Me Good’ along with b-sides like ‘Closer’ and ‘Don’t Wanna Go Back’, is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the quality of songwriting and composition — but it makes up for it by following a loose plotline that elevates each song when considered as parts of a story.

Promotional image for ZONE by Jihyo – Image Credit: https://www.soompi.com/article/1596243wpp/watch-twices-jihyo-announces-solo-debut-date-with-exciting-teaser-for-zone
 

Killin' Me Good

Title Track

In ‘Killin’ Me Good’, Jihyo sets the mood for the rest of ZONE perfectly. With grungy synths that scratch infectiously paired to Jihyo’s syrupy soaring vocals, ‘Killin’ Me Good’ is a perfect debut track. ‘Killin’ Me Good’ has a slightly cacophonous soundscape, but one that feels clear and easy to navigate due to Jihyo’s jazzy and full voice that ferries us through its runtime. With a music video and lyrics that speak of a lover that’s “making [her] feel something new,” Jihyo confidently stakes her claim as a soloist with unquestionable power.

Screenshot from the ‘Killin’ Me Good’ Music Video - Image Credit: https://youtu.be/jyw_vrI4ySg

And if the song weren’t enough, for live performances Jihyo pairs ‘Killin’ Me Good’ expertly with complex and sexy choreography, a hand-mic, and the most commanding stage presence seen from a soloist in a long time. When you watch Jihyo perform ‘Killin’ Me Good’, you really feel the eighteen years it has taken her to get here. This is Jihyo’s moment, and she is taking it with full, unflinching confidence.

 

Talkin' About It

Composed by Jihyo

Jihyo pictured alongside 24kGoldn. -- Image credit: https://x.com/24kgoldn/status/1692637978697298300?s=46

In ‘Talkin’ About It’, Jihyo brings on 24kGoldn for this all English track in a similar vein to ‘No Problem’ off IM NAYEON featuring Felix from Stray Kids. The similarities end there, however, as ‘Talkin’ About It’ feels cut from the same sonic cloth as ‘New Rules’ by Dua Lipa — a distinctly 2010s style of song that would be perfect on a radio station. This throwback sound is a lovely change of style and tone from ‘Killin’ Me Good’ and introduces a Latin-inspired feel.

 

Closer

Lyrics by Jihyo


In ‘Closer’, the Latin-feel continues, but darker and sexier with a sprinkle of Afrobeat-style rhythms. You can especially see this in the choreography, which makes use of sweeping gestures and tutting arm/hand movements while Jihyo sensually sings of wanting to “get even closer, babe.”

Jihyo performing ‘Closer’ for the music show, Inkigayo – Image Credit: https://youtu.be/wEvGlParxwM

The weakest aspect of this song is its length: much like NewJeans’ Get Up EP, ‘Closer’ has been caught up in the epidemic of less-than-3-minute-long-songs that’s been sweeping through the music industry, but especially within K-Pop. Its shorter length doesn’t make the song awful by any means, but it does take me out of the experience too quickly. It’s unfortunate since the song has a luscious soundscape that supports Jihyo’s voice perfectly.

 

Wishing On You

Lyrics by Jihyo


In ‘Wishing On You’, Jihyo swings out towards the R&B genre, utilizing non-music sound effects (ringing phones, chirping crickets, video game squeaks) and an airier singing style compared to the previous songs. It’s a welcome change, and part of why ‘Wishing On You’ is one of my favourites from the album so far. We’ve heard Jihyo’s Xtina-style power vocals before in TWICE’s music; with ‘Wishing On You’, Jihyo is showing us a completely new and different side to her as a musician, just like what you’d expect with a solo album.

Jihyo performing for the ZONE Album Sneak Peek (Live Ver.) – Image Credit: https://currently.att.yahoo.com/att/look-twices-jihyo-sings-live-185526459.html

The breakdown in the chorus reminds me a lot of music by Mary J. Blige, playing with vocal rhythms while the instrumental continues chugging along. And it’s heartfelt without feeling overly saccharine—a love song tinged with the relatable desperation of having a truly massive crush on another person. When Jihyo sings “I want you to / To be my every distraction, baby / And if I get another wish from my genie / I might as well just tell the truth” while a dialing phone drones softly, it transports you. And in my opinion, that’s what only a truly well-made song can do.

 

Don't Wanna Go Back

Lyrics by Jihyo, Composed by Jihyo


In ‘Don’t Wanna Go Back’, Jihyo enlists the help of K-R&B soloist Heize for a duet. This was definitely my most anticipated song from ZONE, and it unfortunately disappointed me. The song washed over me without any one aspect really taking hold — by the end of it, I was already forgetting how the song went. As excited as I was for Heize’s feature, I felt that she wasn’t the best person to feature on this particular song. The instrumental of the song isn’t nearly hollow enough to accommodate Heize’s unique and distinct vocal colour; on the other hand, this instrumental fits Jihyo’s voice perfectly. It’s here, in the latter half of the album, that I start to lose the music identity that’s been set up in earlier tracks.

Jihyo, in the MV Teaser for ‘Killin’ Me Good’ – Image Credit: https://kbizoom.com/twice-jihyo-is-teeming-with-charisma-in-teaser-for-solo-debut-song-killin-me-good-mv/

But, what ‘Don’t Wanna Go Back’ lacks in standout quality, it makes up for in how it contributes to the overarching story of the album. Here, Jihyo sings, “Don't wanna go back / You were very special to me, good man / But now the romance has disappeared / Oh baby, we can't turn back / We're on the right track.” In the album’s story arc, the relationship that was so good at the start has soured into something that Jihyo feels she needs to leave, but on amicable terms with her partner. It’s a very mature message, made even better knowing that Jihyo is the only other co-writer of this song along with Heize.

 

Room

Lyrics by Jihyo, Composed by Jihyo


In ‘Room’, Jihyo slows it down even more with a song akin to a ballad, but elevated. I listened to ‘Room’ for the first time while on a walk and it immediately took me to a grey and chilly day in autumn. The soundscape is so soothing; ‘Room’ feels mixed like a lullaby. And then to top it off, Jihyo’s voice is like spiked honey, so smooth but with a crackle to it.

Jihyo, in a promotional image for ZONE -- Image credit: https://www.grammy.com/news/jihyo-twice-solo-debut-zone-interview-videos

In this song, Jihyo sings of “not coming back to this room” after leaving on a trip without her lover. ‘Room’ carries on the story from ‘Don’t Wanna Go Back’, and I would argue that ‘Room’ is the linchpin that ties the album’s plot together.

 

Nightmare

Lyrics by Jihyo, Composed by Jihyo


In ‘Nightmare’, freed from her relationship, Jihyo proudly leans into the role of ‘crazy ex’ by proclaiming that she is her ex’s nightmare incarnate. Unlike the rest of ZONE, ‘Nightmare’ was first premiered during TWICE’s most recent tour as Jihyo’s solo performance number. With that knowledge, and my own listening experience, I can pretty confidently say that ‘Nightmare’ is the weakest song on ZONE. Compared to its peers, ‘Nightmare’ is distinctly juvenile and basic in its lyrics, constantly repeating its main (but weak) refrain of “I’m your nightmare.” Its mixing is the weakest of the bunch, being so smoothed down that it loses all grunge and edge that had been established at the top of the album with ‘Killin’ Me Good’. Much like ‘Don’t Wanna Go Back’, ‘Nightmare’ washed over me and I didn’t take anything substantive from the listening experience, but perhaps that isn’t the point. Seeing as it was debuted during TWICE’s tour, I suspect that ‘Nightmare’ is a song made to serve a live performance, rather than to stand on its own.

Jihyo performing ‘Nightmare’ for the TWICE Ready to Be World Tour – Image Credit: https://twitter.com/globaltwicee/status/1691948250629079492?s=20

When taken with the whole of ZONE, however, I’m tempted to read ‘Nightmare’ as Jihyo poking fun at the stereotypical ‘crazy ex’ by being an overtop yet simplistic. She’s out of this relationship that was so horrible for her, and while she’s at peace, she’s more than happy to appear like the “nightmare” her ex is no doubt portraying her as. If that’s the case, I think ‘Nightmare’ and its inclusion are both genius — but I still likely won’t be listening to the song very much.

 

Final Thoughts

Jihyo, in the MV teaser for ‘Killin’ Me Good’ – Image Credit: https://twitter.com/globaltwicee/status/1692617122101240301?s=20

After I finished my first listen through of ZONE, I wasn’t convinced that the album was strong on its own. The title track is great and certain b-sides like ‘Room’ and ‘Wishing On You’ really showcase a new side of Jihyo. While there are a few songs that didn’t grab me, the longer I sat with ZONE, the more I came to appreciate what exactly Jihyo has done with this album. To debut with a breakup album is bold, and it’s likely that an average or casual listener won’t catch the carefully weaved story hidden just beneath each songs’ surfaces, but I think Jihyo has done something incredible with ZONE that far outweighs any of my personal gripes.

Top 3 Tracks
  1. Wishing On You

  2. Room

  3. Closer

Honourable Mention: Talkin' About It

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