Can’t Control Myself
Set Myself On Fire
Cold As Hell
No Love Again
You Better Not
On February 14th, KPOP Queen and Girls’ Generation leader Taeyeon released her long-awaited and largely anticipated third studio album, INVU.
The Third-Album Syndrome
Third albums are usually quite a turning point in an artist’s discography – they often have a sound that is so new and different for the act, it becomes polarizing among their fans. It’s the so-called ‘third album syndrome’, from which few artists have been able to escape. And when Taeyeon announced that she would be releasing her third record, I asked myself if she would end up being among those lucky ones. As it turns out – she really did.
If I were to describe INVU using just one word it would be “mysterious”. As most of the tracks have a rather dark and hypnotizing vibe, the record seems to be wrapped in an aura of mystery and mesmerism that is easy to appreciate (for the most part). It showcases both the strength and versatility of the singer’s vocals, and her ability to suit different sounds. In short – it’s the nth testament to the magnitude of Taeyeon’s skills as a solo artist.
But enough teasing now – let’s look at what hides within INVU together.
The record opens with the title track, which has the same catchy name as the album – INVU (“I Envy You”). Already by the first note, it is evident that the song is different from Taeyeon’s past singles – it falls into the pop dance genre, with soft and dreamy synths and a dull electronic build, and has noticeable house influences all throughout.
Together, these elements create a dream- and trance-like atmosphere that’s bound to hypnotize listeners, and compel you to have the track on repeat. Of course, the song showcases Taeyeon’s impressive vocals, especially in the final chorus, when her abilities as a vocal powerhouse are fully highlighted.
If I were to pinpoint one ‘but’ of INVU (song), it would be that even though the track is absolutely fantastic, it sometimes seems rather tamed, as if it were holding itself back from bursting out at its full potential. The chorus heavily relies on the beat and atmospheric quality, but it lacks a real dramatic climax. It’s solid, but safe.
The release of the title track was also accompanied by a stunning music video, where we see Taeyeon in various mystical sets that remind of Greek mythology, with elements such an ancient temple, a desert and a pond reflecting the moon.
During a press conference for the release of the album, the artist talked about the video and how it relates to the song, saying “[The track] is about a main character who is hurt by love but nonetheless gives it all when it comes to love, and I wanted to express this through strong, warlike visuals in the music video”. This meaning behind INVU is wonderfully conveyed by the gorgeous imagery in the music video, which elevates the song even more if you ask me.
Blending Vintage With Contemporary Sounds
The other single from the record – Can’t Control Myself – was already released as a pre-release ahead of the album launch, thus I already listened to (and fell in love with) it. The song is yet another chapter in KPOP’s latest trend of rock-influenced music, reminiscent of the sound from the early 2000s rendered popular by the likes of Avril Lavigne.
At face value, the track is pretty straightforward, and follows a similar build all throughout with its simple instrumentals. But the storytelling quality of her voice is what gives it nuance, ensuring that it doesn’t come off as too dull and generic.
The nostalgic electric guitar and/or bass component starring in Can’t Control Myself is a recurring element in this album, especially when paired with synths and other electronic sounds.
For instance, Set Myself On Fire, Toddler, No Love Again and You Better Not all follow this logic of encompassing bass/guitar with electronics, resulting in a beautiful connubium between vintage-esque sounds and more contemporary elements.
Continuing The Retro Trend
Cold As Hell – which is by far the catchiest out of the B-sides – also has a strong bass component in its verses, right before the addictive chorus takes over, where the song’s catchphrase (‘Yeah it’s getting cold as hell’) is repeated like a hypnotizing spell.
What follows is another pop dance moment, other than the title track – Timeless. It is a synth-infused song with a nostalgic vibe and rhythm, which continues the retro trend that has been popular in KPOP since 2020.
Albeit in a completely different way than Timeless, another track that’s similar to the album’s latest single is the sixth song on the list, Siren. Just like INVU, it has a dreamy-like and mystical appeal, with Taeyeon’s exquisite vocals backed up by a strong synth base.
The production matches both the lyrical content of the song and the title itself – the track refers to the motif of sirens in Greek and Roman mythology luring people in with their angelic voices, just like Siren hypnotizes listeners with its mesmerizing feel.
Synths are another recurring element on the record, as we hear them loud and clear on various songs, such as the last track, Ending Credits, which is a medium-tempo pop song with a powerful dramatic quality, heightened by the multiple layers of synthesizer.
Of course, as per every Taeyeon album, ballads could not be missing! The second track – Some Nights – is an R&B ballad with a dreamy appeal, and sentimental lyrical qualities, which are enhanced by the singer’s poignant voice.
Whereas, Heart – the ninth track – is a pop ballad that shows off the strength of Taeyeon’s vocals, over the intense bass and piano. The song is reminiscent of the artist’s Gravity, which appeared in her second album Purpose (2019), but the obvious similarities do not disvalue the song – Taeyeon has found a style that complements her vocals well, thus there’s no foul in trying to recreate the magic.
The only track I would say I have an issue with is the album’s twelfth track, Weekend. The song was originally released in July of last year (2021) as a stand-alone single, and was then included on INVU as a B-side for… some reason…
Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love the song by itself! I just think it has no business whatsoever being on this album. Whereas the other tracks are mysterious, nostalgic and embedded in melancholy, Weekend is fun, fresh and an upbeat take on disco and city pop. It simply doesn’t fit in with the overall vibe of the record, and comes off as dystonic if you’re listening to the album in its order.
It would be going too far to say Weekend ruined the album, as the song is objectively wonderful, but one might wonder what INVU would have been like without it – a little more cohesive for sure, and even more enjoyable maybe.
All in all, INVU (album) is with no doubt a great body of work – it has the right amount of fun and badass, and its good dose of sentimentality in all the right places. Is it something we have never heard before in KPOP? No! is it something we have never heard before from Taeyeon? Also no… But while it shares some similarities with the singer’s past works, it does so without sounding too derivative or too déjà vu. It just sounds very ‘Taeyeon’, and that’s precisely the beauty and strength of this album.
Verdict - 8/10