Chung Ha is no longer seeking anyone’s approval. Released Feb. 15, her debut album Querencia is a glamorous declaration of independence from others’ perception. She’s created a shimmering production that isn’t afraid to ask not only the listener, but herself as well: Do you really know who Chung Ha is?
It’s difficult to imagine inhabiting the pop realm without judgement, especially since her entrance to the public’s periphery was through being, quite literally, judged on a reality show competition. Back in 2016, audiences initially weren’t supposed to notice her. She was just another contestant on the show “Produce 101,” a dumping ground for a field of desperate dreams that 100 other girls were also competing for. After fighting her way into a spot in the short-lived girl group I.O.I, her career as a soloist doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size.
Querencia finally sees Chung Ha coming into her own. The hefty, hour-long album is 21 tracks divided into four sections: Noble, Savage, Unknown and Pleasures. It’s been teased since early 2020, with the singer releasing a pre-release single every month throughout the year. The pre-release track “Stay Tonight” is still one of the album’s strongest songs, with its ‘80s-heavy house beat and voguing choreography.
The heavy-hitters of the album are tracks where Chung Ha played a part in writing, such as the title song “Bicycle.” It’s a raunchy dance track cycling through as many bike-riding euphemisms as she can squeeze into 2 minutes and 59 seconds. Still, it never grows tired.
She’s the sole person defining her sexual confidence in “Bicycle.” Chung Ha reminds listeners of this fact by belting, “And when I say it’s done/ it’s freaking over,” a line which she tautly delivers over the synth-laden beat. It’s the most fiercely sensual song in her career and one of the boldest statements a K-pop artist has made in recent memory. Truly, where would K-pop be without Chung Ha carrying the industry on the back of her Peloton?
Every single one of the tracks is meticulously crafted, written and produced across a diversity of genres to highlight Chung Ha’s musicality. The most fun she has on the album is when she experiments with her sound, like on the Latin-influenced tracks “Play” and “Demente,” the latter of which sees her speaking Spanish. Both incorporate strong elements of mariachi music, with the strummed vihuela becoming the most magnetic aspect.
Then, she’s rapidly switching genres again. A distorted, electric guitar heavily contrasts with her soft voice on R&B track “Flying on Faith,” making for arguably the best song on the album.
There are some missteps, however. “Chill,” for instance, is a quintessential pop track with uninspiring lyrics and a boring composition that would’ve sonically fit a Kohl’s during Black Friday more so than, say, under a section labelled “Savage.”
One of the most emotional songs on the entire album is the one dedicated to her fans — also known as “Byulharangs.” Her fanclub’s design art has her symbolized by a crescent moon, and her fans are the stars closely surrounding it. Astrologically speaking, humans on Earth can never truly see the moon, and in the track “BYULHARANG (160504 + 170607),” Chung Ha declares the only ones close enough to be in her orbit are her fans.
“Even if I get faded or erased, I’ll be here for you,” she promises over the twang of an acoustic guitar, giving the credit for her success entirely to her followers. It’s the most vulnerable she allows herself to be, before she recedes back into herself to finish off the album with surface-level songs.
Querencia is well thought out, the opulence of her perfecting her signature sound sparkling more than her viral glittery makeup could. As she worked to figure herself out beyond others’ ideas of her, Chung Ha was always speaking and singing to listeners from a distance. Past the flashy tracks, Chung Ha’s liberation remains the main topic of this self-assessment of an album.
These days, she’s found freedom. Querencia proves that Chung Ha no longer has any competition — she’s in an entire universe of her own.
Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected].