Han Seung Woo: Fame – K-Pop Album Review

After an arduous journey towards popularity, Han Seung Woo made his highly anticipated solo debut with his mini album ‘Fame’ and lead single ‘Sacrifice’.

To say that it’s been a tough run for singer, rapper, and general all-rounder Han Seung Woo would be an almighty understatement. First debuting in 2016 as a member of 7-member boy group Victon under Plan A Entertainment (now known as Play M), the now former leader and current lead vocalist Han Seung Woo seemed to be on the fast track to celebrity. Younger brother to popular idol singer Han Sunhwa and linked to successful labelmates Apink, Victon and Han Seung Woo were marketed to the Korean public as the fresh new faces of K-Pop. Sadly, a successful debut for the septet was stunted when Produce 101 powerhouse group Wanna One arrived on the scene 6 months later.

Following a near-disbandment and his own stint on a Produce series that saw him become a member and subsequent leader of the ill-fated X1, Han Seung Woo rose from the ashes of an almost ruined career to deliver an exceptional 6-track debut solo project that has firmly established him as a talent force to be reckoned with.

Opening with Fever’, a brooding track filled with lilting guitar twangs layered under synth high-hats, we are immediately pulled into a melancholy where Han bemoans being caught in an unfamiliar and unwanted reality – “Tell me why it’s so complicated / Killing me / Don’t know why it’s so complicated / Bring me out, find me, I’m trapped in it”. There is an overwhelming sense of frustration throughout this track, and one could easily draw comparisons to his career to date; eager to begin a successful career as an idol, he begged his company to let him debut only to find popularity and success harder to obtain than he realised. The underlying feeling on this track, as its title would suggest, is his burning fever to achieve his goals. ‘Fever’ as an opener is a great choice, as it instantly draws you in and makes you feel his pain and drive.

Following ‘Fever’ is the album’s title track, ‘Sacrifice’. A sultry trap and R&B groove with a synth melody that really highlights Han’s prowess as a vocalist, the lyrics speak of someone so flawless that it drives him to give up everything just to be around them – “Obsessive / I’m more shameless than you think / I’m going crazy”. It speaks of a kind of romantic torment so alluring that he can’t help but want to endure it. Structurally, the song is incredibly well-crafted. It drops and rises in all the right places, allowing Han to showcase his expert rap flow in the lead up to the second pre-chorus as well as some impressive high notes in the final chorus to balance his soft, breathy vocals.

The album’s third track ‘Reply’ is a complete tonal shift; an upbeat and piano driven song, ‘Reply’ provides a much-needed mood boost after experiencing the more broody openers. Speckled with classic hip-hop beats, Reply is a bright and fun song dedicated to a friend as he sing-raps about seeing groups and couples on the street while waiting for a reply to his text message – “It’s a waste to be alone today…Get everybody together / What are you doing?”. You can tell that Han had fun making this track, which is perhaps the best thing about it. From the moment that ‘Reply’ starts, it fills you with a desire to bop and dance around, and it’s almost as if you can feel him smiling as he sings. While not as complex and lyrically deep as ‘Feveror ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Reply’ has a special vibe and flavour that easily makes it one of the best tracks on the album.

Returning to a more groovy, sexy tone and vibe for the album’s fourth track, ‘I Just Want Love’ is exactly as you’d expect. A love letter to a crush, Han’s sex appeal oozes through this track – from the moment the track starts with a sample of buzzing neon lights and a quick, breathy “1, 2, 3, 4”, ‘I Just Want Love’ has you hooked. Han’s smooth R&B adlibs, nonchalant spoken phrases, and his honey vocals as he croons “Baby melt me in your arms / keep me in your eyes”, is enough to make anyone hot under the collar. Once again showing off his deft skills as a rapper, ‘I Just Want Love’ feels like a friendlier companion to ‘Sacrifice’ and an evolution from suffering to fulfilment of desire.

For his penultimate track, Han gifts us with ‘Forest’. A slow, soft, acoustic guitar driven neo-ballad, Forest reads like a letter to his fans (known affectionately as ALICE). Carried by his naturally breathy intonations and sweet falsettos, Han expresses his desire to become a forest, a place of comfort and support, for his fans, where they could go in hard times. Like with all artists, the relationship with their fans is precious and irreplaceable. That feeling is expressed beautifully in ‘Forest’, drawing listeners in and under his wave of love and appreciation.

And finally, ‘Child’, a groovy electric guitar track that hides lyrics detailing his long and often painful journey to stardom – “I’m afraid of everything / Hide me / I’m like an immature child”. Knowing what we know about the reality of Han Seung Woo’s idol career, ‘Child’ feels incredibly personal. It’s raw and heartfelt, bringing the darker aspects of his life as a singer into the forefront and laying them bare for us to witness. Lines like “It’s all dull and familiar / Breathe out again and again” carry the pain of choosing to have a career as part of the highly competitive K-Pop industry, where groups and soloists are often fighting tooth and nail for a scrap of radio play and TV air time in the hopes that they could become successful.

Having written lyrics for every track and participated in the composition of ‘Reply’ and ‘Forest’, Han Seung Woo’s hard work and skills are evident on every track of Fame’. Whether showing off his powerful vocals or artful raps, ‘Fame’ is brimming with personality and (after peaking at No. 2 on Korea’s Gaon Music Chart) evidence that Han Seung Woo was born to be a star.

Images by Play M Entertainment.

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