CHUNG HA – Querencia

Querencia

CHUNG HA

2021 • K-POP • MNH Entertainment/88rising

7.7

Querencia delivers something broader, freer, more diverse, captivating, and genuinely well-produced. It is one of the best k-pop albums of recent years.

“Querencia” is a Spanish word that derives from the verb “to want.” Primarily, the word is used in bullfighting to refer to a place in the square where bulls feel strong and safe. However, for CHUNG HA, one of the Produce 101 finalists and former lead singer of I.O.I, that word has a slightly different meaning, being a place or state of mind where one can be one’s true self. Leaning fully on this ideal and concept, Querencia, HA’s full-length debut album, arrives as one of the best k-pop albums of recent years. 

Unlike most other k-pop projects, especially the most famous ones that end up being the gateway to the genre — BTS, Blackpink, and TWICE —, Querencia delivers something broader, freer, more diverse, captivating, and genuinely well-produced. While the other groups seem concerned with delivering records where the songs are a set of explosive synthesizers with tight compositions made just to be easy and memorable hooks, 25-year-old singer CHUNG HA is concerned with really telling her story, connecting her songs between each other by lines of thought and placing mainly art, fun and true feelings above numbers. Although its songs are still short and the album is undeniably long, Querencia delivers everything the genre needs right now. 

The record is divided into four parts: Noble, Savage, Unknown, and Pleasures, in which each CHUNG delivers different sounds, subjects, and directions. While in the first one she shows the most generic songs of the album but that somehow represents the nobility of pop with calmer and softer lyrics, in the second she plays with something more violent, more intense instruments, bigger volumes, and more confident lyrics. In the third, in turn, she explores the unknown, singing songs with singers from all over the world and playing with sounds outside her bubble, and in the last, we see the most elegant and sophisticated sounds of the project. Also, the album can also be divided into generic tracks that are fun and generic that are unnecessary, in addition to CHUNG HA’s bold experiments. However, whatever it is, she does well in every single one. 

One of the most positive factors of Querencia is the experimentation that CHUNG HA allowed herself to do. While other k-pop musical works generally tend to revolve around the same electronic pop sound with explosive generic synthesizers at high volumes, which only have the function of giving a very well-produced aspect to the songs, HA plays with sharper, ambitious, and bold synthesizers. Take as an example the interludes on the album, where experimentation is the strongest. While “SIDE A {NOBLE}” opens the album with violent opaque beats that plant a seed of curiosity in the listener, “SIDE B {SAVAGE}” feels like a futuristic remix of an EDM song from the 2000s and “SIDE C {UNKNOWN}” it is easily reminiscent of Arca’s @@@@@. Finally, “SIDE D {PLEASURES}” looks like a unique retelling of some tracks from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. Only in these four points alone, HA has done more than most. 

However, much more than that, Querencia is also the most diverse k-pop album of recent years. Again, instead of keeping to the usual, CHUNG went further, playing with opposite sound aesthetics and putting them to face each other. Also, just as she plays with pop, she plays with r&b, rap, rock, and even Latin music. And it is in the third phase of the album, “SIDE C {UNKNOWN},” where she, together with several collaborations, presents all of this at once. While in the energetic “Play,” with South Korean rapper CHANGMO, she sings about never getting tired of her lover alongside an instrumental that feels like freedom, in “Demente,” with Guaynaa, you can see the harmonious encounter between Korean and Latin culture. However, the most prominent one is “BYULHARANG (160504 + 170607),” an intimate song where she sings about her tough past before reaching the spotlight. She sings, “You’re the light shining so bright in my heart/Whatever trial or darkness comes.”

Besides, we can mention the extremely catchy songs that Querencia has, which despite being relatively generic, are still quite fun and entertaining. While in “Bicycle,” the track that comes closest to what other k-pop groups are doing, shows her creating a metaphor for pedaling and moving on, in “Masquerade” she reaches a sexier point, singing about establishing a connection with her partner, and in “Flying on Faith” she sings about her lover who seems not to have outgrown his ex and can at any time return to her. By similarities, “Dream of You,” in collaboration with R3HAB, seems to have come straight from Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, and “Chill” looks like lo-fi American pop. 

Of course, at the end of Querencia it is impossible not to say that it is a long album. The final stretch of the album, “SIDE D {PLEASURES},” despite delivering more refined and elegant songs, which seem to work in favor of creating a deeper atmosphere, ends up not delivering anything relevant. Besides, we can mention the various songs that seem to be simply fillers or that could have simply been excluded from the album, such as “Luce Sicut Stellae,” “Stay Tonight,” “Bother Me,” and “Lemon,” with Colde, besides the very structure of the record that ends up being detrimental to it even causing it to have to include songs more to create a certain balance between the parts. But fortunately, in the end, Querencia remains pretty good. 

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