And the thing is, this album should not be an afterthought.
Say what you will about the music video for "You're Pitiful," but the choreography is strong (I love the use of chairs), the concept is sexy, classy, and mature, and even though we get some random clips and maybe too much Jei in comparison with the rest of the group, it's still a solid (albeit forgettable) video. Every single member of Fiestar has a chance to be gorgeous, and we even get some odd moments that keeps this interesting, like when the spurned lover puts his ex's lipstick on his lips, or all of that food, or when Jei knocks over a bucket of water, which signifies...something. Yes, it's all pretty random and toothless as far as vengeful ex videos are concerned.
But the song, composed by Shinsadong Tiger and co-written by EXID's LE, has some killer lyrics and a fierce attitude. Observe: "You've become so small. You're pitiful, no matter how hard you try." Yezi is a standout here, as is Linzy, whose voice is pretty much perfection. Don't let the haters fool you. Fiestar can sing.
"Hello" might actually be more resonant than "You're Pitiful" and plays like a ballad at first, but then reaches beyond that to become a powerful and often beautiful (and surprisingly poppy) song about yearning. If albums are best when cohesive, Black Label's identity is rooted on heartbreak and angst, except this angst holds power. Not as fierce as, say, 2NE1's Crush, or even close to being as musically complex - but there are some real standouts here. No filler in sight.
Like "Turn Off the Lights," which could easily be another promotional single and fires on all cylinders. Sexy and cool - with just enough funk to give the song a surge of energy. "Cold" feels like easy listening and is one of the quieter songs on the album, except that it too has bursts of energy and intense vocals. Almost all songs in Black Label can be described this way, and the mini-album really succeeds at having songs with emotional arcs from sadness to bitterness, rising to something close to euphoria. Hyemi really shines in "Cold," and she's always been vastly underrated. She shares most of the vocal duties with Linzy, who, again, just lives for belting incredible notes.
"Today" could very well blow you away too and reaches those unexpected heights I keep mentioning. "So Tight" closes the album with a caustic energy more similar to "You're Pitiful," allowing the album to come full circle. It even arcs from heartbreak to empowerment, and we end up with "It's tight enough as it is without you. This is not love. I don't like that." They're over you already.
Fiestar has come a long way from their "Vista" days. Once carefree and optimistic, they've made a speedy transformation that mirrors Girl's Day, which could spark interest but could make them look like just another sexy girl group. If you look at "Vista" it's like seeing an entirely different group.
But that shouldn't discount the fact that Black Label is quality Kpop. It's not revolutionary Kpop, or even genre-bending Kpop, but there's not a weak song in the mini-album and listening to it straight through will present the listener a cohesive, singular experience.
This is the first mini-album from the group, and we're finally listening to more than a promotional single every six months or so. Maybe building a body of work, successfully branding themselves, will help Fiestar grab that audience that they desperately seek. And maybe building that audience with solid songs is better, in the short term, than breaking out with anything earth-shattering and possibly alienating. As it is, Black Label is a very satisfying mini-album. Don't let it get lost in the shuffle.
Timothy Moore writes from Chicago. He blogs at Read My Blog Please, and edits at Ghost Ocean Magazine. His biases are T-ara, Block B, Nine Muses, Brown Eyed Girls, and Girl's Day.