It was no misjudgment that the anticipation for LOONA’s debut was as boundless as the man’s first flight to space; terrifying yet auspicious, ambitious and gigantic to a fault. The group’s extensive buildup, which started in October 2016, was filled with attitude and energy that has allured even the casual listeners. They presented a colorful range of music, visuals, and individuality. You could tell meticulous thought went into establishing their signature sound and central aesthetic—the “who’s next girl?” teasers, the transforming logo, the LOONAverse lore. So, when they finally debuted in August 2018 with [+ +], x anticipation was met with uncertainty. The whole release felt like a half-assed rehearsal rather than an earnest confluence of all the elements that they had cultivated prior to their debut. Although the music remained true to what LOONA has promised, the rest of the presentation—the teaser photos, the sartorial choices, the development of the lore content—seemed uninspired and lazily done.
The music video for the single “Hi High” didn’t reflect the song’s earthly energy of mystical synths. The video instead displayed parsimony from LOONA’s company, BlockBerry Creative, in the level of creativity and inspiration. “favOriTe” served as the contradiction to “Hi High” in terms of the heaviness of sound and performance. Both songs satisfy the demand by LOONA stans, called Orbits, who enjoy the group’s balanced and well-executed showcase of theatrical duality. The themes regarding the elevation of experiences and liberation of inhibitions in [+ +] take a somewhat mature form in “열기 (Heat).” The song’s pre-chorus goes, “The worries you are carrying/Leave those here/Leave now tonight,” followed by an Arabic reed-inspired electronic melody. LOONA reaches its peak altitude in this track before they descend back to Earth to form a full circle in “Stylish,” an immersion of desire in the corporeal and materialistic degree.
Given how agile and radical their efforts have been since the beginning, it pains me personally to see the first half of LOONA’s debut to be botched up due to a weak interpretation of its chosen concept. However, one of the group’s many maneuvers is the use of a repackaged album as a vessel to explore the antithesis of the first half of their releases. After the promotions for “Hi High” ended, the teaser for [+ +]’s repackaged album titled [x x] was revealed. LOONA excels in executing ambiguity and surprise, but Orbits held on firmly to their belief that the album would fully demonstrate what LOONA really can do, a claim strongly supported by their previous sub-units’ repackage releases.
[x x] fulfills the vision the group has promised in their newest release, “Butterfly.” “It starts with a small flap/Now, inside my heart, a hurricane,” sing-talks members Choerry and Go Won in the album’s lead single. The production takes influences from hip-hop and classical music to create an electronic dance track that’s complex yet easy enough to listen to and pull in new fans. The song progresses through the repetition of melody and lyrics. By the last chorus, where Haseul sings “I better be around you,” the line transforms from being an adamant declaration to a determined plea. “Butterfly” flutters around the age-old adage of embracing one’s individuality can lead to reaching inner freedom and acceptance. The music video further advances this theme with its depiction of women of different skin colors portrayed as having agency in the level of a music video context. The song also touches on the theoretical concept of the “butterfly effect,” in which a small action, such as a flap of a butterfly, could result to something bigger force than its origin, and the continuation of this process would eventually lead to a formation of a much stronger consequence. LOONA puts itself as the prime force that could inspire the fans, who are most likely to identify as queer and/or women, to challenge themselves and push out the ennui they must be feeling inside. Since the group has tackled self-love and female assertiveness during their pre-debut, the continuation of that theme doesn’t feel awkward. Rather, it feels earned due to the work they have put in making it as their own.
LOONA probes deeper into the spatial territory of celestial music. As any kind of satellites can only rotate around the larger object they were pulled into, “Satellite” deals with the urgency of emotions and the rush for fulfillment; It’s pleading, hopeful, yet tragic. “Curiosity” suspends you “inside the time and space… Where the blue horizon spreads.” It allows you to absorb all the senses and linger on them with self-confidence. The most the group had referred to their lore is in “Colors,” in which not only their colors but the order of the members also play into the vocal delivery. All the emotions explored from the previous songs coalesce into “Where you at,” an ambient electronic ballad of a masterpiece expressing tenacity and vulnerability. Desperate sadness seeps through the marching drums and sweeping vocal runs. The song makes you face the complete vastness of forces around that you can’t control and boldly embrace it.
[x x] has an ambitious perspective and aspiration to affirm the group ’s tone and style while also attempting to dent K-Pop’s increasing reliance on social media and extracurricular activities. In LOONA’s interview with Star News, member Yves said, “If the indicator of a girl group’s success is that they’ve made their name… for a hook that’s easy to sing along to, then I think that rather than trying to follow that necessarily, we’re paving a new path. If we get impatient…, then some things won’t work out when they otherwise would.” Music has always been the most significant indicator of any group’s success, and the group holds on to that creed with conviction. Even though lately it’s starting to feel as if they’re being considered as iconoclasts for doing so, it leads to the ever increasingly true statement that no one is doing it like LOONA.