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Coffee comes in a variety of forms and can leave you energized or relaxed. Despite its name, Youngjae (from Got7)’s SUGAR is all of these feelings simultaneously. The title track of the same name, “SUGAR” is a double shot chocolatey mocha with a side of falling in love, the middle tracks are silky and smooth like a latte with freshly pulled espresso and crema, and the final track “With You” is a warm, slow-roasted cup of coffee on a lazy day.
The title track of the album “SUGAR” is exciting, confident, and high energy, like a rich café mocha. Mochas often contains a high amount of caffeine from espresso, an added bit of caffeine from cocoa, and sugary goodness to offset the bitterness of espresso. The combination of sugar and caffeine fits the party-like fervor shown in Youngjae’s “SUGAR,” both sonically and in the MV.
The MV begins with Youngjae waking up at a table in a dimly lit room and seeing flashbacks of a wild, drunken party. As he cautiously rises from the table, he looks up to see a woman in black lace walk away, the sound of her metallic silver heels reverberating throughout the room. Youngjae takes off after her, stepping through an ornate doorway, and the scene suddenly cuts to a blindingly bright white day and the start of “SUGAR.”
Now dressed in a white suit and pastel-colored shirt, the beginning of the MV takes place in a lavish mansion amidst friends. As they party the day away, Youngjae sings about his hopeless pursuit of romance, comparing it to becoming addicted to the taste of a sweet treat. Sugar and love, as Youngjae implies throughout the song, can be addictive and satisfying, but dangerously unhealthy as well.
As the MV progresses, it becomes clear that Youngjae and his dancers have become slowly consumed by this addiction, and the MV takes on a darker, more sensual color and sound. The second verse of the song takes place in the darkly lit room from the beginning cutscene and Youngjae is wearing a flowy shirt and black suit set. Intensity mounts as feverish glances and rapid cutscenes of partying, alcohol, and stolen glances with the woman in black can be seen. Then, the MV finally ends with Youngjae just as he began, passed out at this mysterious table, leading the viewer to believe that the remainder of the video was a flashback of the events from the day. Questions remain unanswered though. Is this woman the compelling seductress in question? And what happens after Youngjae walks through the doorway at the beginning of the MV?
The instrumentals in “SUGAR” are fun and driving with addictive bass and guitar riffs at the core of the sound and a thick, rock-sounding texture. Youngjae’s rich and powerful lead vocals are at the forefront of the sound and drive the song forward, supported by busy synth and drum parts. The busyness of the instrumentals is balanced by Youngjae’s powerful vocals layers and the syrupy sensuality of lyrics like “As you pull me in what should I do?” and “give me a taste of that sugar, so good but so bad.”
The middle three tracks are more mellow, with wetter reverb and balanced instrumentals compared to the pleasantly punchy title track. To extend the coffee metaphor, if “SUGAR” is a sweet and extra caffeinated mocha, “Focus,” “Crema,” and “Nothing” are a warm latte with fresh espresso- bitter and caffeinated but with the smooth creaminess of steamed milk.
The first of these, “Focus,” is cute and carefree. Lyrics like “baby girl you make me lose my focus” and “you’re my lucky clover” describe how Youngjae’s love becomes his whole focus, and makes him lose focus for all else. The bass is prevalent in the sound along with a multitude of vocal harmonies, ad-libs, midi drum, and high melodic guitar at the very back of the sound. It’s a very pleasantly pop-y song, especially opposite “SUGAR.”
“Crema” is exactly like its name implies: smooth, creamy, and fresh. Its song counterpart is a smooth bossa nova inspired track that perfectly melds syncopated drum and bass parts with elaborately scored string parts. Lyrics like “If you still love me, I’ll be your coffee all day” and “a warm feeling like a dream” compare the comfort of love to the warm feeling of sipping a latte. The bossa nova groove and fun vocal melodies are a nice contrast to anything else in Youngjae’s discography.
The penultimate track “Nothing” is sentimental and vocal-centric. Layers upon layers of harmonies and strings support the lead vocals for a silky, smooth sound, furthered by a languid half-time backbeat in the drum parts. While the bass is prevalent in the sound as well, the track as a whole is a delicate and easy listen. Lyrics like “my everything’s nothing if I’m without you” and “If I don’t have you, I got nothing at all” play off the opposites of everything and nothing, demonstrating Youngjae’s desire to have a comfy love that folds into the fabric of daily life.
The final track “With You” is a gentle ballad that sounds breathtaking beautiful and intimate. The simple vocal lead is supported by piano, multitudes of layered strings, and sparse percussion embellishments. The bridge and some of the transitions also contain busier percussion parts and guitar ad-libs that make the song feel a bit more organic. With that being said, the vocals are the main character in this track. Youngjae’s delicate falsetto envelops the listener as if he is speaking directly into one’s ear. The lyrics are heartfelt and reflective, telling a story of falling deeply and hopelessly in love with someone. Because of its lovesick lyrics and intimate sound, “With You” is reminiscent of a warm cup of black coffee on a rainy day.
Youngjae’s SUGAR is a tightly produced album drawing on a variety of sounds and textures to evoke the feeling of a warm hug from someone hopelessly in love. The lyrics and sound are both fun and intimate in a way that is satisfying, portraying Youngjae as the ultimate playful, cozy boyfriend. However, with the mysterious, dark twist at the end of the title track’s music video, I wonder if that image will be subverted in his next album.