KISS OF LIFE – ‘Born to Be XX’: a diamond in the rough

KISS OF LIFE caused quite the buzz in the K-pop world earlier this year when they – or, more specifically, member Natty – dropped the pre-release track ‘Sugarcoat’. Many have tried to replicate the nostalgic charm of late-’90s and early-’00s R&B, but ‘Sugarcoat’ truly managed to capture that magic. The eponymous debut mini-album that followed, with the powerhouse title track ‘Shhh’ front and centre, showed us all just what KISS OF LIFE are capable of.

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The girl group’s new sophomore mini-album, titled ‘Born to Be XX’, certainly has some gigantic shoes to fill after their debut exceeded all expectations. Over six tracks, KISS OF LIFE – completed by Julie, Belle and Haneul – use their new music to further flesh out their compelling, commanding and nostalgic R&B-laced pop sound – but after setting such a high bar for themselves, are the up-and-coming quartet able to outdo themselves?

Title track ‘Bad News’ is a groovy mid-tempo that blends elements of pop, hip-hop and rock, which makes this feel like the most natural evolution of the burgeoning band’s sound. The members multi-dimensional vocal performance is what truly elevates: from the vocalists’ impressive delivery of high notes and cooler baritone verses to Julie’s rap verses, KISS OF LIFE really sell the baddie personas they have embodied so far.

But ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘TTG’ are where KISS OF LIFE really claim their pedestal as one of the most talented acts of this generation of K-pop. The former is a slick, upbeat slice of R&B that would fit beautifully among TLC’s classic ’90s output. ‘TTG’ continues to ride this smooth R&B wave, and blossoms into a graceful fusion when tropical house takes over in the chorus. Natty rightfully earns a personal spotlight on this track; her tone, earthy and buttery, was made for this, especially when complemented with Belle’s beautiful runs.

Wedged between those two high points is the fairly blasé ‘My 808’ – entirely palatable, but also entirely forgettable. The same can be said of the Belle co-wrote ‘Says It’, a sweet guitar ballad that doubles as this album’s obligatory fan-dedicated song. But if it’s memorable you’re looking for, ‘Gentleman’ hits the nail on the head with its eclectic reggae-inspired sound – at the same time, though, the song feels out of place on this mini-album.

While consistent with KISS OF LIFE’s overall brand, ‘Born To Be XX’ is largely a mixed bag. While some songs – ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘TTG’ – do reach that high first felt with ‘Sugarcoat’, others are unable to reach the yardstick the girl group set for themselves. Though, it is still early days for KISS OF LIFE, who are only barely four-months-old. This talented quartet have already shown what they can do, now all they need are the songs to match.


Release date: November 8, 2023
Record label: S2 Entertainment

The post KISS OF LIFE – ‘Born to Be XX’: a diamond in the rough appeared first on NME.

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