If you’ve (also) been unfortunate enough to use dating apps, you’ll be familiar with people saying they’re looking for ‘that 90s R&B kind of love’, which immediately makes me think of soulful tracks from the likes of Tamia and Brandy. But the songs usually playing on my phone stem from my teenage obsession with pop punk, often featured on defunct sites I used to visit such as AbsolutePunk and MySpace. Now, like many of my friends, I’m coming across new favourites through TikTok videos and other social media.
This was how I stumbled across Nayeon’s Love Countdown around a fortnight ago. And I’m here to declare it this summer’s official song.
For those of you who are not up to speed with the world of K-pop (myself included to some extent), Nayeon is part of nine-member girl group Twice. Their popularity continues to explode in recent years, in part due to their prolific social media presence and excellent dancing abilities. They were even invited to perform The Feels, their first original English language song, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert back in May.
While Pop!, a perfectly serviceable song, was chosen as the lead single from Nayeon’s self-titled EP, Love Countdown is clearly the healthier dose of pop we could all use right now. The song almost instantly jumps into the chorus, discussing a dreamy, all-consuming love, an essential ingredient to any favourite hit. And while many lyrics are also in Korean, such as featured artist Wonstein’s rap verses, the rap-sung mix adds to the nostalgic feel of the whole thing. I’m thinking of songs such as Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Crazy in Love or Tamia’s refreshed So Into You from Fabolous, collaborations that feel entirely lost to time. The most nostalgic song actively reaching for the 90s and early 2000s that I’ve come across in recent years is Verivery’s Ring Ring Ring, another K-pop effort.
Love Countdown seems too self-aware and assured by comparison, with Nayeon’s smooth vocals and teasing lyrics exacerbating the playful melody. “Try me,” she challenges, “I’m already at the starting line, can’t stop me”. So many low-fi, so-called ‘bedroom pop’ songs have found mainstream success in recent years, even prior to the pandemic. And as much as I like musicians like Clairo, we all have our limits, especially compared to the production quality offered by Korea’s (and subsequently, the world’s) biggest artists. It’s like when you’ve watched too many mumblecore Duplass films in a row and everything begins to sound monotonous.
Previous songs that blew up in the summer include hits such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and King from British synth-pop group Years & Years. Carly Rae has gone on to become a reliable maker of pop hits, and Olly Alexander (the sole remaining member of Years & Years) has made a name for himself as a capable actor in last year’s acclaimed HIV/AIDS-focused drama mini-series It’s a Sin. Those guys were verifiable newcomers at the time, and it would be idiotic to say this debut EP from Nayeon makes her a star too when she already is one. All of her new solo songs will have already been added to thousands of Spotify and other streaming playlists by Twice fanatics.
This is comforting, as there’s something upsetting when a bad song becomes popular, particularly in the summer as you mill around different stores and other public spaces where you can’t escape them. I’m still trying to get over Despacito, something I still haven’t heard in full and have no idea what the fuck is even about. All I know is that my niece and nephew enjoyed it so much that I now ask them if they ever want a bag of “Despadoritos” during my grocery trips. Let me defend myself by saying they both eat those cardboard flavoured chips with ketchup, a preference so upsetting I’m considering whether or not to disavow them as my family.
Ultimately, there’s no hiding that the most significant factor in our love for a song comes from the circumstances in which we first experience it, giving it a meaning that’s personal and dear to us. For example, the aforementioned So Into You by Fabolous, although a great R&B song that’s nearly two decades old now, came to me as I was entering my teen years, so it just reminds me of moody depression. By contrast, Love Countdown is not just a great pop song, but also an optimistic one. In a world filled with increasing challenges and horrors from late-stage capitalism to never-ending climate crises, such fleeting feelings are worth absorbing even more given how daring and audacious they are. Nayeon, during the closing bridge, sings, “Put your worries aside, this time is passing”. Although it feels like the clock is always ticking until the next crisis, there’s still ample opportunity to enjoy a love song like this one. It seems like the only sensible choice left.