K-pop can be such a ridiculous label. A catch-all umbrella, it's still all too stubbornly persistent in 2018. Even among some fans of the Korean music scene, if you're listening to R&B, hip-hop, a ballad, or actual, genuine full-on pop anthems, your friend is sure to react, “Oh, listening to some K-pop, are we?”

Well, not really, thank you very damn much. The label has it place, to be sure, all too applicable to the likes of a Red Velvet or TWICE (though even groups at their level are constantly playing with new sounds), but it's constantly being misused, tossed around on any Korean artist with a pulse, regardless of their musical intent. It's all Greek Korean to me?

Ladies' Code member Sojung's new single-album (yes, that's a thing in Korea), Stay Here, serves as the perfect argument against reductive labeling. Striking out on her after years with her group, the young Korean singer is channeling her pain (and she has plenty of that, which we'll get to in a moment) into the sort of slow burn, future-sounding R&B that'd make current American stars aplenty vibe along in approval.

For those unfamiliar with Ladies' Code tragic history, the group was involved in a fatal car accident in 2014, killing member EunB outright while RiSe and Sojung received serious, life-threatening injuries. Sojung pulled through, RiSe did not.

While the two other remaining members, Ashley and Zuny, had received comparatively minor injuries and left the hospital after a time, Sojung spent surely tortuous months in her hometown hospital, all too aware of what had happened to her group-mates and closest friends. Meanwhile, Ladies' Code emotive earlier single, 'I'm Fine, Thank You', rocketed up the charts, as mourners achieved the late EunB's dream of her group topping Korean charts. At the same time, conspiracy theorists abroad tried labelling the tragedy as an Illuminati sacrifice. (Seriously).

If my recounting feels macabre and perhaps dramatic, I simply believe it's important to note just what Sojung has been through to reach this moment. She and her two surviving members eventually chose to return to recording, a decision many balked at. Was it an unbelievably crass cash in by the label on the massive sympathy sent the group's way, or a genuine unwillingness to give in and give up on the girls' part?

No matter, concern for their mental health loomed large over any return. When the remnant of Ladies' Code performed through tears at a sort of memorial for their lost compatriots, it was hard to watch. Yet, as time passed and they finally returned with new material in earnest for the first time as a threesome, Ladies' Code took on a mature, nearly stately air, moving through 'Mystery' with a sad sort of confidence.

So, what about Sojung herself? What about the actual music, you might be wondering? How unfeeling of you, cold-hearted hypothetical reader! 'Crystal Clear' begins softly with a near-glacial backdrop for Sojung to emote over, gradually building, and building. It morphs into what can best be described as an auditory freak out, Sojung's powerful vocals seeming to implode suddenly, her wailed, “Don't let go”, nearly rising to an all-out yell. These pop power ballads are easy to conceive, far harder to express: here, you feel every second.

'Stay Here' is less insistent, but boasts a seemingly paradoxical balance, her singing and the gentle musical backdrop entwining to create a song that's forcefully tranquil, as if she just needs us all to be together and just feel better, already, damn it. If anything, her social media presence presents a strength and gratitude for what can literally be seen as her second shot at life. With what Sojung's been through, if she can believe in recovery, surely, so can we. Therein lies the power here.


'Stay Here' and 'Crystal Clear' are out now via Polaris Entertainment. Ladies' Code most recent collective EP, Myst3ry, was released in 2016. Follow Sojung on Twitter or Instagram.