Few in K-pop can tell stories as convincingly as BIBI does. She passionately permeates her texts, striving for stories as unique as they are universal. Her 2021 album “Life Is A Bi…”, in which she talks about abusive relationships, is a prime example. “My God, sis, you’re black and blue / Who did this to you?” The EP begins with a question that she shrugs off, replying, “Um… life.” Even when she gathers the courage to leave her abuser, she crawls back to the “PIRI Dog”, desperate for attention and love, despite the fact that she knows how unhealthy the dynamics are.
A year later, on her debut studio album “Lowlife Princess: Noir”, it seems that this girl is a distant memory … or not? Abandonment, heartbreak and loneliness spur the perverse ambitions of Oh Geum Ji — the main character of the album inspired by Lee Geum Ja from Park Chan Wook in “Mistress of Revenge” — against the dystopian backdrop of 2044. While pollution and scarcity ravage Seoul and people struggle for control of the underground society a la Sin City, Oh Geum-ji rises from the depths of despair to become the queen of this lawless land. Her rise to the top is reflected in the arrangement of songs on the album, starting with tracks in which she considers her vulnerability and loneliness, and ending with songs that demonstrate a woman more ruthless, mobile, deadly and arrogant.
Despite the growing sense of urgency as we ascend, BIBI retains full control of the narrative, which is by far the best part of this record. Even on short tracks, she does not fill empty spaces with words, but gives bitterness to boil. In “Blade,” she reflects on a slow, heavy build-up, and then begins to hum shrilly with menacing futuristic beats.
When boiling anger merges with BIBI’s signature nasal vocals, the songs quickly become explosive. When she thinks about the fateful game she’s playing on Motospeed 24, her soft, cloying tone turns ominous. Later in “BIBI Vengeance”, the creepy distorted flute quickly turns into booming Latin American beats layered with shouts of “nappeun nyeon” (literally “bitch”), pronounced with the indifference of a cool girl. And when BIBI ventures into mannered theatricality, the full effect is striking, like a super-fast passenger express. In the blood-soaked video for “Animal Farm”, she drives heads crazy, her singing makes us all nervous: “Where is love? Where is my sympathy? What have we lost?”
More deadly than the constant threat of explosion and self-destruction is the way BIBI uses her voice and tests its limits. She relies on her lower register in “Lowlife Princess”, taking us on a roller coaster of languid conversational rap, intermittent moans and frenzied screams. The exaggerated huffing and puffing gives “Witch Hunt” personality, and for the dark pop sound of “JOTTO” she wields her voice like a yo-yo, letting the high notes get out of control before turning them into a mumble.
In the pop-punk “City Love” — the last song where the pain is still fresh — she lets out pathetic cries: “Please love me, kiss me, touch me.” It’s easy to imagine that this song is the soundtrack to the story of a young provincial girl whose naive dreams of a big city are quickly collapsing. In “Sweet Sorrow of Mother”, BIBI struggles with her all-consuming loneliness and suffering to a piercing piano arrangement. This goes back to the pain of the “PIRI Dog”, except that humiliation is replaced by exhausted submission. “Even if you cut off a piece of me and fill your stomach, I’m ready to give it to you without hesitation,” she promises, exposing an uncharacteristic gap in her steel armor.
These vulnerability shots make Oh Geum-ji a delightfully complex character. Even during the rampage for power, she is always aware of the ghost of horror that hovers over her — a constant reminder of how she was forced to survive in a ruthless world. She’s kept at arm’s length in “Loveholic’s Hangover,” where she performs duets with Sam Kim over haunting beats that betray her exhaustion—one last hurrah before she can decide to give up.
Finally, she confronts this persistent shadow in “Wet Nightmare” because of the slow, tense R&B arrangement. “Baby, tell me, why do you keep appearing in my dreams?” she asks. Though rare, these moments of weakness are clearly intentional — a testament to BIBI’s exceptional storytelling — as they are, with powerful strong tracks that quickly confirm her strength and purpose. The contrast they provide not only sets the stage for a comparison between the past and the present — her journey from abandoned child to influential figure — but also leaves us with a promising open question: “BIBI Vengeance” may now sit at the top of the food chain, but it’s only a matter of time before the past will haunt her again?
- Release date: November 18
- Record label: Feel Ghood Music/88rising