Howl is arguably one of the most contextually important Korean releases of the year, arriving from the LOONA member after a very public and bitter legal battle with her previous agency.
Initially filing her lawsuit back in January 2022, CHUU’s victory in August of this year was the end of a surely traumatic period for her, who was infamously excluded from LOONA’s first world tour last year before the agency viciously fired her from the group and tried to publicly shame her: “I haven’t done anything shameful” was CHUU’s response.
As one listens through Howl, this context feels increasingly relevant and, perhaps indirectly, so many elements of the record seem to respond to and capture that new freedom.
Let’s start with the opening track “Howl”, which lays out bittersweet lyrics of hopefulness in bleak times across electropop production. It’s a startling intro to the entire EP, with the production’s opening of a rising synth suddenly dropping out so CHUU can deliver a sorrowful acapella moment: “Even if the world just ended like this / Good, I don’t think I’d feel anything / I put up the wall a little higher / It’s okay, I’m safe here.”
“Underwater” is the statement piece of Howl – an emotional, overwhelmingly stunning moment. Sonically defined by a warm, cozy acoustic guitar and a subtle R&B-pop beat, “Underwater” comes together as the moment where CHUU realizes that life can feel enjoyable again after enduring chaos: “My stopped time starts to move / And I can fill it up again / Underwater.”
The reflective track is brought to life in the bright and peaceful music video. Opening scenes of CHUU alone inside her apartment, with just her headphones for company and begrudgingly pulling out an unsatisfying cup of ramen to eat in boredom, are spliced between moments of CHUU soaking up the openness of a scenic beach.
As she literally opens the door to let the light in and floats away in the vastness of the sea, we start to experience a new version of CHUU who begins rediscovering the pleasures of what might seemingly feel like minor daily moments: she gleefully journals; enjoys a chocolate bar; has fun looking at clothes in her wardrobe.
Combined with deliberate, plentiful scenes of CHUU beaming her famously charming smile and stretching her arms into as much of the space around her as physically possible, “Underwater” really feels like a euphoric statement which faithfully connects to CHUU’s newfound freedom.
Now that we’ve found our freedom, “My Palace” comes along as a quirkier moment to lift our spirits and capture the more playful side of CHUU.
Lyrically, “My Palace” paints a dreamy picture of a world where CHUU introduces herself as “this place’s kinda adorable queen.” As CHUU tells us more of this imaginative land, it starts to become clear that the palace in question is a metaphor for idyllic escapism, as well as a way to regain control (“That pink brick was my pick… The other castles are so extravagant, right / I decorated them”).
Personifying CHUU’s upbeat energy, there is nothing here in the “cozy palace” that can hurt us, where personal expression and the right to subvertive freedom is a must: “Pants are more comfy than dresses.” CHUU’s delivery of the poignant line “At this moment, I’m so happy” is particularly hard-hitting, and it’s hard not to want to live in this fairytale with her.
Sonically taking its place as a darker entry on Howl, “Aliens” offers a slick fusion of ’80s vibes dripping in synthwave. Matching the production’s murky vibes, “Aliens” is a confusing love song about “two different people / Like Mars and Venus… Our thoughts, language, conversation style, all different” – and yet despite this, CHUU confesses: “But I like you, the beauty of it all.”
True to its title, the heavy electronics of “Aliens” certainly stands out within the overall sonics of Howl. Orbits will surely revel in the sci-fi theme of the lyrics and the space references, which is/was of course a crucial element of LOONA’s beloved lore.
Coming full circle, the narrative within the breezy, whimsical “Hitchhiker” feels like a beautifully poetic answer to the moments of bleakness in the EP’s opening track. Symbolizing a fresh start and a new chapter in life, the closing lyrics encapsulate the overall message of Howl and the song’s appreciation for the beauty, diversity, and unpredictability of life on our planet: “I take a breath and look around this Earth of mine, the new Earth in my heart / I’ll love you and cherish you / A beautiful Earth.” Showing us a confident, optimistic and reassured version of herself, now at ease and ready to keep exploring her own new reality.
Conveying a deep sense of wonder, curiosity, and appreciation for the world, “Hitchhiker” is a celebration of exploring the unknown where we meet a confident, optimistic and newly reassured version of CHUU – and a significant moment in Howl, which understands the rewarding beauty of creating and exploring a new world.