As Woollim Entertainment’s roster has grown, I’ve longed for more inter-agency collaborations. A holiday song, a special mixed-group unit – something that would showcase all of this ta)lent in one place. It took a global pandemic for that to finally happen, as the agency has unveiled their healing song Relay (이어달리기). The track encompasses over thirty individual idols, bringing together Sungkyu from Infinite, Lovelyz, Golden Child, Rocket Punch and the yet-to-debut Woollim Rookies. That level of participation has the potential for messiness, but the caliber of Woollim’s vocalists ties everything together.
I was always going to love this song. Woollim has been my favorite agency for as long as I can remember, and have been remarkably consistent when it comes to the quality of their releases. Though I would have loved Relay to be a Sweetune track (for nostalgia’s sake, if nothing else), the agency was smart to enlist up-and-coming producers TENTEN, whose work often aims for a similar sound. They juggle Relay’s vast number of voices and personalities well, spreading out the spotlight but retaining a sense of continuity. There really isn’t a weak performance to be found, but on first listen my attention went immediately to Sungkyu during the chorus. This is the first time we’ve heard his voice since his military discharge, and seeing him again, surrounded by his agency juniors, is immensely gratifying for this longtime fan.
Taking the Woollim bias out of the equation, Relay is still a strong pop song – and that’s surprising. Usually, these “family” singles are pretty throwaway. And almost always, pop music associated with disaster relief or global trauma ends up being a well-intentioned — but ultimately boring — ballad. Relay is neither. It’s got a nice synth groove to it, building to a cathartic chorus that draws on a strong, layered vocal arrangement. Like most 2020 K-pop, it succumbs to a needlessly gloomy second verse, but that’s followed by a satisfying build that keeps the good energy chugging until the finale. “Healing” songs are a dime a dozen in K-pop, but Relay is one that gets the job done without falling into too many of the expected tropes. For me, that’s almost more invigorating than the track’s rosy intentions.
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