Jihyo’s ZONE Mini-Album Review: Fan Chant

Welcome to Fan Chant, a weekly column for K-pop fans, stans, and newbies alike. Each week, I’ll be rolling out interviews, lists, and all kinds of content to keep you in the loop on the latest and greatest from our friends in Seoul and beyond. Also, make sure to subscribe to my companion newsletter!

The thing about Jihyo, the leader of TWICE, is that she has absolutely succeeded in killin’ me good.

For anyone who has not yet been captured in the tractor beam of TWICE, a quick overview: The nine members who make up the group have been performing together since 2015, and Jihyo trained for a full decade prior to her debut. She’s a powerful vocalist with shimmering stage presence; she’s one of those performers who you watch in concert and get the sense that you’re witnessing someone do exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. She seems incredibly hardworking and thoughtful as the leader of the girl group, who all renewed their contracts unanimously in 2022.

Now, Jihyo has arrived with a solo project, following bandmate Nayeon’s playful 2022 solo release and Sana, Momo, and Mina’s unit project for 2023, collectively known as MISAMO. Where Im Nayeon was bubblegum and MISAMO are smooth and glossy, Jihyo has tapped into a different part of TWICE’s sound for her solo project, titled ZONE. The seven tracks give so much room for her belt to shine, hovering closer to radio-friendly pop in all the best ways.

The main track features writing credits from JYP himself and US-based songwriter Melanie Fontana, the latter of whom some might remember as the co-writer of BTS’s “Euphoria” and “Boy with Luv” (featuring Halsey). It’s an earworm without being too sugary sweet, and every video of Jihyo performing the song from the last few days makes it seem like she’s having the utmost fun doing so.

She’s enlisted a couple of names for features, too, including 24kGoldn on the vibey “Talkin’ About It” and P Nation vocalist Heize for the mellow “Don’t Wanna Go Back.” Of the B-side tracks, one standout is the glittery “Wishing on You,” which features an effortless Y2K hook on the chorus. The ladies of TWICE carved out space for themselves with utterly joyful music, and it seems like this project was a place for Jihyo to step into some other sides of herself; “Wishing on You” is romantic, without the youthful touch often present in many of the group’s past singles. “I want you to be my every distraction, baby/ And if I get another wish from my genie/ I might as well just tell the truth,” she sings.

Charts are definitely not everything, but numbers from the release predict that Jihyo will be joining Nayeon as the only Korean female soloists to reach the Top 10 on the US albums chart; after their wildly successful “READY TO BE” Tour, the age of TWICE doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon. Thanks to that contract renewal, we can expect plenty of new music from TWICE as a whole, but in the meantime, the spotlight is on Jihyo. And if we know one thing, that’s a place she absolutely thrives.