Chung Ha Credit: Courtesy of MNH Entertainment

Chung Ha’s unmistakable ferocity is palpable immediately upon hearing her music or watching her videos. She’s among the biggest K-pop artists of the moment, and her rise to stardom wasn’t exactly a surprise. She was introduced to the world on the reality show Produce 101, and her first audition was a major highlight—the judges immediately recognized her as a star in the making. Chung Ha eventually became one of the program’s 11 winners and ended up in the resulting K-pop group, I.O.I. Since 2017, when I.O.I disbanded, Chung Ha has been better able to flaunt her talents through solo work, and on her debut album, Querencia (MNH Entertainment), she takes every opportunity to showcase who she is on 21 tracks that employ a multitude of genres. On lead single “Bicycle,” fluttering synth chords and dramatic horns highlight the ease with which Chung Ha can maneuver between nonchalant and forceful—and in both modes, her voice drips with an assertive cool. Of the album’s four singles, “Stay Tonight” is most alluring; its nocturnal, invigorating synth pulses buoy her impassioned cries for a lover to continue their tryst rather than leave in the night. Querencia is split into four parts (“Noble,” “Savage,” “Unknown,” and “Pleasures”), which makes the album a more digestible listen, though the songs within each section don’t seem tied together by any strong sonic or thematic thread. The production on the majority of these songs is unassailable, but about a third of them feel bloodless; Latin-influenced tracks such as “Masquerade” and “Demente” sound especially predictable in their crossover attempts. But when Chung Ha is on her A game, the results are lustrous: “All Night Long” is sumptuous R&B for sultry slow dances, “Bother Me” is all disco-tinged gloss, and “Flying on Faith” vacillates between serrated electro-pop and piano balladry. The most delightful track is “Unknown,” a brief frenetic jungle instrumental interlude that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard on a mainstream K-pop album. For better or worse, Chung Ha pulls no punches on Querencia, and what it lacks in consistency it makes up for in excitement—it’s a thrill to watch her stretch herself outside a group context and flex her potential as a solo artist.   v