Artist Spotlight: D.Holic

It may seem like a strange to be writing about D.Holic given they are coming to the end of their promotions for “Colour Me Rad.” It was so hard to pin down exactly how they were promoting that I wasn’t fully aware when it was actually happening. Now that they’ve gone through their full swing it feels natural to bring them back into the public eye, especially since they probably don’t have that long left to their career. Trying to pin down girl groups like D.Holic is usually hard anyway though, so I’m used to it by now. When I first stumbled upon the showcase performance for “Colour Me Rad,” I was at first shocked to see they had come back at all, and then spent a long time trying to find out everything about what they had in the works.

Working under an unknown label, experiencing member changes, and copying their successful peers are the hallmarks of most lesser known K-pop groups. D.Holic have done all of that and more. There is nothing obviously unique about D.Holic when compared to groups of a similar popularity as them, yet there is something about them that keeps drawing me back, wanting to know more. Let’s see if we can find out what that is.

D.Holic debuted in October of 2014 under H.Mate Entertainment. The name (one of the best ever) is still a mystery to me, but I bet the meaning behind is really stupid and fun. D.Holic started life as a five member group with an international slant thanks to Japanese member Rena and Chinese member Hami (Korean members Duri, Danbi, and Nine round them out). They debuted with single album “D.Holic Dark With Dignity” (amazing titles are a trend with these). Their single was called “I Don’t Know” and the public’s reaction to it was similarly ignorant.

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That becomes even less of surprise once you hear the song. Produced by Quasimodo “I Don’t Know” is a weird track, a sort of loungy pop with its soft keyboards and sporadic horns. There’s a haunting echo to the girls’ voices that shifts the mood from simple slow jam into something a bit more sensual. There is some great work with vocal layers too, where you can actually hear different voices. This is all rounded out by that cheapness that accompanies many idol groups from less than mid-tier companies. The keys are flat and the horns don’t take enough of a front seat. This type of track needs quality production, without it we can’t get into the flow. It needs to strap us down with the bondage D.holic model in the video. The song doesn’t even try to hide Rena and Hami’s weak vocals, which show up painfully right before both the first choruses. Worst of alI it has a pointless feature from Chinese rapper and friend of Topp Dogg Andy.A47 and a useless ballad as a b-side.

After a weak start, D.Holic didn’t come back for another year. Creating your magnum opus takes time after all. Listening to their release from July of 2015, “Chewy” actually might make that statement true as they clearly played to their strengths more.

It also started their year long collaboration with producer team Urban Cla6ix. Park Junsu and Jung Yeonhun worked with D.Holic for this mini album and the preceding single album “Murphy and Sally.” On “Chewy” they seem to be taking cues from EXID, who were in the midst of their huge rise at the time of release. There is a case to be made that this might be their signature sound and it just happens to be similar to EXID. Although I couldn’t find anythig that predates “Chewy” or “Up and Down,” consider “Magical Show” a song the pair produced for Chinese star Li Yuchun.

“Chewy” is a volatile mix of whining synths and horn sections all over a booming hip-hop beat. Its synths bounce around during the verses, ready to take the song into territory bordering on messy. It’s held down by a more subdued chorus though and turns the song into something all their own. It includes a number of great flourishes too, the Indian style synth after the first chorus, the at-once enticing and terrifying refrain of “chewy chewy” and the fact that the song is about the girls’ hearts feeling chewy.

Best of all, they learned like EXID to distribute the vocal parts in a way that was best for the group. The previously anonymous Danbi now raps with a distinctive bite, Rena has a chorus part but her vocals are not pushed beyond their means. Curiously though in the video Hami raps the second verse but when performed live Danbi does it. It clearly sounds like Danbi so they must have just wanted Hami on screen for longer considering her good looks. Despite that it all comes together to make something that fits D.Holic in a way no one could have predicted. It’s one of the few cheap masterworks from an obscure girl group. It was also somewhat of a success for D.Holic, garnering 2 million views on Youtube compared to the 78,000 of “Murphy and Sally.” How those views translated into sales however, I do not know.

Urban Cla6ix’s work on this album’s ballad b-side “Miss You,” is worth noting for one thing as well. It sounds as if they took a stock ballad D.Holic had recorded and just added the synths from “Chewy.” It doesn’t make the song a weird classic like “Chewy” but it is something to behold.

In the four months it took D.Holic to return with “Murphy and Sally” lead vocalist Nine left and was replaced by Hwajung in a straight swap thanks to her own strong vocals. Their second collaboration with Urban Cla6ix is a peppier version of “Chewy.” It’s a song about one of those days where nothing seems to go your way but you keep pushing on anyway. Structurally it moves along with little concern for a listener to keep up as if the girls are ignoring their bad day. It opens with Hwajung’s simple verse which seems to set up a cheerleader type song with “oh oh oohs” when she finishes. It however, moves straight into a rap by Danbi which is powerful and surprisingly long and once that’s over into the chorus. Maybe it’s more a build up to the “never ever give up” chorus that was introduced at the start but it is comes unexpected again with its slower pace and bigger vocals.

This could have all worked towards a greater coherency if there was more time. Before the second chorus the songs moves as if it were one large thing rather than a series of parts. Omitting another rap in the second verse but it’s off track though. A sense of symmetry would have been really interesting. “Murphy and Sally” doesn’t come near the heights of “Chewy” yet retains D.Holic’s weird sense of structure. It’s a mess that should have been a b-side and allowed to shy away from pop standards.

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Speaking of messes, D.Holic’s latest single and their promotions for it have been all over the place. The day before their first showcase for “Colour Me Rad” it was announced that Danbi and Duri had left the group and had been replaced by EJ. They would continue as a four member group with EJ taking up rapping duties. That in itself would have been enough of a difficulty to start with. The showcase where they performed “Colour Me Rad” for the first time was not publicized at all, the video wasn’t released for 23 days after, and their first TV performance was only a week before that. All this after Hwajung said they would disband if they didn’t sell over 1,500 copies of their album. Maybe their company want them to disband so they wouldn’t have to spend what little money they already were spending on them.

Their demise seemed imminent. Going for a mainstream EDM track seemed like they were given at least a bit of a chance to succeed. “Colour Me Rad” was written and produced by Park Seulgi (Super Junior’s “This is Love,” Luna’s “I Wish” & “My Medicine”), Lee Jinkyung (possible former member of JQT ), Geum Songsik, and Jo Soyeon. It’s a pretty straightforward Big Room EDM track, a successor to T-ara’s “Sugar Free.” It’s the best produced of D.Holic’s songs but their least idiosyncratic despite the use of cowbells, an instrument much ignored by K-pop.

It does have some great moments though with EJ especially adding much needed character. Her raps lead up to the chorus and inject an angry energy that is distinct amongst all K-pop. She is a curiosity herself with her hot pink hair and ever present face mask. The mask does seem to be a gimmick as in every photo of her (even on her Instagram) she has her face covered and judging by some photos there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her face. It’s a weird gimmick for D.Holic to deploy since you need to be known for something like it to take off. Pre-Muzik Jiyoon won’t be worried regardless.

Apparently “Colour Me Rad” has sold enough copies so we have not seen the last of D.Holic. Boy am I glad. No group has carved out such a style for themselves and continued to work quite like D.Holic. For each year they have been active their music has taken a different tack. Each one showed a confidence and growing boisterousness that D.Holic have performed with glee despite a lack of success. It’s this drive, actually declaring they have to sell a certain amount of records or else they’ll be over, is something that really attracts me to them. There’s an honest and great desire apparent that sometimes gets lost amongst the flash of K-pop. These girls want to be up on stage. Colour me mad but here’s hoping to another three years of them doing exactly that.

What do you think of D.Holic? Do you hope to see more of them in the future? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.