The legend of the Korean Indie scene, Hyu Cho-il a.k.a. The Black Skirts, is back with a stronger sound and more complex storytelling. TEEN TROUBLES is a concept album, exploring the coming-of-age theme, where real memories and fiction are mixed in a charming whirlwind of rock, indie, and pop.
The results are so compelling, it’s hard for any of the fans to be disappointed after the long wait. As always, he delivers his well-known, impeccable production. The staple The Black Skirts style is not lost either, if anything it is magnified in this over 1-hour long album. The length of TEEN TROUBLES makes it more of a background listen, with vague and poetic lyrics not calling for the listener’s focus. Playful, edgy, and packed with a spinning carousel of genres, TEEN TROUBLES is the ultimate The Black Skirts album.
In TEEN TROUBLES, The Black Skirts employs his usual genres: indie rock with a touch of punk, pop rock, ballad, and power pop. He once again proves that he is the master of sweet love songs (a title no one ever doubted for him) with “Jersey Girl,” “Garden State Dreamers,” or “Ling Ling.” At the same time, tracks like “Cicadas” and “Friends in Bed” are solid rock anthems.
This passionate edginess mixed with delicate sweetness is exactly what keeps drawing people to his music. The listeners are greeted with small surprises all throughout the album, the most notable being “Jeff and Alana” which is fully a SKA song. There is also the atmospheric saxophone solo in “Our own summer” or the surprising country undertones in “Powder Blue.” Hyo Cho-il is having fun with this release. At this stage in his career, he doesn’t have to worry about making attention-grabbing albums; being comfortable enough with his fans to fully present his artistic vision.
Centering around the coming-of-age theme, most of the songs describe characters (“Sunday Girl” or “Elektra”) or situations (“Cicadas” or “Follow you”). His emphasis on storytelling and commitment to the concept is the strongest ever seen in The Black Skirts’ discography. Lyrics are usually vague, mostly focused on conveying nostalgic feelings, however with “Jersey Girl” he suddenly switches to a painfully straightforward narration. The songs in Korean are usually more poetic, while his English lyrics stray from ambiguity.
Throughout the album, he provides delightfully edgy, pungent lines, like:
“(I’m) living on Nyquil and dreaming MTV” (“Flying Bobs”)
next to ones channeling pure teenage silliness, like:
“you don’t need a degree
wait till my video’s on MTV” (“Jersey Girl”)
However, his decision to venture into the world of imaginary storytelling comes at the price of candid and raw depth usually delivered by The Black Skirts. The previous albums explored his life as an artist, love, and relationships mostly from his perspective, giving them the advantage of fresh, honest lyrics.
With this one, while he still explores the themes of interpersonal relationships, it is necessary for him to put on the mask of teenage characters and tell the story from their perspective. This results in some songs like “Sunday Girl” or “John Fry” feeling like forced fillers, made only for the sake of the concept. Because of that, the album loses some of its original punch.
To fully understand TEEN TROUBLES, one needs to take a look at its marketing. The Black Skirts cleverly combines the imaginary themes of the album with real-life promotional events, playing with the narrative between him and his fans. During three days leading up to the release of the album, he prepared three events: a pop-up store, the premiere of the “TEEN TROUBLES In Dirty Jersey” short film, and a listening party, inviting the fans to live out their edgy teen fantasy.
The music video for “My Little Lambs” sees Hyu Cho-il pose as a cult leader, his fans being loyal followers. In real life, drawing parallels with the video, he required the fans attending the events to show their devotion in various playful ways, including making Instagram posts with hashtags saying “I love Hyo Cho-il”; some events required attendees to own at least 4 of his albums or had a specific dress-code.
This clever approach made the release of TEEN TROUBLES feel like a three-day-long celebration for The Black Skirts fans. The short film accompanying the album is the ultimate addition to the story and a nice treat for the fans, some of whom were able to its premiere together with Hyu Cho-il. This strategy shows that attracting new fans is not really his main goal.
TEEN TROUBLES seems to be first and foremost an album made for the fans of The Black Skirts style. The artist creates a unique imaginary world and invites the fans to join in on the fun.
The Black Skirts delivers music that is thoughtful and deep, being able to connect with the audience on a core level. He continues to impact not only his fans but the Korean music industry as well. Packed with indie rock, pop-punk, and signature love ballads with some added spice from SKA and country, TEEN TROUBLES is the ultimate The Black Skirts album.