ODD EYE CIRCLE's "Version Up" Symbolizes More Than Just A Literal Comeback

The ARTMS subunit's long-awaited 2nd mini album release is a K-Pop signpost for the group on a variety of levels, and a hopeful sign for fans after months of adversity.

ODD EYE CIRCLE's "Version Up" Symbolizes More Than Just A Literal Comeback
Odd Eye Circle “Version Up” album cover. Source: official_artms (Twitter)

While fans have limited visibility into the day-to-day of being an artist in the K-Pop industry, the few glimpses that are seen show work that oftentimes involves years of training, months of preparation, and hours of work for those fortunate enough to have debuted. Perfecting high-quality vocals and sharp choreography are just one portion of the idol life - there’s variety appearances, connections with fans, promotion periods with daily commitments, and more. As such, it’s no surprise that some of the perception fans see is that it’s on some level a hard-charging grind with the potential for challenges and difficulties along the way.

As has been discovered publicly over the past few months (and perhaps years, depending on your viewpoint), 12-member K-Pop girl group LOONA seemed to have embodied that “challenges and difficulties” portion of the industry. Sparked in part by vocalist Chuu’s protracted legal battle with LOONA’’s company Blockberry Creative over her contract terms and support, and exacerbated by a turbulent world tour, things came to a head in late 2022 when Chuu was suddenly removed from the group, setting off an eventual full group filing of lawsuits to terminate their exclusive contracts. This fight in the courts, during which Blockberry Creative attempted to release an 11-member LOONA comeback (and had it subsequently boycotted by a significant portion of the fanbase to the point of getting it postponed), eventually resulted in every LOONA member successfully able to prevail and win their freedom.

@official_artmsARTMS : Verified Beauty #HeeJin #KimLip #JinSoul #Choerry

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I won’t choose to dwell on the details or full story of everything that happened with LOONA - there’s a great extended LOONA vs. BBC summary that also cites sources on the /r/LOONA subreddit that does so quite nicely. What’s important for my purposes is that it provides context and background for what’s happened during and since this all happened - the signing of some of LOONA’s former members to new company Modhaus (and reuniting with a former producer) and the musical return of a LOONA subunit that is both a literal and figurative comeback.

I’m admittedly a casual LOONA fan - their music as a full unit is something I’m only peripherally aware of (though their appearance on Queendom 2, one of my favorite competition show series, put them right back on my radar). But I do remember how well-received subunit ODD EYE CIRCLE, consisting of members Kim Lip, JinSoul, and Choerry, seemed to be among the LOONA fanbase back in 2017. With a group that would be 12 members strong, I can appreciate that subunits are important in order to allow groups of members to showcase individual talent and vocal color. So it wasn’t any surprise to me to find that fans loved tracks like “Sweet Crazy Love” and “Girl Front”, which did exactly that. After this, however, group promotions appeared to take priority, and while that was certainly understandable at the time, there were always fans hoping and wondering when they’d see subunits again - a hope that dimmed considerably when the ongoing contract disputes put the members’ ability to stay together in serious doubt.

ODD EYE CIRCLE “Version Up” promotion picture. Source: official_artms (Twitter)

That doubt, however, would eventually be definitively erased. The signing of all of ODD EYE CIRCLE (along with fellow ex-LOONA members Heejin and Haseul) kindled the possibility of a subunit return, but Modhaus filing trademarks for the actual ODD EYE CIRCLE name really added fuel to the fire. When the actual  announcement for the release came out, fans knew they were on the road to return, almost six years in the making, at last. And its existence means much more than just new music.

ODD EYE CIRCLE “Version Up” Track List. Source: official_artms (Twitter)

To highlight that meaning, in interviews with various outlets including Teen Vogue and NME, Kim Lip, JinSoul, and Choerry were quick to point out that this was an opportunity for them to show how they’d developed since the days of “Sweet Crazy Love”, which was part of the driving reason behind naming the album “Version Up”. It’s meant as a not-so-subtle way of saying they’d come quite far as artists (though they wanted to ensure they had a bit of the old vibe, also, per a quote from Kim Lip.

To review the mini album briefly, some K-Pop music, like Dreamcatcher, is music I want to listen to when I want high energy, drive, and aggressiveness, while other times, I’m fine with chill vibes and more subtle, yet still layered, vocalization. The latter is the sense I get from “Version Up”, especially with tracks like “Je Ne Sais Quoi” and “Love Me Like”, which feel like comfortable, dream-like compositions and synthy electro and citypop styles that I prefer to have on while calming down from a long day of work. They’re great additions to my growing K-Pop music playlist.

However, it’s in watching and listening to title track “Air Force One” that we see what ODD EYE CIRCLE members are referring to when it comes to change, maturation, and recognition of their past and future, and what that symbolizes. The song itself has plenty of what I just mentioned, along with a catchy, meaningful set of lyrics that are coupled with some interesting visuals. There’s a scene with what looks to be old Converses (LOONA’s apparent choice of shoes back in the day) being set on fire, a choreographed fight scene with Kim Lip, and a more confident, fun-loving ODD EYE CIRCLE showing off a professional, sharply dressed side of themselves, whether they are entering a room full of people and taking it over, driving down the road, or confidently dancing.

Helmed by “Air Force One”, this new attitude is, to me, ODD EYE CIRCLE’s planting of a signpost in their K-Pop careers, a statement (even if it’s also, for now, on behalf of the rest of their erstwhile bandmates) that they’ve made it past some pretty difficult circumstances. The ex-LOONA members’ triumph in court perhaps helps provide some kind of precedent that companies in K-Pop don’t have total control over their artists with no recourse. The release of brand new music after so long for ODD EYE CIRCLE gives hope that K-Pop artists, with the right and supportive company, can release music they can feel reflects them as artists and as people. And fans see that there is life after adversity or hardship for the group’s various members, now split between being soloists (in Chuu’s and Yves’s cases) or signed to other companies (in the case of everyone else not with Modhaus, with ex-Blockberry Creative employee-founded CTD ENM). The list goes on - but the meaning isn’t lost.

As such, “Right now towards you/I’m running once again” are appropriate lyrics to close ODD EYE CIRCLE’s title track out, especially as the titular “Air Force One” is a Nike model. It’s only appropriate, it seems, that brand new shoes for ODD EYE CIRCLE (and perhaps the rest of LOONA) are needed to be put on in order for the group’s members to start walking their new paths in K-Pop, and I look forward to seeing where that path ends up.