The next mini-album up for review this week is KIHYUN’s first mini-album, YOUTH, which featured a title track that shares the exact same name. Alongside, YOUTH (the title track), four side tracks also make up the mini-album. YOUTH (both the album and title track) follows KIHYUN’s solo debut earlier in 2022 – Voyager, which was released back in March 2022. YOUTH was a neat follow up to VOYAGER, showcasing more of KIHYUN and delivering that mini-album that KIHYUN definitely deserves to flaunt his talents and undeniable potential as a solo artist. Next up on the wish list is a speedy solo comeback from KIHYUN (Side note – he just returned in MONSTA X’s Beautiful Liar) with another album.
2. Bad Liar – Kicking off Bad Liar are some vocals on a lower register, before KIHYUN soars upwards with some powerful vocals when it came to the chorus. I found the instrumental to be a dramatic one, but also quite electrifying once we get into chorus territory. I do think some more substantial electric guitar riffs would have been really cool addition to the song and taken Bad Liar to even more electrifying heights. (8.5/10)
3. STARDUST – Next up on the mini-album is STARDUST. It is a straightforwardly fun and upbeat track that brings some retro synths into the mix of band instrumentation. I like the head-nodding potential behind the track and how KIHYUN sounds throughout the track. It is a fairly simple track, but definitely a standout for me on this mini-album. (9/10)
4. Where Is This Love – Where Is This Love is an all-English ballad that really showcases KIHYUN’s vocals. I honestly did not expect an all-English track from the soloist, let alone an all-English ballad. This is probably the hardest type of an all-English track, given that is it hard for a non-English speaker (regardless of their vocal abilities) to convey emotions just as well as when they are singing in their mother tongue. But he does just that. Throughout Where Is This Love, I really liked how KIHYUN shows range with this track, going effortlessly between soft whispery moments and the more powerful moments where KIHYUN really shows emotions. It is a nice balance between delicate and passion, which makes Where Is This Love a strong track. (9/10)
5. ‘Cause of You – ‘Cause of You ends the album with a soft and lovely pop track. I believe there are some acoustics influences present in this track, along with some piano work and very light and subtle sprinkling of synths in the background. It is a very airy track, overall. Melody and vocal-wise, I didn’t find the track interesting. KIHYUN does sound pleasant throughout ‘Cause of You, but it isn’t his most impressive display of vocals on the album. (7/10)
MONSTA X also made their comeback on Monday alongside SF9. Beautiful Liar is the title of their latest track and it leads the group’s 12th mini-album, Reason. It follows the group’s early 2022 comeback with LOVE (which I nominated as Best Rap or Hip Hop Song of 2022 in the 2022 KPOPREVIEWED Awards) and their 11th mini-album SHAPE OF LOVE, the release of Late Night Feels (a collaboration with San Feldt), and contracts renewal where all but one member renewed their contracts with Starship Entertainment (with the exception of I.M, who left Starship Entertainment but confirmed that he will continue to promote as part of MONSTA X).
The electric guitar start to Beautiful Liar and the punk rock influence from the electric guitar’s presence for the rest of the song has to be one the most exhilarating starts to a song. It leaves such a strong impression that it makes Beautiful Liar really irresistible to me. I really do want to say similar comments to Beautiful Liar‘s instrumental, but the choruses (which I will discuss a little later) do hold me back from saying that. Anyhow, the first verse (which is actually the first run of the chorus, but it is delivered in a manner that made it feel like a verse) features such a sleek vocal line from I.M, Minhyuk and Hyungwon, while I.M and Jooheon really takes it up a notch with a rap sequence in the second verse that really delivers impact. Each of the verses is followed by Kihyun, who blasts us with his powerful vocals as the electric guitars ramp up the song. The choruses had a neat melody that has a memorable ring and it felt emotional yet charming. However. if I had one complaint about Beautiful Liar, it is that the chorus could have more oomph in the instrumental department. This would forces the vocals to be more powerful, which I reckon would have done wonders to Beautiful Liar. The way the pre-choruses ramped up to the chorus suggested a continuation of that exhilarating start and an electrifying nature, but we never got to see that become reality. It was interesting that in place of a what should have been the second chorus (third, if you count the first verse – I do not), Beautiful Liar skips to a second rap verse before bringing back the chorus for a final run. But this is not a complaint, as this structure gives us a second dosage of awesome rapping from the rappers (which I am all for). I do think there was a missed opportunity for the group to have concentrated the momentum and energy to form part of the final chorus to give Beautiful Liar a more deserving and punchy end (just to end the song on a higher note). But overall, Beautiful Liar is still a strong song, which works really well for MONSTA X, despite the complaint and suggestion around the choruses.
I am not exactly sure what the video for this comeback is about. But I do have a theory. The cloaked people surrounding the the members throughout the video represent the lies MONSTA X’s partners have told them. At first, the members want to protect their love for said partner, thinking their love is real and the lies are lie themselves. A fight against the cloaked figures ensures. Note their red jackets, with the colour red being referenced in the lyrics through the line “At the end of your red tongue, like the color of red, you got sores, I will kiss, I love your lies.“, suggesting that the love the members have for their partner is still very real. But as the video progresses, we see the members change into outfits that have a black and white theme to them. The white in the middle of the video donned by I.M most likely represents a sense of innocence in their mind, whereas the all-black clothing worn by the other members represents a toxic version of themselves that has come about from the lies. We see the toxicity break loose (i.e. stomping to break the glass) and take over the minds of the members. In real life, this results in the members (once dressed in red) to become dressed in black and white checkered outfits, represents the lies/toxicity are slowly taking over and corrupting the members. And instead of a fight like at the start of the video, the members are hyping up the crowd of cloaked figures (i.e. lies), which may represent to us that the members are now embracing the lies that their partner once told them. And while we don’t see this, I think the members are supposed to become cloaked figures as well, once the lies/toxicity fully takes over. It is a bit of a crude theory and I may be wrong. But if I am right, I liked the idea of the symbolism.
From what we can see in the music video, the choreography for this comeback looks pretty decent. But as I have yet to see the full performance, I can’t say with 100% certainity whether there is anything that stands out or not. So I will comeback tomorrow or Friday once we do get a live performance to provide proper comments. But for now, accept my interim ratings.
Song – 8.5/10 Music Video – 8.5/10 Performance – 8/10 Overall Rating – 8.4/10
This review kicks off a big week of reviews coming to you on this blog. And that honour of the day goes to KIHYUN, who returns as a solo artist after his solo debut with VOYAGER seven months ago. The new single is titled Youth and is featured on his first mini-album of the same name. KIHYUN also participated in MONSTA X’s comeback earlier this year, LOVE.
Youth follows on neatly from his solo debut track, with both tracks falls into the rock genre. However, we aren’t talking about copies here. Youth is more on the alternative side of the genre and there is some really good energy coming from the song. Within the first listen, I was digging the sound and having a bit of a dance in my seat. That is probably the best first impression you could get with any song. KIHYUN did a superb job in terms of vocals, once again. I really liked the huskier tone he adopts in the verses of Youth and the way his vocals push upwards to give us a more explosive chorus. The melody was just fine, but I found it to be fulfilling given the way his vocals rode the energy that came from the instrumental. This created a satisfying centrepiece to Youth. His lower vocals at the end of Youth was also stunning way to close up the song, making the song feel complete, especially following the high of the chorus. However, with a few more listens in the bag, I have consistently been caught off guard with the fact that Youth is short. I wanted more to the song. Maybe the ending we got potentially could have been a false one, and KIHYUN had another go at the chorus to catch us off guard. This doesn’t change the fact that Youth is good and that I am happy with Youth. But hopefully we can get a longer title track from KIHYUN in the future.
YOUTH’s lyrics expresses the emotions felt by a person at the crossroads between their younger and current self. It touches on the whole idea of maturing into an adult, but also wishing those days when we were young to return. I felt the music video depicted KIHYUN as his younger and current self quite well. We see KIHYUN as his younger self in the first half of the video, with him jumping about in the bedroom and having fun at the playground, just like a young kid would be doing. His current self is depicted in the second half of the video, but I think we see two sides. We first saw what his younger self had thought he would become when he matures into an adult – dark and lonely. But we a truer representation of KIHYUN now when he is in the studio taking photos and videos towards the end. And he definitely looks content and happy about where he is now. It is a nice video that woks extremely well with the lyrics and has a deep meaning.
Song – 8.5/10 Music Video – 9/10 Overall Rating – 8.7/10
Finally getting around to another International Song Reviews post. I originally had intended to post one of these every fortnight since the start of September, but I have failed to keep up. So, I am hoping to smash through some of these as fast as I can, especially since I feel like the songs that I cover in this segment of the blog have been really forgotten (on my part) this year. In the last International Song Reviews post, I covered ITZY, Mark Tuan (from GOT7), Jackson Wang (from GOT7), CIX, Golden Child and Woosung (from The Rose).
This time around, I will be focusing on ONEW (from SHINee), Jackson Wang again (from GOT7), MONSTA X, aespa, TXT and Stray Kids.
Life Goes On – ONEW (SHINee)
Life Goes On is the title of both the lead single and first studio length Japanese album from ONEW, the leader of SHINee. It dropped officially back in July of this year. Life Goes On is a cheerful summery track that has a simple message – even in the most boring or hardest times, life will continue. It features a bright and up-tempo acoustic instrumental that really sets the mood and makes you look/think in a positive light, which is the whole purpose of the song. ONEW’s vocals were dreamy and light, and worked well with the brightness that radiates from the song. My only issue (and it is a minor one!) with the song is how it transitioned from the pre-choruses to choruses. The buildup in the pre-choruses was done well, but the chorus slowed down just by a tiny hair. It isn’t much and doesn’t ruin the song for me. But it is one of those things that now I have noticed it, it just stick out me every time I listen to the song.
As mentioned before, the song is quite bright and gives off positive energy. ONEW’s solo scenes are all shot on a beach on a very sunny day and the ocean is just so blue, a perfect setting for the song. Elsewhere in the video, we see actress Hinako Sakurai come face to face with a few hiccups in her day (knocking over a plant, bumping into people, nodding off, dropping her lunch). But while she does become upset over these events, she manages to still enjoy her day, as depicted by her bright smiles and dance scenes. We also see some sadness, so the video covers all bad moments that are possible, but her ongoing dance parties are a nice resolve to get through to the next day. Even the ending, where the world had disappeared, is passed off by her as another day or something to worry about later.
Overall Rating – 8.4/10
Cruel – Jackson Wang
Another July release, with Jackson returning with the single Cruel, another pre-release single from his second studio length album, MAGICMAN (which was later released in September). This time around, Jackson Wang delves into grungier rock territory with Cruel. Personally, I prefer the likes of Blow over Cruel, but I appreciate the nostalgia that Cruel brings forth for me (i.e. the grungy styled tracks from my youth). I also enjoyed the fact that the song is vastly moodier and darker than any song he has put out previously – a nice change to his music. The use of his raspy tone and the filtering of his vocals throughout Cruel were one of the highlights of the song. Another highlight was the way the electric guitar acted as nice detailing to the grungy tones of the song, balancing out the song.
The music video probably the best part of this release. And to sum it up, it is amazing. Essentially, Jackson Wang and the people we see in the video are demons who have wrecked havoc on the world. But now it is the fight of the fittest demon, with all of them fighting each other for ultimate power. Jackson, as the main character, manages to succeed in eliminating them all over a well choreographed sequence which also includes playing some of the other demons as guitars. He takes their souls and faces off the one on the throne, who appears to have overpowered him. But that twist ending where he reappears might suggest he has a few tricks up his sleeve. The setting and even their ashy appearances all worked super well in the video.
Overall Rating – 8.8/10
Late Night Feels – Sam Feldt MONSTA X
Late Night Feels was a fun number between Sam Feldt (Dutch DJ) and MONSTA X. I liked the groovy and funky instrumentation of the song, with the disco undertones and brass giving the song extra liveliness and additional colour. Late Night Feels‘ backing is also quite light and airy, perfect for the type of late night feels one might have to just have some fun and escape their troubles. Pairing up nicely with this element are the vocals of MONSTA X, who also add a further layer of brightness to the song with their higher pitched vocals. The simple melody of the chorus definitely caught on and I found myself humming the song to myself quite a fair bit after its release. Late Night Feels all came together to be a straight-forward and enjoyable track.
I recognized a few faces from the video including LeenaDong, Alan Chikin Chow and Brooke Monk. Essentially, they are treated poorly by their bosses, strangers and loved ones. Instead of continually putting up with such treatment, each of person are transported to a different world, where they are dressed in PJs, surrounded by dancers and neon lighting and get to have fun with some carefree (or awkward in Alan’s case) dances. Their peers end up joining them, and they also lose the serious tones we first saw them in and see them in a more lighthearted manner. The video definitely sums up the song quite well.
Overall Rating – 8/10
Life’s Too Short – aespa
aespa released their first English single, Life’s Too Short, back in June of this year. The single later featured on their 2nd mini-album, Girls, which I will be reviewing soon. Life’s Too Short is a mid-tempo R&B pop single with a simple yet breezy melody that draws my attention to the song. I quite appreciate this release, as it is vastly different to their main EDM-based title tracks, which can be overwhelming at times. Even though this is a pop track and doesn’t necessarily pack a punch like those title tracks I just mentioned, Life’s Too Short still manages to showcase potential behind their vocals, especially when they single together. It is all unfiltered and uncomplicated, which allows the listener’s focus to be just on the vocals. The pop instrumentation is quite light and pleasant, which in turn enables the vocals and melodies to do most of the talking.
Despite having seen this side of aespa through their past remake singles, I still find it weird to see the members in a more innocent vibe. I am just so used to seeing and thinking of them in edgy gear/concepts. But it is a neat change of image (even if it is brief). I guess even aespa needs their off days from their KWANGYA travels. I found the teenage-like concept the members take on board to suit the simpleness of the song. However, I did wish the music video was a bit more interesting, just to make it more memorable, as it is pretty dry for the most part. As for the choreography, it is nice. But pretty typical.
Overall Rating – 7.3/10
Valley of Lies – TXT ft. iann dior
Valley of Lies is also another July release, and features the likes of TXT and iann dior (rapper and singer). Together, they form a neat indie pop rock track that is very easy on the ears. There really isn’t much to this song, if I am being honest. I quite like the heavy presence of the strumming guitar in this song. I really liked the husky and raspy tones that both TXT and iann dior bring to the song, as it gave the song some grit and substance. Otherwise, I would have passed on the track and ignored it. But they gave me a reason to listen to Valley of Lies. Other than that, I don’t have anything else to comment on. This lack of talking points doesn’t mean Valley of Lies is lacking or boring. It is just a simple track that I enjoyed and I don’t think I need elaborate further.
We don’t get a music video for this release. But we did get an official visualizer, which in the grand scheme of things, acts as a music video. In this visualizer, we see an animation of a figure walking through the valley of lies (and at one point, flying through the sky). This appears to be in line with the song, which “speaks about a lonesome journey that one takes towards the end of a relationship, along a trail of countless lies”. I do want to know what the different backgrounds mean, as I feel they add more meaning to the video than meets the eye.
Overall Rating – 7.7/10
Circus – Stray Kids
The final release to be part of this post is Stray Kids’ Circus, their latest Japanese single, which was released in June. A Korean version of Circus featured as part of their latest mini-album, MAXIDENT, which I will be reviewing some time in the future. Circus is a hip-hop dance track that has is centered on a circus theme, which I thought was cool and unique. I quite enjoyed the release, as the members made sure it was dynamic and fun, whilst also trendy and modern. There were many good moments throughout Circus, like the circus theme coming through via the melody during the bridge and the whispery lines at the start of the choruses. There was also a strong showing of rapping and vocals from the members, per usual. But my favourite part of Circus has to be Lee Know’s line in the second chorus. It is super ear catching and goes back to that idea that the song is dynamic. I constantly replay Circus just for that moment.
Like the song, the music video features a circus theme and circus performers, alongside the members. But we don’t see just one set of the members. There are two sets of Stray Kids featured in this video, which instantly bring up the cool factor in my books. One of them are actual circus acts, while the other version of the group sneak in. By the end of the video, the two sides are performing together. Like the song, there are other cool moments in this video, but Hyunjin stole my attention with his visuals. As for the choreography, I liked how they interwoven references to circus acts into the music video. It keeps the circus theme going. I also liked how they kept it punchy and dynamic. I would have loved to see the four members (can’t tell who) do that spinning move they did at the back of one of the scenes of the music videos. That looked cool in the video and would have been super awesome to be pulled off on stage.
The next album review belongs to MONSTA X, who returned to the KPOP scene back at the end of April, with their 11th mini-album SHAPE OF LOVE and their title track LOVE. Out of all the albums that I have to catch up on, MONSTA X’s (with a few others – one of which I will be reviewing later this weekend) have consistently been on my mind to review. As part of this mini-album, LOVE is featured alongside five other tracks.
SHAPE OF LOVE proves that MONSTA X is still powerful and impactful as they have always been. It is another high quality release from the group, with a slightly different yet refreshing title track than usual and very strong side tracks. And with such another mini-album under their wing, I am glad we will be hearing more from MONSTA X into the future, following news that all members (sans I.M) had re-signed with Starship Entertainment to continue MONSTA X activities. And even though I.M had elected not to be part of Starship Entertainment, he reaffirmed with the news that he will still be part of MONSTA X moving forward.
2. Burning Up (ft. R3HAB) – Following the title track is Burning Up, a very addictive synth pop track. Despite having deep retro influences and groovy vibes, Burning Up was quite minimalistic. You don’t expect that with songs with retro influences, but somehow R3HAB managed to get Burning Up to do just that. Very interesting. The minimalistic approach of Burning Up allows the vocals to be the pure focus of the song, and the MONSTA X members sound so striking. The rappers, in particular, sung their way through track alongside the other vocalists. I found the simple repetition of the song’s title to be so catchy and effective. Overall, an interestingly simple yet bold track. (10/10)
3. Breathe – Another retro track follows Burning Up and the title track. This time around, MONSTA X opts to include brass, alongside atmospheric synths, in Breathe. If you listen closely, you can hear breaths in the background. Clever. I quite enjoyed the soft nature of Breathe, as it allowed the members to bring forth smooth vocals that had a lot of character and charisma. It isn’t as striking as the previous song, but Breathe was still pretty good. (8/10)
4. Wildfire – While the side tracks have been simple so far, MONSTA X adds a relatively more complex song to the tracklist via Wildfire. I don’t mean that in a negative manner, however. I am referring to the fact that Wildfire brings merges two types of instrumentation – orchestral and EDM – into one piece. This has been done before. But I don’t remember any song from the top of my head that has done this to be so stunning and captivating. I like the extra oomph that the vocalists got to show in Wildfire. But for me, the standout member is Joohoney, who really got to show-off via a fiery rap sequence in the second verse. (10/10)
5. 사랑한다 –사랑한다 (or Love You) was a nice sentimental song that was extremely pleasing to listen to. I don’t have much to say about the song as I think the song talks for itself. It was heartwarming, especially when they all sing the title together on repeat (the best parts of the song, if I am being honest). The rest of the vocals (including the rapping) were stunningly beautiful and clear. The instrumental, whilst generic, was pleasantly simple and suitably soft. (8/10)
6. AND – The vocal focus continues with the last song on this mini-album. There was an epic and grand nature to AND’s slow pop rock instrumental that made the song sound loaded. The vocals match wonderfully, helping to create a powerful atmosphere with the instrumentation. The slow paced nature of the song does dry out the song for me personally. But if you are looking for something more balladry on this album that isn’t necessarily a ballad, then AND is the song for you. (7/10)
As mentioned yesterday on Twitter (yes, I have a Twitter account – @kpopreviewed), there would be two album reviews today (as I was slightly busy yesterday). The second album review of the day is for KIHYUN’s official solo debut, which occurred back in March of this year. The solo debut was titled VOYAGER, and is the title for both the lead single and single album. In addition to VOYAGER, the single album also consist of two additional side tracks. Following his solo debut, KIHYUN returned with MONSTA X through their LOVEand Shape of Love comeback (which I will be writing an album review for some time in the future). It was also recently announced that KIHYUN had renewed his contract with Starship Entertainment.
I am a bit disappointed that KIHYUN’s solo debut came in the form of three songs (i.e. the very typical length for a single album). It is far too short to appreciate what KIHYUN has to offer. He definitely deserves a mini-album, at the very least. But hey, this is what KIHYUN has provided us, so I shouldn’t be complaining. Again, a strong album release from this seasoned KPOP artist. VOYAGER takes the cake for best song on the album, but the other two songs have their own charm. Continue scrolling to see what I thought about those songs.
2. , (COMMA) – COMMA continues the pop rock vibe from the title track, but opts for a much softer and more emotional atmosphere, expressing his own desire to take a break or rest when he is lost, similar to how a comma brings a brief pause in a sentence. It is a completely different energy to what we got before it, as KIHYUN’s vocals convey more emotions in this song. I quite like the oomph he puts behind his vocals during the chorus, in contrast with the softer approach he takes in the verses. It makes for a slightly more riveting piece. The instrumental feels on trend, but I wished it was a bit more innovative, just so COMMA can have a bit of an edge. (8/10)
3. RAIN – RAIN opts for a more intense instrumental piece, featuring what felt like a slow burning rock instrumental. The intensity is so gripping, it was quite hard to be distracted from the song (or to turn away from the song). KIHYUN’s vocals are powerful and felt so loaded, particularly during the chorus, which in turn felt relatively explosive. I did like how he kept held himself back throughout RAIN, keeping that energy and intensity simmering away until the end to make it a captivating piece. (9/10)
MONSTA X made their official comeback to the stage yesterday with a new song and mini-album. Titled LOVE and Shape of Love respectively, it is the first time we are seeing the group (sans Shonwu, who is currently serving his military enlistment) since November of last year through their Rush Hour comeback. This comeback also follows KIHYUN’s solo debut with VOYAGER which occurred last month. The comeback was originally scheduled for earlier in April, but was postponed by two weeks due to COVID-19. But the members have since recovered and are ready to crush the stage with LOVE.
MONSTA X’s affinity to EDM in the past for their title tracks has made it synonymous with the group’s sound. I quite liked this aggressive, powerful and intense side of the group, even when others didn’t. LOVE steps away from that reliance on EDM and re-enters old school R&B and hip-hop territory. Despite how I started this section of the review, I must say that there is definitely nothing wrong with this sound profile as MONSTA X expertly executes and showcases the two sides of song really well. What I quite enjoy about LOVE is how within the instrumental, the two sides of the song were distinct and clearly identifiable. But what really glued the song together were the vocals, which blurred the boundaries a bit (i.e. hip-hop melodies in the R&B instrumental territory and vice versa). It is an interesting blend, and one that MONSTA X pulls off successfully. I also like the colourful nature of the instrumental, from the brass that literally felt oozy to the punchy synths. For me, the standout member for this comeback was Jooheon. His vocals and rapping worked so well on both sides of LOVE, and I quite liked how energetic and upbeat he was throughout the song. Definitely made it captivating. His growls were very alluring and hit at the right moments. The other members did excellent in the song, as well. In terms of weaknesses, LOVE should have stronger hooks that were more defined and memorable. What we got just didn’t really feel enough for this song, and there was moments where they could have gone further. But overall, LOVE was a nice departure from their usual sound.
Visually, MONSTA X shows off two sides of themselves in this video. The first is a more casual side, and the second is a more elegant side. Both were captivating to watch, but the elegant side was a lot more alluring. Though I might be bias due to that cool stage set and the gold on black colour palette that made everything feel so expensive. I guess that might say something about my taste. The glittery closeups of Hyunwon and Kihyun also may have played a part. I also liked how the video acknowledges that MONSTA X is a six-member male group even though they are promoting as a five member group at the moment. At the very end of the video, we see six microphones, with the sixth microphone corresponding to Shownu (who is currently enlisting as already mentioned). What a warm way to end off the video.
The choreography felt extremely fitting for this song, with the choreography’s intensity feeling just right. I also enjoyed the bounce the choreography had, particularly in Hyungwon’s part in the bridge. Some other observations I had whilst watching the stage performance includes wanting better utilization of I.M’s cane (its adds a classy touch, but felt under used) and that Minhyuk’s visuals were so good.
Song – 8.5/10 Music Video – 8.5/10 Performance – 9/10 Overall Rating – 8.6/10
Next up on the comeback rush of this week is KIHYUN, MONSTA X’s main vocalist, who made his solo debut yesterday with the track VOYAGER and single album of the same name. KIHYUN is the second member to go solo, with fellow rappers Joohoney and I.M being the first members of MONSTA X to have officially released solo tracks (i.e. Joohoney with his mixtapes and I.M’s God Damn). But this review is for KIHYUN’s latest song, so let’s check it out.
As a main vocalist, I expected KIHYUN to go down the typical route of a ballad of some sort for his solo promotions. But VOYAGER is no ballad. Instead, VOYAGER delves into an upbeat rock profile that is both refreshing and lively to listen to. The consistent drumming in the chorus was definitely a highlight for me. VOYAGER isn’t strictly just rock though, with the instrumental composed in a way to be almost funky, tapping into current trends in KPOP. There are also some jazzy undertones in VOYAGER when the piano becomes more present in the bridge, which gives VOYAGER a nice accent. Other than the instrumental, KIHYUN does an amazing job vocally to make VOYAGER more dynamic and charismatic. I really like the cheerful tone to his vocal colours in the chorus, which makes VOYAGER instantly appealing. This also compliments the upbeat nature of the song. I noticed a slight raspy texture to his voice that allows him to work so well with rock instrumentation. I would definitely be down to hear more of KIHYUN as a solo artist, in particular exploring more of the rock genre, as he is well suited from how VOYAGER was pulled off and what we heard.
Not exactly sure if the music video is meant to string together and form some sort of theme or message. It seems like there might be hints towards one, but nothing too recognisable. Instead, the video comes together more so like a collection of closeup shots of KIHYUN. This is absolutely fine and would make for a great video. I just got the impression that there should have been something in this video to pull everything together in this video. But aside from that, I liked how confident and cheerful he appeared, which comes off and stays with you after watching the video.
Song – 9/10 Music Video – 8/10 Overall Rating – 8.6/10
I am finally getting around to posting my first International Song Review post in a long while. My last post was way back in October 2021, and since then I have been fairly busy and unable to write any of these posts. But I am now back on the bandwagon. For those who may be unfamiliar with this segment, I review songs that aren’t in the Korean language (or are not marketed for the Korean music scene in some cases – such as some side tracks on Korean albums) that have been released by Korean artists (or artists that have a direction connect with a KPOP group). In this post, I will be covering songs released by MONSTA X, SEVENTEEN, TWICE, WONHO and Jeon Somi.
You Problem – MONSTA X
MONSTA X spreads the ongoing groovy and funky trend that we are currently experiencing in KPOP to the Western music scene. The group, now down to five members as Shownu has enlisted in the military, released this disco number early December 2021. It is quite unlike any of their Korean title tracks, which have been very EDM focused and performance heavy tracks. You Problem settles for a simpler approach, and one that is quite pure and fun. I love the guitar work in this backing of You Problem, along with those disco vibes we get in the chorus (as already mentioned). I also enjoyed the vocal focus of the song, which each member (even the rappers) singing in this track, complimenting the lighter than usual tone for MONSTA X. Kihyun and Jooheon’s falsettos in the chorus make the song even cooler! The hooks are super memorable, and the hooks are so damn catchy. Even after two months, I am still digging You Problem!
For the music video, it is set in a bowling alley that is reminisce of bowling alleys from the 70s. Definitely suiting the light tone, fun vibes and retro direction of the song. There are also heavy presence of other retro elements throughout the video, such as the checked pattern (commonly associated with racing) and neon lights. Even the glittery tinsel decoration behind the group when they are performing as a ‘band’ screamed out retro. The performance I saw also had a fun vibe. It was loose and fluid, as if the group was freestyling their performance. But also showed their personality, which made it even more enjoyable.
Overall Rating – 8.8/10
Power of Love – SEVENTEEN
Power of Love‘s music video officially dropped at the end of November, and closes out their Power of Love project that started earlier in 2021 with the release of Mingyu and Wonwoo’s Bittersweet (ft. Lee Hi). It is a neat ballad with a really meaningful message that even in difficult times, having the Power of Love can help you through it. I liked how even though the instrumental had sleigh bells ringing throughout the whole instrumental, Power of Love doesn’t feel constricted to just Winter or the Christmas season like other songs that ultilises sleigh bells. It was also quite soothing and it was a nice display of all the members’ vocals. Unfortunately, however, Power of Love doesn’t fair well in the memorable arena. It is a good ballad, but I am not necessarily looking for the song when I feel in a mood for ballad. I guess Power of Love was produced to be more on a sweet side. I do think there could have been room towards the end to oomph up the ballad a bit, just so it didn’t feel the same from start to end. I think Power of Love would have come off better if it went down this path.
The parts of the video where some of the members were in built sets (I believe it was just limited to Joshua, DK and Vernon) looked quite cool, and I wished the video had more built sets (as it felt stylish and modern). But instead, the producers for this video chose to just use green screen, and I felt this really cheapened the video. While the actual backgrounds applied through the use of the green screen looked aesthetic and the members look good as always, I wished the post-production team incorporated the members better. We have seen great use of green screen in the past, and this is just not one of those instances. It is just quite unfortunate.
Overall Rating – 6.2/10
Doughnut – TWICE
Doughnut was released on 15 December 2021 and the track itself comes in the form of a ballad. Not exactly the first genre of music you think of when you hear of a sugary treat. But it does create an abstract appeal, which makes Doughnut memorable for me. Talking about abstract, I also like how the members likened the void they experience without their partner, and the constant looping they refer to in the lyrics to the shape of a doughnut. To me, the song definitely needed this extra appeal, especially since I thought it was a bit of a blur. Everything from start to end felt similar, and I couldn’t work out where the chorus was in the song had it not been for the music video. While I did like the city-pop direction the instrumental was going and the delicate nature of their voices (which isn’t something we get in TWICE title tracks that much), I just wished parts of Doughnut were more distinct. The most significant distinct moment of the song was during the finale sequence with the use of synths to give off textures. But it was too late to really sell Doughnut to me.
Visually, I thought this was a very neat video. The snow, warm indoor settings and dress colours compliments the Winter season in which the song was released. That scene in the bridge where Mina and Chaeyoung are lying on the ground over a wreath was extremely memorable for me. I am a bit confused about the start and end of the video, with the ‘doughnut crime scene’. My guess is that the crime scene symbolises that the loop and void represented by the shape of doughnut is broken and that the members had moved on from what they thought were ‘the only one in the world’. Though, I am more confused about the amount of jam spilling from the doughnut (How did they get so much in the doughnut to begin with? And in a doughnut with a hole?). As for the choreography, it felt fitting for the balladry nature of the song.
Overall Rating – 6.8/10
ON THE WAY～- Wonho
Wonho’s Japanese debut single, ON THE WAY~, is actually the oldest song in this review post as it was first unveiled on 27 October 2021. It is a decent track that pleases with its sweet lyrics, thanking fans for staying by his side and that he treasures them greatly. Don’t be fooled though. ON THE WAY~ is no typical ballad. Instead, it features a satisfying band instrumental that really makes this song more appealing. I also like how amped the chorus gets. It did feel somewhat overpowering at first, but Wonho manages to shine throughout ON THE WAY~ with his blissful and honey-like vocals. I did wish there was something more to the song, like a more profound electrical guitar solo sequence (we did get an instrumental break, but it did feel enough) to make it even more satisfying.
The accompanying video was also quite nice. Not one that I see myself going back to however, since it just Wonho acting sweet and grateful to match the lyrics of the song. There are also some band shots and some decent outdoors shots. I am sure fans would adore this video.
Overall Rating – 7/10
Anymore – Jeon Somi
The final song on this post is Jeon Somi’s Anymore. You would have heard Anymore way before the music video dropped (which occurred on Christmas Day), as it was originally featured as a side track on Jeon Somi’s first solo studio album, XOXO, which dropped at the end of October (the 29th to be exact). It is an all-English track that delves into pop-rock territory. I quite like this song because it doesn’t feel complicated or difficult to navigate like EDM tracks. Anymore just sounded pure and doesn’t mess or fluff around. The soft pop rock sound that we hear in this song just suits Jeon Somi’s tone and she sounds very good. The melodies were also very memorable and satisfying, as well.
I need to applaud Jeon Somi’s visuals and acting in this video. Both were highlights that draw me back to the music video. I liked how she well she portrayed her heartbreak and emotions, whilst looking stunning as always. As for the music video concept, all looked terrific and worked extremely well with the song. I liked how chaotic the chorus appeared to match the increased energy we get from the chorus, while the verses were more still.
MONSTA X is nominated for for Best Stage Presence and their single GAMBLER is nominated for Best Concept. MONSTA X member I.M is also nominated for Best Rapper, while God Damn is nominated for Best Rap or Hip-Hop song. Support MONSTA X, I.M and your other favourite acts by voting in the 2021 KPOPREVIEWED Awards. Click here to vote now.
The next album review on this blog is for MONSTA X, who returned in November of this year with the their 10th mini-album, NO LIMIT. The mini-album is lead by the title track Rush Hour and an additional 6 tracks, which will be reviewed below! The mini-album is also the first to not feature Shownu, who enlisted earlier this year. Keep on reading for some of my thoughts on NO LIMIT. In some related news and following the release of this mini-album, MONSTA X went on to release their second studio-length English language album, The Dreaming, which is lead by the new single You Problem and previously release One Day. Just to let you know, I will be reviewing You Problem in a future International Song Review post early next year (once I am back from my break) and am still contemplating on whether to review the new album next year (which is only a few days away now – super yikes).
2. Autobahn – Autobahn starts off promising electronic song and ends up developing into a satisfying dance track with a decent amount of intensity. Auotbahn, for those who don’t know, means motorway/freeway in German, and I can imagine listening to this track while on the road. However, I don’t think I will coasting it down the road, though. Autobahn could have hit harder, especially when it came to the vocals in the song. They seemed to underwhelm. The chorus could also go further than just ‘satisfying’ by really concentrating that intensity. On the other hand, the rappers nailed their sequence and they add great flow and energy into the song. (6.5/10)
3. Ride with U – Ride with U was a ride in itself. It is a very interesting song, with a lot of bold and memorable moments. I really like the groovy instrumentation that really comes through during the chorus. The pre-chorus was this smoothness to it, which makes the chorus punchier. The ‘Talk Talk Talk’ and ‘Love Love Love’ hooks that follow the choruses were very catchy and hard to get out of your head. I like how they stripped the instrumental at the every end, but retained the hook and created this purified outro. I was definitely a fan of that. Vocally and rapping-wise, Ride With U is a strong song. The bridge was also standout moment, really showing those strong vocals and rapping. (9/10)
4. Got Me in Chains – Got Me in Chains definitely got me with its instrumentation. I really like all the textures within Got Me in Chains, which really helped make the song really appealing. Even the subtle ones stood out for me. There were a few parts in which we only get to hear the instrumental in its raw form, and those were the best parts of the song. That however does not outshine the other aspects of Got Me in Chains. The vocal work in this song is pretty damn good, showcasing a sensual vibe during the chorus of the song. The rapping felt clean and neat for this song, which I think is a positive aspect of Got Me in Chains and works well with the sensual vibes from the rest of the song. (9/10)
5. Just Love – MONSTA X takes it down a step with Just Love, a R&B track. The guitar work in this song is very much in the forefront of the song with the vocals. It definitely helps make Just Love fulfilling, and less bare. Half of me is appreciative of this, the other half didn’t like it as much. The vocal work from all the members sounds super good. Even the rappers, in addition to their rapping duties, surprised with solid vocals during the chorus. A satisfying listen overall. (8/10)
6. Mercy – Mercy turns up the dramatic vibe thanks to the combination of orchestra and electronic instrumentation, and this creates a different style of intensity than when I mention intensity in the above songs. Mercy is loaded up with this dramatic style of intensity and I feel that the song is perfect as a OST during the peak of drama or movie where the drama is very heavy between a couple or just people in general. MONSTA X’s vocals added onto that intensity with impactful lines and the rapping we got in Mercy was extremely thrilling and felt ‘edge of your seat’ like. Definitely my style of song and one of my favorites off the album. (10/10)
7. I Got Love – The album ends with a R&B track that ultimately focuses on vocals from all members. I enjoyed their vocals for the most part and you can feel the genuineness behind their vocals. The ‘I Got Love’ line stands out in a memorable manner. The instrumentation was a bit plain but had a nice sleekness to it, going with soft trap and hip-hop direction. It is quite consistent throughout, which made it less appealing as we got to the end. (7/10)
I.M is nominated for Best Rapper, while God Damn is nominated for Best Rap or Hip-Hop Song in the 2021 KPOPREVIEWED Awards. MONSTA X is also nominated for Best Stage Presence and Best Concept for GAMBLER. Support I.M, God Damn and MONSTA X by clicking here to vote today.
We return to the ongoing transmission of reviews for songs nominated under Best Rap or Hip-Hop Song category. Today’s review is the final one for the category, and is focused on I.M’s GOD DAMN, which was released way back in February of this year. It formed part of his first formal solo album release, Duality. You might recognise the song, as it has been on my ‘Coming Soon’ page for a very long time. And today, I am finally getting around to it. Since the release of GOD DAMN, I.M has participated in MONSTA X’s GAMBLER and Rush Hour.
Out of all the nominees for the Best Rap or Hip-Hop Song category, I.M’s release is the most sensual. It is a slow song for those who are tuning into GOD DAMN for the first time, and that might be a turn off for some. I completely understand that. But I guess multiple listens (and nine months later), GOD DAMN becomes a lot more appealing. For me, the slowness of the track emphasis that sensual energy, and allows I.M to use a huskier tone and a more drawn out approach with his vocals. All of this helped make GOD DAMN as appealing as it is. We usually get something powerful and fierce from I.M in his MONSTA X works, so this change in sound intrigued me to the point in which I enjoyed it. My favourite and what I felt to be the most memorable aspect of the song has to be the sequence between 2:08 and 2:12, where it seemed like he was murmuring the lyrics. It stood out at me, and stayed with me ever since it was first released. I also like the pulsing and trap instrumentation to a degree. It was plain enough to become a blank canvas, so I.M could do all of the above with the song. But there was also enough trap elements in the instrumentation to ‘fill up’ the background so that it isn’t a sparse and empty. I did think was a bit too consistent, and wished that the instrumental intensified. It didn’t need to be anything hardcore. But rather a subtle yet noticeable intensification to just change up the song a bit would have made the song end on a much stronger note. Overall, GOD DAMN was a deliberate sensual number that changed up what I personally know from the artist.
The lyrics of GOD DAMN are about lying to oneself about being happy, and the video depicts this is a logical manner. The video starts off with flashbacks of I.M and his lover, before we enter the reality where she has left him and he pretends to be happy. But in reality, he is alone throughout the video despite the crowd around him. He uses the mask (I assume to depict him getting high) and drinking alcohol as a mask to cover up his feelings of loss and heartbreak, but it seems like they made such feelings more pronounced and obvious without him knowing. I really like the moody and dark atmosphere of the club and of the overall video, complimenting both the song and concept for this release. I.M is also a great actor throughout the video, doing a good job of portraying the emotions mentioned, and also acting as drunk and high.
Song – 8/10 Music Video – 9/10 Overall Rating – 8.4/10
MONSTA X is nominated for for Best Stage Presence and their single GAMBLER is nominated for Best Concept. MONSTA X member I.M is also nominated for Best Rapper, while God Damn is nominated for Best Rap or Hip-Hop song. Support MONSTA X, I.M and your other favourite acts by voting in the 2021 KPOPREVIEWED Awards. Click here to vote now.
Yesterday, MONSTA X made their comeback with Rush Hour. This is the group’s first official comeback as a five member group, with Shownu enlisting into the military in July of this year. The group previous promoted as a five member group back during their GAMBLER comeback, which was their most recent comeback before this one as Shownu has to sit out of promotions due to health reasons. Since their last domestic comeback, the group has been busy with some solo work and preparation for an upcoming English album and documentary.
I have had a couple of listens to Rush Hour since its release yesterday, but I haven’t really been convinced that it is their next big track. But before I dwell on this point, there are still some aspects in Rush Hour that I still appreciated that I want to point out. The ‘stand out’ element of this song is Joohoney and I.M’s rapping. I really liked the dynamism they both brought to the song. Their aggressive energy is always present in MONSTA X’s title tracks at the very least, but I felt like they pushed themselves even more in Rush Hour. Per usual, Rush Hour is synonymous to other MONSTA X title tracks, with bolstering beats and intense electronic instrumentals. But what sets Rush Hour apart is some suspenseful whistling. While it isn’t a memorable tune, it gave Rush Hour an interesting airy vibe and is used sparingly throughout the song. It isn’t the main centerpiece of the song unlike many other tracks nowadays, and so it isn’t overused or overbearing. The chorus was pretty decent. I find the vocals to be the star element here, especially with Kihyun’s explosive and powerful vocals here. I felt he was on par with the rappers in this song. I also like the sharp beats in the chorus, which stands out in the crowd of the ‘noise’, as some might describe Rush Hour as (and MONSTA X’s title tracks overall). Unfortunately, the hooks and melodies are mildly memorable, which isn’t exactly ideal. I wished they were stronger and punchier, which would have made Rush Hour so much more memorable. I also find Rush Hour to lack cohesiveness overall and bit messy. I wished everything in Rush Hour was better pulled together. Overall, Rush Hour is a decent song with a few standout elements, but not their best work.
It seems like cowboys are the new big thing in KPOP, with a few music videos and comebacks over the years featuring the theme. But I feel MONSTA X’s version of the cowboys concept is more style rather than substance. I did like the dynamic vibes from the music video, which is thanks to the way the video was shot and the various moving camera angles. The industrial sets and the outside scenes also looked quite cool, though I think the lighting could have made the video a bit more interesting. Minhyuk also looks great throughout this video and I felt that he owns this comeback. I do wonder if this video connected to the events of GAMBLER. The police vehicle they step out of at the start of the video reminded me of the vehicles the members drove off in at the end of GAMBLER.
The performance looks fierce and aggressive, as you would expect from MONSTA X. Nothing really stands out, but it was a pretty decent routine overall.
Song – 7.5/10 Music Video – 8/10 Performance – 7/10 Overall Rating – 7.6/10
It is another edition of the International Song Reviews segment. Last week, I posted an ISR consisting reviews for Ten, Jackson Wang, WAYV, Yuqi and 2PM. This week, I will be focusing on another set of releases brought to you by TWICE, MONSTA X, Stray Kids and LOONA. I am keeping this post to just four tracks today, rather than the usual five, so I can focus on some other things today. As this post have a lot to cover, let’s get started!
The Feels – TWICE
I listened to this full English song when the music video dropped at the start of this month. I didn’t think much of it then (and honestly I never returned to it until today). But I have to say, the ‘Boy, I know you got the feels‘ repeated one-liner hook is so damn catchy. It somehow gotten stuck in my head since that first listen, even though it was very much delayed. Anyhow, The Feels is a funky pop track, and listening back I am surprised I didn’t return to the track sooner. It is a very vibrant and colourful track, suitable for my personal taste and TWICE’s overall discography. I really enjoyed the energy that comes from it. The members sound fantastic, and I just love the elongation of the word ‘feels’ in that hook. My only gripe about the song is Chaeyoung’s lines in the pre-chorus. They just didn’t feel like a perfect fit. I liked the music video, but it isn’t that special. The theme seems to be prom-queens, but it seems to be more than that with the red carpet and stage sets. Regardless of what the theme is, The Feels music video is fun and pleasant to watch. For the dance, I thought it was great. Again, nothing special with it. But it works wonderfully with the music. (8/10)
One Day – MONSTA X
A month prior to the above song’s release, MONSTA X released another all English track titled One Day. Since then, the group has been confirmed for a Korean and Western comeback in the next two months, so do expect to see more of MONSTA X on the blog. Now, back to the song in question. One Day is an atmospheric yet simple synth-heavy ballad that I quite enjoyed. One Day really does a good job of presenting stillness and comes off as soothing and calming. The instrumental also comes off as dreamy. For the vocals (which appears to be the song’s sore point for some), I thought MONSTA X did a really nice job. I did think they could have pushed themselves more to be even more expressive, but their delicate tone and emotional touch fits the bill perfect for the song’s meaning and overall sound. The melodies were stunning, as well, adding to this. Both the song and music video features Shownu, who recently enlisted into the military. It was definitely nice to see him one more time. Unfortunately, Hyungwon was missing from the group shots for this music video for unknown reasons. For the music video, I liked the simplicity of the video as well. I also liked the mature visuals that the members gave off. They look good and somehow the mature vibes fitted in with the idea of the song being a ballad for me. (8.6/10)
Scars – Stray Kids
Knowing fully what Stray Kids is capable of, Scars is quite underwhelming for me. Coming off the high of their recent Korean comeback, I would have liked to hear something with the same level of impact and energy. But Scars didn’t deliver this. It doesn’t mean that Scars is a bad song, however. But it is definitely not their best. Scars was a pleasant EDM track – nothing more, nothing less. The members opted for a sentimental tones that sounds nice. But once again, nothing more, nothing less. Vocally, the sentimental tone came naturally and actually sounded quite good. Rapping wise, I thought it was plain. The EDM sound that Scars opted for attempted to add impact, but it more so fizzled out once that impact is delivered. Hence, everything came together to contribute towards an underwhelming and not-so-memorable track. For the music video, it seems like the members are running away (well, more so slowly walking) from ghostly apparitions. They seek shelter in a caravan and kick start a device that repels the ghosts during the night. Then, the story kind of repeats itself and doesn’t really resolve. I hope there is a second part to this, as I think it could potentially be an interesting story to dive into. The choreography for this comeback was quite good, fitting in with the sentimental and mature tones of the song. It doesn’t hit hard, but there was some intensity in the choreography that was quite satisfying to watch as well. (7/10)
HULA HOOP – LOONA
I was quite nervous to hear that LOONA’s company is in the financial red, which puts a massive question mark over the group’s future. But seeing LOONA still pumping out music is a bit of a reassuring sign. Mid-September saw the group release their first original Japanese single, HULA HOOP. It is a dance pop track that is very chirpy and energetic. Actually, in comparison to their debut track which I would say is the equilavent of this track (Hi High, if you are wondering), HULA HOOP seems to let its go a bit. Nothing wrong there, if I am being honest, but I do miss the certain aesthetic that we associate with the group when it comes to their tracks. I liked their vocals and the hooks throughout HULA HOOP quite a bit. They are fun and definitely cutesy. This isn’t usually my cup of tea, but as I always say, there are exceptions. The music video is very unique, with everything moving in an upward direction. I will give them points for that. But I also feel that the video overwhelms us with all the post production applications. It made everything feel a bit much. In the midst of all the overwhelming graphics, you can see a lot of throwbacks to the group’s previous releases through the images, outfits and props (including some of their pre-debut works). No surprises come in the choreography. I enjoyed the fun and energetic side of the song, and the synchronisation between the members makes the performance cooler (as always). (8.2/10)
Next up on the album review segment is MONSTA X’s One Of A Kind, which was released at the start of June (two months ago)! This is the group’s ninth mini-album since their debut and features the title track GAMBLER, which also dropped on the same day. The mini-album also features the Korean version of Livin’ It Up, and five other new and original side tracks. One Of A Kind is also the last album for a while to feature Shownu who most recently enlisted into the Korean military. He unfortunately had to sit out of promotions for this comeback due health reasons, though he did participate in the recording of both the album and music video (and a special single released this week – review for that to come down the track). It is unknown whether MONSTA X will continue as a group or go on hiatus until all the members return from their military enlistments (let’s hope for the former!). But until then, let’s go for a deep dive into One Of A Kind.
2. Heaven – Heaven follows up the title track with a jazzy R&B number. If you are looking for something summery that isn’t tropical or island based, then I think Heaven is the song for you. While jazzy and R&B tracks aren’t anything new to KPOP (or pop in general), what makes Heaven extra appealing in the subtle tinge of intensity that comes from the members’ vocals and rapping. It really gives the song that MONSTA X feel. I also find the melodies and repetition to be really cool hooks that makes Heaven a strong song. (8/10)
3. Addicted – MONSTA X tones down the light with Addicted, opting for a dark and much moodier dance track. While it sounds like it is equivalent to MONSTA X’s title track material, I find Addicted to be a bit more paced and slower. This gives the song an additional sultry profile that is quite … addictive and appealing. Almost like a breath of fresh air. The bass is also something that elevates the song. Once again, I find that Addicted also brings out the members’ vocals and rapping skills. I find their delivery of both balances out the instrumentation really well. (9/10)
4. Secrets – It seems like there is a movement to include songs fully in English on Korean albums. Secrets is another addition to that movement, but it isn’t really any hidden secret. It is more skippable than anything. I think the instrumental was pretty good, opting for a 90s style of R&B. Saxophone and electric guitars provide some detailing in the instrumental to make the song more eventful. It is the relative lack of emotion from the vocals and rapping that I don’t really like. The lyrics opts for a sensual feel, and I wished that was reflected in their voices. (6/10)
5. BEBE – Another song that I felt was rather skippable. This is a bit harsh on my behalf, as it is a song from MONSTA X to their fans (from what I understand). The song doesn’t become decent until the very end, when they relaunch back into the jazzy style instrumentation of the final chorus. Everything before that was just a miss for me. I did like their all-vocals approach with the song, with the rappers also singing rather than rapping. But BEBE was dry overall for me. (6/10)
6. Rotate – Rotate puts energy and very mature themes back into the album. And I think this is a great addition to the album, given the pair of skippable songs that precede it. Once again, bass really amplifies the song. And the house-style chorus is pretty classy and sleek for me, working well with the sensual nature of the lyrics. The rapping is probably my favourite part of Rotate, giving the song some much needed oomph and intensity. The vocals also had a memorable tinge to it, though I felt the processing was a bit much for my liking. (8/10)
Back again with the International Song Review. I think I did flag that I might do a weekend of these a few weeks back, and I have enough releases to write two of the same post. For those who don’t know, this segment on the blog is where I cover songs released by Korean artists that are in other languages other than Korean. These songs are predominately Mandarin, Japanese and English. For this particular post, we will be checking recent international songs from TXT, MONSTA X, Kun & Xiaojun (from WayV), CN BLUE and BTS.
Magic – TXT
For those who visit my blog, you probably have seen Magic on my Weekly KPOP Charts, featured as the non-Korean KPOP Release of the Week corner of the segment for two or three weeks now. And it is obviously a song which I have really been dying to review for a while now. Magic is TXT’s first full-English track, featured on the group’s latest mini-album, The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE. There is so much to enjoy in this track. The upbeat, groovy and funky energy we get in the instrumentation, the energy that comes off said instrumentation, the catchy and repetitive hooks that we get. All of these are reasons why I cannot stay away from the track. The chorus is an exceptional peak for this song, encapsulating all of the above into sequences that are literally keyed into my mind. I also like how the members deliver the chorus in a falsetto matter. I also like the addictive chanty ‘everybody clap your hands‘ lines that follows the second and final choruses. For the music video, I liked the futuristic concept and story that was being told. TXT are humans, sent from the white spaceship to rescue their fellow humans who were held captive by the robots. TXT ended up getting caught and information was being extracted from their while they were in captive. But being clever (and I think they were of a high status), the members escaped captivity and spread their message or ‘magic’ throughout the robot population (i.e. the robots went from robotic mannerisms to becoming very freeing, dancing along to the music). In the end, the members ‘freed’ the robotic population and were zapped back to their spaceship. Aside from the plot line, I liked the white sets (looked sterile, which is fitting for the robotic theme for some reason). But I also liked the use of the colour of blue, which really popped out. Choreography-wise, TXT really shows off their stamina with a routine that just keeps on going. I really like the ‘Oh, Oh, Oh‘ part in the choruses and how only one of them moves and then everyone joins in. It is a simple move, but it looks really cool. (10/10)
Flavors of Love – MONSTA X
Flavors of Love is the title of both MONSTA X’s most recent title track in Japan and the title of their 3rd Japanese studio album, released in May 2021. If you are looking for that intensity that MONSTA X, then this isn’t the right song for you (I recommend WANTED, which is also on the same album). Flavors of Love is more of a casual song, consisting of a mid-tempo pop acoustic guitar instrumentation and a light-hearted tone. If you are an avid MONSTA X fan (or Monbebe), you will realize that this is very foreign territory for the group. But it is a nice change of sound for the group, whose songs tend to be harsh and intense (as mentioned previously). The members vocals also reflect this change. I do find their voices to be more pure in this release, with less processing and autotune applied to it their voices as usual. They also sound much sweeter than usual. The rappers (Joohoney and I.M) also tweak their sequences to be softer and warmer. The song has a decent melody and hooks, making it a nice addition. I do prefer their harsher sounds, however, though this would be a nice b-side. The music video is cheerful and shows the members chilling and enjoying some free time as their leisurely record the song. Nothing really that interesting in the video, other than the fact that the video reflects well with the song. As far as I know, there isn’t a choreography for this comeback. There is a performance version, but they sit on chairs and happily deliver Flavors of Love to the audience. As a result, this wasn’t reflected in the final rating. (8/10)
Back To You – Kun & Xiaojun (WayV)
Next up is Back To You, a ballad performed by Kun and Xiaojun from WayV (which is a NCT subunit, for those who are wondering why I am reviewing a Chinese group). It is an extremely nice ballad, instrumented with classical instrumentation typical of the ballad genre. There is a bit of deep brass (tuba, I think?), which is different from other ballads which are usually piano and strings oriented. I really liked how the instrumental built upon itself. This is always a good sign, as it means the song is developing as it goes and the ballad isn’t just a ‘straight line’. But that is one half of the song. The other half is Kun and Xiaojun, whom brings beautiful vocals to Back To You. They helped make Back To You into a captivating piece. It followed the same development as the instrumental, with their vocals building as the song progressed. Kun and Xiaojun also do a good job of giving the group a slightly different spotlight. I am more used to WayV’s dance tracks and I wasn’t known that the group had vocalists had capable vocalists who could handle stunning songs like this. It definitely makes me more aware of WayV’s skillset. The music video was good, but not as stunning as I hoped. We see the pair hang out in the forest and along the shoreline. A lot of the video has been edited to be slow, which made sense. I liked the views of the setting they gave us (particuarly that night time shot in the forest) and the pair looks good. I feel the video could have included more breathtaking shots of the scenery, as this would have provided a slightly different dynamic but still keep true to the ballad style. (8.6/10)
Zoom – CN BLUE
CN BLUE makes their first Japanese release since 2017’s Shake. This is their first work since the release of their most recent Korean comeback, Then, Now and Forever. Zoom is the group’s first upbeat track in a while, which is very refreshing and more captivating that their ballad comeback in November 2020. That instantly says a lot already. I like the brightness that the song has and the lighthearted energy that it emits. Though I do think it is the least captivating track out of the bunch I am reviewing today. I do yearn for something more meaty from the band, though I guess I have wait some more for that. I do like Yonghwa’s vocals in this song. I miss his voice and am happy that I am hearing his vocals once again. I am also glad that Minhyuk and Jungshin also leant a hand in the vocal department, providing backing vocals for the chorus’ hooks and Jungshin rapping that sequence in the second verse. I wish there was more of this, especially in their Korean releases, as CN BLUE is not just a one-man band. Though sometimes, it feels that way with just Yonghwa singing. For the music video, we see the members alone and this is rather frustrating for them. They all get invited to something, but we don’t see the resolution of the frustration. I wished we got to see that, so that the video had some sense of closure. I did feel the lighting in this video was a bit much and wished it was toned down a bit. It made the video look a bit glary and took away the effect of the colours. (7.3/10)
Permission To Dance – BTS
The release everyone is talking about. I liked the message and energy they are spreading with this song. But out of their Western releases thus far, I feel Permission To Dance is their weakest. I really liked both Dynamite and Butter as they had that heftiness that helped make them catchy and addictive. Permission To Dance is nothing more than a lighthearted piece and pretty much side-track material. They could have been more intense in some parts, but I felt the song had too many ‘soft edges’. There are aspects of the song I did like, however. I liked how the instrumental didn’t rely on much synths. Rather, a hearty selection of ‘classical’ instruments were used to form the backing of the song. I find this to be different and gives off a unique appeal. It also enables the presence of various percussion effects in the song , which added a nice textural flair. The vocal processing is something that I think could have gone out the door, once again. It feels so heavy and icky. Knowing BTS’ skills, they don’t need it whatsoever. So I wonder why the producers feel it is necessary to process their vocals in such a heavy manner. There were some decent hooks, though they don’t have that same level of appeal as Dynamite or Butter‘s had. Though I do hear they added a bit of the Dynamite hook to the song (the ‘Da na na na‘). I liked how the music video had inserts of ordinary people ripping off their masks and dancing along to the music. It reflects well with the message of being free and able to do your own thing. I also liked how the music video isn’t in a ‘set’. It isn’t as fake as their previous music videos, which is a good thing. Choreography-wise, I liked how BTS brought that lighthearted feel to the routine. It looks relatively simple and it looks like the members have a bit of fun in the performance as well. I also like the inclusive nature of the choreography, as they incorporated internal sign language into the choreography. Not exactly the first time it happened, but definitely something that should happen more often! (7.7/10)
Next up on the reviewing block is yesterday’s release of GAMBLER by MONSTA X. The new single comes from their ninth mini-album, One Of A Kind. It follows the November release of LOVE KILLA and their third studio album, Fatal Love (which I have previously reviewed). Since then, the group released Japanese versions of their previous Korean title track, a new original Japanese single (titled Wanted) and their third studio album in the Japanese pop music market titled Flavour of Love. The lead single off that album hasn’t been reviewed yet and I will doing that in an upcoming International Song Review post. In the meantime, sit back and prepare for a secretive listening session with MONSTA X’s GAMBLER.
MONSTA X takes a few steps away from their usual EDM based tracks for a sleeker sound. The usual intensity that we have gotten through many title tracks from MONSTA X is still present, just delivered in a different manner this time around. GAMBLER features this groovier foundation, which is a refreshing sound for the group. Sure, it might not be the most innovative technique out there in the wider KPOP music scene, but it is definitely so for the group. The bass in this song brings forth that funkier sound and is highlighted by the electric guitars and drumming. There are synths in the song, that bring a rougher texture and bombastic sound, but they are not as intense and don’t contribute to the ‘noise’ as much as in their previous songs. The best part of the instrumentation, for me at least, is all the deep instrumentation we get. So much depth and texture to GAMBLER. Also adding so much texture to the song are the vocals and rapping. To me, I feel like the members are making up for that lack of EDM through their deliveries. Kihyun blasts us with his power vocals throughout the song, and we see more coverage of Hyungwon and Minhyuk in this song. I like Joohoney’s and I.M’s more rhythmic rapping sequence in the second verse. Usually, they come at us with this really aggressive sequence, featuring a lot of growling and raspiness. However in GAMBLER, they tone it back but still have that really impressive tone to it. Joohoney, in particular, also surprisingly brings us a high note towards the end of the song, showcasing his vocals which we have previously heard during their Versace on the Floor cover a few years back. His skillset is reiterated further down the track during a really intense ad-lib which compliments the electric guitars that come into play to close out the song. I have been waiting for Joohoney to bring that to a track and it is finally here. My most favourite part, in terms of vocals/rapping in GAMBLER, has to be the harmonies we get following the thumping dance break. There was a lot of unpack from the song and I don’t think I even covered all bases with regards to what I liked about GAMBLER. Though, I think it is safe to say that this is one of the best in a very long while.
Throughout the video, MONSTA X successfully hatch a very lucrative plan to steal a gem that has been dubbed MX0514 (MX standing for MONSTA X and 0514 representing the date in which they made their debut over seven years ago – which I guess means they have renewed their contract with Starship Entertainment given that initial contracts last 7 years). They each infiltrate a private auction and try to scare the potential buyer by putting him under some bidding stress by following his bids very closely. All the members become bidders by killing other bidders or stealing their invitation. Meanwhile, Joohoney kidnaps the person who is supposed to be overseeing the auction and takes on the role of the auctioneer. Assuming that they didn’t have money to begin with to win at the auction, Kihyun and Minhyuk start a fight at the auction, timing it to when Kihyun had set the timer to go off to cause an extensive blackout, which resulted in the members defeating everyone who is not part of their team and hence allowing them to steal the gem without any problems. I am not exactly sure of the ending though, as they drive away from the scene in police cars (i.e. are they police?). My guess that this is just a cover to help they get away from the scene. It is a really cool video that shows off their fierce and bad-boy looks, showing us who not to mess with.
Unfortunately, Shownu is sitting out of promotions for GAMBLER due to a medical issue. Despite this, the rest of the group make up for their leader’s absence by filling up the stage with their stage presence. I have said this before, but facial expressions make up a really massive part of the stage performance. And watching their performance, each member really hit the nail perfectly in regards to facial expressions, filling up any gaps with their stage presence. The energy that comes from the performance as a result is thrilling and really captivating.
Song – 9.5/10 Music Video – 10/10 Performance – 9/10 Overall Rating – 9.6/10