Last October, the largest boyband in South Korea, BTS, announced that they would be taking a break. Known for breaking the conventions of western pop, they revealed this news in a captivating manner. It was during their annual YouTube broadcast of the band having dinner together that the announcement was made. While enjoying a few bottles of whisky, the members were openly critical of K-pop’s strict system of developing pop stars. Leader RM expressed frustration with the lack of time for personal growth, stating that artists are constantly expected to produce music and stay busy. Rapper Suga also shared his struggles with finding inspiration and a message to convey through their music.
Drunk band members telling an audience of 32m that inspiration has run dry: it goes without saying this is not the normal way for boybands to announce their disbandment, temporary or otherwise. But in one sense at least, BTS’s hiatus is proceeding according to the standard script. When a boyband splits, it is invariably the lot of one member to embark on a solo career plying a more raffish, R&B-inspired musical direction. Which brings us to Golden, the debut solo album by BTS’s Jung Kook.
Two popular songs, 3D and Seven, are released along with this album. The first song has a guest appearance from Jack Harlow and contains lyrics about shrooms and thots. The sound of this song is similar to that of the Neptunes, who produced Justin Timberlake’s debut solo album, Justified. The second song is inspired by 2-step UK garage music and features rapper Latto. The lyrics on this track are more explicit compared to BTS’s previous album, Map of the Soul: Persona, which was influenced by Carl Jung. It is clear that Jung Kook’s intentions are to have sexual relations with someone, as he sings “Night after night, I’ll be making love to you.”
You might think the transition from baby-faced maknae – the K-pop term for the youngest member of a band, often teased and doted on by their bandmates – to this orgiastic, psilocybin-fuelled realm would be a tricky one, but that would overlook the devotion of BTS fans. Seven entered the US charts at No 1; 3D reached the Top 5 and accumulated 104m streams in seven days. BTS fans are so devoted that if Jung Kook had kicked off his solo career with a cover of Carcass’s Crepitating Bowel Erosion, they would have sent that to No 1 as well. Equally, there’s no doubt that the 10 tracks on Golden are well-done – as you might hope, given the wealth of spendy production and songwriting talent in the credits – if occasionally a shade too close to their source material for comfort. Beyond Timberlake, the other model seems to be Justin Bieber’s career-resuscitating 2015 album Purpose: Jung Kook’s Major Lazer collaboration Closer to You leans into the tropical house sound of Bieber’s Sorry, while Too Sad to Dance owes a fairly obvious debt to his Ed Sheeran-penned smash Love Yourself.
Ed Sheeran also contributes to songwriting duties on this track, but his style leans towards the R&B-influenced side of his work. While avoiding any potential legal issues, there is a slight resemblance to R Kelly’s “Ignition” in the catchy melody of “Yes or No.” Jung Kook’s breathy vocals are strong enough that you may question the need for AutoTune, and there are plenty of hooks on the ballads that showcase his voice, such as the tremulous “Hate You” with its Bee Gees-esque harmonies, and the closing anthem “Shot Glass of Tears.” The only weak point is “Standing Next to You,” which starts off strong with a lively, live-sounding intro reminiscent of Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” but then falls flat with a lackluster disco-house tempo.
Although well-crafted and catchy, some listeners who are not fully committed may question the hype surrounding Golden, an album that seems to be detached from the mainstream pop world. Despite its inclusion of elements like maknae, annual dinner parties, and Jung-inspired concept albums, which may be seen as more intriguing than what is happening in western pop, the music itself is simply decent mainstream pop without any particularly unique or fresh sonic elements. However, the success of Golden is already guaranteed, as evidenced by its high sales figures, making the opinions of agnostic listeners irrelevant.
This week, Alexis tuned in to.
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