Since going solo, Xia has almost always come back with an edgy, ambitious title track that redefines the boundaries of what kpop can be. But time after time, I find myself wishing that this experimentation carried through the entire running time of his accompanying albums. As crazy-good a dancer as he is, it feels like ballads are his musical bread and butter. Rock The World straddles the line, mashing together both of these styles in a song that seems maddeningly disjointed the first time through, but really comes to life over repeated listens.
Rock The World opens with a disorienting, almost monotone staccato verse before jumping into one of several hip-hop influenced refrains. Next comes the hyper-melodic bridge, which is honestly one of the best pop moments we’ve heard all year. The instrumental swells to something mighty, giving a sense of theatrical bombast that instantly elevates everything around it. Unfortunately, its subsequent collapse into a spare breakdown sabotages the incredible build the song had going. This becomes less problematic once you know to expect it, though it still feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to go even bigger.
That’s really the only problem I have with the song, and even with that quibble, there’s far more to obsess over than to be critical of. Xia’s created a real patchwork creature here, and not everything balances out. But the fact that the track’s many disparate elements mesh at all is incredibly impressive. The Quiett and Automatic do feel utterly pointless in a brief verse that probably could have been delivered just as well by Xia himself, but I suspect they’re here to give this hip-hop reinvention extra credibility. Above all, Rock The World is a song created for its dynamic performance, and what I love most about it is that it recalls the weird, experimental side of kpop that I first fell in love with. Very few artists would be capable of pulling something like this off, and it’s yet another testament to Xia’s considerable talent and charisma that the song cuts through its kitchen-sink approach and comes together so brilliantly.