Of all the comebacks and dramas that are likely to happen in k-pop this year, Beast‘s transformation into Highlight might just be the most interesting. Acts have left their agencies before, but I can’t think of another group of Beast’s caliber that have had to change their entire brand because of a switch in management. In some ways, they’ve followed senior group Shinhwa‘s lead in creating their own agency, but Shinhwa are still called Shinhwa, and are allowed to perform their back catalog of hits. That may end up happening for Beast as well, but at the moment they’re basically starting back at ground zero despite their eight years as an idol group.
As we might expect from the guys of Highlight, their official debut comes not with a full-fledged title track, but a ballad pre-release. We’ll have to wait another week to see what they’ve got in store for their first promotions. Until then, It’s Still Beautiful (아름답다) proves that they haven’t lost any of their potency when it comes to penning affecting, impressive ballads. The song’s melody unfolds gradually, trading instant gratification for something more tentative and restrained. This approach makes it difficult to latch on to the track immediately, but rewards repeated listens. More importantly, its stripped-back, unhurried arrangement shines a spotlight on the guys’ incredible vocals. I don’t think they’ve ever sounded better, each offering a unique tone but matching each other for emotion.
The production is similarly stripped back. While the simple piano accompaniment isn’t particularly interesting on its own, it gives necessary room for Beautiful‘s sentimental core to truly shine. The song may not be the huge exclamation point that Highlight needs to throw down the k-pop gauntlet, but it’s a promising teaser for what’s to come. It’s reassuring that the quality of their music hasn’t dimmed with the name change.