Ever since their 2015 commercial resurgence with cathartic ballad It’s Okay, BTOB have fallen into a pattern of increasingly toothless pop music. They’ve never been more successful than they are now, so it’s hard to fault them from sticking to a winning formula, but I fear that any bit of edge has been completely ironed out of their sound.
The best thing that I can say about new single Only One For Me (너 없인 안 된다) is that it sounds like a long lost, late-90’s Backstreet Boys track. Some may read that as a criticism, but I mean it as a compliment. The song glides along a similarly buoyant pop beat as classics like All I Have To Give and As Long As You Love Me, slightly augmented with an ear for today’s tropical trends. There’s a softness to the production that feels instantly comforting, even as it blunts the song’s overall effect. It’s good vibes all around, and doesn’t demand any heavy lifting on the part of the listener.
In this way, BTOB have transitioned to become k-pop’s answer to easy listening, adult contemporary idol fare. Only One’s ingratiating melody crests like a good ballad, but its safe, familiar arrangement prevents it from truly soaring. Thankfully, there’s no awful English-language rap verse this time around. Instead, the song finds a sprightly pop pace and maintains it. As with so much of BTOB’s recent material, you get exactly what you expect. Set your level of criticism accordingly.