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.
I got into BTOB during the Complete era, and I really enjoyed “It’s Okay.” I liked their old material even more though, and it’s been a slow, sad decline in interest for me (with a brief bump for “Movie” last year). This song was a real disappointment for me. It feels like it was made specifically to cater to the charts. I guess that’s okay if that’s what they’re after now, but it just makes me sad because I know they’re capable of so much more. Oh well. They have worked hard, so if this is what they want to do, then so be it. I just miss feeling that sense of anticipation about their comebacks.
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Yep, much like Twice no one can fault them for continuing to peddle a successful formula. But with BTOB, it’s feeling more and more like their new music is just *there*. It’s not great and it’s not horrible. But constantly hitting that murky area between the two can be its own problem.
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