Nearly every 2018 TVXQ release has felt underwhelming in some regard, and I only have myself to blame. They are my second-most-listened-to K-pop artist after Infinite, and as the years have gone on I’ve positioned them as untouchable legends within the industry. An over two-year hiatus only cemented this status, as I watched K-pop move on to trendier territory during their absence. In some alternate reality I’ve concocted, I imagined them returning with the kind of material that would right so many of these perceived wrongs – another Rising Sun or Catch Me or Spellbound. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure to put on any artist, legendary or not.
What we received instead was a nuanced, mature Korean album and some less-than-stellar Japanese work. Their old SM Performance Style shtick seems lost to the ages, and for that I am eternally bummed. But that sense of longing shouldn’t color TVXQ’s future material. It wouldn’t be fair.
New Japanese single Jealous doesn’t come close to touching the duo’s best work, but that’s not an excuse to write it off completely. Its brassy, percussive stomp points in the right direction, giving the guys an instrumental that feels as regal as they are. The theatrical background vocals are a nice touch, adding heft to the slinky hook. I like how the performance isn’t overblown. It relies heavily on falsetto, but always feels commanding. So why am I still underwhelmed? It could be that I continue to compare a song like Jealous to some of K-pop’s all-time classics. Or, it could be that the melody just isn’t all that interesting. “I’m jealous of myself” quickly becomes a grating hook, even if it’s performed with conviction. TVXQ are great. They’ll never not be great. But, I’m still in search for that no-holds-barred, epic comeback.