It’s a testament to Korea’s love affair with generic Western musical trends that Shaun’s Way Back Home became one of 2018’s biggest sleeper hits, despite the fact that it came from a virtually unknown artist and wasn’t even meant to be a title track. I could debate the actual quality of that song, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. To me, its success represented all of the industry’s worst, trend-chasing instincts.
With this in mind, the appropriately titled Bad Habits (습관) has a lot to answer for as this year’s first notable release. If I had to suffer through 2019 kicking off with yet another tropical synth squiggle, I’d be ready to fast forward to 2020. But approaching Habits with low expectations and a whole lot of cynicism turned out the be the best thing for the song. It still feels generic in its own EDM way, but I quickly found myself won over by the straightforward pop melody and dramatic, strings-assisted instrumental.
The synth-driven beat has a satisfying, chugging propulsion to it, and never resorts to the kind of cut-and-paste drop it seems to be building toward. Instead, the chorus unveils a more fleshed-out blend of electronics, supporting a simple — but effective — vocal hook. However, Habits’ secret weapon is a final-chorus key change, where both the instrumental and vocals surge upward to create renewed interest in a melody that threatens to flatline two-thirds of the way through. It’s an unexpected burst of power that ends the song on a high note and gives it the kind of impact that many of these EDM-style tracks lack. I guess I’m a convert to Shaun’s trendy music, and that’s 2019’s first big surprise.