Looking back, I was unfairly harsh on JBJ95’s debut last October. Despite its repetitive hook, Home stuck around through the winter and unveiled its charms gradually. When it comes to style and sound, I’m still not sure exactly who JBJ95 are as a duo, but in a landscape crammed with boy groups, their small configuration makes them stand out. Awake harnesses that energy but plays it too safe, marching through the deep-house-via-K-pop template without doing much to stand on its own.
Deep house has never been the K-pop industry’s single biggest trend, but its persistent influence has loomed large since SHINee’s View in 2015 — so prevalent that it almost feels like its own Korean sub-genre. Unfortunately, the sound has been wrung dry. It takes one hell of a melody or surprising instrumental flourish to make a song of this nature really pop. Awake’s catchy chorus is fine, but it never requires much from its listener. In its eagerness to please, it feels too throwaway — almost like stock music to throw in the background of an advertisement or variety show.
Awake bops along without issue until its second verse, which launches into a half-time trap rap breakdown — that most unwelcome of K-pop beasts. Given member Sanggyun’s position as rapper, the track obviously needs to showcase his skill in some way. But, I don’t know why this verse had to be encased in a tempo-shifting, momentum-killing breakdown. This specific trope has become so infuriating (and pervasive) that it almost ruins an entire track for me. Awake has the opportunity to build. Instead, it briefly collapses before reverting back to the middle-of-the-road energy it supplied in its opening verse. As polished as it may be, it’s all just too generic to make any sort of splash.
I really loved Home as their first title track, and I hoped Awake could be much more than an anonymous follow-up. With so (TOO) many former Produce 101 contestants – including ex Wanna One members – in search of a peculiar “brand identity” in the market nowadays, JBJ95 seem to have walked one step beyond with Home and two steps back with Awake.
And probably their destiny is gonna be kinda “Thank u, next”.
The rest of the album is stronger. I would have loved ‘Who I Am’ as the title track.
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