A legacy can be both a blessing and a curse. TVXQ’s storied past includes some of my favorite K-pop ever, and the guys continue to be incredibly active since their return from the military in 2017. Yet, each time they release a new song, I expect it to hit me the way that their past material had. So far, that expectation has often led to disappointment. That’s not to say that their post-2017 has been bad, but none of it has managed to live up to the best in their discography.
The same could be said about new Japanese single Guilty. The song recaptures much of the energy from their 2012/13 work, pulsing with an aggressive, guitar-infused dance beat. This would slot nicely beside a song like Scream, but something seems missing. The verses open with a cool, anthemic chant before segueing into a slinky melody supported by blasts of distorted guitar. I like everything about this, even if it’s an arrangement we’ve heard from them before. Things become even more addicting when Yunho takes over the second verse for an old-school SM-style rap.
I’m not as sold on Guilty’s chorus. The refrain just doesn’t feel as impactful as the song’s bombastic production promises. I kept waiting for the track to surprise me, but it treads the same ground I expected, with little to set it apart from stronger entries in the group’s catalog. And like much of the duo’s recent work, the melodic structure seems to demand an unnecessarily shrill performance from both vocalists. Even so, workmanlike TVXQ is still more exciting than most pop music. My search for a modern classic from the guys continues, but Guilty scratches a very specific itch, retreading past glories in the process.