Between their Mnet origins and questionable recruitment for Road to Kingdom, I brushed rookie group TOO off as yet another generic, talent-show spawned trend follower. But, their stint on Kingdom showed surprising promise, and with Count 1, 2 (하나 둘 세고) they’ve completely won me over. The song is a breath of fresh air, proving that boy groups can still promote upbeat, lighthearted material in 2020.
When it comes down to it, my expectations for a good K-pop song are pretty simple. Give me a nice melodic chorus I can sing along with, and fuse it to an upbeat groove that never gets interrupted by some posturing trap rap breakdown. This straightforward structure seems like it would be easy to find, but this new generation of K-pop has been frustratingly stingy in both regards. This has only served to make good old-fashioned pop tracks stand out even more. Had Count 1, 2 been released even four years ago, I probably wouldn’t be all that excited about it. But in the context of 2020, its fresh, buoyant energy and streamlined structure feel like small revelations.
Count 1, 2 heralds its arrival with a welcome dose of sparkling synth before moving into a brisk verse that recalls everything from debut-era Astro to UP10TION’s summer classic Tonight. The percussion is sprightly, the electronic flourishes are exuberant, and the vocals have a satisfying breeziness to them. This segment climaxes in a gorgeous pre-chorus that pulls back on the instrumentation to focus on a harmonic crescendo.
From here, Count 1, 2 crashes into its beautiful chorus, which layers the guys’ falsetto for a surprisingly soulful, old-school blend. The melody is fleshed out in a way we don’t often hear anymore, bounding along a sunny arrangement that just makes you feel great. And as we enter verse two, the momentum continues. There’s a rap verse, but not the kind of energy-sucking trap nonsense every other boy group track is peddling this year. Instead, we’re treated to a nimble burst of hip-hop that rides the rhythm rather than distracting from it. Again, this shouldn’t be shocking, but the fact that Count 1, 2 never puts a foot wrong is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
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