Song Review: Taemin – Criminal

Though I’ve enjoyed virtually everything Taemin has released, and often hold him up as one of K-pop’s luminary performers, there’s a certain energy I’ve missed from his Korean output since 2016. Perhaps this is just my bias, having grown up with the Jacksons as my musical icons, but Taemin has always struck me as one of the few K-pop artists capable of hoisting that heavy mantle. Past singles Danger and Press Your Number lived up to that promise, and new single Criminal is a perfect extension. The Taemin I adore is back, and better than ever.

Criminal was described by SM Entertainment as “synthwave,” but the song only uses that as a jumping off point. Above all, this is the Full Taemin Show, placing his charismatic vocal over a pulsing dance beat that feels like 2017’s Move on caffeine. Its verses are slinky and atmospheric, but Criminal is anchored by its killer chorus. It’s a brilliant melody, spiraling with a hypnotic structure that perfectly compliments the layers of synth underneath. It’s not a bombastic refrain, but grows more forceful and compelling with each repetition. I absolutely love Criminal’s climax, as additional vocal tics and ad-libs forge a playful arrangement and Taemin’s delivery becomes stronger.

Criminal’s instrumental is also deserving of praise. Though it slows a bit during the second verse, a consistent kick helps keep the track chugging along. The synth textures are evocative and exciting and add plenty of drama as the melody pulls and pushes the song in different directions. There’s a welcome sense of growth to the entire track. The production becomes more dense and daring as we reach Criminal’s finale. The police scanner dialogue during the bridge is a fun, theatrical touch, driving home the song’s cinematic concept. It all comes together to create a thrilling, fully-realized comeback that sees Taemin at the top of his game.

 Hooks 9
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 10
 RATING 9.25



40 thoughts on “Song Review: Taemin – Criminal

  1. My only complaint is that the vocals are too mellow sounding, too much falsetto for my taste and some of the transitions out if falsetto are not particularly great. It continues the trend of SHINee materials potentially working great with capable female recording artists. Apart from that this is pretty great.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s interesting that you bring this up, because this is an issue that I’ve had with Taemin’s solo music in general. He often takes a subdued approach to his vocal delivery in places where I’m not sure that works. He’s such an incredible performer, but I love it when he sings more forcefully.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. September has been an absolute dream of releases so far.
    This whole album seems like the sequel to Press It which is everything I could have ever wanted. Can’t believe there’s another whole album waiting to be dropped after this too


  3. 1 week in and we already have 3 songs running for Top 3 of the month!

    This song is awesome and proves that 2021 might be a great year if we get quality like this everywhere.

    Taemin fires back with this slinky and funky song! I love everything about this!

    I never know how to describe a song when I hear it but You take the words I have in my head and put it out onto the blog! Thanks , Nick!

    I’ll give it 9.25 , also.

    I feel like this month will be……. Criminal vs Favorite Boys challenge and I’m living for it!

    Can you believe that there is still 23 Days left………..
    We have The Boyz coming back with A song named Chaser (Please don’t ruin it , TheBoyz) , Ghost9 are debuting (don’t ruin this , either) Stray Kids is coming back with something promising and UP10TION Might Deliver something awesome and following the pattern , VAV might deliver something average/good!


  4. 2021 wasn’t disappointing. It just didn’t have enough Taemin. And now with Wonho and Taemin tracks in the same week I don’t know how I’m even ALIVE. Also yes to the production, especially the sirens in the opening

    Off Topic:
    -Just heard that new Dreamcatcher album, it was amazing


  5. I love the synth! But I feel like the vocal gets lost in the mix in some places, which is a complaint I’ve had about Baekhyun’s solo releases too. The vocal performance nine times out of ten determines whether I like a song or not so I hate when it feels hidden. But the last chorus! That upper vocal part is perfect, & it’s so clear that it cuts through everything else & captures your attention. This year I’ve been loving a lot of pre-choruses, but Criminal’s chorus is fantastic.


    • Yeah, the rest of the album isn’t my cup of tea at all, which is similar to how I’ve felt about most of Taemin’s albums post-2016.

      Apart from Famous, which I don’t include since it’s drawn from another album, the whole thing is just all the same mid-tempo energy.

      I don’t know… I get the sense that Taemin doesn’t really enjoy recording dance songs anymore, which is a shame because I think that’s where he excels (as evidenced by Criminal).

      I’m a bit baffled by the general consensus that this is his best album since Press It. Press It was SO much more varied and ambitious than this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Can’t agree more, I found it all to be pretty forgettable which is sad because even if I found his albums after Press It to be worse, there were at least two or three songs I could easily pick out that I wanted to listen to. This one felt stuffed with a weird mix of trap and then towards the end not enough energy where my only observation was at least he still sounds amazing.


      • Hi Nick, can you please elaborate on Taemin not really enjoying recording dance songs. Where do you get this sort of impression and why? It’s the first time I’ve heard of it and if that’s the case I think it’s a bit of a shame as I personally love his take on dance songs. Has he indicated other things he’d rather do with his artistry?


        • This is total speculation on my part, and may be 100% wrong.

          Tracing his solo career, he seems like a different artist than he was in 2014. His debut, and to a lesser extent Press It, was filled with mostly uptempo dance tracks. Now, it seems like the only fast-paced material we get are his singles, and even those are often more slinky and sultry than purely upbeat.

          Based on interviews I’ve read and the general vibe of his current music, I get the sense that he has more creative control now than he did back then. He often cites slower tracks as his favorite picks from his recent albums. His Japanese work is an exception, though I imagine he has less control over that content than he does in Korea.

          I just think, if he truly loved recording big, bombastic dance tracks, we’d be hearing much more of them on his album. Instead, he pulls one out now and then as an obvious title track choice, but stuffs the albums with more mid-tempo fare.

          And this is totally fine, btw. It’s his prerogative to do what he wants and enjoys. It’s just not what I personally crave from his music.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. after listening to yooa’s bon voyage first and being absolutely disgusted i was praying hard that taemin wouldn’t disappoint me too… AND HE DIDN’T!! this is soty for me i’ve already decided
    taemin king shit


      • i think it’s an issue that pervades kpop in general but the way that WM entertainment and oh my girl themselves have generally shown themselves to be totally okay with ripping aesthetics and sounds that come from subaltern cultures to make pop music despite feedback from fans that it’s actually offensive to a lot of people has always rubbed me the wrong way (indigenous culture and a weird generic “african” aesthetic in this case, which in itself is a whole other can of worms that is indicative in general of the way that the west views, consumes, and produces an ignorant image of “africa”)
        i understand that kpop fans and kpop producers and a lot of the south korean public don’t give a shit and a lot of people don’t think it’s bad but like.. i’m just tired. this whole thing is just a mess and i am actually a little disgusted by it. like shoving together random “indigenous” aesthetics of the video with the quasi-african caricature of an instrumental with trop house inflections (in itself a bit of an appropriative genre!) is dumb and bad and it makes me, as a person who has a degree in history and who has studied racism, oppression, and cultural hegemony/power hierarchies deeply sad and disillusioned.


        • “the way that WM entertainment and oh my girl themselves have generally shown themselves to be totally okay with ripping aesthetics and sounds that come from subaltern cultures to make pop music”
          But that’s how music is and always has been? You act like this is strictly a WM and OMG problem. Kpop incorporates genres, influences from other cultures and mixes it up the way only Kpop can. This has been done many years and people love it. Not only Koreans but internationally as well. And since when was incorporating influences from cultures considered offensive. I have friends from Africa, Pasifika regions that were absolutely amazed to see elements of their culture being presented in unique ways in Bon Voyage.

          Now I understand the whole idea of cultural appropriation. But I’m starting to think this whole idea of incorporating cultures equals to being offensive is being taken too far. In an age of globalization, this is only going to increase, and until when are these people going to keep complaining? I’m also starting to think these people are creating mountains about molehills and putting words in everyone’s mouths. Are the people related to the incorporated cultures actually offended? The thing is with music, it will offend anyone and someone. It is simply not pragmatic to attempt to cater to every single person in order to make sure nobody is offended. In an age of democracy where the majority opinion rules I hardly think it’s much of a problem.

          You say you have a degree in history and studied racism and oppression and others which is great but you’re shoehorning an agenda into Kpop, a cultural phenomenon being heavily influenced by black culture and American culture and mixing various styles and genres and cultures from all over the world.

          Liked by 6 people

  7. Ugh, this song is so good. It’s so heavy and thick and smothering but I love that kind of music. It’s sort of like drowning in mud, it’s slow and suffocating. But that higher twinkling synth makes it bearable. His voice though pretty high(someone in the comments mentioned it was mostly falsetto) doesn’t really add much relief to that heavy feeling. I really love songs that literally take my breath away and make breathing hard. Listening to it with headphones is such an experience. Without any breaks or dramatic shifts, the entire song kind of blended together, and it sort of seems like one long chorus but it works(also I’m really bad at remembering songs so maybe it’s just me). Taemin has this incredible otherworldly presence to him(comparing hi to MJ is quite apt) and it just gives me goosebumps.
    Coming from YooA’s solo review this is definitely more my style and much more filled and fleshed out. The song just doesn’t let up but its pace isn’t fast so going back to that mud metaphor, it is like a slow ease in but once there, you’re stuck. Solid 9.5 for me.
    Also, I have to say, I feel like Taemin’s title tracks have a consistent horniness to them and the beginning dance gave me HEAVY bondage vibes.


  8. I really like the song! That elevated my expectations for the album, that unfortunately isn’t that good. The first half of the album is okay, not that good (apart from Criminal) but the second part is pretty boring. The korean version of Famous ends up being one of the highlights of the album and I wasn’t even a big fan of it when it came out (I felt that the chorus needed something more). It isn’t a bad album at all, it just feels really flat after Criminal, especially since it’s the first song on it.


    • Yeah, after one listen I have little desire to go back to anything past Criminal again. It’s a shame. I still consider Ace and Press It to be epic, a-list K-pop albums.


  9. In Taemin we trust. This is definitely going on my top list not only of the month but of the year. Out of nowhere, but this song reminds me of science fiction movies like Blade Runner, very similar to the sound of Kavinsky. Exactly my taste.


    • For sure! That’s the synthwave influence at work. As the kids would say, it’s “aesthetic.”

      (which makes my toes curl because that’s not how you use that word…)


  10. This feels like a victory lap. Not unlike Sunmi’s pporappippam, with Criminal we have Taemin doubling down in a genre/sound he masters.

    PD. I think the album’s great! I hope Act 2 brings some other bangers too, but I just adore Taemin on those darker, exquisitely-produced r&b songs.


  11. Rating it 9.25 is fair, but my bias would elevate it to 9.75.
    As another commenter stated, Taemin’s singles do have a consistent horniness to them and dear lord my guy is fucking hot as fuck. Devastatingly hot. I’m DRIPPIN!

    *wink wink


  12. So this happened this morning. I peek into the dining room slash school room to check on the kiddos. I see Darling Daughter’s screen, and it has Taemin’s Criminal video playing. But mom, someone sent me the link in the class chat so I can watch it! She also says its really good.

    I really truly have a tween now.


      • Well, yes. At least I know she isn’t smoking out back behind the school.

        On a related note, you have by now probably seen the online teaching meme going around that goes like this:
        Some are teaching Synchronous
        Some are teaching ASynchronous
        But if anyone is going to teach NSynchronous
        It’s gonna be me!


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