Song Review: Key (SHINee) – Bad Love

Key - Bad LoveAfter being delayed from a planned July release, SHINee’s Key has finally returned as a soloist with his Bad Love mini album. Judging from reports, he and SM Entertainment clashed on everything from concept to title track. I imagine a scenario where SM presented some dusty old NCT scrap and said: “this is what the kids are doing today.” Quite rightfully, Key insisted he follow his own path. He’s been vocal about this album representing the kind of music he enjoys, and I’m immensely proud of him for sticking to his guns. Key and I happen to share similar taste in pop music, but even if we didn’t, it’s so important for artists to release material they enjoy performing.

With this in mind, Bad Love is utterly victorious. If anyone was going to do justice to K-pop’s new retro trend, it’s Key. It’s as if he was simply biding his time, waiting for this style of synth-infused dance pop to make a resurgence.

After a scuzzy bit of electro distortion, Bad Love vaults into its undulous beat. This heavy synth groove powers most of the track, apart from the beautiful pre-choruses that opt for a nimbler rhythm. Every element comes together for the chorus, crafting a forceful arrangement powered by chanted backing vocals and exuberant samples. This results in a track that never lets up. Bad Love is intense from start to finish, and Key’s vocal follows suit.

On first listen, I was knocked flat by Key’s performance. We all know how talented each and every member of SHINee is, but when it comes to Key I picture fashion and attitude before bombastic power vocals. Yet, his delivery on Bad Love knocks it out of the park. He belts most lines and sounds totally comfortable doing so. His climactic ad-libs shoot the song to the stars, adding that uniquely K-pop flair that turns global musical trends into theatrical euphoria. And, he’s helped along by melodically rich songwriting. Bad Love’s chorus soars, but every segment of the song finds unexpected peaks that keep it from stalling. Key’s solo work has always been great, but this feels like his full potential unleashed.

 Hooks 10
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 10

52 thoughts on “Song Review: Key (SHINee) – Bad Love

  1. this is it! A really really amazing Key solo release. This is the best SM solo release in a very long time. I think it surpasses “Criminal” tbh. When I see the Shinee members doing what they do best, either solo or as a group, it is inspiring, emotional and most of the time a whole lot of fun.

    I love it. the production, the performance, and yes his visuals and attitude. All on point.
    I feel like there were some teasers of “Don’t call me” that hinted at the 50s sci fi nostalgia and I’m glad to see a comeback that totally embraces it in all its imagery.

    Also when the “retro” trend emerged I felt it was too Weeknd-y and not Depeche Mode-y enough. this is Depeche Mode-y enough.

    I hope there are some follow up reviews because it’s also an incredible mini-album. Have a feeling you dug “Yellow Tape.” I personally was blown away by “Helium”. even “Hate that…” makes sense in the track listing.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Well, clearly the universe heard me grousing about the quality of MVs that’s been coming out recently, because this is the fourth MV this week – all male soloists, for whatever reason – that I’ve added to my sadly neglected MV playlist. The retro space theme spoke to my Trekkie heart, not that the references were subtle. I had to replay the closing choreo formation several times – if they do that bonkers drop/canon in even one live stage I will be a happy, happy panda.

    But anyhow, the song. This is one of those that I can tell it’s a very good song, but since this kind of retro synth-heavy sound doesn’t generally do it for me, I don’t really feel the need to listen to it again (unless it’s in conjunction with the choreo). Why did “Dimples” grab me enough to get playlisted and “Bad Love” doesn’t? I have no idea. But the layered vocals on “Hate That…” – yes, that hits the spot. From the sound of the rest of the EP I’m guessing people who like the title will like the rest of the EP. I wish more EPs kept up a consistent sound like this. It’s just not my kind of sound.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. This is the most promising title track in a few months or so (I’d say since Dreamcatcher’s comeback). This and “Helium” are both excellent.


  4. Is it just me or do y’all get tingles down your spine and super excited whenever k-pop review master Nick rates a song 9 or higher? [especially when I see a 10]. I remember getting so ecstatic over the 9.75 he gave ‘Atlantis’, and I kinda had the same feeling here.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Well statistically, I should be more excited when he gives something a six or seven, since that’s where most of my favorite songs end up. But I think Nick’s enthusiasm is contagious, so it’s easy to get caught up when he’s excited about a particular song. I mean, we wouldn’t all be reading if we didn’t find his writing compelling and opinions at least worth considering.

      Liked by 7 people

      • Damn, I think what i really like about his reviews is that our opinions rarely differ by +-1 rating. It just gives me heaps of satisfaction knowing that someone else agrees with my opinion lol. I totally agree tho, Nick has a really contagious narrative voice. I think the combination of his knowledge and his fluent writing abilities are what make his reviews so enticing to read. Especially one’s with high ratings!

        Liked by 4 people

        • Well, I’ll admit it’s nice when Nick and I agree on a song, but I’ve spent much of my adult life developing a nearly complete lack of embarrassment when it comes to liking “lowbrow”/popular media of all sorts, and it can be fun to be a contrarian sometimes too. I appreciate that even when Nick really dislikes something he explains why and is very open about the role personal preference plays in enjoyment of any particular song.

          Liked by 4 people

    • For me it’s how the reviews mention some of the exact thoughts I had and how Nick actually puts them into words! So many tingly feelings! And the rare times I read the review before I even hear the song – I find the review described it perfectly! I haven’t heard Bad Love yet but have a strong feeling I will end up feeling the same way 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Completely agree!! The song is good and looking at Kenzie’s and Adrian McKinnon’s names in the credits I’m not surprised that I liked so much! What I can’t get over are Key’s vocals in it. In my mind, I know what he is capable of but that still took me aback! He confidently went for such a vocal challenging track and nailed it! This and Helium are the ones I’m looking forward to see full performance!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This song GLIDES. An instant classic.

    The mini album is probable the best of this year too. Yellow Tape is an electro stomper that needs to be given single treatment. Hate That is brimming with melancoly and reminds me of that late 00s midtempos Rihanna excelled at (Te Amo, Rehab…). Eighteen is subtle & powerful at the same time. And Helium & Saturday Night make great use of Key’s falsetto while tacklin’ the funk-pop and disco trends.

    He’s apparently said that this one’s the first album in which he’s controlled every little thing. It shows!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. I was just thinking last night about how this month had been quite barren and then i rememberer “Oh yeah, Key drops tomorrow”. I haven’t got the chance to listen but the reactions so far have me excited

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This song, video, and performance are greater than what I could have wished for. I avoided teasers so I could get the full experience from the song and video alone. I’m glad I did.

    What is great about Key is that he genuinely enjoys pop music and pop culture and seems to like pushing things forward instead of relying on what worked before. Compared to the female soloist in pop, there has been a lack of male soloist with the same commanding presence and understanding of what makes pop music great, especially in k-pop so Key’s efforts are welcomed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • If “Take Over” isn’t my top song of the month I’m going to absolutely lose my shit with happiness. I really don’t think anyone scheduled for release the next couple of days has it in them.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I can’t get over how vocally strong this is? I always knew Key had lots of talent obviously but he absolutely took me out here. Def one of the stronger retro releases. And to think SM probably wanted another NCT Dream like release.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. After an excruciating day at school, I completely forgot this song came out…….until my sis reminded me of its release and how amazing it was. After watching it, I finally see why. Key is absolutely amazing!! This is going straight to my fave songs of the year playlist!


  11. At some point after several years of being a massive Shinee fan I thought I would get used to them knocking me flat on my backside but I can tell you I have not.
    Even when my expectations already shoot for the moon, they blow right past me and gosh it is glorious.
    Key poured himself into every inch of this masterful comeback and it shows. I sincerely hope he gains some serious recognition for this. I mean he’s already a legend, but people could stand to mention it more. I also hope people recognize him more for both his skill set (i.e., his god tier vocals and choreography) and his mind-boggling creativity and artistry.
    The song of course is outstanding from beginning to end. I adore the chorus it’s like an epic punch in the gut, and the adlibs add so much weight to an already mighty mix. Additionally, the MV is probably one of my favorites of the year. Its glossed over with your typically vibrant kpop visuals but it draws from the perfect mix of retro references to form a kind of coherent madness; A madness that never threatens to distract from Key’s magnetism but manages to enhance it. I guess I could sum it up as chaotic good. Plus, the Star Trek references certainly win the MV points in my heart.

    All in all, kpop comebacks don’t get better than this. Across the board its fierce and absolutely fabulous.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. It truly is a testament to Kenzie’s capabilities as a wonderous producer. And it is certainly refreshing to see her name take front and center in the credits. Especially since this is SM we’re talking about. Hoping for a Yoo Youngjin solo work in the future too. A 10 for production.

    The melody for me is a bit too monotone for my tastes. I would describe it as a bit of a plateau. I would appreciate it if it had some valleys to accentuate the peaks and climaxes. I think the melody is sung a bit too high to the point where my ears start to get a bit tired. It’s like sprinting a marathon. It’s a bit hard to explain what I feel because I don’t know about anything producing music. An 8 for hooks. An 8 for longevity. An 8 for bias.

    Kudos to Key for pushing his own vision and direction for his music. This song may not have hit the spot for me but if this is the genre he continues to pursue then I’m all ears.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My word his voice sounds incredible. You said it’s victorious and I think that’s the perfect way to describe it. He sounds victorious singing it, with the satisfaction an artist has when they know they’re getting it right. I’ve enjoyed every song on the album.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. This comeback and album is solid. SHINee are absolutely killing it this year. I’m so glad to Key back in full-force. He has the perfect blend of attitude and killer vocals. What I love the most though is that this album is soooooo different from his previous releases, but is still VERY VERY distinctly Key. No one else could have pulled this off but him. That’s how artists should be. Changing and bending styles, but still distinctly themselves.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I was always always ALWAYS going to be biased but I can’t help it. SHINee is my favorite group of all time for a reason, not just because they’re a boy band and I found them as a tween. Here, even their soloists prove that they can give us great artistry and talent on their own. I can’t even describe how happy I am with this. If I’m going by Nick ratings, I would give this a legendary song status. Yes, on day one. 10/10. And I basically never have the desire to do that. I can’t even remember the last time a song has done for me what this one has done. There’s nothing wrong with it. On the contrary, everything is so very, very right. It’s euphoric and fills me with so much emotion, from joy and jubilance over how fantastic the instrumentals, production, and vocals are, to nostalgia and even sadness from Key’s voice and how he draws out his verses. I’m so beyond proud of him. The song, the concept, the styling, the mv, the album, all of it. It’s the complete package. One that I feel the need to ramble about in the comments section of a blog post hours after it’s been posted. Song of the year for me. This is MUSIC.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What I love about SHINee is they’re their own artists, and at the same time, a team. All five of them have different creative style and distinctive characters. But together as SHINee, their vocals, their dances, their harmony… unit as one. They have their own sound and they have SHINee’s sound. I don’t know how they managed to do that. SHINee is already a wholesome of greatness before, and after going through so many things with each other, they’re now unbreakable.

    If Taemin’s music is all about “atmosphere”, Key is all about “attitude”. And Key is always serious in anything he did, even from day one, you can see it in his audition tape. People might be misunderstand him as laid back, easy, but no, whatever it is, music, fashion, variety show… he poured his heart out and were so professional since debut. He understands the entertainment world, and plays it well.

    I really hope someone choose “Helium” as a fashion catwalk music. It’d be so great.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. This is a TRACK, Key’s sounds amazing and his performance is oozing with performance and charisma. The instrumental is phonemonal. It that kind of soaring hook that I love so dearly. Plus I feel like the song really kicks into gear towards the ends and truly lifts itself to great to legendary for me. Love it a lot already. As much as I’ve loved the retro trend the past year and some change. This and Brave Girls’ After We Ride have really added what it’s been missing all this time. This and Do Hanse’s Take Over (another phonemonal track) have saved a rather boring month.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m not gonna lie that the track he did with Taeyeon (which I haven’t listened to since the day it came out) really made me have low expectations coming into this. Especially since I had never heard another key song, I was convinced this would be a throwaway track. I’m honestly a bit disappointed in myself there. Due to his charisma and tone, key was my initial bias of shinee (onew won me over with their most recent album) and his high note in “Atlantis” nearly made him take that top spot. I’m so glad I got to hear his power vocals since it’s not what comes to mind when I think of him. Low-key, I was scared when I realized that the song was going with the current synthwave trend, but it’s probably the best example of the trend I’ve heard since it’s started. If I was a musician, I’d be super jealous cause this is the type of song I would wish to be mine.

    Also, good on him for taking his music where he wants it to go. Kpop is often criticized for acts not playing a big enough role, if any at all, in the creation of their music. This is probably even more true with the company he hails from. I love to see it. I hope the rest of the album gives me as much euphoria as “bad love” did.


    I don’t fan boy anymore (it’s been a decade of kpop for me), but key clearly wants me to change that

    Liked by 1 person

  19. For me, I was starting to get a little sick of every group / soloist having a punt at the 80’s synthpop trend. I realised this was especially true when i was not fond of Sunmi’s comeback at all. I began to dread this being a trend that producers would simply not give up for a long time, it actually felt like they were beating the dead horse a bit at that point, and yet not even trying to fully encapsulate the sound of the “trend” that they were riding

    This changes that though. Key blew it out the park. Bad Love is stellar. Helium is insane. I don’t think it’s even worth anyone else trying this style now. The heavy synths and baseline paired with the striking drums and his huge vocal performance here… yeah this will be very hard to match. I have not enjoyed any other 80s inspired song as much as this one, apart from Youha’s abittipsy (who also delivers a commendable performance). Really great stuff and super pleased that SM let him do what he wanted


  20. WOAH THIS SONG IS INSANE. I’m offended at how good this is and why am I so late to this?? The Climax on this song is one of the best I’ve ever seen and the production is crazy good


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.