I have a few “holy grails” in K-pop – comebacks I’ve wished for so long they seem impossible. BIGBANG’s return is one of these landmark moments. Hints of a comeback first emerged back in 2020, waylaid by the pandemic. Two years later, the group confirmed they would finally release new music, and I couldn’t have been more excited. BIGBANG are – and forever will be – K-pop royalty, and their presence has been sorely missed.
As more information emerged about this comeback, my hopes were tempered. No album this time. No music show performances. And, a shockingly small amount of pre-release hype. Before Still Life (봄여름가을겨울) had even been unveiled, I resigned myself to its existence as a fan song with limited promotion. After all, it’s better to set expectations low when you’re dealing with a release so tied to sentiment and nostalgia.
First off, let me say how incredible it is to see and hear these guys again. K-pop doesn’t make idol groups like this anymore – and that’s not just my age and bias talking. From the strength and individuality of their vocals to their unique and commanding presence, BIGBANG exemplify the best that K-pop can be. Just seeing them standing on a music video set, styled to perfection, is a bit emotional. I can’t believe I get to write about a new BIGBANG song in 2022!
With that said, Still Life is the subdued comeback I feared it might be. This is fine. BIGBANG are masters at delivering dynamic hip-hop ballads. Some of their strongest material is also their most pensive. But, Still Life feels more like a denouement than a big moment. And following Last Dance and Flower Road, we’ve had quite a few of these from the group.
BIGBANG sound incredible on the track. Taeyang opens verse one and all is right in the world. Over the past few years, vocal color and expression have become less emphasized in K-pop, replaced by airtight choreography and bombastic production. But, it’s such a vital element. These four vocal tones are iconic – instantly recognizable and wonderfully idiosyncratic. They power Still Life to the end, even if the actual song borders on throwaway when compared with BIGBANG’s strongest material.
The production opts for a bluesy rock backdrop, fueled by fiery guitar and emotive keys. Those elements are tied to a Beatles-esque arrangement, which works better for BIGBANG than you might expect. The song leaves room for bursts of rap courtesy of TOP and G-Dragon, but is decidedly low-key throughout. Its structure takes a moment to sink in. As far as I can tell, Still Life doesn’t have a definite chorus. Instead, the song works with a series of melodic themes, building upon each other before climaxing in a cathartic chant. The track opens and closes with the same refrain – the closest to a “hook” we get. This approach rewards repeated listens, even if it may feel a little underwhelming the first time through.
In the end, I really can’t be objective about Still Life. BIGBANG have been such an integral part of my own K-pop history. Had any other act released this song, I’d probably call it “fine” and move on. But, BIGBANG’s performance will always stop me in my tracks and tug on my heartstrings. That’s just the way it is. This is a lovely – if inessential – addition to their discography. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped for more, but I guess that’s the nature of a “holy grail.” They’re meant to be elusive.
Still Life certainly feels like the end, though we thought that about Last Dance as well. If this is truly the conclusion of the BIGBANG story, they’re going out on their own terms. There will never be another group like them.