Theme songs to survival series (or “signal songs,” as they’re sometimes called) have become their own K-pop/J-pop sub-genre. They can be a ton of fun, offering producers the chance to go larger-than-life, unencumbered by the restrictions placed upon traditional comebacks. They can also sound like generic mush, bringing together so many voices that the final product ends up becoming flat – anthemic in a canned way.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I still consider season two of Produce 101 to be the standard-bearer for this song template. That year’s Pick Me went big and bold, climaxing in a euphoric build. HYBE has been less successful with their attempts at the sound. Most of the original I-Land material felt forgettable, boasting all the personality of a corporate machine. The Final Countdown (not a cover of the epic 1986 Europe single, unfortunately!) acts as the signal song for the agency’s upcoming Japanese series &AUDITION – The Howling. This show will give viewers a chance to reacquaint themselves with I-Land stars K, Nicholas, EJ & Ta-Ki, alongside additional trainees vying for a spot in the final group.
The Final Countdown is pretty milquetoast in execution. It has that “canned anthemic” feel mentioned earlier, which has become a pet peeve of mine. However, I like how its verses offer a showcase for solo voices. The usual HYBE vocal processing doesn’t feel too heavy-handed, and the brief drum-and-bass breakdowns are appealing. But by the time we crest in the song’s chorus, The Final Countdown succumbs to familiar tropes. The end result serves its purpose, but feels every bit as generic as you’d expect from a project like this. Hopefully the series itself will have a bit more personality.