Using new boy group ATBO as a case study, here’s how I imagine conversations within K-pop agencies might sound:
Executive: So, we’ve decided to debut a new boy group and we’d like you to be in charge of the song.
Producer: That’s so exciting! Thank you! I’ve had this idea for a great new sound–
Executive: Whoa, hold up. Before you do anything fancy, we’re looking for an NCT track that’s a little bit Stray Kids with a chorus like The Boyz.
Producer: But, just listen to this cool synth riff-
Executive: (places hands over ears) Lalalala I can’t hear it! Shouting. We want shouting.
Producer: But if I make a song like that, won’t the group just sound like everyone else? There are already so many boy groups. How is anybody going to be able to–
Executive: Look… did I ask you to be creative? We. Need. The. Song. We need this exact song. No frilly stuff. None of your “artistic vision,” please. Just make sure there’s a lot of chanting. The kids like the chanting.
Producer: I don’t know…
Executive: We’ve already shot the jacket photos and we’ve got lyrics and a title. The video locations have been scouted. The concept is done. All we need is some kind of song to throw over the top. Can you do that?
Producer: I mean, I can…
Executive: Good. We need it in four hours. Call me when it’s finished.
Seriously, though… a track like ATBO’s Monochrome (Color) does nothing to make me curious about this newly-debuted group. So far, all I’ve got is that their fans are called “BOAT,” which is… a choice.
It’s not that the music is objectively terrible. It’s standard fourth-gen boy group fare, down to the tough-guy posturing and clipped melodies. The guys seem to have a ton of potential, though it’s hard to tell within this limited framework. I hear great vocals during the pre-chorus and chorus. I only wish there was a dynamic melody and sense of idiosyncratic vision to go along with them.