It’s been interesting watching the members of Wanna One settle into their respective comfort zones after the group disbanded in early 2019. As massive a force as they were during the 2017-18 period, many of these solo efforts and spin-off groups have struggled to find notoriety outside their core fan base. In the case of Kim Jaehwan, I think the issue lies in a lack of imagination when it comes to title track choices.
Jaehwan has an amazing voice, equally adept at big, sweeping ballads, cathartic rock bangers and nimble funk. But apart from a standout b-side here and there, his solo work has largely targeted middle-of-the-road fare. New single Back Then (그 시절 우리는) exemplifies this. It’s a rock ballad, bolstered by crunchy guitar during its go-for-broke chorus. But in between these peaks, we’ve got limp verses that spin their wheels with trendy percussion and a looping melody that doesn’t really go anywhere. At its best, this arrangement might result in a cool push-and-pull of energy that would keep Back Then engaging.
Unfortunately, neither segment is memorable or ballsy enough to stick. Instead, we’re left with a solidly-delivered slice of straightforward radio rock. It feels more like an obligation than a revelation, far from earlier highlights like Designer, My Flower and Nuna – all superior b-sides that deserved title track promotion. Kim Jaehwan’s talent is too undeniable to be wasted on dull dad-rock. Here’s hoping he’ll stretch his ambition next time around.