Debut songs from Johnny’s groups are a big deal. They’re often tied to a popular drama, performed everywhere to the point of being inescapable, and they quickly become a beloved and oft-referenced part of a group’s history. But ever since Travis Japan set up shop in the States to train and compete in numerous competitions (including America’s Got Talent), their trajectory has been different. Yes, they’re debuting. That’s a huge accomplishment after a decade of paying their dues as a junior group. But the way the agency has handled this debut has ruffled some longtime fans.
Named after famous choreography Travis Payne, the guys already have plenty of junior-era songs under their belt (I’m partial to this theatrical banger). But rather than come out swinging with an album or physical single like most Johnny’s groups, the agency has opted for a global digital debut of Just Dance. Out of all their available acts, I’m surprised they’ve pitched Travis Japan toward an international audience. That’s not a judgment on the quality or appeal of the group. I just hate to see them thrown into the global market before having a chance to secure their place in the agency’s home market.
Whatever the case, Just Dance is not a typical Johnny’s debut track. For one, it’s performed entirely in English. And rather than build upon the legacy of past groups, it feels like an obvious response to the success of BTS’s Dynamite and Butter. Responses rarely result in anything but diminished returns.
I include this long prelude as a way to explain my mixed reaction to Just Dance. I’ve already watched too many K-pop groups flatten their idiosyncrasies to reach the widest possible audience. I don’t wish to see that sad story repeated with the notoriously quirky Johnny’s & Associates as its main character.
When it comes to the song itself, I’m of two minds. The verses are off-putting, with trite lyrics and awkward delivery. I’ll come around to them through sheer determination, but they give that “fake fun” feel of a song like Permission To Dance. They’re trying too hard and the strain is evident. On the other hand, Just Dance’s chorus is a major earworm. Yes, the hook is cheesy and sounds like a jingle you’d hear on TV. But, Johnny’s has made a good portion of their name on that very template so it doesn’t feel too inauthentic. I love the brassy instrumental response to this refrain. In fact, the production is strong all around. There’s nothing original about its retro sound, but it’s well-delivered.
As a Johnny’s debut, Travis Japan certainly deserve better. I imagine a future where the agency quickly abandons this “global” concept and promotes the guys in Japan the way they do the rest of their acts. Invested fans will seek out their music wherever it’s released, allowing the group to do what they do best rather than go as broad as possible.