KARD, everyone’s favorite co-ed rookie group who are back with their second mini-album “You & Me,” have found themselves in a bit of a tricky position this comeback. The thing is, it’s a situation that could have been avoided. KARD spent this past year establishing themselves as a global-concept group with a very particular tropical sound, dropping three predebut singles and a debut title track that all fell into this genre. Promotionally, this was highly effective: everything they dropped was recognizably KARD, and they were able to gain an unprecedented following before they even debuted. February single “Don’t Recall” was especially well executed, defining their dark tropical pop sound while showcasing their rap and vocal talent. However, KARD never once stepped outside of that style as they were building their fanbase. And now, the tropical trend that their popularity is based off of has officially run its course. It’s over—2017 beat it to death and now there’s nothing new or original to be squeezed out of it anymore. KARD is not unaware of this, and their mindfulness towards the future shows on the B-sides of “You & Me.” But the second this group puts out a title track that’s not strictly tropical pop, people will whine, “This doesn’t sound like the KARD I know,” and the group will likely lose a significant chunk of its fanbase. That’s why title track “You In Me” sounds like a copy-and-paste of everything KARD has put out in the past, and fails to advance the group’s musical identity.
In and of itself, “You In Me” is a good song. There are some interesting dynamics going on here, such as the buildup to the final chorus where a more dramatic beat takes center stage. Besides, every member of this quartet is insanely talented, and it shows. But in context, the track is just boring, whether you consider it in relation to KARD’s career, to the past year of K-pop, or to recent international pop. We’ve heard this song before, a hundred times now. Compositionally as well as stylistically, the hook bears a painful resemblance to “Don’t Recall,” which is even more unfortunate because its quality doesn’t measure up to that of the predebut track. Honestly, the tropical sound was already getting old when their debut “Hola Hola” dropped in July—but we gave it a pass because “Oh, it’s KARD, it’s just what they do.” Now, as they move forward as a debuted and established idol group, that’s not enough anymore. KARD has to evolve, and soon.
If not for this blog, I wouldn’t have listened to the rest of the album—that’s how little an impression “You In Me” leaves. But “You & Me” explores a number of styles we haven’t seen from KARD before, and with impressive results. This must be the first step towards shaking off their trademark tropical sound, and thank goodness. Though I wasn’t heart-eyes in love with most of these B-sides, there were many satisfying moments on the mini-album: the unexpected and alluring combination of rap with piano in “Into You”; the exciting intersection of hip-hop verses with dream-pop-like hooks on “Jinikka”; and especially the two subunit versions of “Trust Me.” I’ve never seen anything like this before myself—one group splitting into two units to deliver two different versions of the same song. This could have gotten tedious fast, but “Trust Me” has an enduring composition, and the two versions vary enough that neither gets old. “Push & Pull” is a song that I would have LOVED to see as the title track instead of “You In Me”—the EDM here still has a slightly tropical touch, but the beat is new and surprising. This track could have provided a nice segue into different styles in future comebacks, though of course it would have been risky.
At this moment in their career, I think KARD serves as a cautionary tale to future groups to avoid building their entire fanbase on a single trend, because trends always pass. But if they play their cards right (ha! Sorry.), they should be able to reverse their mistake. As I’ve said a few times now, they have the talent to tackle any style, and if they gradually incorporate elements of other genres into their next few title tracks, they should be able to get away with developing a new sound, without upsetting their fans. Still, if they take too long to leave behind the outdated tropical trend, KARD will lose relevance that they won’t be able to salvage. It’ll be a tightrope walk for the group stylistically over the next few comebacks, but I’m confident that they’ve got what it takes to prove their versatility. Oh, and by the way! The music video for “You In Me” just may be KARD’s best yet—it has a twist that changes the mood drastically, and the symbolism embedded in this adds a gratifying layer of artistry to the comeback.
YOU IN ME: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Ehh….nahhhh.
Take a look at KARD’s “You In Me” MV below: