Heck, this was a good debut! It’s not every day you hear a debut title track as solid as this one, but I’m even more impressed with the depth of The Boyz’ debut mini-album, “The First.” Brand-new rookies rarely pull through with a full mini-album that’s good from start to finish. “The First,” however, is as close to perfection as debut EPs get. Title track “Boy” is key to the EP’s success, with a production quality that I usually only expect from big agencies like SM, BigHit, and Cube. The Boyz’ label Cre.ker Entertainment is certainly doing something right, because the strengths of this debut are myriad and the chart numbers already look impressive.
I somehow missed the hype completely, but anticipation for this debut has apparently been building for a while, between the predebut release “I’m Your Boy” and the revelation that Produce 101 Season 2 fan favorite Ju Haknyeon would be debuting with the group. (I’ll admit, even I, who had forgotten about Haknyeon the second I finished the final episode, hollered when I recognized him in the music video.) The debut delivered, presenting talent on all sides and a song worthy of that talent. The Boyz’ vocals are seriously strong, not just among main vocalists, but, it appears, throughout the group. “Boy” also offers a solid, if brief, rap showing, as well as striking choreography—the group has already drawn comparisons to SEVENTEEN for achieving such picture-perfect synchronization even among a full twelve members.
Now that I’ve praised the members, I’ve got to hand it to Cre.ker’s producers, because this song is a sonic feast. From the start, a number of unique and even occasionally quirky sounds (what is that water-drop noise in the early half of the first verse that I’m just noticing?) come together like so many individual snowflakes forming a sparkling winter landscape. The volume of every last component is perfectly pitched, so that nothing sticks out or distracts the ear. Instead, all these complex sounds drive the dynamic as one, synergistically doubling the impact of what could otherwise have just been a combination of parts. The rolling, eager beat which these sounds construct in the verses is fascinating, and so is the vocal arrangement, which goes hand-in-hand with the instrumental to push forward that eager dynamic with fleeting, highly rhythmic vocal soundbites that follow on the preceding part’s heels and just as quickly yield to the next.
The prechorus alters the dynamic with that arresting “whoa-whoa-whoa,” whose goal is not to push forward like the verses, but to stop the listener in their tracks. It’s highly effective, drawing attention to the buildup and raising anticipation for the hook. Coming right off all this complexity, the chorus starts off a little flat with the uninspiring single-note “boy, boy, boy!” over some comparatively standard EDM—but quickly picks up momentum again when subtle synths add dimension to the instrumental and the rhythm of the vocal melody evolves, blossoming into a fully stick-in-your-headable, sing-alongable hook. Ever present is the fervid, almost nervous energy that keeps the song pressing forward.
Interestingly, the instrumental of “I’m Your Boy,” the predebut track that dropped back in October, isn’t half as well-balanced as “Boy.” Even so, the impressive compositional moments (especially the way the rhythm changes slightly in that recurring transition between sections of the verses and choruses!) as well as thrilling vocal performances in this track make it just as relevant to the debut as the title track. I swear, I had flashbacks to PENTAGON’s main vocals when I first heard that sliding harmony at the end of the hook.
I am inclined to think that the reason the instrumental for “I’m Your Boy” is weak is because it was originally a predebut release, and no one seems to take predebut work very seriously except for LOONA these days. I say this because all the other tracks on “The First” are just as meticulously produced as “Boy.” “Walkin’ in Time” is a gorgeous example. You really need to do yourself a favor and give yourself a few minutes to listen carefully to this song. It’s rare that I urge against casual listening, because in most cases a good song should wrench your attention away from whatever you’re doing and demand that you tune in. However, “Walkin’ in Time” prioritizes artistry over catchiness, with the result that it could fade into the background while you’re cleaning or studying. Pay attention, though, and this flawless downtempo will reward you three times over. It takes its time getting going, and it takes its time staying going. This patience sets “Walkin’ in Time” apart from similar slow electronic tracks of its kind. Nothing is rushed, which gives the song the opportunity to construct a seamless dynamic landscape with gradual buildups and a thrumming dreamsynth hook that evolves from repetition to repetition.
If any of the tracks on “The First” is filler material, it’s “Got It.” Still, even the least impressive song on the album is honestly really cool. The repetitive hook is a bit disappointing, but the production is crisp, and the creative vocal arrangement of the verses gives the edgy-ish concept a touch of maturity.
This might be going a little far, but part of me wants to call this the most exciting debut of the year. Considering that the other big debuts this year were mostly from temporary project groups, The Boyz are in a position to build up influence that will last beyond 2018. From what I can tell, they’re already getting more attention both domestically and internationally than many older groups, and no wonder—they’re the kind of polished full-package group that make you think of EXO or SEVENTEEN. I can see these kids making some serious waves in a few years, and I’m looking forward to find out what their next move will be.
BOY: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Boooooooop.
Take a look at The Boyz’ “Boy” MV below: