Rookie group TRCNG just had their first comeback, and in a great way, it’s a bit of an oddball. Known for the throwback sound of their debut song and the members’ quite young ages (none of these guys were born before 2000), TRCNG is looking at some very exciting concept development with single album “Who Am I.” Someone at TS Entertainment must have noticed when they debuted with “Spectrum” that such young kids using a dark, aggressive concept had the slightest bit of a cringe effect, and they adjusted accordingly with “Wolf Baby,” whose concept is still dark but this time with a heavy dash of good-natured humor added into the mix. It suits the group much better than “Spectrum” did, and the result has solidified TRCNG’s place on my list of rookies to watch.
Title track “Wolf Baby” kicks off with some rhythmic “dum-da-da-da”s, followed by a thickly funky instrumental and an imitation of a howling wolf that make the concept change clear. The song itself is a goodie: the funky beat blends well with the dark melodies that TRCNG has brought to title tracks so far, even if the production is a little dense on this one. The verses are well-constructed and the chorus is great, though not quite as tremendous as the refrain of “Spectrum” was. “Wolf Baby” also showcases plenty of talent—I find myself more and more impressed with these rappers every time I hear the song.
Even given all that, the touch of eccentricity in “Wolf Baby” is what makes the song. The music video references the old K-pop trope of the horror movie concept, just as “Spectrum” referenced the dark ’n dramatic K-pop cliché, but “Wolf Baby” parodies the trope instead of imitating it. Of course you can’t help but think of EXO’s “Wolf,” that infamous and eternally memeable first comeback of the senior group that has a special place in nearly all K-pop fans’ hearts, but TRCNG’s “Wolf Baby” is too tongue-and-cheek to feel as if it borrowed from “Wolf”—if anything, it’s a bit of an ironic take on the concept. The element of humor in the song fits TRCNG terrifically, because the hint of silliness feels more suited to their age, but also displays the maturity necessary to poke fun at oneself. When TRCNG aren’t taking themselves too seriously, the way their debut’s concept demanded they do, it’s easier for us to take them seriously. In “Wolf Baby,” you know they’re having fun, and it feels ten times as sincere.
Another thing I love about both “Wolf Baby” and “Spectrum,” and, in fact, most of TRCNG’s music so far, is the double-hook structure that repeats two different elements with each chorus. Usually the first part is more melodically complex, and the second part is catchier, more rhythmic, and easier to follow. It’s generally a sign of responsible songwriting, one that many of the best K-pop songs utilize to add texture and dynamic (some examples from last year that come to mind are NCT 127’s “Limitless,” Red Velvet’s “I Just,” and SONAMOO’s “Friday Night”), and it can be treated as an opportunity to develop a chorus’s composition without having to worry about the catchy factor, which can be reserved for the second half. Later the two parts can be switched around, mashed together, all sorts of cool stuff, which packs huge staying power into a song. This construction was extremely effective in “Spectrum” and now contributes greatly to the success of “Wolf Baby” as well. It also does a lot of work in the single’s only full-length B-side, “Utopia.” The moody, rock-based sound of “Utopia” bears an awful resemblance to that bad early-2000s Western pop that wanted to be rock but wasn’t, and I almost overlooked the track because of it—but in fact, the song is nicely executed. As in “Wolf Baby,” the production’s a little too opaque, maybe as a result of adding physical musical instruments to the mix instead of using only electronic sounds. But the vocal melodies take full advantage of the instrumental’s full-bodied chord progression, and the rappers go the heck off. Despite its minor shortcomings, “Utopia” might be my favorite track on the single. The minute-long introductory track, though, is also an interesting creature. “I Am” drives home the funky identity of the single, with a barbershop quartet-style harmony, a whistled melody, and a jazzy “ow!” all getting a cameo before the electronic beat really gets going. Both the B-sides play a vital role in TRCNG’s concept development, demonstrating a distinctiveness that I hope the group continues to advance in the future.
While I wouldn’t say that either “Wolf Baby” or “Spectrum” is a better song than the other, I can say with confidence that I’m pleased with the direction the group is taking. Their debut concept was attention-grabbing, but this really works for them. The longer they stick with the weird stuff, the more people will take notice of them, and the less likely they are to melt into the background of the mainstream.
WOLF BABY: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Big bop.
Take a look at TRCNG’s “Wolf Baby” MV below: