Rookie group JBJ, who made big waves last year as a result of the six members’ appearance on season 2 of Produce 101, have had their first comeback with EP “True Colors.” These are the guys that debuted with the heavy, edgy “Fantasy,” which surprised and delighted fans who were expecting a take on the lighthearted EDM trend we were seeing from the debuts of most P101-associated acts at the time, such as Wanna One, Samuel and MXM. It was one of the best debut songs of the year, even though JBJ is technically only a project group that will not be active past 2018. But “My Flower,” their first title track since “Fantasy,” fails to take up the mantel. While shrewdly assembled and compositionally effective, the song has as many weaknesses as it has strengths, and none of the individuality we saw from the boys’ debut.
So what does “My Flower” do well? The most interesting thing about this track is the double hook structure that allows a full-blown vocal refrain to work alongside an instrumental dance hook, instead of choosing between the two as many similar songs do. Both elements of this chorus are effective—the vocal melody has some flair, and the dance drop is different enough to be unexpected without feeling out of place. Another highlight is the final bridge, where the striking use of a cascading piano provides a breather from the relentlessly upbeat EDM and rebuilds the dynamic energy for the next chorus.
Unlike the multifaceted chorus, the verses of “My Flower” (outside of Sanggyun’s rap, which is gratifyingly longer than in his part in “Fantasy”) largely blend together. There’s nothing memorable about either the melodies or the instrumental. Even in the hooks, the instrumental isn’t as clean as it should be. There’s something about the synths at the centerpiece that’s fuzzy, almost harsh, which has a bizarre obscuring effect. In fact, this happens in every song on the album, even the slightly slower electronic tracks. There’s none of the discernment or creative use of space that we saw on parts of the first EP. Everything is packed close together and overlayered, so that you have to sift through a lot of unnecessary sound to get to key elements like the vocals and the beat.
This may have something to do with the unfortunate fact that the vocal melodies on this album don’t suit the members’ vocals as did the first album. Listening through “True Colors,” you often feel like this vocal line is lacking. The heavily layered production may be an effort to cover up this lack. Still, it would have been more effective to just let the guys sing, to allow their unique vocal colors to be heard. As is, the EP does little to grab your attention. There is almost no variation from B-side to B-side, whether you’re looking at pace, genre, dynamics, or composition. The absence of solid hooks is painfully felt on “True Colors,” especially outside of the title track, which at least has the beat drop to set itself apart.
The most exciting B-sides on the album are “True Colors,” the opening track that was featured in the album trailer a few weeks before the album’s release, and “Every Day.” Both have significantly better-developed melodies than the rest of the EP. Interestingly, these are the most downtempo songs on the album—quite a reversal from what we saw happening on “Fantasy,” where the most upbeat tracks were by far the most memorable. What “True Colors” and “Every Day” do better than the rest of the album is to vary the phrasing of the vocal melody, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re hearing the same thing over and over again. Take, for example, the chorus of “Every Day,” where in between repetitions of “every day, every day, every day,” the vocal line belts out higher melodies that making wonderful use of the song’s distinctive rhythm. This hook in “Every Day” is one of the few moments on the album that highlights the members’ vocals instead of stretching them, and there’s no need to polish the high notes up with vocal layering and echo. They’re crystal clear. With a gorgeously swaying melody in the verses and strings emerging in the instrumental to add sweetness to the mood, “Every Day” is the standout on “True Colors.”
I can’t help but think JBJ would have done well to stick with their original concept, instead of taking a bite out of the fun electronic trend. Still, all artists evolve, and it seems every male rookie group in K-pop right now has to go through this soft, colorful boyfriend aesthetic EDM phase, so better to get it over with, I guess. Hopefully the boys will have a chance to rest a bit before diving into their next album, because after all, it’s barely been 3 months since their debut (in my review of “Fantasy” I hoped for more comebacks than fewer before the group’s contract is up, but if this is the result of rushing, I changed my mind! Take your time!). In the meantime, the LOEN sublabel managing the project group had better think about what they want JBJ’s legacy to be after 2018, because these guys can do better than this.
MY FLOWER: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? The scale is tipping towards “bop,” by like a feather.
Take a look at JBJ’s “My Flower” MV below: