ArticleBae Jiahn
Photo CreditKOZ Entertainment

What made the boys next door, who previously sang that “you’re driving me crazy” “But I Like You,” suddenly change course just three months later and angrily sing about how “everything sucks”? The group’s latest album, HOW?, might just provide the answer to that question, looping around through the emotional rollercoaster BOYNEXTDOOR went through between their debut single album, WHO!, and the EP WHY.. In “OUR,” the first track off the new album, WOONHAK takes “a nice shower” and gives off “effortless chic,” just like he walked out the door looking “fresh so clean so neat” in “One and Only,” the lead single off the album WHO!—the same track where TAESAN was “breaking ice” as he nervously asked himself whether he should “make her laugh? Just listen to her?” and was “nervous to death” and trying to “relax my stiff lips” on another WHO! track, “Serenade.”

But as lyrics like, “This is not a love song,” from the track “l i f e i s c o o l” suggest, HOW? is not an album about love. SUNGHO has said how BOYNEXTDOOR hopes that, through their music, fans “can have fond memories of us as they reminisce on their youth.” The love between WHO! and WHY.. can be seen as documenting the love between two individuals. Can the feelings they explore really be explained away as simply dating milestones—things like wanting to see that special someone even after they “bite, scratch, and squabble” as though all grievances have been erased from memory (“Amnesia”), or LEEHAN nervously asking someone to take a walk when “the weather’s nice” (“Serenade”) and again when “the sky’s filled with stars” (“So let’s go see the stars”)? In “l i f e i s c o o l,” they gather around after a breakup, “singing, laughing” as they talk over drinks: “Let’s talk about stuff we couldn't when we were sober / No one leave, BOYNEXTDOOR assemble … Enough with the shop talk, just two more shots.” The lyrics are steeped in the real world of the BOYNEXTDOOR members, making references to WOONHAK—a minor (“Babies should go home except Woonbaby”)—and their work (“Enough with the shop talk”). Whether in love or work, being young is a rollercoaster of emotional highs and extreme lows, punctuated by the occasional meetup with friends to goof around and feel better for a while. In the choreography for the song, LEEHAN, holding the mic like it’s a glass of wine as the song suddenly takes a jazzy turn, drops some words of wisdom: “Wise men say / It’s really cool to be holding wine alone baby,” But the other members of the group can’t help but laugh at this awkward, out-of-character moment. All the members (minus WOONHAK) try to portray themselves as suave adults but come across as kids trying to pass as all grown up, instead shedding tears, getting together for a drink, and affecting coolness and attitude as they grow up little by little. In the single “But Sometimes” off WHY.., the boy tells his ex that he “heard your mascara’s running from crying everyday / Kicking yourself now, I never felt better,” but he shows a bit more maturity when he wishes her happiness in the HOW? closer, “Dear. My Darling.” With the latest album, BOYNEXTDOOR takes the love story they started in WHO! and WHY.. and bring it to a close by turning it into a chronicle of the younger days belonging to some boys—the boys next door, who are no doubt right next to us right now.

And then there’s the lead single “Earth, Wind & Fire,” appearing in the middle of the album: a love song that is at the same time, an expression of the energy of a young man who is yearning to convey that love to his romantic interest, in its purest form. The boy for whom “Take you higher than the sky, you are my starlight / Oh don't you know / I think I love you more than I love my life” grows fidgety once falling in love, and that love—full of passionate yet nervous energy, as mirrored in the extremely fast beats and hooks made that much faster during the chorus—is expressed in words that are so grand that they boldly compare love to the earth, wind and fire. As the members of BOYNEXTDOOR dance to the constantly fluctuating tempo, it’s clear just how energetic they are, but it also makes for an incredibly dramatic scene overflowing with frenetic acting. The choreo in the intro makes it seem like they’re all behind the wheel together, while they all walk in a line during the chorus and hang their heads with arms waggling against gravity in the outro, all of which makes it look like they’re somehow being controlled like puppets. No doubt young love is full of explosive energy, but with that energy comes the feeling that the heart in love is being manipulated by someone else, preventing you from doing what you’d like to. For adults, it’s nothing more than a little something to smile about and move on from, but for those still in their younger years, there’s nothing nearly so important. Three albums in, BOYNEXTDOOR has become the voice of a young generation, singing about the moments they share in common with everyone else their age, but which seem so unique to all who experience them.

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