Article. Kang Myungseok, Yoon Haein, Kim Doheon (music critic)
Design. Jeon Yurim
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC

A different kind of youth

Kang Myungseok: “Dude, what’s you dream?” So goes the first verse of BTS’s 2013 debut song, “No More Dream.” Ten years later, TOMORROW X TOGETHER sings something different in “Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)” off their new album, The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION: “Been a long time since that shiny dream wore off.” When BTS got their start, they didn’t know what their dream was, but they came to figure it out by calling out to people of the same generation as “dude.” TOMORROW X TOGETHER, meanwhile, were handed a dream when they started but now laugh bitterly at themselves for having worn-down dreams; in the same song, they define themselves as a “rockstar minus star, just a rock.” TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s first chapter, and the one that introduced them to the world, was Dream, with their debut album fully titled The Dream Chapter: STAR. From that album and up to and including their most recent release, The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION, the history of the group is characterized by a paradoxical rejection of their duty. The world has changed during that time. BTS, in their song “Silver Spoon,” criticized a society that forces the young to always try harder; by contrast, the concept has fallen out of favor in the time since TOMORROW X TOGETHER debuted. The rise in popularity of the TV series Reborn Rich, in which a poor protagonist is reborn as the grandson in a conglomerate family, is a perfect reflection of the fact. When the devil whispers in “Devil by the Window,” the opening track off TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s new album, it even comes across as a critique of how what’s happening today is actually temptation in disguise: “He’s whispering, ‘Give up, don’t you put up a fight!’” It’s easy, in other words, just to give up. Just as in the lyrics to “Happy Fools” (feat. Coi Leray), the older generation tends to tell the young ones that “the future’s always more important than now.” But for TOMORROW X TOGETHER and their generation, it’s the kids who are well-off now who go on to continue to lead a good life. Leave all the worrying to “myself of tomorrow” and bask in “this moment that will never come back” and its “sweet taste of laziness.” And why should anyone resist such temptation? A small change of perspective, and the real world becomes Neverland. With effort or not, you can never grow up quite as much as you’d like.


Consequently, the titular temptation in The Name Chapter leans toward one of intense rebellion. The members of TOMORROW X TOGETHER actually want to keep idle, even labelling themselves “just rock” as opposed to rock stars, in an apparent attempt to redact all evidence of their own existence, including their own name. In “9 And Three Quarters (Run Away),” the lead single off The Dream Chapter: MAGIC, meanwhile, they pose the suggestion, “Should we run away?” It’s a rather impactful declaration to define their own identity as people who don’t want to do or be anything; for them, the only option is to escape reality. They try to pull others into their Neverland, too, like in “Sugar Rush Ride,” their latest lead single (“Come here more, let’s play more”). Maybe Neverland is actually “the little island” where “a little secret began,” as they sing in “Magic Island” (The Dream Chapter: MAGIC). Where they were running from reality in “9 And Three Quarters,” now they are Peter Pan figures turning that little island in Neverland and tempting others their age to join. As in the four sets of concept photos released in the lead-up to The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION, TOMORROW X TOGETHER is now something akin to a mystery Peter Pan figure, whispering in languid, attractive tones in “Devil in the Window.” The group goes beyond temptation and into the realm of pure delight in “Sugar Rush Ride,” singing, “gimme gimme more,” in the most upbeat and bright track off the album. By contrast, there’s hints of wistfulness in the boys’ vocals in “Happy Fools” (feat. Coi Leray) and “Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)” that give way to lively bossa nova and Latin rhythms in each song respectively, and “Farewell, Neverland” starts off with a light, guitar-backed rhythm that at some point moves on to something more intense (“Neverland, my love, bye bye / And I’m free falling / Stars, go to sleep now”). They know that their days in Neverland are numbered and, like it or not, reality will unavoidably catch up with them. The song foregoes the intense vocals typical of a lot of K-pop and instead works toward a climax made of whistles and sharp exhales. Laid-back vocals and upbeat music make up the majority of the album, but there’s also a current of dark and anxious emotions running in parallel all throughout. The combination of the music with the group members’ appearances, a mysterious mix of the bright and the sensual, creates a distinct aesthetic—one that represents the generation to follow BTS. TOMORROW X TOGETHER personifies the idea of giving up as a form of youth in rebellion. Calling themselves “rocks,” these young people come together to create their own island. What name will the world give those rocks when they leave Neverland and return to the real world?

Temptation, thy name is Peter Pan

Yoon Haein: In the classic novel, Peter Pan is described as a being a boy forever, never growing up as time moves on. Neverland, his home, is a fantastical place where adventures unfold—a dream island where children come to stay and adults are barred from entering. TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s latest album, The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION, borrows these elements from the original story but puts its own spin on the fairytale. Like heads or tails on a coin, remaining a child forever gives up the potential to move forward in favor of being complacent with the here and now. For example, the devil in “Devil by the Window,” the first track, whispers, “Give up, don’t you put up a fight … Dream on, dream on, good night!” He’s saying that it’s better not to put in the effort for your dreams and simply enjoy falling deep into sweet reverie. It’s just like Peter Pan, who looks to enjoy adventure forever in “a place where we will never grow old, with no worries,” knowing that, once you leave Neverland, you become an adult and can never return.


The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION is not akin to a song of someone in eternal boyhood like Peter Pan. TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s teenage years, singing of “looking back at the empty school” in “Way Home” and the “endless final exams,” are gone, with the kind of worries they sing about changing naturally as they grow. Just like in their real lives, the group today delicately paints the complex emotions experienced by young adults living life somewhere between boyhood and adulthood. But there’s a price to pay for passing through the boundary that exists somewhere between adult and grownup. To move on requires grappling with the helplessness of the world and making numerous choices regarding internal struggles. On the other hand, it’s simple just to give up. The lyrics of “Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)” are a tightrope walk between self-acceptance and justification, calling themselves a “rock” rather than a “rockstar,” and they mockingly say that their dream was never attainable anyway and so they’re fine with who they are now. At the same time, their generation experiences a feeling of hopelessness in a world where material wealth is considered the only path in life and where they’re forced to choose to give up if they can’t achieve it. Even with so much on their plate and plenty to worry about, they try to be “Happy Fools” who “leave it to myself tomorrow” and enjoy “this moment that will never come back,” sometimes tempting others, singing that “it’s me who’s bad” (“Sugar Rush Ride”). Instead of reducing the struggles experienced by their generation with cursory terms like “Gen Z” and “youth,” TOMORROW X TOGETHER depicts them in detailed pictures using specific language. It’s here where we see that the title of the album and the theme throughout, temptation, doesn’t stop at its conventional meanings tied to romance and the challenging of taboos. They prevent the world of boyhood from progressing to that of the adult, as represented by Peter Pan, and cover their own eyes (“No, I can’t tell what is fake in my reality”), extending the meaning of temptation in a way only TOMORROW X TOGETHER can.


Released in the lead-up to the album, the concept trailer for The Name Chapter ends with HUENINGKAI jumping out of a collapsing house and into the void. Whether he falls, or soars like Peter Pan, we can’t say for sure, but the final track off the album, “Farewell, Neverland,” implies the result of his choice. After facing various temptations and the choices they lead to, TOMORROW X TOGETHER realizes Neverland, which at first appears like a kind of utopia, can never truly be home, and bid Peter Pan farewell. In the novel, Peter playfully explains to Wendy that she too can fly if she thinks of something pleasant, then heads off to Neverland with the aid of Tinker Bell’s magic. Contrary to the sweetly magical  image of lightly flapping down to the ground, leaving Neverland is more like a crash landing, “heading toward the ground at full speed.” But even after this, the members of TOMORROW X TOGETHER, choosing the less-than-sweet truth, will, unlike Peter Pan, become adults after all and begin a journey of their own—standing on their own two feet.

He who strives on and lives to strive can earn redemption still

Kim Doheon (music critic): In Goethe’s Faust, the devil Mephistopheles tempts the titular doctor with sweet words: “Come, bind thyself by prompt indenture … What no man ever saw, I’ll give to thee.” Faust, a highly studied man who falls into terrible boredom, is fascinated by mysterious magic and this voice offering him the thrill of chaos. In return, he wagers his soul in this dangerous bargain: “When thus I hail the Moment flying: / ‘Ah, still delay—thou art so fair!’ / Then bind me in thy bonds undying.” As soon as he decides to stay in the intoxicating excitement of the moment, the great scholar loses his name and becomes an eternal servant to Hell.


The devil similarly comes for TOMORROW X TOGETHER, who goes to bed as a child who has far to go. Here, the devil isn’t some conceptual metaphor for the chaos of growing up, as in the song “CROWN,” nor is it in line with the romantic language of learner wizards in “Angel or Devil.” The devil’s voice creeps in through the window at midnight, sweet as sugar. The drowsy daydream begins as dream they don’t want to wake up from, moving beyond artificial reality and into the realm of alternate reality. By the time they let go of reason and repeatedly jump through fantasy worlds like some scene out of Everything Everywhere All at Once, the five young boys take a breather, lose the colourful kaleidoscope and take a moment to reflect on themselves. It’s a big issue. In their house way up in the sky, the boys are stuck in their beds, only ever dreaming. To make matters worse, the house is crumbling to pieces. Soon it will be nothing more than a rock. By the end, they can’t say anything more than, “Thou art so fair,” and their laughter is written out in a dry “ha ha ha” on screen. Thursday’s child finally takes a hard look at his fate, and comes to a forlorn conclusion: My life can’t be to soar through the air; I have to jump from this collapsing house and land onto the ground on my own two feet.


TOMORROW X TOGETHER enter a whole new world in The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION. It’s more romantic and fantastical than the miraculous, imaginative world of The Dream Chapter: MAGIC and yet colder and more sophisticated than the frozen world of The Chaos Chapter. In the dark pop song “Devil by the Window,” the devil slyly approaches like a monster from under the bed, whispering, “Don’t you put up a fight … Dream on, good night!” The boys then give us the dizzying disco pop song “Sugar Rush Ride,” feeling like something right out of the movie Wreck-It Ralph. The song is written in part by salem ilese, the romantic behind “Anti-Romantic.” In this track, the members sprint across an up-tempo, danceable disco pop beat in the same tradition as “New Rules” and “No Rules” but with a taste of a glitchy dark trap beat. The song warns that all these places could exist only in an artificial reality. But the boys, unable to resist the temptation, become “Happy Fools” who play mindlessly to their hearts’ content. The sky-high piano chords are “locked in a sweet moment” and give a proper picture of “a sweet taste of laziness” and “dream-like guilty pleasure.”


Soaked in elation, the boys of TOMORROW X TOGETHER give their bodies over to the springy reggaeton rhythm in “Tinnitus” as the music rings in their ears. They choose to abandon the rock and roll image they built up with songs like “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You),” “LO$ER=LO♡ER” and “Good Boy Gone Bad,” wanting to simply be rock, and roll. Fortunately, the devil is unable to simply take away a young person’s soul, heard in the bitter gypsy guitar in “Farewell, Neverland,” which reawakens the forgotten value of growing up and trying new things.  It’s a solemn way to close the album, symbolizing the fate of a boy who has to overcome all temptation and, in the end, move on.


The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION organically intertwines mystic Arcadia and the precarious present day to inspect the ennui of today’s youth as they give way to temptation and indulge in pleasure, giving up on life without realizing it. From the choice of genre to the lyrics, the album is full of meaningful details, organic music and solid narratives. The experience of following TOMORROW X TOGETHER as they wander about enjoying the fantasy is as beautiful as it is dangerous. It would’ve been a perfect place for their journey to reach its end. But as we reach the thumping “Farewell, Neverland,” we come to realize that the group’s growth and adventure, and our future, don’t stop here. No one stays a child forever. Paradoxically, an innocent, uncorrupted child is more easily swayed by false morals and by brutality. It’s often forgotten that, in the original Peter Pan, the rule in Neverland is to kill off any child who becomes an adult. Faust, who signs a deal with the devil to gain the power of ambition, never loses his passion or sense of self-realization, and is therefore saved by God at the last moment. Redemption comes to who strives on and lives to strive. Goodbye, Neverland.