A fastball at 159.7 km/h
Kang Myungseok: Somebody is knocking on the door. The door opens, and a group of boys flock in. They ponder, “What should I wear?” After going through outfit after outfit, they decide to “go with the first one,” and check how they look. “Spray cologne, check my teeth, it’s perfect.” This is how the rookie group BOYNEXTDOOR introduces themselves in their debut album WHO!, through the lyrics and performance of their song “One and Only.” The boys are confident as they check their “reflection on the display window” and find their “steps lookin’ like the royals.” But this splendid outing is a journey to confess their feelings to someone they fell for in the previous track, “But I Like You,” where they say, “She grins at me, how is she so pretty?” In the opening of the next track, “Serenade,” their confidence flies away in front of the confession: “Man, I’m so nervous to death!” And that’s only natural. Like the lyrics to “One and Only,” they are a new team that has been “just released,” after all. They set out to “flex it,” but there’s no guarantee that their “Serenade” to future fans will resonate. Instead, they worry, “I might mess up,” as expressed in the lyrics of “Serenade.”
But still, this new group sings the chorus: “I love you baby baby baby / I’ve been screaming, the whole neighborhood knows.” They may or may not succeed, but they boldly profess their love without hesitation anyway. The light, bouncy melody delivers the weight of the confession without being burdensome, but there’s power behind their voice when they sing “I love you baby.”
True to the album’s title, BOYNEXTDOOR focuses on delivering their identity with vigor, just like the exclamation mark in “WHO!”. All three tracks are built on a sturdy structure of a drumbeat, filled with energetic momentum from start to finish. The way “But I Like You” quickly transitions from a short intro to the catchy chorus illustrates the attitude of BOYNEXTDOOR as a rookie artist. The direct expression of the instant liking a boy feels may appear simply delightful to others, but his feelings are sincere. Within the songs that combine youthful innocence and cheerful energy, there is a dynamic energy that comes through the lyrics and voices, honestly and directly conveying the boy’s love story. While WHO! doesn’t explicitly focus on rock or hip-hop, it evokes a similar feeling to what those genres offer. The unfiltered sincerity of a boy, like in rock, and the confidence akin to hip-hop in conveying that sincerity, are embedded in this album. It captures the refreshing innocence that a rookie group can possess, along with the energy of someone confessing. It is the result of the confidence in their self-introduction as the “boy next door” while being the “One and Only.” This cool attitude is likely rooted in the authenticity that comes from JAEHYUN, TAESAN, and WOONHAK’s participation in writing “But I Like You” and “Serenade”; their dance moves that are perfectly in sync with the rhythm during their performance even to a casual line such as “Hi, the weather’s nice, wanna take a walk?” in “Serenade”; and how they make everything look effortless through putting in hours of practice. They have stage performances that go with every track of the album WHO! at the ready. Going through the entire album -- listening and watching both the songs and performances, then coming back to “One and Only” takes you on a whole new journey. The flaunting and flexing in the song is like a declaration from a rookie group that gives their all armed with such talent and confidence. The heart of a rookie group that understands that the boy next door today will need to grow and become “One and Only.” These boys shouted with all their might for the entire neighborhood to hear. Listening to this serenade, will someone open their door for them?
The boys you might see next door but never do
Oh Minji: The word ‘door’ has several meanings. It serves as an entrance and an exit, a passageway that leads from one place to another, and a border that separates the inside from the outside. To close the door means to protect oneself from the threats that may be lurking outside; to open the door can represent an invitation or welcome from the inside to the outside. For example, in the movie, Suzume, the protagonists Suzume and Souta close the door in a ruined space to protect the world from the disaster. The film portrays the boundary between the living and the dead through everyday conversations heard when the door closes, revealing the past sorrow of those who could not return after going out the door.
The story of the new group BOYNEXTDOOR’s debut album WHO! begins as they open the door and step out. In the ‘Official Logo Motion’ that revealed the team’s name, the boys emerge from the open door of a house that comes into view after passing through familiar scenes like signposts, buses, and neighboring houses. In the “One and Only” choreography, the members step into view one after another when JAEHYUN opens the door or when the door is opened or shaken. The concept photos for the “Crunch” version includes scenes where members are waiting for the door to open, seen through the door scope, as well as the members messing around with music, gummy candies, potted plants, snacks, and kick scooters. Here, the members open the door which allows them to move freely between the inside and outside, breaking the boundaries of the space they are in, portraying every place as an everyday space. To them, a door does not represent any boundaries, distinctions, or symbolism. Of course, it is still an important object, as evident from their team name. But instead of attributing some grand meaning to it, they bring realistic and everyday images like the doors we encounter countless times a day, to intuitively express the direction of the team. The same attitude can be found in the way the lyrics written in conversational style natural for young friends discussing their newfound emotion of love: “Hey hear me out, am I crazy or what”, “I saw you linking arms with him”, “Don’t laugh at me”, “I’m serious, now you see” (“But I Like You”). They are aware that what they’re saying might sound a bit cheesy (“My shy voice is just for you”), but still, they “wanna chat all night / Talk about everything about [their] day.” The lyrics capture the realities of what youth their age might experience. However, these boys only emerge from the one and only door, passing by countless neighboring houses. While doors exist everywhere in reality, these boys are not easily found. In that moment, the door of BOYNEXTDOOR becomes paradoxically symbolic. It is a gateway where we can encounter a presence that may exist anywhere but nowhere in reality. It is where the reality of the boy next door and the fantasy of an idol meet.
BOYNEXTDOOR, the cheerful and refreshing boys next door
Kim Doheon (Music Critic): Anyone who encounters BOYNEXTDOOR becomes a coming-of-age novel writer. SUNGHO, RIWOO, JAEHYUN, TAESAN, LEEHAN, and WOONHAK's happy, giddy tale of a young boy’s first love is so pure and wholesome that you get butterflies in your stomach. There is no rugged attitude, fearless determination, or intense resolve to leave a mark in musical history – or at least it doesn’t seem apparent at first glance. They are neither heroes of a novel nor figures in virtual reality jumping in and out of fairy tales or fantasy worlds. The new group from ZICO’s label, KOZ Entertainment, are friendly boys next door who receive everyone’s love with their bright smiles. They are going through a beautiful adolescence of having their hearts race every time they meet the girl they fell in love with at first sight, secretly professing their love while gripping their trembling hearts. There is no need to beat around the bush or overly romanticize the situation. Moreover, BOYNEXTDOOR has many neighbors to learn from – Block B, who exuded mischievous and adorable energy of love in “HER” and “Yesterday”; SEVENTEEN, who produced teenage musicals like “MANSAE”, “Pretty U”, and “VERY NICE”; and NewJeans, who brought on a strong bout of nostalgia in an exotic space.
The album WHO!, with a total running time of 8 minutes and 13 seconds featuring songs like “But I Like You”, “One and Only”, and “Serenade,” feels more like a love story musical or a short film. Three minutes is too short, and ten minutes is too long to capture who BOYNEXTDOOR is and convey the story they want to tell. It brings to mind other musical-esque examples like Girls’ Generation’s “I Got a Boy”, SONAMOO’s “I Like U Too Much”, and several SEVENTEEN songs, as well as the drastic breakdown and genre fusion in songs by aespa and NMIXX. While these senior artists preferred dynamic compositions within a single song, BOYNEXTDOOR opted for a series divided into three distinct episodes. Three relatively short tracks that run for around two and a half minutes to three and a half minutes, are lightweight, refreshing pop numbers that feel like walking on clouds, reminiscent of the early career of One Direction and the music of other Western boy bands like New Hope Club or Why Don’t We. With a consistent style, the members deliver individual vocals without relying on harmonies to carry the narrative. The producers create seamless transitions between song intros and conclusions, smoothly moving into the next chapter or concluding a section.
Let’s take a closer look at “But I Like You,” which creates a dancehall rhythm around the lilting guitar riff. TAESAN starts off the song asking his friends, “Hey hear me out, am I crazy or what?” LEEHAN follows, “This is where it gets tricky,” and piques curiosity. Each member then comes forward with their own assertions. The song ends after asking the question, “No?” which is promptly followed by the next track, “One and Only.” This is the time for their full-fledged charm. With KOZ’s signature sound, electro pop that’s well-grounded and easy on the ears, TAESAN and JAEHYUN’s rap at the start of each verse, and witty lyrics like WOONHAK’s part “Kikikiki keep ballin’” showcase producer ZICO’s style. It depicts the image of young men opening the door of a new neighborhood, happily running around and greeting everyone as they go. After a delightful day of exploration, they arrive at a party. They clutch their beating hearts and practice how they will make a grand gesture with the song “Serenade,” bringing the first act of the youthful romance to a close. With loose acoustic guitar and linear beats, a whimsical chip tune and an elegant string session, this song evokes peculiar emotions as BOYNEXTDOOR joyfully and brightly shouts their message to the world, so loudly that the whole neighborhood knows, to the point where the neighbors can’t sleep.
Lively and bubbly boy groups used to be prevalent in the past, but with the recent emergence of characters equipped with intense charisma and solid messages as the trend, the bright, sunny concepts have been demoted and are usually reserved for “fan service.” It is considered a short break from saving the world, becoming better adults, and striving to be unmatched superheroes. But BOYNEXTDOOR doesn’t follow such formulas. These teenagers full of hope and potential spend the whole day daydreaming of their crush. The appearance of neighboring boys who laugh and chatter with their friends in the bright, ideal world of youth brings a breath of fresh air amidst the hunger for success and salvation in the entertainment industry, and it’s delightful.
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