Tearing up the test
Myungseok Kang: EHYPEN has been posed with three contrasting positions since their debut: “Given-Taken,” “Drunk-Dazed” and “Tamed-Dashed.” And a fourth question faces them on the repackaged album, DIMENSION: ANSWER, released on the 10th: Is what they’ve received a blessing or a curse?
First-week sales for the three albums ENHYPEN has put out in the year since their debut went from 280,000 copies, to 380,000, to 810,000 for DIMENSION: DILEMMA, giving that release the best first-week figures among fourth-generation boy groups. The album went platinum, selling 1.18 million copies as of November, according to the Gaon Chart. Following such massive success in so short a time, their qualifications can’t be disputed. Instead, the question is whether all that success is a blessing alone. The answer to this question is not to be found in the lyrics to “Blessed-Cursed,” however. The questions ENHYPEN faces have always reflected their current situation, just as when the group toured “Given-Taken” to prove their popularity is something that they earn rather than something that’s given to them. Their interrogative lead singles are a way for the artist to provide those answers; if they don’t perform well enough for the answer to be clear, the next question will never come.
The question posed by “Blessed-Cursed” is made more difficult due to the rapid success of DIMENSION: DILEMMA. For a platinum-selling new artist to be blessed, they must first earn the appropriate status. In “Given-Taken” they put on a unique performance somewhere between a dance and a play ; the group exuded peak physicality in “Drunk-Dazed” as every member danced perfectly in sync with one another; and as seen in their fully honed year-end performance, “Tamed-Dashed” required them to perfectly execute extremely challenging movements based on American football. “Blessed-Cursed,” meanwhile, is a highly demanding total package that requires every ounce of their ability. It’s a hip hop-style song that leans heavily on big movements as each member of ENHYPEN bounces along to the brisk beat of their individual parts in the song and then dances together with the others during the hook. They have to dance together in units as they move along complicated paths. The retro hard rock guitar riffs of “Blessed-Cursed” are layered over the repetition of relaxed trap beats, which the members have to carefully attune their physical strength and speed to as they continuously bounce to the hip hop beat, giving a performance that’s vigorous in both its vocals and its dance. When pulled off successfully, they not only demonstrate the skills that have landed them the success they’ve found so far, but also gain a sort of aura as performers who can really feel the rhythm while still looking tough in the way they move. Now to give answers they must prove not only their commercial success but the competency of each of their members while on stage—requirements for both a platinum-selling group and one that should be slated to undertake a post-pandemic world tour as well.
No one can say for sure whether the answer ENHYPEN gives will be successful. The answer is not a score given to them by someone else, but something determined by the market’s reaction and how satisfied the group feels. To get their present reality (“Borders that lock me up / Get rid of your rules”) across in “Blessed-Cursed,” they have no choice but to get up on stage and try to convince others of their aspirations. In the end, the skill and charm they exhibit on stage will be the decisive factors. So far, ENHYPEN has openly addressed doubts directed toward them that their success stirs up by posing them as questions which they then answer through their group’s talent for stage performances. ENHYPEN shares many of the characteristics of the modern idol, including their audition program debut and worldwide fanbase. But they found success following the most standard path an idol group can take—essentially, the classic approach. They take each challenge as it comes, then move onto the next—harder—one. No matter the generation, that’s what people come to expect from their idol groups.
The voice that grows cooler and cooler
Randy Suh (music writer): Metal guitar, a muted bass drum and lyrics that follow a chaotic period of growth—it sounds like it should be overwhelming, but in the hands of ENHYPEN it’s all tied together in a sonically pleasing balance. Maybe it’s their innocent-sounding vocals, never overbearing regardless of genre, that does it. To call them innocent might seem to suggest a kind of negative naivety, but it’s more that they lack any bad mannerisms in their singing. Because they don’t overdo it, their vocals, which sound good even when effects like autotune are applied, never give off a sense of overwrought emotion, no matter how much force the music has. Their voices typically sound young, even stylish. Although the group is experimenting with genre in ways largely unheard of in K-pop, it continues to be a point of admirability that the intense arrangements focused on emotional amplification never clash with their vocals. They’ve continued in this vein while demonstrating their ever-advancing skillset with each new release.
“Blessed-Cursed,” the lead single from the group’s repackaged album DIMENSION: ANSWER, overpowers the listener from the beginning with a crunchy electric guitar. We’re given to expect hard rock, but the beat soon turns to trap and brings the energy lower. Like the incongruous words in the song’s title, these two conflicting textures maintain a tension throughout the song over which is taking the lead. Even the vocals in trap music typically take on a dreamlike quality (mumble rap, for example) but ENHYPEN’s topline melody here eschews emo trap in favor of rock in a minor key on the pattern of the rock guitar from the intro. Yet they didn’t go for completely tough, provocative vocals like pure rock. Even though they sing with passionate high notes, their vocals harmonize with the languid beat of the trap genre. The lyrics would seem to hint at the burden felt by this group, who belong to a major label and who were formed out of a large-scale audition TV show, as well as what they’re currently striving to overcome. The tragic beauty resonates in such phrases as “this fake blessing,” “a victory inherited” and “cursed like a war medal.” The seven members of ENHYPEN sing effortlessly through this heavy song as though it were a weight they were destined to shoulder. And it’s glaringly obvious how much they’ve grown as vocalists since their 2020 debut.
The new track “Polaroid Love” picks up the pattern of love songs written from a teenager’s perspective set down by previous songs like “Not for Sale” and “Just a Little Bit.” The combination of a simple rhythm and easygoing melody is a perfect match for ENHYPEN’s laid-back vocals. It gives the impression of a neat summary of the dynamics surrounding an album that traces the ups and downs of opulence and darkness. “Outro: Day 2,” the final track, closes out with an atmosphere that steadily grows lighter, as though night has passed and the dawn is breaking. As always, the narration sounds like an excerpt of a Western young adult novel that designates ENHYPEN as the main character, showing that they are already fully prepared in the lead-up to their next chapter. No matter how meticulously an idol group is planned out from the start, the growth of its members can’t be pushed artificially. The great improvements the members have made over the past two years show and can be heard. It only makes the wait for ENHYPEN in 2022 more exciting.
A strong desire for “Day 2”
Haein Yoon: In “Tamed-Dashed,” the lead single off DIMENSION: DILEMMA, ENHYPEN chose to “just dash”; “Blessed-Cursed,” the lead single for the repackage, DIMENSION: ANSWER, details what truth and answers come at the end of that dash. The world they were in seemed like a sort of lavish, festive blessing but was actually dictated by the rules of others and was occasionally even a “fake blessing.” As though to reflect that realization, the NO version of the concept photos, the first to be released, featured phrases like “my way,” “no” and “just stop”—seemingly, ENHYPEN is telling someone “don’t butt in” and that they’ll no longer trust the world (“I don’t buy it”). As in the pictures where the members of the group manipulate people in a miniature world, they’re declaring their intention to “walk like a lion / I’m making my history.” Contrasting the NO version are the YET photos, the second version released, in which ENHYPEN is directed to look out across a wide green meadow as they walk along to briefly feel the breeze. The group eventually runs through an expanse of grass with their angry expressions fading away, perhaps representing their hopes and dreams for a world that runs according to their whims.
ENHYPEN has been full of the contradictions and confusion that color the space between reality and the world of idols ever since their debut. The question of “Given-Taken” from when they debuted through the TV series I-LAND carries over to when they feel “Drunk-Dazed” in the flashy new world, and the dilemma between their newfound desires and another conflicting choice (“Tamed-Dashed”) is ultimately connected to the truth they discover in “Blessed-Cursed”: that they are both. But now, after that whole journey, ENHYPEN has found the confidence to position their desires front and center on the path they travel. In the spoken words of “Outro: Day 2,” DIMENSION: ANSWER’s closer, the members of the group are shown ready to “be myself” and greet the new day. The speaker in the song says he doesn’t know how he’ll fill up the remaining pages or even how he should go on living his life. But he’s certain of one thing: He’s the one who will be filling up those pages, and no one else. Is their self-made history only just now beginning?