Myungseok Kang:
“INSIDE OUT,” the lead single off NU’EST’s new album, Romanticize, tells of a drama taking place in the speaker’s heart. Although he resolved after a breakup that “I can love another lover / It doesn’t bother me,” he grows aware of his true feelings: “But really, I hate how alone I am without you.” The song ends with a confession—“I’m nothing without you”—that will fall on deaf ears. But all of this at “the end of the day without you there,” even “when I get back to my home, your birthday’s my door code / And I go inside, and when I close the door,” takes place “INSIDE” the lonely singer’s mind. While in his mind everything is falling apart like a “completely crumbling guard rail,” nothing has changed in the “OUT”side world, as shown through the repetition at the beginning and end of the song with the lyrics, “You’re the one that I want / The one that I need / Don’t wanna be free / You’re the one that I want / The one that I need.” By recycling the beat from this part for the section after the chorus, we see that the world “OUT” there and the world “INSIDE” his mind are connected. His emotions become fiercer as he thinks he’s “going to run to you before this night is over,” but the actual melody continues on, lighthearted, seizing upon the last threads of logic. In the end, the beat is gentle and the rhythm is fast, but when the mind is “crumbling” and you feel torn between emotions, it can be hard to have a normal day. The song accurately captures that feeling, and harkens back to other songs in NU’EST’s catalog like “BET BET” that explore intense emotions and the many tracks they’ve recorded in the EDM genre. The EDM style makes the song sound upbeat, but the underlying message is one of anxious desperation.

It could be for this reason that the NU’EST members make little use of their arms or legs in the music video for this song outside of the chorus and avoid any big or sudden movements. Both the melody and the dance moves in the opening and closing of the song are identical; the boys make a point to move each of their joints little by little in time with each beat, bringing them from a kneel on their right knees to eventually lying down altogether. Just as the song is flush with details in an ever-changing melody, the choreography is also in constant flux, with small, individual movements, putting their hands to their chests or moving one leg slowly as fits the lyrics best. Instead, the dancers increase in number and spread apart as the members move into different formations and the chorus presses on, providing a visual component to the increasingly intense melody. Even with all the elaborate changes, the atmosphere of NU’EST’s song remains cohesive and expresses a feeling that the line “running away crying” captures best. The team maintained the characteristic mood of their existing narrative while expanding it to include new subject matter and styles. Clearly the team, now marking their ninth anniversary, still has it in them to embark on a new journey.
The Sincerity of Persona

Yejin Lee:
In “DRESS,” the opening track on Romanticize, NU’EST’s second full album, the band describes itself as wearing a “mask of sincerity”—promising that, “anytime you want it,” they’ll be “your fantasy,” and “can become anything for you.” It’s a romantic gesture for NU’EST to make to their fans as they ring in their ninth anniversary. But, where there’s a mask, there’s a face hidden beneath. In the lead single, “INSIDE OUT,” they go from saying “it doesn’t bother me” if they “love another lover,” to indifferently and cruelly blurting out “you’re the only mistake I made” in one breath. But then, just as the speaker goes “back to my home, your birthday’s my door code / And I go inside,” the music in the background instantly winds down. As the mood escalates with the fast tempo, the singer finally reveals, “Once it starts, I can’t really help it / My heart keeps going to run to you,” and that sentiment echoes all throughout the chorus. After his breakup, the speaker can put on a brave face when he’s out in the world, but he can’t help but pour his heart out once in the private, confidential space of his home. In “INSIDE OUT,” NU’EST seem to remove the romantic idol’s mask and expose the bitter side of real love, yet by doing so reveal how wearing that same mask allowed them to hide the pains they felt from love. Suddenly this bitter situation that juxtaposes an idealized self with reality becomes a wholly new type of romance.

In their solo songs, NU’EST find some much-needed alone time insulated from the noise outside (“EARPHONE”), face pain and suffering and struggle to make it out of an inescapable emotional vortex (“NEED IT,” “DOOM DOOM”), scream on the inside (“ROCKET ROCKET”), and reveal how difficult yet significant some moments can be (“I’M NOT”). As individual young men, they are imperfect and find themselves in precarious positions. But thanks to the love of their fans, the boys, on the heels of the ninth anniversary of their debut, have been able to meet the dramatic twists and turns in their lives. Consequently, the group, like chivalrous knights, could pledge undying love to their fans. When read that way, Romanticize is the story of the sincerity and love that idols send to their fans—a promise to become a romantic idol, despite the mask; an honesty around anxiety and distress; a realization that they love you, always, no matter what; and a new promise. “The darkened spots” can be “inscribed with meaning” from “bright shining stars,” so there’s no need to be “afraid” about “a new you and me,” and we can open a “whole new future and space” together. It’s a narrative constructed over time by the team and their fans that can become a concept for a fictional universe, and beyond that, a promise made by the idols to adopt the concept to keep changing in the future.

Haein Yoon:
NU’EST’s latest album isn’t called Romantic; the title is Romanticize—as in, making something romantic. For that reason, the first half of the album, where the songs cover the theme of romance through the commonly associated lens of love, spells out more than just the pleasant memories of falling in love, like in “DRIVE.” The unromantic parts of love, too, are realistically represented: “INSIDE OUT,” for example, shows how someone can say “everything is fine” after a breakup but feel alone and like they’re falling apart once they return home. The album goes one step further: The second half, which MINHYUN kicks off, goes on to broaden the scope of romance through each member’s solo song by dealing with the changes that take place in the heart. “EARPHONE” opens as though MINHYUN is talking to himself and looks at personal introspection using earphones as a symbol. By listening to music, he escapes reality and arrives in a dizzying place in his mind that’s “full of countless copies of myself” and there he sets aside “all the heavy questions” for a moment and spends some “time alone.” Following “EARPHONE,” BEAKHO’s solo song “NEED IT” takes a closer look at the all-too-familiar feeling of becoming entangled in anxiety. In one sentence, words like hurt, agony and pain are juxtaposed against flowers, perfection and sweetness, while he admits, with biting vocals that stand out from the dark music, that he, paradoxically, craves pain. He isn’t looking to bring a swift end to all the confusion but to portray himself in the search for answers, his voice echoing. This sleepless inner turmoil provides a starting point as the album transitions over to JR’s “DOOM DOOM,” in which JR gradually accepts his imperfections. He wakes up from the darkness with “sharpened” vision, accepting himself, while incomplete, as “a flower that hasn’t yet started to bloom” that’s “perfect as it is.” The fact that the word “doom” suggests a bad fate but is simultaneously just an onomatopoeia that describes the catchy beat connects all too perfectly with the song’s lyrics. The ability to accept yourself as you are now allows a person to love themselves without any great obstacles. This is exactly why the “whole new world” REN finds his way to in “ROCKET ROCKET” is “the world inside me.” He heads toward the light and discovers a “world like me” where he can live in the moment, unshaken. At the end of the album, ARON’s solo song, “I’M NOT,” finds him escaping out from within himself and finding the freedom to turn his attention toward other people. The singer, having consoled himself with “the words I really needed to hear,” at last adopts an attitude of acknowledging others and bringing them comfort, saying, “Don’t feel bad.” The second half of the album is a chance for each member of NU’EST to share their individual points of view, but it’s also a long journey through “EARPHONE”s into the subconscious. After learning how to acknowledge and love themselves through self-reflection, they come back out and speak to “you.” They find ways to love themselves during the journey and broaden the scope of romance by embracing their emotions, private and introspective though they may be. It’s NU’EST’s “new romance,” romanticizing the unromantic.
Article. Myungseok Kang, Yejin Lee, Haein Yoon
Design. Yurim Jeon
Photo Credit. PLEDIS Entertainment