After completing the Big 3 mini-series with JYPE, Seoulbeats Exchange is back with K-pop group Beast!
If it’s true that you’re only as good as your last hit, then Beast were legends at the time I entered the K-pop fandom. People were still talking about “Fiction” and their album made many Best of 2011 lists (including Seoulbeats’), even winning the inaugural Song Daesang award at the KBS Gayo Daejun last year. Saying that “Fiction” was a hit would be a bit of an understatement–few songs have had this much hype and induce such fervour like Fiction has. To be honest, whenever I hear about how great Fiction and Fact was, how fantastic “Fiction” was and how much Beast had improved in both skill and standing and all that jazz, I feel I’ve arrived in town the day after the biggest party the place has seen that year: A bit left out. I tried to get into “Fiction” (first Beast song) and some of their other songs, and while I enjoyed them well enough, Beast hasn’t yet captivated me.
Then again, it’s not always easy to get into a group that’s on hiatus; I found myself adoring Hyunseung during “Troublemaker” promotions from watching the live performances alone, and I think the same could happen with Beast when the group starts promotions for “Beautiful Night.” But I think I should make more an effort and get to know them a little better as well and meet them halfway, if you will; so I went and got Bethany, Antonia and Amy to help me out.
Bethany: Beast received quite a bit of attention during their debut because people considered them to be the “rivals” of MBLAQ, who were also debuting around the same time. However with their debuts, it was easy to see that the two groups had very different and distinct styles and gradually people stopped associating one with the other. Most people treated Beast’s debut as “just another debut of a boy group,” and let’s face it: most boy groups who debut don’t fight their way to the top. Not many people knew about their potential because “Bad Girl” was a very electronized track and while it was catchy, it was also formulaic and any other boy group could have produced it. However, with their later material, their vocal potential was finally revealed and people started realizing that Beast’s success factor lay in the harmonization of the members’ vocals. Either way, Beast’s rise to the top did not stem from a stellar debut.
Antonia: I didn’t really get into Beast until way after their debut, so I listened to superior material such as “Shock” and “Breathe” before “Bad Girl.” However in retrospect I agree with Bethany — there was nothing special about their debut and had they continued in that vein they wouldn’t enjoy the success they do today.
Amy: I definitely don’t think anybody thought Beast were going to be as major as they are today. And with a debut like “Bad Girl,” can you blame audiences for being less than enthusiastic? There was absolutely nothing spectacular about “Bad Girl,” and the more important thing is that it was a very safe, lukewarm, vanilla song, so people were ready to listen, and then write them off.
2. Apparently Beast sings a lot of sad songs: would you agree? Do you think it’s something that really suits them, or can the group work just as well with songs covering different moods?
Bethany: Beast does do their fair share of sad songs (especially on their last album), and while I think that the slow R&B style they adopted for Fiction and Fact was more suitable for songs about unrequited love or bad break-ups, their upbeat music is great as well. One of the songs I liked off of Lights Go On Again was “I Like You the Best” and that song suits Beast’s style as well. “Beautiful” is another example of an upbeat song that the boys brought a lot of energy to, and with the release of “Midnight” from Midnight Sun, I sense more upbeat tracks for Beast in the future. The lyrics to the songs that they do really depend on the style they are adopting at the time, so when they have a slower, more emotional sound, their songs are sadder.
Antonia: Well, often Beast has sad concepts or meaning to songs but the songs themselves aren’t particularly emotive. For instance “Beautiful” could hardly be considered a sad song, yet the MV for it was rather, even if it was shot in a colourful, upbeat style. In contrast, “Shock” was about being unable to move on yet the song itself sounded powerful. I’ve always admired Beast’s versatility with being able to produce a variety of songs, be they happy, aggressive or sad. Perhaps because “Fiction” and the album as a whole was so melancholy and so successful people have started to associate them with sadder songs — something “Midnight” may remedy. Really though, I think so much of Beast’s quality come from the ability to change and yet retain a recognisable sound and flavour so hopefully they will continue to excel in many styles of music (can you tell they’re my favourites yet?)
Amy: I’m not sure this assessment is that accurate. I don’t think it’s so much that they sing “sad” songs as … regular pop love songs that cover just as much about heartbreak and tears as other groups. I think there was a very somber mood to “Fiction,” but maybe the popularity of that song is overwhelming people’s interpretations of Beast’s music. I do think that as a group, there is quite a lot of variety with their music even if there is a distinct Cube style that is instantly recognizable.
3. Does Beast’s success come more from their skills and talents, from their cohesiveness as a team, or from the attention and resources lavished upon them by Cube?
Bethany: Beast’s greatest asset as a group is definitely their vocal harmonization. Their vocals were mediocre upon their debut, but over time, each of the members have developed commendable vocal skills and contribute significantly to each song they produce (even Dongwoon!). While they may not be hilariously fun to watch on variety shows and while they do have their bromance-y moments occasionally, it’s not a defining aspect, their music shines. Their live performances never disappoint (I still watch the performance of “Fiction” with Lang Lang they did a while back), and because of their vocals, Cube invests a significant amount of time in creating the perfect song for them to promote.
Antonia: I’ts kind of a chicken and egg question really — did Cube lavish attention on them because they were good, or did they get good because Cube lavished attention on them? I’m going to say that their talent has a lot to do with it. Remember that his is the group made up of failed rookies. Taking on kids who other companies deemed unworthy was going to be risky; I’m assuming Cube must have seen something in them all from the start, it being their dancing or singing or personality. After all, a company can heap as much resources, help, money, and attention on a group, but if the talent isn’t there, all the clever marketing in the world can’t hide that fact forever. Luckily, Beast has the talent and Cube knows how to market it.
Amy: I think it mainly boils down to the fact that Beast as a group is very well-rounded in almost all aspects of being an idol. Groups that have a huge inbalance in the talent/popularity ratio tend to work less in sync with each other, in my opinion. What I mean by that is, groups with members that are vastly more popular than they are talented have less synergy on stage when they perform. But Beast is pretty much solid on all fronts and their producers know how to divide everything up evenly so that everyone works in tandem with each other. Not everyone in the group are amazing singers, and not everyone in the group can dance their socks off, but they’re all fairly well-rounded, which I think is Beast’s biggest asset.
4. From what we’ve seen and heard about Beast’s upcoming release thus far, what are your thoughts?
Bethany: While some of my fellow staff writers have been saying that “Midnight” is too gimmicky for Beast, I actually like it. I think that while the track may not be “Fiction”-level awesome, it still makes the boys sound great. I’m excited to see their choreography for the track and the styling works for me as well. I’m also hoping for kind of an underdog track that isn’t as K-pop-y as “Midnight” off of Midnight Sun though, such as “On Rainy Days” from Fiction and Fact. Either way, I don’t think their comeback will disappoint me (unless “Midnight” is the best track from the boys).
Antonia: I love “Midnight” as a song, but they will need to bring something stronger for their actual comeback. Beast are known for being a very intense group but this laid-back sound, something that made Fact and Fiction such a quality album suits them just as well. As one of their greatest strengths is their dancing and choreography, I hope they can pull off something spectacular, even if Midnight Sun doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a very dance-focused album. The hair though, I do not like. At all.
Amy: Cube seems to be getting a little complacent. I’ve always liked Beast’s music and I will probably like this upcoming release but will it be “Fiction”-levels of epic? Probably not. And why not? Probably because Cube feels comfortable with Beast’s immense popularity these days and that they can regurgitate tried and true trends in the market currently without really needing to reinvent.
5. Beast has come far since their debut, but is there more they could do? What do you think they could improve on, both with their music and their image and careers in general?
Bethany: Personality, personality, personality! I’d love to see the boys work on their variety skills and give me more reasons to love them. I want to see them goofing off together and being weird and all that fluffy stuff. In terms of other aspects of K-pop-dom, Beast definitely prefers to keep a low profile. It seems like Cube would rather have them focus on their music, but I know the boys all have inner goofballs within them (check out this video of their own dance to V.I.U) and I’d love to see that played up more. But if all they do is release great music that never disappoints me, I can live with that as well!
Antonia: I actually enjoy the fact that Beast aren’t always shoved in my face, I can think of a few groups that could spend less time playing it up for the cameras and more time working on their music. There isn’t a lack of them larking around with Idol Maid, Beast Almighty, and the deeply confusing, not entirely PC yet deeply entertaining “Mystery” video (how is Yoseob a prettier girl then me?) and as they keep a relatively low profile it makes these moments all the better.However, I do say this — more dancing. These guys are seriously good at it; talent, charisma, swagger… they work well together and have amazing choreography so they need to show it off. Do more “ImmaBe” style dances just for the hell of it, team up with Prepix more often and take over the world with your sweet moves, go on variety shows just to show off, teach us all how to dougie! I don’t care, but get it done.
Amy: The only thing I can think of is that I hope Beast gets to be a little bit edgier in the future. What they have is pretty great as is, but all of it can be in the “safe” territory. I want them to be edgy without losing that special Beast uniqueness that they have, because while I do see some experimentation with “Midnight Sun,” it’s a little too reminiscent of Big Bang and Beast (and Cube!) can be better than that.
I don’t like Beast’s new hair either, but hey, look on the bright side–new fans will have an easier time of telling the members apart… or it would if they didn’t keep changing it!
Beast may just well be an inspiration to rookies–to show that they too can rise from the ashes of a not-so-impressive debut and receive acclaim and renown. Provided they have the talent and material to back it, of course. The members of Beast specialise in different areas yet are good at what they do, and with conviction, too. The way they bring everything together in a cohesive manner is a key part of their success. They do well as a group and with their respective individual activities, too: for example, Junhyung features on other artists’ songs, Yoseob was part of the original cast of Immortal Song while Kikwang makes cameos in other idols’ MVs, among other things. It’s great to see a group active in other areas, especially artistic. It reinforces the image that Beast have of being about the music. That said, I think they could loosen up a little and go on a couple of variety shows: as long as they don’t appropriate any other cultures, I’ll be looking forward to it. Antonia’s suggestion of more dancing is a great one, and Inkigayo’s new format with a greater number of special stages could be one potential arena in which to do that.
Cube should also be commended for recognising the talent they have on their hands and doing their best to fully utilise it. Allowing members to develop their skills individually through solo activities as well as providing them with material of increasing quality are big parts of Beast’s success. But there could be trouble in paradise. I find myself agreeing with Amy’s assessment that the company may be becoming complacent. Cube wants the grandeur and all the perks that come with having a top tier group–its ambition of becoming a Big 3-level company has been quite transparent with their Cube Family world tours and new studios–but they are lacking the follow through to successfully achieve these goals. It does seem like the company is depending on goodwill built from Beast’s successes last year to carry the group through, and that is probably not the ideal way to be proceeding with Beast’s career.
Though there is a change in Beast’s direction from their previous outing, and to expect Midnight Sun to eclipse (hehe) Fiction and Fact is more hopeful than reasonable, I feel like that as a victory lap of sorts, akin to SNSD’s “Genie,” “Beautiful Night” may not be achieving as much as it could be because very little is being done to ensure success beyond . I may well completely change my mind once Beast starts giving live performances, but for now the music has been the only thing that I’ve like about this comeback thus far–though, at the end of the day, the music is what really matters, right?
What are your thoughts on Beast? Were you a Beauty from the start, or was it one of the group’s later efforts that got you hooked? Do you think they should do more variety as well? Leave your comments below!
(image credits: Cube Entertainment, Cube Entertainment via B2stly subs)