It’s no understatement that the debut of Big Hit Entertainment’s newest boy group, TXT (short for Tomorrow X Together), is one of the most anticipated in years. The quintet debuted on 4th March with the five-track EP, The Dream Chapter: STAR, and its title track, “Crown”. As the much-anticipated juniors of BTS, there are unsurprisingly huge expectations for this new group, and for the most part, The Dream Chapter: STAR meets those expectations – though in a very different way than one might expect.

The company’s influence shows itself in every detail of the group’s debut, and it’s clear what their desired vision is. Interestingly and thankfully, they don’t seem to be looking to create another BTS (perhaps understanding that the circumstances behind BTS’ success were unique). Rather than the edgy, hip hop group one might have expected, TXT is the quintessential cute, innocent and fresh-faced boy band, full of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed teens born after you were (probably).

Musically, The Dream Chapter: STAR continually reinforces this feeling of innocence and “refreshingness”, with vibrant synths, bright melodies and breezy, pop instrumentation throughout. Lyrically, it references imagery of things like stars, colours, puppies and kittens, fizzy drinks, summer and waves on a beach. With “refreshing” as the keyword, the concept is faultlessly consistent, no doubt the result of countless marketing meetings by Big Hit’s upper echelons.

The album opens with “Blue Orangeade”, an energetic pop track characterised by its layers of synthesised doo-wop vocals. Produced by Cazzi Opeia among others, the track’s name appears to make a playful reference to Red Velvet’s “Blue Lemonade”, a B-side off their Summer Magic EP also composed by Opeia. Despite its intriguing name, lyrically it’s a fairly simple love song about falling for someone who’s the opposite to you:

We’re the complete opposite
And for that reason, we’re more special
It seems like, (seems like)
Just as if we’re blue orangeade…

The album’s title track “Crown” follows, making no effort to hide its heavy Western pop influences. Blending EDM and pop with zingy synths à la The Chainsmokers, its powerful chorus, trendy production and catchy English hook make it the obvious choice for the title track. Lyrically the most interesting song on the album, it tells an unusual tale about a boy who wakes up with horns growing out of his head:

My body must have gone mad
There’s a horn coming out of my head,
What do I do, I don’t know how to stop it…

“Crown”’s rather cryptic lyrics suggest that it’s a part of Big Hit’s storyline for TXT’s own fictional universe, a tactic employed for BTS since 2015 and by several other groups such as Exo and Loona. The animation from TXT’s debut showcase blurs the line between fiction and reality by transitioning from an illustrated story straight into their performance; it seems Big Hit is hoping the narrative strategy will work as well as it did for BTS and are upping the immersion from the get-go. If the lyrics’ mention of “a boy with wings” means what fans think it means, then there could even be an intertwining storyline between the two groups – something never before seen in K-pop.

“Our Summer” closely mirrors the previous two songs, with neat, tidy production, slickly edited vocals, and a bright, spacious, pop feel, most likely contributed by the American duo credited in its songwriting, The Futuristics. The song’s chorus is strong but is dampened by the rather generic summer theme and obligatory vocal chop breakdown. It’s also somewhat forgettable sandwiched between the more powerful “Crown” and the amusing “Cat & Dog”, though lyrically it’s one of the most poetic on the album:

Underneath the blazing sun, it’s sticky and melting, the thicket of grey buildings

The neverending final exams, the din of the grey city that tosses and turns, unable to sleep…

For those who know of his numerous contributions to BTS’ discography, it’s obvious that the next song, “Cat & Dog”, is a Supreme Boi track. With grittier hip hop production, choppy trap-inspired rap rhythms and heavily autotuned vocals, TXT spare a moment on their EP to show us that they can handle hip hop, while still being cute and boyish:  

Feel like I’m your cat, I’m your dog
With my two eyes, I can only see you
Our relationship isn’t serendipitous, but indistinct
If I just have you, purr purr purr…

The song’s strange compromise between cute and hip hop makes it both endearing and ridiculous; at one point they bark like dogs, simultaneously the lowest and most hilarious point on the album. That said, there’s a reason Supreme Boi’s songs have continued to contribute to BTS’ success, and you’ll probably find yourself woofing along a few listens in. At the very least, it’s one of the most interesting and unique songs on the album, even if it is impossible to take seriously.

The album closes with the traditional lullaby-slash-ballad, in this case “Nap of a Star”. Here the members show off their vocal chops, with smooth, measured singing that emits a fragility befitting the song’s title. While the sudden change from the unbounded energy of the first four tracks feels jarring, the song itself is pretty and well performed, with lyrics equally as pretty:

In the dream, you came to me slowly and spoke to me
That you longed for me dearly, and to not worry,
To me who had tears streaming down my face (Don’t worry)
You spoke to me softly…

Overall, The Dream Chapter: STAR maintains an impressive consistency, pushing the refreshing and youthful vibe with every song while checking off several genres. Vocally, no member stands out as being either particularly strong or weak; indeed, it’s hard to actually identify five distinct voices on the album. Still, it’s a relief not to hear anybody straining to hit notes or sounding overly awkward trying to rap, and it’s clear each member is skilled enough to earn their place.

While they are missing the raw authenticity and sheer personality that early BTS oozed, there’s no denying that TXT’s debut has been orchestrated to near-perfection. From the fantastical story accompanying “Crown” to the grand and ambitious series their album title suggests they want to pursue, to their custom animated microsite and spotless social media accounts – everything suggests a huge amount of thought has gone into the design of this group.

Despite this high production quality, however, their debut creates mixed feelings for someone spoiled by the realness, relatability and unapologetic imperfection of BTS. It’s perhaps easiest to summarise TXT using the title of the first song on the EP, “Blue Orangeade” – addictive, stimulating and refreshing, like a fizzy soft drink, but also synthetic, saccharine and not quite natural.

While this could be said of K-pop in general, TXT’s example is memorable if only because of their laudably different seniors; despite every aspect of their debut being refined to perfection, it’s difficult to have any real sense of who these five people are even after watching their MV and listening to their album. Still, as rookies and teens on the cusp of adulthood, this isn’t surprising; hopefully, future releases will show us more of their personalities and worldviews, as well as their vision for themselves as artists.

(YouTube [1]. Lyrics via KpopLyrics. Images via Big Hit Entertainment.)