After three years since their last release, NU’EST is finally back with their 6th EP, Happily Ever After. Following two years of promoting as quartet NU’EST W this comeback marks the highly-anticipated return of member Hwang Minhyun after his time with project group Wanna One. Expectations were high to see if the group could continue to improve their now trademark intricate, robust sound, and Happily Ever After certainly lives up to them. While certain individual tracks shine more than others, NU’EST have created a strong work to carry them into this next stage of their career.

The EP comes as the third and final chapter of their three-part “Knight Series”, which began in 2016 with EPs Q is. and Canvas. It’s a majestic end to a series that many of their then-remaining fans were uncertain about. Upon the release of their 2016 title track “Overcome”, from Q is., fans were reasonably taken aback by the switch-up in sound. The stark differences in concept, from their powerful debut “Face”, to the mournful ballad “Hello”, to the eclectic “Sleep Talking”, had taken a heavy toll on their popularity — “Overcome” seemed to many like another failed attempt at the group trying to find their footing. 

However, after their Produce 101-induced hiatus in 2017, the intense vocals and expansive production style that once made “Overcome” seem like a shot in the dark became the group’s signature. NU’EST W refined this new direction with a few hits and misses during their time, but Happily Ever After is refreshing proof of how far they’ve come.

Stacking “Bet Bet” against the group’s roster of impressive former title tracks was a difficult task, but it definitely ranks as one of their best. Where their last title “Help Me”, by NU’EST W, felt too busy and overpowered by Baekho’s vocals in the chorus, “Bet Bet” was a flawless balance of everyone’s talents. Its futuristic bass and whimsical synths paired with each member’s unique vocal styles, flowing seamlessly together in a way that let them both shine.

Following “Bet Bet”, “Different” and “Bass” are class acts in fleshing out the rest of the album. Both tracks take different approaches to a retro vibe — “Different” with its subtler instrumentation and “Bass” with its powerful vocals and heavy bass — but each stands out as intriguing takes on NU’EST’s signature sound. In particular, “Different”’s highlights would definitely be it with its catchy chorus and laid-back production.

As good as “Bass” was, its strength definitely ran the risk of overpowering its predecessor “Bet Bet”. Despite being a strong title on its own, with “Bass” as the next track, “Bet Bet” lost its luster as the strongest track on the album. Both songs exude different types of power, but back-to-back they sound too much like they’re trying to outdo one other.

While “Bet Bet”’s redeeming value lies in being NU’EST’s best title track since “Overcome”, “Segno” and “Talk About Love”, in comparison, definitely have their weaknesses. As far as intro songs go, “Segno” is adequate, but its slow-paced, airy sound does little to properly establish the tone of the EP. It would’ve been far better suited further down the track listing as a soothing final ballad, or even as an interlude. I would even argue for the synth-laden “Fine” to take its spot at the top. “Talk About Love” also felt mismatched with its weak chorus and a composition that bordered on erratic and unorganized.

Ultimately this album marks the beginning of a new era for NU’EST, and with album sales breaking 200,000 in the first week of its release all signs point towards a successful comeback. While not every song on the EP was a winner, it is exciting to see how NU’EST has become confident in experimenting with their typical sound. “Bet Bet” follows their usual recipe with expansive production, heavy synths, and intense vocals, but it found a balance that was lacking in previous releases. It will be intriguing to see how they carry this momentum forward into their next release.

(Images via Pledis Entertainment, YouTube)