The victorious 11 trainees from Mnet‘s Produce X 101 finally made their debut on the 27th of August as X1, with their first mini-album, Emergency: Quantum Leap. Since its release, X1 smashed records for the first week sales of a K-pop group’s debut album, proving the popularity of the group. Given that X1 will be promoting together for the next 5 years, which is the longest period for any Produce group, this debut album is especially crucial in the establishment of the group’s musical identity. To that end, X1 does not really bring anything new to the table, but they are extraordinarily good at what they do, resulting in a solid first mini-album.
The group consists of a total of 11 members, including Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Han Seung Woo, Jo Seung Yeon, Lee Han Gyul, Son Dong Pyo, Cha Jun Ho, Song Hyung Joon, Nam Do Hyun, Kang Min Hee, and Lee Eun Sang. Within this group, 4 members had debuted previously, while the rest are fresh trainees. While the experience of the members who had debuted before does shine through, especially with the huge parts they get in each track, the rookie members hold their own and successfully establish their own presence.
X1 plays with a mixture of trendy electronic sounds throughout the album, beginning with “Stand Up”. This first track provides a nice, catchy energetic opening to the album. It packs a lot of power despite its somewhat laid back tempo, thanks to the strong voices of the members supporting the track. Lyrically, it is an impressive start to X1’s career. Coming off like an anthem, or a rallying cry, “Stand Up” marks the beginning of the group’s journey to the top. Resolved to leave the fears and insecurities of the past behind, the members are ready to be each other’s wings as they soar in the sky. Maknae rapper Do Hyun stands out the most in this track, despite the short verse he was given. His rapid exchange with Yo Han provided a nice break from the otherwise repetitive track, adding a layer of intensity to it.
That energy continues into “Flash“, the charismatic title track of this mini-album. In the same way that “Stand Up” started out relatively quietly, “Flash” begins with just a piano. The instrumental buildup throughout the song is extremely impressive, as there is a clear progression through each section leading from the verse to the chorus. Even as new sounds are being mixed into the picture, a distinctive whistling melody is kept in the background, shaping the song’s character. The electronic-heavy, repetitive chorus (“Fire up/Fly higher”) is disappointing since the other elements of the song are so strong, even if it makes sense given recent musical trends.
The astounding vocal prowess of this multi-talented group is evident in this track, considering its relatively high register. The ad-libs performed by Seungwoo and Seungyeon toward the end of the song are also impressive. Seungyeon, in particular, had both rap parts and challenging vocal parts for this song, but he managed to handle both flawlessly. From the looks of it, the vocal talents of the members are more evenly spread out in X1 than in previous Produce groups. Apart from them all being talented in dancing, several members also can sing and rap well. This bodes well for their potential as a group, and hopefully more members get to shine in the future as they release more music.
First place winner of Produce X 101, Kim Yo Han does a wonderful job as the center of X1. Given his dual position as a rapper and a vocalist, his versatility enables him to take on many highlight parts in their songs while being the focal point of their group choreography. The remarkable thing is that he had only been a trainee for 3 months before appearing on Produce, but his lack of experience is completely covered by his professionalism and natural charisma. The spotlight that is constantly placed on him is a welcome change from the way Kang Daniel felt criminally underused in Wanna One. Even as a center for that group, he never had a huge share of the lines, which hindered him somewhat from truly shining during their stage performances.
Apart from original songs, Emergency: Quantum Leap also features X1 versions of 2 songs which were originally performed in Produce X 101. “U GOT IT” and “MOVE” were popular tracks which were performed by trainees during the concept evaluation stage and eventually at M COUNTDOWN. While “MOVE” was originally performed by SIXC (Kim Guk Heon, Kim Hyun Bin, Lee Jinhyuk, Lee Han Gyul, Jo Seungyeon, Choi Byungchan), X1 re-recorded and put their own twists on it. As compared to the rest of the album, this track features the group’s rappers more prominently. With a chorus that sounds vaguely reminiscent to GD and Taeyang‘s “Good Boy” and a sick choreography to go along with it, this intense hip-hop track gets more addictive the more you listen to it.
“U GOT IT” slows it down a notch and comes off as more of a typical K-pop dance track. The original group that performed it on the show, GOT U (Hwang Yun Seong, Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Lee Eun Sang, Cha Jun Ho, Han Seung Woo) definitely looked and sounded like a complete group ready for debut, proving the cohesiveness of this track. The chorus with its chromatically descending melody lines is particularly enjoyable and the track is a well-rounded composition. It was wise to include these 2 catchy tracks from Produce because they fit in well with the high energy of this album and would make great performance songs for future concerts.
Moving past the dramatic dance music, “Like Always” features a lighter, more playful instrumental in the form of bubble-like sound effects. These last throughout the verses but are replaced by funky electronic riffs in the choruses. Interestingly, the transitions between pre-choruses to the actual choruses do not follow a conventional chordal structure, causing the choruses to always feel like a surprise. Along with “I’m Here For You”, the ballad of the album, “Like Always” speaks of companionship through tough times. Apart from the flashy, cool image X1 portrays of themselves in the earlier tracks, the group now conveys their desire to be more relatable and to be a support for their fans.
I’ll hold your umbrella for you
I’ll be there all the time without telling you
Like always you know that
Whenever I see you
You’re the prettiest when you smile
Where “Like Always” was fun, “I’m Here For You” is an extremely heartfelt and comforting track. A token ballad is a common feature of every dance group’s mini-album, and this song seemingly adheres to every ballad convention under the sun (cliché piano and string instrumentals), but there is something about it that sets it apart. Perhaps it is because of the vocal tone this group’s members are blessed with, but “I’m Here For You” suits them so perfectly. The gentle way Seung Yeon and Seung Woo repeat the refrain of “It’s okay” in the chorus reaches straight to the heart, as do the emotional melodic raps performed by Do Hyun, Hyung Joon and Yo Han. Perhaps it is because there are quite a few members who had gone through debut previously and faced difficulties in their careers, or because the members just completed a tough survival show, but there is true understanding and empathy in the words the members sing, making this ballad all the more genuine.
The members are all stable in their singing, and this quiet ballad enables listeners to appreciate the voices of the members in a way that the upbeat dance tracks could not. For instance, Han Gyul’s thick and assuring voice is a revelation here, and the sense of groundedness that his voice provides is lovely. This stands in contrast to Dong Pyo’s relatively high-pitched voice, which conveys innocence and pure sincerity. “I’m Here For You” successfully proves that even though a track might be cliché, its effectiveness can still be retained.
Rather than formulating a new musical identity for themselves, X1 proved through Emergency: Quantum Leap just how multi-talented and versatile they were. They did not really bring anything revolutionary to the table, but they successfully tackled different styles of music and showed their potential as a group. This is just the beginning, and with what they have proved so far, X1 has a very bright future ahead of them.
(Youtube, Images via SWING Entertainment, Lyrics via Lyricskpop)