There comes a time in everyone’s lives when we start to let go of our teenage selves — or try to, at least — and struggle as we do so. As adults, many of us would realise that solitude is a part of it, and some of us would even welcome it. However, we often forget the growth it takes to be okay with being by yourself. As teenagers, we are often uncomfortable with the concept of going unheard and unseen. In fact, the feeling is probably more prominent during these years: where you feel as though you are alone in your problems, and don’t really have anyone to help you.

TXT‘s Dream Chapter: ETERNITY is an exploration of exactly that. Where preceding albums STAR and MAGIC built on a message in which the boys try to figure themselves out while having fun, ETERNITY goes a step beyond to explore a deeper, darker side. It delves into the idea of the persona trying others to accept them, and how the lack of attention can make one feel alienated and unloved. Growth is awkward, tough, and sort of distressing, and TXT try to convey that with ETERNITY.

In “Maze in the Mirror”, the boys of TXT sing:

This world, world that hid me
Please don’t give up on me
Trying to fit myself in this big frame
I feel so tiny and still so small
Find me please, please.

In this track, the persona pleads with the people around them to stay with them as they grapple with their lilliputian existence. An existential crisis not that uncommon, many of us have had to contend with how minuscule our presence in this universe is. The imploring tone of the lyrics is driven home with the maudlin accent the vocals and instrumentals take.

Their solid vocals have already been proven with STAR and MAGIC, and they continue to show them in “Maze in the Mirror”. The verses jump from one member to the next seamlessly, all of them nailing the ability to emote the forlorn quality of the lyrics. The instrumental gradually builds on sounds of electric and acoustic guitar, eventually gliding their vocal harmonisation towards the end. The combination of the vocal arrangement, instrumentation, and their cohesiveness with the lyrics brings forth a track that is one of the best off the EP.

Another strong track off Eternity is “PUMA”. “PUMA” sets itself apart from the rest of the EP in the sense that it looks for persona’s acceptance of themselves within themselves, as opposed to seeking external validation. The song focuses on the conflicting thoughts a young idol may have: “Still too young to stand alone. This world is a jungle full of warriors. The sight is aiming at your throat, a thousand eyes are accessing the internet.” versus “Still, for some reason I’m happy. My choice is the leader of me. I am my believer.”

“PUMA” highlights that TXT are just teenagers who have an insane amount of spotlight on them, with eyes on the internet always focused on them. Although they feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty and darkness they’ve been thrown into, and feel alone in this reality, there is a silver lining. They’re still free and happy because this was a choice they made for themselves.

Running along the same lines, “Drama” lets the listener get a feel of the theme of solitude, friendship, and conflict that ETERNITY presents. Just like its name, the tune is a flare of dramatic energy. The funk-pop intro to the EP makes you want to get up and dance, entertainingly playing with horns, percussions, and vocal ad-libs. On top of that lies the fresh, full-of-life vocals that fans know TXT would deliver.

That being said, perhaps it’s with “Eternally” and title track “Can’t You See Me?” that the theme of alienating teen loneliness stands out most explicitly.

“Eternally” takes an interesting musical trajectory, constantly switching two vastly different singing styles, almost as though dealing with two sides of the same persona. Even the instrumentation makes a distinct switch, contrasting between lackadaisical, soft beats, and heavier, uptempo beats.

The blatant contrast seems to hint at the struggle between a hidden nightmare that one can’t let go of and an external face that is trying to move on from it.

Yeonjun and Huening Kai use a rap-like staccato rhythm to portray this inner demon:

This darkness that swallowed a scream,
This distance between you and me is growing bigger.
My mind which is stuck in a nostalgic maze, save me.

As their voices take on a more airy quality, “Eternally” takes on a more sinister accent. Their verses lie on a quick instrumentation with rapid beats. Conversely, Soobin, Taehyun, and Beomgyu ground their vocals more and bring a dream-like quality to the song, singing, “Don’t go breaking my heart, don’t go” as the beats slow down and become more sparse, lowering the intensity of the track.

Through “Eternally”, the boys of TXT convey the pain of one growing distant from a friend or loved one, yet being unable to let them go and still wanting their presence in their lives. Yes, there’s a childlike quality to the lyrics, but both TXT and their audience are young, so the emphasis on these messages make sense. It might seem dramatic to most adults — but that is exactly what youth is.

“Can’t You See Me?” is most direct in the motif ETERNITY is trying to convey.

Can’t you see me?
Friends don’t understand me understand me anymore.
Friends don’t understand me understand me anymore.
With resentment, my heart is heavy.
‘Cause you don’t understand me.

A song full of teenage angst, “Can’t You See Me?” takes on the darkest twist out of all their title tracks. Well, as dark as TXT’s songs can get, anyways. The title track sings woefully about the confusion and anger that comes with feeling misunderstood.

Be that as it may, it’s with “Can’t You See Me?” and “Fairy of Shampoo” that the album’s production falls short. Thematically, ETERNITY tries to mature from STAR and MAGIC. Production-wise, it tries to do the same as well — “try” being the operative word.

“Can’t You See Me?” attempts to build on rock influences that the group previously explored with “Run Away“. That is as far as the similarities go. “Run Away” was a burst of youthful, otherwordly energy. “Can’t You See Me?”, on the other hand, sounds kind of flat.

The title song has an insipid energy, making it seem draggy and repetitive. It’s an attempt to exude a gloomy vibe, but it falls short. The instrumentation does little to keep the listener engaged past the first few verses. The choruses stay the same throughout, with no noticeable difference in arrangements between them. There is no upward or downward movement from the verses to the chorus or vice-versa. The track is only half a minute over three, but it feels a lot longer.

The members of TXT are versatile — they can sing well and rap well. At the end of the day, though, they’re still rookies, and they need production that can boost their vocal qualities. Instead, what “Can’t You See Me?” does is make their rookie-status glaringly obvious.

“Fairy of Shampoo” falls into the same pit hole. A song in which the persona seeks comfort and acceptance in a “silvery illusion” of a fairy, “Fairy of Shampoo” starts off with exuding an ethereal, celestial sound. The percussions slowly build up and the vocals have a breezy feel that gives the track a relaxed attitude. The brass, vocal-less interlude emphasises said attitude. As pleasant and polished it is, it is forgettable, especially as the stronger songs come after it on the tracklist. Vocal layering towards the end of the track might have helped in making it more alluring.

TXT’s has always had a musical release that has been carefully curated and produced. There is attention to detail from the promotional material to the visual components to the actual music. With ETERNITY, TXT’s team continues to push the group in the direction of being a group that tackles personal issues with perfectly prepared packaging. However, this musically risk-averse behaviour is probably why ETERNITY fell short of being amazing. ETERNITY is far from being bad — it’s a decent EP, actually — but if TXT wants to grow out of their boyish songs and themes, then they’ll have to take bigger musical risks to excite their audience.

(YouTube. Images via: BigHit Entertainment. Lyrics via: Color Coded Lyrics)