As a group that focuses on strong vocal and rap performances, BtoB has managed to establish a unique color and sound in K-pop that appeals to listeners even beyond their fanbase, even if they never quite achieved the same success as many of their peers. With 2017’s smash hit “Missing You” and the follow-up track “Only One For Me“, BtoB was in the midst of building a long-overdue momentum of successful hits to their name, when the abrupt and untimely news of their leader and main vocalist Eunkwang‘s military enlistment dropped.
Eunkwang is one of several idols born in 1990, and his enlistment eventually marked the start of a wave of late second-generation and early third-generation boy group members who are currently serving their mandatory service. Many of them had the luxury of time that Eunkwang was not afforded to release solo music before their temporary goodbye. With the album Fo:Rest: Entrance, Eunkwang returns to greet fans through his long-awaited solo debut, making him the last member of BtoB to do so.
Title track “No One Knows” is an introspective reflection of the melancholic feelings that cloud Eunkwang’s mind. The MV portrays Eunkwang as mostly alone in a serene and otherwise sparse set, as he muses on about his life thus far. Time is seen as moving slowly, nearly carefully, as if out of care for fragile forms of life like the ant and snail in the MV. Along with the use of toys and a strikingly clean white T-shirt, these seem to reference an innocent, simpler youth. Yet, there are also references to the inevitability of change, with the use of trains and a bike that allude to the transitory phases in life.
The MV also seems to reference regrets and missed timings — Eunkwang sits and waits for a train that has already left. Towards the end of the MV, the viewers see a quick shot of a jar filled with train tickets, confirming that the journey he is contemplating is not an unfamiliar one to him. His peaceful facial expressions also turn increasingly mournful and anguished at the song’s bridge, as he stops his bike entirely, before settling into a more resigned calm after. As the song draws to a close with a simple and poignant “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye”, Eunkwang is seen in transit once more, riding his bike to a destination we do not see. Life is a journey, and this is Eunkwang’s acknowledgment that he is not yet where he wants to be, and he, too, is a work in progress.
Musically, the release does not showcase a new side to him as an artist, picking off right from where he left pre-enlistment. Instrumentally, the track leaves much to be desired with its use of predictable structures and sounds that lack any kind of attempt at creativity or innovation. However, through the song’s lyrics and his expression of rather ambivalent emotions, Eunkwang successfully showcases a new and mature depth to his well-known cheerfulness.
While he sings about his own personal demons in the song, Eunkwang also offers listeners his kindness and patience as they too confront their darker feelings. Through a raw and sincere vocal delivery — sad, but also filled with a knowing warmth — he gently reminds listeners of the normalcy and fleetingness of such thoughts. Visually, these simultaneous emotions are expressed through the MV’s framing and use of wide or long shots to emphasise a cold and lonely solitude, all while employing a warm colour palette that create a sense of calm and approachableness. The overall intimacy of the MV allows Eunkwang’s song to himself feel like a shared experience with the listener.
In many K-pop discographies, ballads are a double-edged sword. While offering variety and a chance to showcase an artist’s vocals, ballads often live up to their notorious reputation of being obligatory album fillers or the result of lazy songwriting. Nonetheless, it is unsurprising and fitting that Eunkwang has chosen to debut with a ballad. As an undeniably competent technical vocalist who carries challenging parts of songs with ease, ballads are where Eunkwang shines the brightest. With his solid vocal capability, listeners can shift their focus on the lyrics and emotional delivery of the song — a crucial differentiating factor between a boring, forgettable ballad and an impactful one.
“No One Knows” is not the stand-out track of Fo:Rest: Entrance, with several others being catchier or far more interesting tracks musically. In this sense, Eunkwang could have succeeded in drawing the attention of non-fans if he had chosen another track to lead the album. Thus, rather than a release that tries to set him apart as a solo artist or stand out from the crowd, “No One Knows” feels more like a homecoming gift to fans who have waited eagerly for his return and an honest story about himself that needed to be told.
With an already established presence in several areas out of his main job as a BtoB member, such as variety, hosting, and even musical theatre, Eunkwang’s potential is boundless. Coupled with his burst of new-found passion and love for music and his job as an idol while he was in the military, fans can expect that his solo music endeavors will not end here. While it may not be a sound that younger K-pop fans, in particular, can appreciate, Eunkwang is ultimately a ballad singer through and through, and a really good one at that. Nonetheless, experimenting with different sounds for his future work will be a step in the right direction for him to rake in the attention of non-fans with just how much of a versatile voice he actually has.
(Source: YouTube (1). Images via Cube Entertainment.)