A bittersweet album released during a bittersweet time in VAV’s career, Made For Two, serves as both a promise letter and consolation to VAMPZ who have been patiently waiting for the group’s return while cherishing their last few days with a very special member. Since their lineup change in 2017 and the addition of Korean members Lou, Ayno, and Ziu after three Chinese members left, VAV have completely revamped and altered their sound to fit in with today’s K-pop scene, while also setting themselves apart as the “manly group” in K-pop – aside from one or two releases that are much more bubblegum pop than the rest. The group spent most of 2019 experimenting with songs like “Thrilla Killa” and “Give Me More“, to “Poison”, and have found consistent international success with all three, even if the domestic market still isn’t paying them much attention. 

Lead vocalist Baron has been through it all since he first debuted as one of the original VAV members in 2015. Fans knew the day was coming when he would temporarily leave the group for his mandatory military enlistment in Korea. So, when it was announced that he would enlist one week before the release of the VAV’s sixth EP, it was a crushing blow for VAMPZ who were hoping to cheer him on during promotions. Luckily, everything from the album recordings to the filming of the music video were all wrapped up before Baron’s big day, and what a treat it is. 

This will be the group’s first time promoting without the lead vocalist, who’s played a crucial role from the start. Most would argue that Ziu and St. Van are the power vocals in the group, while Baron and Ace provide softer tones where they’re needed. Fortunately, with VAV already securing a substantial fanbase and attractive image, it’s unlikely that Baron’s absence will stunt their growth in the industry. But after hearing this album, it is worth wondering how the rest of the members will rework their sound for future comebacks in his absence – if at all.

Conceptually, “Made For Two” is the perfect title track to sum up the group’s feelings about moving forward with six members for the time being. It’s a bit melancholy, laced with a twinge of hope and is described as “the feelings of a man who bids farewell to a loved one, but recalls the beautiful memories that were made and remaining hopeful for the future”– a letter from VAV to Baron, but also a letter from Baron to his dedicated VAMPZ.

The song opens with a dreamy, nostalgic aura around it as Baron gently guides the listener into the first verse. As the bass starts to thicken, the buildup into the chorus leads you to believe a huge bass drop is on the way but surprisingly, it never comes. Instead, the members opt for a more subdued chorus that feels just as spacious and free as the MVs filing location, Jeju Island. , while  they sing: “Made for two / love, love, love is pain…”

From the first teaser alone, “Made For Two” initially seemed like it was setting the scene for an R&B influenced slow jam, which is always appreciated. Surprisingly, VAV actually incorporate a North European folk sound, specifically a style that is derivative from Scandinavia. The 3 ½ minute track stays around the same mid-tempo pace for the majority of the song — with the exception of Lou and Ayno’s rap sections — and truthfully, was a bit underwhelming at first listen. However, with the captivating choreography, an epic final chorus that features a tampani, and the impenetrable bond of the members shown on screen, “Made For Two” becomes even more satisfying with every listen.

What makes this album so special and stand out from the group’s previous releases is that most of the tracks were produced and/or written by four out of the seven members. “Into You” is their first all English release, which was composed by St. Van and written by Lou. It’s a light EDM-driven song for the summer with lyrics expressing their shyness “while facing their first love”. The lyrics address the feeling of butterflies and not being able to hide their feelings, which is evident in the way VAV interacts with their fans on Twitter and in person. They’ve become known for their fan service on tour and making sure that VAMPZ know how much they’re appreciated through serenades on stage and other grand gestures that have now gone viral. It’s cute and would be a great song to showcase that affection during their concert (post-Covid), but sadly doesn’t build any traction past generic summer vibes. Without a memorable section or standout moment to latch on to, “Into You” would most likely rank at the bottom of the list next to the other tracks.

Now pulling a complete 180, “Moto” instantly catches the ear as it dips into a smoother, even sexier EDM tone. With lyrics penned by main rapper Ayno, the word ‘moto’ is morphed into a clever combination of ‘motor’ and ‘motto’ – referring to a girl who is “the motto of his life” that he’s determined to live by, which could also be said about fans in the midst of their career. When reading the lyrics closely, one can also catch the “motor” references in relation to his heart: 

We’re in an uncontrollable moto

Don’t be surprised at this speed, all you have to do is stick together

I say you’ll be mine

Would it be too soon to say that this might be one of their most groovy choruses to date? As Ziu’s delicate falsetto rides the melody in the “running running running on” section, my first thought was that it must’ve been a nod to Earth, Wind and Fire‘s classic disco hit, “September” because honestly, there’s no other connection to be made. Sure, it may be sung in a slightly different key and structured in a not-so-obvious way, but I’m convinced that I’ve connected the dots there and it’s very pleasing. All in all, “Moto” is perfect – a title track worthy song that deserves to be promoted alongside “Made For Two.”

Repeating a similar sentiment in their lead single, “Hold Tight” dives deeper into the heartbreak that’s felt during a farewell. Ballads are usually a toss-up – either providing emotional healing and support for the listener or falling flat and failing to capture the true essence of loss, pain, and love. With the help of Ace’s lyrics and composition, “Hold Tight” valiantly soars through the sky and succeeds in the former. The song is accompanied only by a piano and the impressive timbres of each member’s vocal tones. 

Ballads aren’t at all a new concept for VAV, but this is by far the most beautifully executed one of them all. It’s the kind of song that’ll make you want to hold your loved ones closer and tighter – fearing that once they’re gone, there will always be a part of you missing that you may never see again. 

Winding down on the six-track EP is the second English song from the group, “You Taught Me Love,” composed and written by Lou, and an instrumental version of “Made For Two.” The former has been a fan favorite for a while now, as VAV first presented it during their North American tour earlier this year.

At first listen, “You Taught Me Love” is drenched in affection – a sweet lullaby for the hopeless romantics around the world. But within their words (that were thoughtfully inspired by the film A Star is Born), is a shadow of regret and sorrow as the members recall lessons that their former loved one taught them – hoping to numb the pain of their absence with gentle reminders and memories. After having multiple world tours and fansign events in the last two years, there are probably several lessons that VAV have learned from their own fans, whether it be a cultural lesson or even just learning something new about each fan one-on-one – these can also serve as precious moments to look back on during a time where it’s difficult to meet as often as they’d like.

Lastly, as gorgeous as the “Made For Two” instrumental is, the end of this album would’ve made more of an emotional impact if the last track had been “You Taught Me Love” – almost like ending on a beautifully sad note to drive home the feeling of reflection. 

After promoting as a group over the last five years, VAV have tried their hand in a slew of drastically different sounds: electro funk/disco (“Dance with Me”; “Gorgeous”), Latin-pop and Reggaeton fusions (“Señorita”; “Give Me More”) and even R&B dance pop (“Spotlight”). With the hit making producer Ryan S. Jhun on their side, the group always seems to be pulling something new out of their hat – never quite sticking to one concept for too long. 

Seeing the guys tap into a more emotionally mature and vulnerable side was definitely unexpected, but also a change of pace that needed to be heard.

The theme of longing for someone is purposefully woven in and out of this EP to reflect not only VAV’s feelings towards Baron’s departure, but also their undeniable love for the fans. It could be a little risky releasing an album that’s almost entirely on the softer side – there’s no guarantee that it’ll pull in as many potential fans as an upbeat track or album might. However, if the positive comment section under their “Made For Two” video is any indication, there are a nice amount of K-pop fans looking to discover something new with VAV and this could be the era for them.

There are many goals that the group would like to accomplish with this era, one of them being to win their first music show award. It’s hard to say whether or not this release will hold up on music shows, as we are now in the second week of promotions, but they have reached another milestone. As of September 22, they are #6 on Billboard’s Next Big Sound Chart, which includes acts from around the world. This is a great sign for the western market, however, they have yet to break through in Korea, regardless of the millions of views for each music video. With future comebacks, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not they’ll be able to formulate a title track to capture more domestic fans for that music show trophy. 

With Baron gone for the time being, this will be an opportunity for the other members to push themselves to new limits and step out of their comfort zone – like a chance for Jacob to show off more of his rich vocal abilities, or perhaps the group taking on fusion of traditional East Asian folk styles with a more sleek, boy band pop influence. Anything goes in K-pop and VAV definitely has the talent, presence, and potential to be right in the center of it.

Chyenne is a K-pop fan from Chicago, Illinois and graduated with a degree in public relations. She can usually be found with pink headphones on and experimenting with her homemade boba tea.

(YouTube. Images via A Team Entertainment.)