More than just their viral hit “Shine”, or the group with arguably the most unfortunate timing in terms of comebacks, Cube Entertainment‘s Pentagon has done very well for themselves in their own right. Though not an extremely popular group, they have gained a comfortable and sizeable fanbase over their four years. While with a few rocky bumps along the way, they have steadily promoted and now have a long discography to their name.
Led by Hui, one of the most prominent idol producers of recent years, much of the group’s discography features strong contributions from the members themselves, and this comes through quite clearly from the personal touch Pentagon puts in their music. Yet, those unfamiliar with their discography would be surprised to know that Pentagon has experimented with sounds more bravely than many of their peers. With the jarring switches between genres in many of their albums, not all of their experiments will be equally successful, but when Pentagon hits the sweet spot, they do it extremely well.
While “Pretty Pretty” stole the show as the fan favourite B-side of the Five Senses album with a music video release, the closing track “Stay Crazy” captures beautifully Pentagon’s strengths as a group even from their earlier days. The song is plain; the structure, instrumental, and even lyrics offering nothing particularly salient except its catchy hook that relies on rhythm instead of melody and occurs interestingly in its pre-chorus. Despite this, the sprinkles of the members’ harmonies, calls, and backing vocals through the song give the song its signature Pentagon stamp, a distinctive feature through the group’s more youthful songs. The result is an intimate and nostalgic track that warmly embraces and comforts you, as you walk with the group to celebrate and cherish the now.
Famed for their upbeat music, this piece would be incomplete without a mention of a track that instantly puts a smile on your face. “Spectacular” embodies the pure joy that Pentagon is able to elicit. Cheesy as the track might be, it is irresistibly fun. Right from its dramatic introduction, the track’s energy never falters, and the pounding beat of the chorus will get even the most stoic of cynics feet-tapping, or at the very least, bopping internally. Coupled with the members’ charming delivery of both rap and vocals and the little quirks of the track’s production, this probably would have made a more commercially successful title track than the unique but risky Jailhouse Rock-esque “Critical Beauty“, a choice that is a testament to Pentagon’s thirst for experimentation.
Fans of Pentagon’s upbeat and cheerful tracks will also find an undeniable serotonin boost in the form of their Thumbs Up! album, led by the title track “Naughty Boy“. A surprising but pleasant addition to the tracklist was, however, a smooth, mid-tempo track that shows their knack for producing excellent sad songs like their senior groups Beast (now Highlight) and BTOB. “When It Rains In Night” incorporates classical strings and the cliche sound effect of rain, and is reminiscent of 2nd generation K-pop’s approach to drama and angst.
The only hints that the song is a lot younger than it seems is its modern and polished production, with the nicely composed acoustic guitar and piano line standing out. Although somewhat an odd outlier in their discography, Pentagon’s successful execution of the song’s sultry and emotional quality suggests a potential for them to move towards this style in their later years when they have outgrown their younger image. After all, with many older groups either no longer active or having abandoned that style, there is a gap in K-pop for this sound.
Mid-tempo EDM tracks are a staple sound for 3rd and 4th generation K-pop boy groups. While paying homage to popular sounds and genres of the past, Pentagon still manages to keep up well with the current music trends in K-pop. Produced and written by Kino, the synth-heavy “Off-Road” from their album Positive, is a solid take on this style. Opening with luscious harmonies and vocal directing, the track turns an unexpected turn with the introduction of future bass, creating an atmospheric build-up as the song enters its chorus with a trap drop. Pentagon uses their rappers’ baritone voices to their advantage here, and their darker timbres keep the song’s momentum during the second verse and bridges as the instrumentals fade out. Emotive and uplifting, the members sing about a longing to protect their loved one through their vulnerabilities.
Before competing on Mnet‘s Road to Kingdom earlier this year, Pentagon’s latest musical effort is their full album Universe: The Black Hall, which once more features new sounds for the group. With “Dr Bebe” taking the lead, this is Pentagon at their darkest and most mature to date, and the punchy, anthemic “Worship U” may be their most sophisticated attempt at showcasing Pentagon’s identity yet.
As music genres such as tropical house and “noise music” continue to rise in prominence within K-pop, many groups go down the path of nearly-wordless beat drop choruses. Despite this, you can always trust Pentagon for a chorus with plenty of dynamic and lively vocals like in this track, which is accompanied by colourful synths that evolve through the song. Ultimately, the track’s strength lies in that it does not fall into any set category. Sonically, it sounds bright and energetic, yet the song’s style is clearly darker and more put together than their more juvenile concepts. All of the group’s various sides and colours thus meet in this very Pentagon take on modern K-pop.
Lastly, Pentagon boasts not one, but two of the more notable male vocalists in recent K-pop — main vocalists Jinho and Hui. Their voices ground the group’s music, allowing Pentagon to do challenging power pop and include plenty of vocal adlibs with ease. The impressive quality of the duo’s vocals is best featured in the ballad track “Thank you”. With all the tropes of a Korean OST-type ballad, the instrumental is clearly the supporting character, and the members’ vocals take centre stage. As Hui’s thicker timbre is mostly used to power through the choruses of Pentagon’s tracks, he is able to showcase the extent of his full range here, as he effortlessly transitions from his chest, mixed, and then head voice through the first part of the song. Jinho’s voice then creates an entrancing contrast with his more understated and thinner timbre, and his grit and emotion take the song to the next level. As their voices meet in the song’s climax, the song demands attention, and listeners are left in awe by the end.
As the group whiplashes between genres, from quirkier songs that focus on the members’ personalities to full hip-hop tracks, Pentagon’s discography is not at all short of variety. However, if I had to encapsulate Pentagon’s music and sound in one word, it would be “sincere”. While definitely not the most polished or consistent discography around, even the most mediocre in their discography sounds like it was written and executed with the earnest hope of evoking emotion.
Through the years, Pentagon has gradually but successfully honed their sound and musical identity. Pentagon’s discography feels like the members’ passion project, and so even as the older members begin to enlist, I hope they never lose their raw energy and soul.