2020 marks the sixth year of Taemin’s solo discography — a good chunk of time that has consistently amplified him as an artist. From 2014’s “Danger” to 2016’s “Drip Drop”; and from 2019’s “WANT” to September’s “Criminal,” we witnessed Taemin grow in both skills and artistic license. His range in genres, concepts, and choreographies saw no end. This year, in particular, had back-to-back MV’s, starting from “2 KIDS” to “IDEA.” 

Already aware of Taemin’s versatility in music, it was initially difficult to reach a conclusion for his latest comeback. While polished, passionate, and bursting full of his talents, it felt somewhat hollow in comparison to previous title tracks. Taemin has freely experimented with all types of music up until now, for some reason it felt rather jarring on first listen. 

Overall, “IDEA” is an unexpected follow-up to “Criminal”. While experimentation is more than welcome — and has defined Taemin’s musical color to some degree — it’s underwhelming for an artist who has consistently built his potential thus far. Dare I say, it is the most “average” comeback for a singer who has expanded the boundaries of his artistry every time? Taemin’s performance was brilliant as always, but the genre and execution of his song jumped on all the frustrating trends still seeping into many K-pop tracks today. Beyond the MV, the song was the least impressive; the idea and concept are otherwise consistent with the theme of identity and could’ve done more for Taemin.

Moreover, while the MV relied on a consistent theme of visual contrasts — in lighting, color, mood — there isn’t a particularly strong closure to the themes Taemin has been exploring throughout this album series. “IDEA” provides a glimpse into the perspective of letting go of his previous identity, in order to embrace his new one: but at what cost, and with what emotions? It seems that, by choosing to highlight the performative aspects of this comeback, they’ve perhaps compromised on telling a complete story.

But first, let’s explore the angle through which Taemin has explored the idea of identity: Plato’s Theory of Forms. The general idea is that Plato saw the physical world as unreliable. In his eyes, it was always changing, never consistent, and wholly finite. He also believed that beyond the tangible world exists a world of permanence and reliability. This outside spiritual world is a world of “Forms” or “Ideas”: the perfect essence of all that we see in the physical world today, as lesser imitations only. For example, the many different chairs we see in an interior design catalogue are sub-par alternatives of the perfect idea/form of a chair that exists beyond our reality. We can try to recreate the “perfect chair” as much as possible, but it will never match up to the ultimate essence of it. However, as long as we can conceive of a perfect Form in our mind, then the Idea must exist (somewhere, within the existential realm).

Just in case you’re lost, let’s bring it back to Taemin’s “IDEA.” The notion of a perfect form of someone or thing existing elsewhere is reflected in the lyrics, albeit through a complex interpretation. In the lyrics, Taemin speaks to what can be assumed as an “idea” of his identity that is coming up within him — but with BoA adding “killing me softly,” there looms a subtle sense of menace. 

My my IDEA My my IDEA

A dangerous dream that swallowed me

You’re proving it’s you

This tremor deep in the heart

You are my messiah (Killing me softly)

The intensity that is found in the lyrics is strengthened by the diction, with words such as “dangerous,” “tremor,” or “messiah” (usually a reference to a savior, but is quickly followed up by BoA’s contradiction). This conflict is further reflected in the intense instrumental and genre of the track, which relies heavily on future bass synths. The high-energy builds until the end, both visually and audibly, as Taemin is now placed above the ground chaos and into the sky — on a staircase that presumably should lead to heaven. 

The meat of the MV is a chaotic combination of light and dark, the calm versus the storm. The productions mostly relied on color and lighting to create tension, as well as play on the idea of contrasts. The mood of the initial white setting, for example, is darkened after the first chorus, filled with shadows and dark blue light. Red streaks on people’s faces stand out even more, and this color scheme is also reflected in the forest: a striking balance between calm and anger, rain versus fire, or perhaps even sky versus sun (juxtapositions that appear throughout). The majority of the MV stands in stark contrast against the end where the sky is his only limit. All this could symbolize the stark opposition — or perhaps irony — of Taemin’s idealistic identity versus his initial one. Interpretations can be numerous, but the emotions behind it come off as intense. 

The concept and aesthetics could have worked cohesively to bring this idea alive, and been as amazing as its predecessor. However, the synths — which make up the majority of the song’s backtrack — is too grating and hollow on its own. It provides little for Taemin to build on and provides no substantial emotion other than the intensity that comes from its sound (and Taemin’s crisp high notes). Not to mention the beat drop welcoming the empty first chorus was jarring, although others could understandably take it as a first “glimpse” into the hook of the track. BoA’s voice was a beautiful addition to the song and can give us hope for future collaborations between these two artists. Compared to previous solid tracks, “IDEA” seemed as if it was the most rushed production, which is a disappointing and difficult critique to make. 

Nonetheless, Taemin as an artist is one to always look forward to, as he continues to grow, experiment, and make our jaws drop. What did you think of his latest comebacks, readers? Let us know in the comments below!

(YouTube, Philosophy Now; Images via SM Entertainment)