Rookie group Treasure debuted last year on August 7th, 2020 to much fanfare and excitement. Now, mere months after debut, Treasure has won multiple bonsangs at MAMA, the Golden Disc Awards, and the Asia Artist Awards. With the release of their first full-length album The First Step: Treasure Effect, Treasure has already topped the iTunes charts in 18 countries and sold over 250,000 preorders.

The First Step: Treasure Effect only contains three new songs: title track “My Treasure,” as well as “Be With Me” and “Slowmotion.” The other seven songs have all been released previously. Since the full-length album is the conclusion of Treasure’s The First Step trio of singles, it’s logical but still slightly disappointing that so few songs are actually new.

Given YG Entertainment’s track record, though, Treasure’s regular comebacks feel like something of a minor miracle. Their labelmate Blackpink pushed out a similar blitz of 2020 releases — perhaps this signals a new era for YG Entertainment, a revitalization after their catastrophic 2019.

The First Step is a fitting encapsulation of Treasure’s trajectory thus far: the boy group alternates between brisk dance pop and more traditional boy group fare (moody chorus drops with plenty of trap). The group hasn’t fully committed to either style, which makes it difficult to discern what direction Treasure will take in future years.

The most surprising musical choice here is “My Treasure,” the title track — after Treasure’s past 3 singles, which all fell squarely into the “slightly menacing electronics” category, Treasure has swerved to a much fizzier, cheerier style of pop.

“My Treasure” features trendy trap percussion during its verses, with pleasant if not memorable melodies. Things switch up during the sugarcoated chorus, which boasts brassy flourishes and a sunny hook — it might not be instantly catchy, but the chorus proves to be quite robust. “My Treasure” falls prey to a terribly jarring and fully unnecessary tempo shift during the second-verse trap rap. The second verse interrupts the flow of “My Treasure” entirely — and not in a good way. However, “My Treasure”’s second half is far more palatable, finishing with feel-good handclaps and a singalong chorus.

Well in keeping with the lightheartedness of “My Treasure,” the rest of the album is filled with similarly bright pop offerings, all of which had been released in previous months. “Come to Me” charms with a satisfyingly repetitive chorus, and its retro synths possess mainstream appeal. “B.L.T” pairs slick, swerving synths with a grittier, rougher base; the EDM chorus is beefed up with a euphoric melody. (By the way, the title does not stand for “bacon lettuce tomato,” as one might think, but rather “Bling Like This.” It’s a rather strange name, given the lack of swaggy, bling-filled posturing in the song.) And “Going Crazy,” perhaps the album’s best moment, grafts an instantly catchy chorus onto a fun, if not terribly original, dance beat.

Treasure goes on to try their hand at slower midtempos — the sort of song that’s slicked with nostalgia and fan tears. The best of the bunch is “Slowmotion,” an atmospheric, trap-influenced number that carries a satisfying heft. This b-side is quite unique in that it’s an intensely visual song — although no MV has been released for it, it’s almost begging for a sunset-streaked, orange-and-purple video complete with the members running through grassy fields. “Orange” and “Be With Me” are less successful at conveying the same intensity of emotion, and suffer from sticking too slavishly to typical trap midtempo tropes.

Given Treasure’s young average age and solid dance-pop chops, it seems appropriate that Treasure might delve more deeply into a brighter, poppier musical style. As is, though, The First Step also contains plenty of rather trendy (read: generic) boy group fare — dark, slightly menacing songs with a tiny bit of experimentation. Past title tracks “Boy,” “I Love You, and “Mmm” all fall under this category.

Although my review of “Boy” was quite critical, I’ve reached a grudging acceptance of the song; over time, the song has started to feel more cohesive. Treasure’s past three title tracks are just “weird” enough to be interesting, yet not experimental enough to be truly daring; they make attempts to be “hard-hitting” and “fierce,” yet largely fade into a swarm of similar boy group releases. These songs are perfectly solid, but I wonder if Treasure is truly reaching their full potential with this particular style. If only this talented boy group could find their own niche within the oversaturated K-pop market.

Congratulations to Treasure for reaching this momentous milestone — their first full-length album has been enjoyable, if not spectacular. And as the group matures, let’s hope Treasure can either hone their bright pop sound, which shows plenty of promise, or try their hand at “dark” songs that aren’t completely beholden to industry trends. Treasure hasn’t yet cemented a unique group identity, but I remain hopeful.

(Source: Naver. Images via YG Entertainment.)