“Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.”-Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles
For an album entitled Instinct, Pt. 1 it should come as no surprise that OnlyOneOf’s newest comeback is raw, decadent, and seductive. The mini-album contains only four tracks (“libidO,” “instinct,” “byredO,” and “tear Of gOd”) all of which explore temptation and the depths of human desire.
Interestingly, OnlyOneOf have already described the storyline behind the album and what the tracks are meant to convey, through the eyes of one character “the boy wearing COMME des GARCONS.” The title track “libidO” is an expression of impulse that remains unspoken, unexplained, and taboo to the outside world. As the boy attempts to suppress his fevered and conflicting feelings, they become more fervent until it starts to impact his subconscious behavior.
In the MV, the members are seen exemplifying especially intimate choreography, even using strings to bind themselves together with each other. While these sensual and bondage-like moments received some backlash from viewers, the members expressed how the performance was a storytelling device rather than just for shock factor. In light of the intended story in the album, it makes sense. It can certainly be risky basing an album and MV off the concept of carnal, uncontrollable desire, but it is also an unspoken and often taboo reality of human nature, much like Freud and Agatha Christie both allude to.
Imagery in the MV centers around the members in a secluded paradise with a lake, minimalistic house, and a picturesque forest that they explore together. It is reminiscent of a subverted Lord of the Flies scenario, but instead of disastrous attempts to govern themselves, the members grow close to each other and engage in more sensual forms of unresolved curiosity.
In reflecting on the message that OnlyOneOf try to convey, one can get behind their restless glances, indirect imagery, and subtle representations of queerness, but it could also come across as borderline queerbaiting. Admittedly, when the teaser dropped in late March, it certainly seemed that way. Smooth caresses, half-naked camera shots, and whispered lyrics made the song seem like a queer story but without ever acknowledging it directly. Because being openly in the LGBTQ+ community is still taboo in the Korean music industry, these temptations of queerness without actually delivering on the expected romances, can come across as disingenuous and exploitative for LGBTQ+ members or allies.
With this being said, the existence of the cinematic synopsis of the album’s intended story explains the impulsive and indecisive experimentation of the boy, drawing on the writings of Sigmund Freud. Struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, he suppresses these urges before acting on them in earnest. For anyone who has experimented with their sexuality as society turns a blind eye, this is a realistic and sometimes silent reality of being queer. While the portrayal of this journey as instinctual could be construed as problematic in some sense, it also acknowledges the belief that queerness is how someone is naturally rather than a choice or a phase like queerbaiting often evolves into.
The sound of the song itself is a bit underwhelming, lacking variety and any real direction from beginning to end. However, it certainly delivers in the dark decadent sound they speak of in the synopsis. The layers of sound are uncouth and unclear, with a deep 8vb bass prominent in the forefront of the production. The vocals are nice with some evocative harmonies, but the chorus lacks contrast in timbre, especially opposite the verses. It could be compared to a dark, more nefarious, albeit less catchy, Taemin song akin to “Want” or “Move.”
Admittedly, this is a review of only three and a half minutes of content, and talk can be cheap without action. How the group handles this backlash and attention going forward will speak louder of their intent. The song leaves something to be desired sonically, but for now, the MV can be enjoyed for its relatable and subtle queer themes, multitudes of shirtless men, sultry but slightly strange audio, and gorgeous forest scenery.
The second song of the album “instinct” is a stripped-down, cheeky, and catchy version of “libidO.” With lyrics like “that scent you’re wearing,” it urges the listener to give in to their desires and engage with the members. This follows the dueling subconsciousness of “libidO,” taking the story further. The guitar riffs are a nice timbral shift from the rest of the songs on the album, and the vocals are wildly different as well. Some of the vocal chops in the verses are deliberately raspy and slightly out of intonation with each other, giving a rough, alluring edge to the sound.
As the romance grows, temptation and allure give way to a pursuit in “byredO.” At first listen, this track has a slow jam “songs to listen to in the bedroom” vibe. The members encourage one to “take it off” and “spray it for me every night.” While they are hypothetically talking about perfume, the scents they are implying could also be construed as pheromones. Pheromones are excreted by both animals and humans alike and have been linked to emotional heightening and arousal in humans. While pheromones are not “sprayed” as they describe in the song, they can trigger emotional responses that are perceived by the olfactory senses in adults.
Conversely, “byredO” comes from the Old English term “by redolence” meaning “sweet-smelling perfume,” also inspiring a perfume brand by the same name. This subtle nod to perfumes both natural and man-made gives a unique dimension to the song. As described by OnlyOneOf, “byredO” is the experiencing of drowning in another person, when the sensuality and entanglement become deadly and suffocating, like poison rather than perfume.
Similarly, the music is slow, minimal, and with the members’ vocals on full display. Almost like demented ASMR, the members slide between notes with finesse and magnetism that mixes well with the mostly acoustic music stylings. Piano, synthesizer, and more minimal drum set are interspersed with delicate vocals and harmonies. This is easily one of the most cohesive and evocative songs on the album, luring listeners in like a fly to a Drosera.
The conclusion to this chapter of OnlyOneOf’s story displays the aftereffects of giving in to one’s desire and the possible divine retribution as a result. It comes as no surprise that themes of homosexuality, faith, and instinct are placed alongside each other. In “tear Of gOd” these themes intermingle, but rather than homosexuality being the sin, their insatiable lust is. Lyrics like “I can’t control my body” and “please forgive me” express their regret at letting their curiosity become shallow, carnal desire.
It may be worth noting that contemporary religious scholarship has been uncovering the origins of the word “homosexuality” in sacred texts and teachings for some time now, and the subversion of these sins to those of dangerous temptation is a refreshing one. Like “libidO” the themes in “tear Of gOd” are unclear and oftentimes subjective, but the group’s general lack of aversion to queer and intimate elements in the album speaks volumes.
Framed by pleading vocal chops in the transitions and simple, confessing lyrics, the “tear Of gOd” confesses the members’ desire to converse with god and seek atonement for their indulgence. There is a hopelessness and simplicity to the song, ending with an unsureness and softness after a long battle with the most animalist instincts inside all of us.
The album as a whole is raw, unexpected, and thematically muddled. Centering on the concept of instinct and impulse, each song speaks of an escalation from curiosity and exploration to insatiable lust and then to atonement and regret. While some of the more intimate themes could be construed as dangerously inappropriate, the story that they have created is certainly enthralling and redolent. The sound of Instinct, Pt. 1 perfectly frames the decadence, fickleness, and sensuality that human instinct entails, and one can only hope that the next installment is equally outside of the box and enticing.
(YouTube , Insight, CliffNotes, Vice, TeenVogue, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov (J. Verhaeghe, R. Gheysen, and P. Enzlin, 2013), The Perfume Society, Plant Delights Nursery, United Methodist Insight, Images via 8D Creative (RSVP))