It’s been almost two and a half years since Highlight dropped their Outro mini album in 2018. Its lead single, “Loved”, was a punchy break-up anthem with an elegant instrumental hook. Now that the members have completed their mandatory military service, Highlight are back with a new EP, The Blowing.

Title track “Not the End” reshapes a similar sound to mark their return with an equally addictive song that is as euphoric as “Loved” was bittersweet. Despite their divergence in tone, the two tracks share the gorgeous harmonies and heartfelt sincerity that have carried Highlight through over a decade in K-pop.

When Beast debuted in 2009, the six boys were snubbed by South Korean media as ‘recycled’ trainees — Jang Hyunseung just missed the cut to join Big Bang, while leader Yoon Doojoon trained at JYP alongside 2PM. Lee Gikwang had previously promoted as solo artist AJ, with his future members serving as back-up dancers. But Beast defied low expectations, and climbed their way up the charts to become one of K-pop’s most iconic groups.

They pioneered the pre-release MV in 2014 with poignant Insta-inspired ballad “No More” and were experimenting with haunting gothic imagery (“Shadow”) and religious allegory (“Good Luck”) long before K-pop’s next generation were making multi-layered concept videos.

After Hyunseung left the group, the remaining five members made the bold move to leave Cube Entertainment, and established their own company in 2016. Reborn as Highlight, they owned their new identity with a fresh funk-pop sound and cheeky aesthetic, turning out zany earworm hits like “Plz Don’t Be Sad” and “Can Be Better”. The group’s fandom, Beauty, proudly renamed themselves Light and embraced the band’s new music — and the boys continued to prove their power as a vocal harmony group with sweeping ballads like “It’s Still Beautiful”.

Rapper Yong Junhyung retired from the entertainment industry after being implicated in the Burning Sun investigation in 2019. Highlight now number just four members, but they’ve survived K-pop’s alleged seven-year curse and return with an effervescent spring single that epitomises the concept of new beginnings. It’s yet another fresh start for a group that have stepped back to square one successive times.

True to form, Highlight are ever ready to make their next move. The music video for “Not the End” uses soft pastel colours and seasonal symbolism to express the members’ desire to continue making music and reconnect with their fans. The MV opens with a juxtaposition of hopeful and melancholy imagery. Gikwang sits lost in thought beneath a winter tree, the hourglass beside him marking the passage of time. Meanwhile, Doojoon distils perfume in a room filled with spring flowers, as Yoseob carries a sheet of music towards a piano.

The perfume-mixing concept is the closest “Not the End” comes to a clear storyline – this is primarily a performance-focused video. During the first verse, Doojoon collects little bottles of scent labelled ‘time’ and ‘spring’. As the bridge carries the song into the final chorus, he labels the finished perfume with the line:

I’m still here. It’s not the end.

These lyrics define the chorus and appear as a motif throughout the MV. They are the title of the piece of music Yoseob plays on the piano, turning the video’s central message into music. They are written innumerable times on a piece of paper that burns but remains untouched, perhaps signifying the way Highlight remain steadfast despite the rocky road that has brought them this far. And they name the scent the members appear to create from the red, pink and yellow flowers that fill the video.

Flowers are a symbol of spring, which is traditionally tied to the idea of rebirth. But “Not the End” takes this universal concept a step further, to connect Highlight’s past with the future path they plan to tread. Maknae Dongwoon lounges on a sunlit set surrounded by vivid blossoms. Gikwang sits in a bathtub of floating flowers. They cover Doojoon’s desk, and a single purple blossom rests on Yoseob’s piano. The members wear soft pastel shades of pink and green, and shirts patterned with floral designs.

In this way, the four members are intrinsically connected to the new path they’re forging with this comeback. And the flowers that surround them in every scene could serve as a graceful metaphor for the fans that have followed them through over a decade making music. The song’s lyrics use a breeze to symbolise the connection between Highlight and their fans, while the MV echoes this heartfelt message in its clever use of imagery.

Now you are blowing to me
When the warm wind passes me by
You’re walking to me
You’re blowing again
I’m still here. It’s not the end

Doojoon distils the essence of ‘time’ and ‘spring’ to create his perfume at the beginning of the video — symbolically aligning the winter of Highlight’s absence from the K-pop scene with the fresh start marked by this comeback. During the final chorus, the four members dance in a white pavilion bedecked with green vines and surrounded by swirling flower petals. This visual connection suggests that “Not the End” is a gift from Highlight to their fans, who will return to listen once again, as they have always done.

Spring blossoms are renowned for their fleeting beauty and have come to epitomise the idea of youthful transience. This makes “Not the End” a bold and intriguing visual concept for Highlight, a second generation group who have cemented their status as top-tier idols.

“Not the End” is not a standard bright, bubbly spring comeback, nor does it slide into the intense imagery many groups favour as they seek to forge a more mature sound and style. The song emulates the instrumental chorus trend that peaked around 2018, when Highlight wove a stuttering string sample into the hook for “Loved”.

Now they reinterpret this sound to echo a familiar sonic signature, but transform it into a far brighter song. As the verses segue into a shimmering cascade of synths, the instrumental chorus blossoms into pure euphoria, elevated by Yoseob and Dongwoon’s soaring vocals.

The visual motifs are as elegant and precise as the song itself is simple and stylish. Pops of soft, seafoam green appear throughout the MV, from Gikwang’s turquoise hair to the verdant forest mural beside Yoseob’s piano. The members wear delicate jewellery with sharp suits, and the accompanying choreography is defined by intricate hand movements and graceful lines.

In this way, Highlight take a familiar concept and reshape it to symbolise a bold new message. This comeback may be their first after almost three years on hiatus, but it is unlikely to be their last. The flower blossoms that drift around the members as they dance may be fragile and fleeting, but Highlight are marking a new season in their musical career, with a promise that they’re here to stay.

(YouTube: [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]. Lyrics via Images via Around Us Entertainment.)