As idol groups get older, what qualifies as “mature” can easily fall into a hard to define, mostly gray area. Of course, it can be a spectrum: some fans may argue that maturity merely comes with age, while others pose that it comes in the form of dark and sexy concepts or a more sophisticated and developed sound. Despite these various definitions of “mature,” Monsta X has come to the table with a strong example of what it means to embody this term with their ninth mini album, One of a Kind.
While some groups have struggled to balance their own personal maturity with their oftentimes much younger audiences, Monsta X has managed to consistently grow up with their fans, both in terms of their lyrics and sound. They especially make that clear throughout One of a Kind, which features their quintessential, hardcore “Monsta X” sound, but in a much more subdued and refined manner, all against the backdrop of R&B elements and sensual lyrics that only sometimes hide behind typical metaphors and double entendres. One of a Kind isn’t necessarily all that its name suggests, but is instead a cohesive and all-grown-up continuation of the shift in sound and genre Monsta X first introduced in their last full-length album, Fatal Love. All in all, the album is an indication that the sextet has consistently grown up to find their musical footing and is entirely comfortable within it, embracing a style that pointedly lies right in the middle of the various definitions of what it means for an idol group to be “mature.”
This is especially where “Gambler,” the first track and title track on the album, comes into play. Upon first listen, “Gambler” feels entirely reminiscent of “Love Killa,” the title track on Fatal Love. It’s unmistakably Monsta X in sound, featuring harsh, synthy beats and sound effects like heavy breathing, car screeching, and glass breaking just within the first 10 seconds. But, as the song goes on, it becomes a much more unique, refined version of any title track Monsta X has released before it.
Just 20 seconds later, an Aerosmith-esque guitar riff enters the backing of the track, blending seamlessly into the heavy-hitting vocals of each of the members, including rappers I.M and Joohoney, who also produced and co-wrote the track (the first production credit for any of the members on a title track). This guitar motif then brings the song to its chorus, which is where the group most notably enters previously unchartered territory. Monsta X is especially known for title tracks with lyrically catchy choruses, which often repeat or at least heavily feature the name of the title track within it (think “Hero,” “Shoot Out,” and “Who Do U Love?”). “Gambler,” however, is completely different in that its chorus never mentions the word “gambler,” and instead leans more heavily into its instrumentals than the members’ singing or lyrics.
On top of that, the word “gambler” is hardly even mentioned throughout the entire song at all (aside from the lyric “Love is a gamble” at the song’s very end). Yet, it’s still completely obvious from the song’s lyrics that it’s about gambling, although not in the literal sense:
I fall into your smile
I’m obsessed with your tricks
Even if I try to push you away
Even if I try to forget you
This trembling heart callin’ you now
Zero zero luck bang”
I.M and Joohoney instead cheekily use wordplay to compare this sense of strong attraction, which is a major and obvious theme throughout the album, to actual gambling. This point is further expanded upon in “Gambler”’s music video, which features the members pulling off a heist-like escapade while donning sophisticated suits in Ocean’s Eleven fashion. But more importantly, these lyrics solidly introduce the album’s more mature subject matter and themes, which carry throughout the rest of its tracks.
The album slows down dramatically with the following two tracks, “Heaven” and “Addicted,” which both lean even more explicitly into the album’s themes and exploration of strong attraction and its impacts on relationships and love.
“Heaven” is almost entirely different from “Gambler” sound-wise, featuring a mostly laid-back beat with a Latin-inspired guitar riff. However, what connects the two tracks so succinctly is both the members’ style of singing and rapping as well as the songs’ lyrics. On the vocal side, members Kihyun, Hyungwon, and Minhyuk especially continue to lean into a loud, intense style of singing in “Heaven” that indicates a feeling of lust and yearning, much like in “Gambler.” On top of that, “Heaven”’s lyrics referencing “driving on this road with you” and an “endless ride” can be interpreted in the literal sense, like with “Gamber”’s lyrics about gambling, but are more obviously meant have a double, more implicitly understood meaning that again leans into the this heavily touched upon idea of lust and attraction.
“Addicted” is still slow, much like “Heaven,” but with a far more intense beat and lyrics, as well as a sprinkling of EDM elements and effects that add to its darker, more sultry vibe. The song overall contributes to the album’s cohesiveness in concept, with even more emotional vocals from the group’s vocalists and aggressive rapping from Joohoney and I.M to feed into the track’s dark atmosphere. And, while Kihyun almost always manages to perfectly exude the emotions of songs’ lyrics when singing, Minhyuk especially proves an unexpected prowess in this area when singing the lyrics of the song’s bridge:
“It’s flowing, it’s dangerous
My heart wants you
I’m feeling so high
A trap called love
The hidden pain is back
You take everything away so easily”
If the first three tracks of the album first introduce Monsta X’s matured sound and hint at this recurring theme of attraction, “Secrets,” the fourth track off of the album and perhaps its high point, brings One of a Kind even further into mature territory, but in an unexpected yet completely sensical way. “Secrets” is the album’s only all-English track, and for the most part feels like what could’ve been for Monsta X’s all-English album “All About Luv” if they had found their footing in sound back when it was released last year.
The track flaunts a funky beat with a strong bass, seemingly combining all of the best musical elements of the album’s previous three songs plus seductive, suggestive saxophone solo into the mix (previously heard in “Heaven”), which only further adds to the track’s (and album’s) sultriness and sexiness. With lyrics like
“Why are you hesitatin’
I can’t hold this long, let’s stop wasting
You want to tame me
I know what you want
Don’t stop this gaming”
the members also showcase their comfort with their own maturity and references to more suggestive, “adult” subject matter by singing these lyrics in a language that is not their first.
Even though “Secrets” was more explicitly mature in the sense that it is sung completely in English, “Rotate,” the sixth track on One of a Kind, takes the cake as the most lyrically explicit song on the album (although not enough so as to earn it a true “explicit” rating — just enough for audiences to get the message loud and clear). “Rotate,” which is an EDM-infused track with a slightly faster-paced tempo than the rest of the album’s slower songs, certainly feels like untapped territory for most other boy groups lyrics-wise. With lyrics like “Switching positions / I like to rotate” and “You make me dirty / No need to worry,” Monsta X’s members again show they’re comfortable enough in their own sound and concept so as to let their listeners and fans in on this exploration of desires and attraction which would usually and quite literally happen behind closed doors. Again, in true Monsta X fashion, such desire expressed in the lyrics is even further illustrated through emotive rapping and singing, always a high point on any Monsta X track.
The album is not without its misses, however. “BEBE” and “Livin’ It up,” One of a Kind’s fifth and final tracks respectively, blend into the album’s mostly cohesive sound almost too well, to the point where they’re forgettable and nearing on bland. Lyrically, they also feel somewhat out of place — “BEBE” is a track dedicated to Monsta X’s fans, which is clearly indicated in its lyrics. “Livin’ It Up” is the Korean version of the same track for their latest Japanese album, “Flavors of love,” and only finds its place neatly in the album by sounding like somewhat of a mirror of the lead song, “Gambler.” It certainly brings the album full circle, but the track takes up space for another selection from “Flavor of Love” or a new song altogether that could fit into the themes and overall vibe of One of a Kind a bit better.
While One of a Kind isn’t the most “one of a kind” release of the year, it still sits uniquely within the group’s own discography, showcasing a grown-up combination of all of Monsta X’s best musical aspects. All in all, Monsta X aptly and naturally leans into their own maturity by entering more explicitly “adult” territory in terms of both lyrical subject matter and musical sound, leading by example within this untapped playing field of truly mature concepts.
(Images via Starship Entertainment.)