Finally, a summertime album fit for the summer!
Ever since Astro’s debut in 2016, the six-member group has constantly been on a path onward and upward. Known for their bright and uplifting music, as well as their usual “soft boy” concepts, Astro’s discography has typically followed the electropop, upbeat musical route. But in recent years, the group has expanded outside their original comfort zone to showcase their maturity, growth, and versatility amongst K-pop’s crowded boy group landscape.
Their latest mini album, Switch On, is yet another step up that ladder in their quest to prove their versatility (much of which was already successfully done on their previous 2021 release, All Yours). Astro’s cute, soft boy front is surely what they’re most known for, but Switch On highlights their ability to remain starkly themselves while also traversing new musical territory. The album features a well-balanced mix of previously unexplored genres for the group, including tropical-infused EDM, disco pop, and house. At the same time, Switch On still has that familiar Astro touch, with a few acoustic ballads and all-around feel-good songs featuring strong, catchy vocals to capture a laid-back, summery vibe.
Switch On starts out strong with “After Midnight,” the album’s breezy, cheerful, retro-inspired title track. It features a series of upbeat, rhythmic piano chords, and a subtle funky bassline and an even funkier guitar riff layered on top of one another to give off a bright, easy-going vibe fit for the summertime season.
While tackling disco isn’t a novel idea within K-pop–the past year has seen nearly every group under the sun release their own disco-inspired track in some shape or form–Astro manages to do it in their own, signature way without the song feeling forced or contrived. Each of the member’s vocals shines in tandem with the song’s instrumentation, at times blending in seamlessly with the continuous piano chords, or serving as a pleasant contrast between the repeated the funky guitar sounds that fill the empty space between the members’ vocals.
“After Midnight”’s MV aptly follows suit, with each of the members dressed in various bright and colorful retro-inspired outfits to strengthen that summery, carefree vibe that Switch On as a whole emulates. The lyrics–written in part by members Eunwoo, Rocky, and JinJin–follow the same themes, highlighting the lightheartedness and carefreeness that the summer months are meant to bring:
In the moonlight
Let go all of the worries
Come on let’s go
See the highlight
Night of the summer, baby we will never forget
The perfect midnight
“Footprint,” the next track on the album, continues “After Midnight”’s lyrical themes of leaving past worries behind and focusing on being carefree and starting anew in the present. Genre-wise, the group switches things up from the previous track and again enters new musical territory, this time tackling EDM. Right off the bat, the track’s EDM instrumentation transports listeners to a tropical, beachy setting. It’s fitting, considering that the track’s title and lyrics–which Moonbin contributed to–imply old footprints being left behind (and washed away by “waves”), and new footprints moving forward into a new, brighter future:
It’s fine if the big wave strikes us,
We left it at a place where only the two of us know
It’s fine if the strong wind swirls
We left it at a place where only the two of us go
While the track’s combination of tropical and EDM sounds throughout don’t necessarily create anything new or completely outside the box, there are other interesting and unexpected effects and vocal elements that make “Footprint” stand out on its own. During the pre-chorus and choruses, a layer of autotuned harmonies are added underneath the main vocals. This special effect is especially noticeable when Moonbin and MJ, and Rocky later in the song, sing the lyrics quoted above.
Rocky’s and JinJin’s vocals are also high points across the album. Although they’re both the main rappers of the group, they’re strong singers too. Rocky’s falsetto and vocals during the verses and second chorus of “Footprint” are especially notable, and he makes his vocal prowess even more known in his verses on “Waterfall.”
“Waterfall” slows things down significantly, bringing Astro back to their familiar affinity toward emotional, dreamy B-sides. The instrumentation is simple and minimal, allowing each member’s vocals and their collective harmonies to shine through. The vocalists (including Rocky) skillfully navigate switching back and forth between high and low notes during the verses, then blend their voices together in seamless synchronization and harmonies during the chorus.
JinJin, who also contributed to the lyrics of “Waterfall,” breaks down the song even further towards its end with his rap verse, which leads into an even more broken down version of the chorus that highlights the members’ sweet, charming vocals even more than before. Lyrically, “Waterfall” again continues with the motifs of water and summertime in the previous two songs, adding to the album’s cohesiveness even as it explores different musical genres.
As with the transition between the previous three songs, “Waterfall” flows smoothly into “Sunset Sky.” Based off its title alone, the song clearly fits in with the summertime mood and setting that is continuous throughout Switch On. In yet another genre switch-up, however, “Sunset Sky” is an acoustic ballad. Although Astro have an affinity for ballads throughout their discography, acoustic ballads is a genre the group has seldom touched thus far.
On “Sunset Sky,” the sextet again prove that their vocals and sound are adaptable to any type of instrumentation or general music vibe, as the track perfectly emulates feelings of both warmth and yearning, and even colors of the sky, as described by its lyrics:
The reddish color we wished for
Let’s look at the falling sun and color the sky
Our footprints on the sand,
The footsteps that will create another memory
As Moonbin sings “The reddish color we wished for / Let’s look at the falling sun and color the sky,” his voice sounds full yet soft, and his expression of the lyrics is warm and inviting, with a tinge of wistfulness. It’s as if his voice is literally emulating the “reddish color” of the sky described in the song’s lyrics. Sanha gives off a similar feeling with his voice when he sings the latter portion of the lyrics of the chorus (“Our footprints on the sand”), which are an obvious reference back to the track “Footprints.”
Switch On then takes an unexpected turn with the second to last track, “MY ZONE,” which diverges even further from the other genres featured on the album so far, this time falling into the house genre. With a faster, slicker beat than any of the album’s previous songs and a surprisingly futuristic vibe, “MY ZONE” at first feels out of place when compared to the more laid back, feel-good tracks on the remainder of Switch On.
Although the house genre isn’t Astro’s usual musical style of choice, they are again able to make the style their own, as with the other tracks outside their typical comfort zone on the rest of Switch On. At first, “MY ZONE” sounds more fit for a track for a group like SF9 — it’s sleek, chic, and instrumentally, it sounds like something fit for a fashion runway. However, each Astro member adapts their voices and vocals to the instrumentals well to both match the vibe of the song and make it sound familiar enough so that it’s still recognizably an Astro track.
The album’s final track, “Don’t Worry,” makes a triumphant return to several of the elements already featured throughout its previous five songs, including autotuned vocal harmonies, an upbeat rhythm, and encouraging lyrics that discuss being carefree and no longer worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, and instead moving forward.
“Don’t Worry” is all around a synth pop-based track, another familiar genre for Astro, but it also features a hint of some of the tropical EDM elements from “Footprint” throughout its verses and frequent changes in rhythm and pace throughout to keep listeners on their toes and make the song sound different from any other synth pop-based track the group has released before.
Although the track again hints at the group’s musical versatility, the real star of the song can be found in its lyrics, which were again written in part by Eunwoo, Rocky, and JinJin. The song holds a special message for Aroha, Astro’s fans, providing comfort and encouragement that the group has their fans’ backs, and to not worry and “move forward” no matter what comes their way.
In one final push to get the track’s overall message across, MJ, Moonbin, Rocky, and Sanha each sing the following four lines of the bridge back-to-back:
I’ll become your shadow
And protect you forever
Trust me let it go
Even if you think you’re losing yourself
The tactic of having those four members sing just a short lyric of encouragement back to back, practically finishing each other’s sentences and thoughts toward their fans, is yet another blink-and-you’ll miss it element that adds to the intrigue, versatility, and unexpectedness of Switch On as a whole. While most of the tracks on the album perfectly emulate the positive, feel-good moments and feelings that come with the summertime season, they also lyrically encourage listeners to move onwards and upwards, just as Astro has done with this album overall.
For a group that have often found themselves sandwiched into their softer image and concepts at their very beginning, Astro have certainly come a long way. With Switch On, the group proves they can switch things up (and switch things on), tackling new musical genres with ease while giving them that refreshing, familiar Astro touch.