As smoke fills the air, buildings crumble, and spaceships and faceless villains wreak havoc on the remnants of mankind, only an orange-red toxic wasteland is left behind. In the midst of the destruction, ten heroes emerge and fight for their survival: the members of Golden Child.
With an apocalyptic wasteland backdrop, Daeyeol getting shot by a spaceship, gas masks, and a bit of tango flare, Golden Child’s Game Changer looks and sounds like something new and old simultaneously. The album begins with an instrumental that could be from a disaster movie score. The track has multiple sections and is complete with choir vocal chops, a variety of spooky auxiliary percussion sounds, harsh, overblown digital brass, strings and bass, and a full EDM drop. This variety of sounds and textures sets the up the rest of the tracks on the album.
The rest of the tracks on the album can be separated into two major parts: group and unit tracks. With a sizeable eleven song track list (five in each category), the members experiment with a variety of timbres, textures, and concepts. Several tracks sound retro and contrary to the apocalyptic, futuristic imagery introduced in the album art and MV, making it like a retro-futuristic soundscape of tracks, akin to something you would hear onboard the Serenity or walking through the wastelands in Fallout. The group songs are generally high energy and addictive, sans “I Know,” the ending track of the album and a ballad. The unit songs by comparison are all vastly different, leaning into the featured members’ unique colors and vocal timbres.
The title track “Ra Pam Pam” features an intense, Latin-inspired syncopated beat, powerful vocals, and a fun, sexy hook. In an interview, Jangjun even described the point choreography as “tango style.” In a world devoid of oxygen and water, the members are seen fighting to survive as Daeyeol swoops in to save them before being shot and (nearly?) dying by the hands of faceless, masked enemies. The lyrics talk about being lost in a “mazeless darkness covered in shadow” and “until the day this darkness closes and until the stars are all gone” fighting to “re-navigate to you.” In this world of shadow and chaos they have crafted in the MV, it makes for a compelling parallel between searching for answers and survival and the pursuit of lost love. There is even a haunting prequel that shows Daeyeol rescuing the other members as they struggle to survive.
“Fanfare” and “Spell” are group tracks and carry similar messages and sounds to “Ra Pam Pam.” They are sultry, funky, upbeat love songs that call for the listener to throw away their cares and give into their desires. “Fanfare” describes love as “burning hot” and “hotter than the sun” while “Spell” is more elusive, describing love like a spell that the members have fallen victim to.
The penultimate group song, and my personal favorite, is “Bottom of the Ocean.” Surprisingly all in English, it is a foray into beachy, campy boy band smut a la One Direction. Predictable, unsurprising, but delightfully earworm-worthy and easily singalong-able, it is a bit jarring opposite “Game Changer” and “Ra Pam Pam.” However, if the album reads as a sampling of the end of the world, a 2010s boy band anthem certainly makes some sick sense. The song is not particularly complicated in a melodic or harmonic sense, but the playful use of gang vocals, fun vocal harmonies, and ad libs add a little spice to an already likeable song.
“I Know,” the last group song and the final track on the album is a beautifully upbeat ballad that allows the members’ vocals to take center stage. The music is softer and less busy with thickly layered vocals tracks and mostly simple drum tracking. Lovesick and enamored, the members sing of a comfortable romance that they are thankful for where “all [their] dreams are coming true.” The live performance shows the members all in white in a small room, calmly singing to the listener. All the members sing at least a few lines, even the rap line, showing the group’s strong vocal abilities. Placed alongside the rest of the tracks, it makes for a soft and hopeful conclusion to the album.
Unique to this album are also five unit tracks: “Singing In The Rain” featuring Joochan and Bomin, “GAME” featuring Tag and Jibeom, “Out The Window” featuring just Daeyeol, “POPPIN’” featuring Y and Jangjun, and “That Feeling” featuring Seungmin, Donghyun, and Jaehyun. The unit tracks are surprisingly diverse, each having their own charm and appeal fitting the members’ vocal colors well.
“Singing In The Rain” is a lilting and vintage-sounding song complete with recorded rain sounds, solo electric guitar, drum set brushes, and piano driven melodies. Joochan’s clear falsetto and Bomin’s mellower tenor voice suit the thinner texture and slim instrumentation of the song. The subject and sound of the song remind me of a slightly groovier and busier ballad from La La Land, “City of Stars” or “A Lovely Night” for example.
Most similar to “Singing In The Rain” are “That Feeling” and “Out The Window.” With record scratches and a fun brass lick, “That Feeling” is more like a classic love serenade on a warm summer night. The music is a more upbeat than “Singing In The Rain” but similarly contemplative and fun. The horn line licks and vocal harmonies make the track especially enjoyable. In comparison, Daeyeol’s solo “Out The Window” is the only other ballad. He seems to recorded a variety of vocal lines and layers that at first listen does not sound like a solo track at all. With that being said, the harmonies and tasteful guitar licks create a nice contrast to Daeyeol’s voice.
The last two unit tracks “GAME” and “POPPIN’” are a complete 180 from the others on the album. Composed of a rapper and a vocalist each, both songs are in-your-face and sensual like the title track “Ra Pam Pam.” “GAME” describes love like a cruel game that they are playing. Jibeom’s smooth vocals are nice against Tag’s fiery raps and again the vocals have been recorded in a variety of layers that almost mimic a full group track. “POPPIN’” begins with a darkly addictive bass lick that continues throughout, blending nicely with the powerhouse combination of Y’s vocals and Jangjun’s raps. The background music is relatively busy with multiple vocal layers, bass, and drum set primarily in the forefront.
The album as a whole is a dizzying diversity of sounds, influences, and subgenres almost like someone flipping through a variety of radio stations. While it is a bit different (a game changer, if you will) in terms of Golden Child’s usual sound concept, the retro-futuristic, apocalyptic concept of the album and solid tracks make for a really compelling addition to Golden Child’s discography, one for which I will have on repeat for quite some time.