Shifting gears from their last comeback, “Thrill Ride”, The Boyz are back again with a darker track, “Maverick”. This time, they play to their biggest strength of being concept chameleons. Right off the bat, “Maverick” is an obvious nod to Battle Royale and Squid Game as The Boyz don numbered school uniforms and neck collars.
A word unfamiliar to some, a maverick is “a person who thinks and acts in an independent way, often behaving differently from the expected or usual way”. Coupled with the main crux of Battle Royale, where students must kill each other and only one can survive, a similar concept that Squid Game also echoes, individualism is highly privileged in this provocative narrative. As masters of unique concepts, The Boyz portray individualism by bringing back their representative numbers, one reminiscent of their earlier days. Putting a dark twist on this, their numbers in “Maverick” is a callback to the dehumanization in Squid Game where the players are known by their numbers and not their names.
Like Battle Royale, “Maverick” is set in a dystopian school that facilitates a death game that forces The Boyz to turn their backs on one another. As a sharp criticism of societal collectivism, the teaser video alerts viewers that “The only rule is to break the rules”. Though vague, this phrase takes effect when the members are given different weapons, like in Battle Royale, that starts them off on unequal grounds. Namely, New appears with an arrow, Jacob with a bazooka, and Sangyeon with a gas bomb.
A game of survival presupposes betrayals. No doubt, there is a strong emphasis on “I”, the individual. Embodying this message, The Boyz ironically play by the rules of killing each other despite the contradictory line above that rings in our heads. Q tapes Younghoon to a chair before suffocating him with a bag. Though Q, New, and Sunwoo initially team up, New later kills Q with his bow and arrow. There’s also Jacob who kills Sunwoo as he fires his Bazooka from the rooftop, at Sunwoo who is on the field. And Sangyeon lures Juyeon and Hyunjae into a room before locking them in and gassing them both.
In its closing scene, Eric, the survivor of the game, stares at the message “Protect yourself from what you want”. Once again, reiterating that while the game is a microcosm of society, individualism is still necessary to survive in the real world outside of this game. That is to say, even without guns and weapons, the real world is not that much different from this dystopian battle. As Eric’s and Haknyeon’s verse goes, not only are they confident in their chances of survival, they are also willing to lose their morals to win. In doing so, they subtly acknowledge the illusion of equality in the game. In other words, though contradictory, the only real rule is that there are no rules.
A familiar path? That’s so boring
Why am I always so perverse?
I bet all my chips on myself, I don’t quit
You already know that
Interestingly, Kevin’s and Sunwoo’s confrontation holds darker undertones that take a closer look at humanity. Coming face to face with one another, Kevin and Sunwoo can’t decide if competitiveness or cooperativeness will lead them to victory. While Sunwoo believes in cooperation, “Just go, do what you usually do, So familiar ah. Following the crowd is the answer”, Kevin regards competitiveness, “You do that, so typical, Rumdum-dum. I’ll surprise you in the end, Yeah.” Living in a highly individualistic world, Kevin is right. To survive, competitiveness must triumph over cooperativeness.
Taking a step back, while this concept is unique, one major gripe is the creative team’s inability to fully commit to fleshing out the narrative. Yes, it is cinematic to a certain degree. But there is a general lack of a build-up as to why Eric is the final winner, though The Boyz revealed in an interview that it was simply based on a game of luck. The inability to further explain Eric’s winning progress sets the MV back a little. The potential was aplenty with the crux of the narrative adopted from Battle Royale and Squid Game. Yet, their emphasis on The Boyz acting for the first time and leveraging on popular shows is simply not enough.
In other words, the MV is rather vague with a watered-down storyline. What seems like a promising storyline in the teaser video quickly falls flat in the actual MV. Narrative-wise, it could have been better in many ways. For one, the members could have been more integrated into the storyline and they could have been more intentional with their narrative cues that will eventually point to Eric’s victory.
Musically, the chorus is the track’s weakest link. It is a pity that “Maverick”’s pre-chorus has tremendous potential yet it goes to waste with an oddly incantatory chorus that soon follows. The chorus is random, too loud, and disjointed from the otherwise distinct pre-chorus. Moreover, the non-rhyme in the chorus feels like a lacklustre job. More specifically, “son” and “night” seem like awkward word choices that sound like filler words instead. Given this, these two lines become hard on the ears.
Back in the game son
I’m a, I’m a, I’m a Maverick
I’m a, I’m a, I’m a Maverick
Don’t be a chaser
Take over city of night
I’m a, I’m a, I’m a Maverick
I’m a, I’m a Maverick
With “Maverick” being one of The Boyz’s better comebacks, they have proven their ability to take on any concept with a snap of a finger. Once again, their creative and complex concepts make them shine as they did on Road to Kingdom and Kingdom. As Sunwoo redefines Maverick in his own words: “As The Boyz, we make everything we do fit, no matter how diverse it is, which in our own way is being like a maverick”.
Though The Boyz’s versatility is to be praised, musicality and narrativity might not be their strongest suit. Yet, this is not a problem at all for The Boyz. Their commitment to the creative process and visual concept might just be the distinguishing factors that carry them forward in the long run. Looking at “Maverick” from an optimistic point of view, The Boyz are embodying their own message to prove that they are indeed playing by their own rules. It doesn’t matter if “Maverick” has its flaws as long as The Boyz are mavericks who find their own strength through their visual concepts.
(Cambridge, South China Morning Post. YouTube. Images via Creker Entertainment. Lyrics via lyricskpop.)