For FT Island fans, it’s unthinkable to imagine that so much would happen to the band over the past four years, as common as disbandments come in the K-pop realm — former leader Choi Jong-hoon was a primary figure in the Burning Sun Scandal and ultimately was sentenced to two years and six months of jail, while guitarist Song Seung-hyun parted ways with the group in 2019. It’s also unthinkable (in a good way) that they have finally returned after more than two years with a mini album, which marks their first comeback as a group of three. Yet with their long absence from the music scene, the group will have to overcome mountains to successfully bounce back. How then does “Unthinkable”, their title track, measure up?
“Unthinkable” is an emotional rock ballad, in line with FT Island’s general discography. The band is well-known for two distinct music styles — their hard-hitting rock songs (like “Pray“, “Take Me Now” and a whole lot of Japanese tracks) and emotional rock ballads (like “Bad Woman“, “Lovesick” and “Wind“). As different as these styles may seem at first, they are actually two sides of the same coin. Both are tied together by the band’s powerful instrumentals and lead singer Hongki‘s equally powerful voice. Similarly, “Unthinkable” features Hongki’s soulful vocals with the instrumentals building a slow crescendo.
“Unthinkable” is reminiscent of their slower rock ballads, such as their previous title track “Quit” and 10th anniversary hit “Wind”. “Wind” in particular manages to add excitement in spite of its slow tempo by demonstrating incredible restraint with its guitar, bass and drums, which only fully come in at the middle of the song. This is accompanied by Hongki’s high notes which act as a climax right before the song ends, creating an increasing build-up that keeps listeners interested. In contrast, “Unthinkable” is more similar to “Quit” in the sense that its melody is linear with not much of a climax, and it follows a fairly typical Verse-Chorus structure.
The instruments come in right after the first chorus, before building up slightly, then holding back and finally coming in full force for the final chorus. There is little surprise and variation, leaving the song feeling flat. While the song is in no way terrible, something feels missing. Perhaps it is that single, vocals-straining high note that is characteristic of their ballads, which the band chose to leave out this time for good reason. Or perhaps drummer Minhwan and bassist Jaejin played the rhythm in a manner that is a tad bit straightforward. Whatever it is, FT Island’s hair-raising, goosebump-inducing ‘oomph’ is not present in this song.
This is further exacerbated by the MV’s equally flat camera shots and storyline. The MV sticks firmly to telling a narrative; there are no shots of Hongki lip-syncing, or Minhwan and Jaejin playing the drums and bass. While this might be a breath of fresh air from most idol MVs that have to feature at least a single shot of the members lip-syncing or dancing, it becomes a disadvantage for “Unthinkable” as we are withheld from the band’s incredible stage presence which brings all of their songs to life (I dare say that live performance videos of “Unthinkable” are more captivating than the MV). Instead, we are treated to a slow-moving narrative following a moody man (played by Hongki) who stumbles upon a dark house.
From the get-go, we are alerted that something’s not quite right by his melodramatic demeanour: he doesn’t smile fully when his friends celebrate his birthday, his friends concernedly ask him what’s wrong, and when he spends time with his lover in the attic, there’s an air of seriousness. And of course, there’s a mysterious wound on his face this whole time. When the twist is revealed at the end, that he has been dead this whole time, there is hardly any impact. Why? Because there was no rising action. Throughout the whole MV, the man’s mood is the same: mysterious moping. There is no conflict, only a huge plot twist that the narrative is counting on at the end. Perhaps if the MV had hidden the man’s sadness better, and presented his memories at home with more bliss, the twist would have worked better.
What’s worse, experiencing a fast-rewind reveal, or having some element of time travel (whether metaphorical or literal) is nothing new for FT Island’s MVs. “Severely” follows Hongki as he goes back in time to save his girlfriend, and an MV as recent as “Quit” shows a girl reminiscing about her ex-boyfriend by turning back time. Unlike these two MVs, which have gripping narratives and a proper narrative structure, “Unthinkable” simply falls flat, and its use of time travel feels extremely cliché. Ironically, the MV might have been more interesting if it simply featured the band members rocking their hearts out, instead of relying on a plateauing storyline.
At the end of the day, it is understandable why FT Island (and their management) might choose to fall back on tried and tested formulas. Following such drastic changes in their group, experimentation would no doubt be the last thing on everyone’s minds. Yet in this saturated industry, the process of evolving and re-inventing is ever so vital, especially for a veteran idol group that is 14 years old. While “Unthinkable” sadly feels too safe, it is worth noting that the mini-album’s B-sides offer more variation. What matters most is that FT Island is back, and fans can anticipate their growth in future comebacks.