Drunken confessions, naked fantasies, and contemplation run throughout Monsta X’s The Dreaming. Contrary to Monsta X’s normally powerful, beast-like sound in their music, this first full length English albumis an exploration in synth-pop smoothness and sensual lyricism.
While the members did not have a hand in the composition or production for this album like they did with No Limit, their last Korean album, their company brought on a powerhouse group of composers and producers to contribute songs.
As far as the music itself is concerned, this album is alright. It is smooth and easy to digest, with some lyrical finesse, but mostly manufactured for an American market, not surprising considering their upcoming tour and success in the United States as of late. With that being said, the track list is cohesive and pushes Monsta X into a new creative space they haven’t otherwise partaken in. Each song has at least some level of sensuality and easily singable lyrics. However, each song also fits into the overall album like a puzzle, with the overall sound remaining consistent holistically.
The subject matter and perspective, however, is a different story. While the members rarely give clear indication of gender, sexuality, or even a clear subject to which they are singing to, the way romance and love is portrayed often caters to the male gaze.
While the term was originally coined in film, renowned feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, describes the male gaze like a story being told through the eyes of a heterosexual man, framing his desire ahead of the treatment of the subject of affection as an engaged participant. Or put another way, ”where women in the media are viewed from the eyes of a heterosexual man, and that these women are represented as passive objects of male desire. Audiences are forced to view women from the point of view of a heterosexual male, even if they are heterosexual women or homosexual men.”
While there is not anything inherently negative about framing music and film from the male gaze, it can potentially marginalize those who do not identify as a heterosexual man, counterintuitive considering the potentially large number of female fans. The protagonist opposite the members is frequently unattainable and an object to be explored and lured rather than appreciated and respected.
On the flip side though, the industry is often been dominated by men. Even a quick glance at the Billboard year-end charts shows many male artists, less female artists, and far fewer who identify as genderqueer and/or LGBTQIA+.
It is not out of bounds for a group of men to write songs about, well, being men, but considering how sexualized and intense they are in their other comeback iterations, it feels like a missed opportunity to show more authentic sides of themselves. Here, Monsta X have played it safe with solid music that showcases a subtle sensuality not seen in their music otherwise.
To talk more in depth about the music itself, the tracks can generally be split into two categories: upbeat and sassy or chill, while the title “You Problem” and last track “The Dreaming” ironically stick out from everything else entirely.
The sensual and upbeat songs are by far the largest category with “Tied to Your Body,” “Secrets,” “Better,” “About Last Night,” and “Blow Your Mind” all sounding remarkably like the personification of a drunken one night stand waiting to happen.
The first, “Tied to Your Body” describes burning lust and late-night booty calls. They express the feeling of losing oneself and becoming “a little more obsessed, a little more attached” to someone’s body. A desperation runs throughout the song, accentuated by the groovy, syncopated bass lines and dry, low pitched drum set parts. The bass guitar is remarkably forward in the overall mix, giving the vocals, especially the choruses, adequate foundation for all the layers happening above it.
While “Secrets” starts chill with Joohoney and I.M’s almost whispered, intimate verses, when the chorus kicks in, the song quickly morphs into a synth-infused, exciting love song. A blossoming romance is the subject, one that encourages the listener to let go of their past (sexual?) history in order to start anew and live in the present. The sentiment is grand and evocative, making one want to give up all control and love completely, for better or worse. While the sound is much different, the subject is reminiscent of “Love Me Less” by Max but focused on the dark past of both Monsta X and the listener.
The sound of “Secrets” is a wonderfully satisfying balance of busy, hard hitting melodies and gentle verses. Bass, hand claps, and synthesizer dominate the sound with a standard rock drum kit and an easily singable, catchy chorus.
Similar in feel and theme, “Better” describes moving across the country to live near someone you love. Lost and hopeless in love, the members describe being futilely devoted to someone and knowing you might “never get any better.” The sound is cheerful and happy, with a tinge of desperation in the lyrics. The verses are softer and mid-range with upbeat choruses like “Secrets.”
The following song “About Last Night” sounds like what one would expect: “blurry nights” and drunken confessions. Easily the most interesting parts of the song are the instrumental track and vocal melodies. The verses are catchy and witty, describing scenarios anyone who has had a late night drunken escapade might relate to: calling one’s ex, waking up in a hungover haze, not knowing how you even made it home. However, there is also a dark tinge to the lyrics. The chorus describes the realization that “all the blurry nights are when I feel alive” and feeling “undone” when faced with their own thoughts. The contrast between with the lyrics and bright music makes this even more apparent, and one of the most memorable melodic features is the brass band lick in the verses.
“Blow Your Mind” is sexy and fun. All the members’ vocals are superb, showcasing range and nuance. The sound is mostly driven by short electric guitar licks and synthesizer melodies. The lyrics are full of sexy innuendos like “a spark that can light up a fire,” “let me dance you off,” “let’s get it on, I’ll blow your mind.” With the fun, catchy vocal chops, tongue in cheek lyrics, and the groovy electric guitar riffs, it would be a lie to say it is not satisfying or fun to dance to.
The chill set of tracks are more teasing and introspective at times; this group includes “One Day,” “Blame Me,” and “Whispers in the Dark.” The pre-release track “One Day” is a bit melancholy and tear-jerking. The lyrics describe the pursuit of a lost love and “spilling out my guts to the ghost in our apartment.” The indication of “our apartment” rather than “my apartment” makes the verse all the more sad. It reads like the antithesis to “About Last Night,” where, rather than a joking realization of one’s love, these drunken confessions are over a love long lost.
The lyrics are supported by understated, sustained chords, a drum set with the reverb kicked up to 11, and a mid-range synth melody. The sweeping, sustained sound underneath the vocals gives the song a chic, meditative sound.
It may be also worth noting that this song could be seen as a metaphor for the fleeting feeling of touring or being around friends and artists. The memorable lyrics “they say hindsight’s 20/20… maybe I’ll see you one day… one day, I will” feel achingly familiar. As the world grapples with the return of live events all around the world, the ghostly feeling of what life was like pre-pandemic and the shuttering of live music, must like the idealistic past Monsta X describe.
“Blame Me” is one of the most sexually forward and thematically similar to “Tied to Your Body” but with a softer sound, almost synth-pop. The members describe fantasizing about falling in love with someone and thinking about seeing them naked. The sound is similar to “One Day” but with a more prominent, persistent electric guitar backing and busier drum machine tracks.
One of the saddest and darkest songs on the album is “Whispers in the Dark.” The lyrics describe “not even knowing who you are,” “selling your soul in empty mansions,” and “Kool Aid drinking with the devil.” While not stated directly, the song almost reads like a lament to a persistent rat race, socialite lifestyle that can lead one to lose themselves.
The lyrics “a black dress can cover your scars” and “swear you’re having the time of your life, you’re an actress, a beautiful lie, but I hear whispers in the dark” suggest cracks in an otherwise stable lifestyle and mindset. Rather than a bass and guitar setup, this song is mainly synthesizer and drum machine driven. The similar sounds blend seamlessly into each other, fitting the smooth vocal melodies nicely.
Ironically, the title track “You Problem” and “The Dreaming” are the songs that stick out the most on the album. “You Problem” is a retro, synth-pop song about trying to woo someone you have a crush on. The lyrics are amusing and teasing with more of a retro sound. One of the composers of the track also worked on “Dynamite” by BTS, so the disco-pop sound comes as no surprise. The fun guitar ostinato, simple drum set, and multiple layers of vocal harmonies make this a fun and easy to listen to track.
The MV that accompanies “You Problem” is cute and eye-catching. The members all work in a bowling alley and seen as both workers and performers. Records, old posters, and a dance floor are all seen in the setting and punctuated with comic-book like editing effects on some frames. The simplicity and cuteness of the MV fit the light-hearted song well.
The last song on the whole album “The Dreaming” is the only true ballad track on the album. Retrospective and melancholy, it asks “if touching the sky is why we arе all reaching, are we missing thе point and missing the meaning?” There may be lot to unpack in the meaning behind the lyrics, but the open-ended and hopeless underpinnings to the lyrics are part of the beauty. “The dreaming” that the members describe could be anyone’s dreams. Are they referring to their dreams? Or are they referring to listeners, fans, or commenting on society’s pursuit to excellence while forgetting how to live in the now and experience life? It could really be any or all of the above in some form.
Contrary to all the rest of the tracks, “The Dreaming” is mostly just piano and vocals. There are some smaller details in the choruses, but the calm, thin texture of the music allows the vocals and simple piano accompaniment to shine through as well as allow listeners to clearly decipher and reflect on each and every lyric.
Monsta X’s The Dreaming is a journey of love, lust, and loss through the eyes of the members. Admittedly, the lyrics can come across as a bit crass and objectifying. However, if the point of the album is to explore losing yourself and “missing the meaning,” it might make sense to self-reflect on the depth and danger of one’s own lust.
The sound is quite different than Monsta X’s typical high energy Korean comebacks, but as far as pop albums go, The Dreaming is still remarkably safe, and understandably so. They released a whole full-length album in their second language and doing it with good producers and composers behind them was a solid move. Let us just hope they take up that same challenge when they have more agency and creative control in future comebacks.