After over a year since the release of their last album, The First Step: Treasure Effect, YG Entertainment boy group Treasure are finally back with the next phase in their journey with mini album The Second Step: Chapter One. While the group’s discography has grown slowly in comparison to other fourth generation boy groups dominating the current K-pop landscape, Treasure have hardly fallen behind — in fact, they often dominate the charts, and even sold 700,000 copies of their latest EP in just three days to beat their previous album sales record.   

Given how limited Treasure’s current catalog is, The Second Step is more of a baby step in fleshing out and proving their overall growth since their last release, and quite frankly, since their debut too. The 12-member group’s miniscule and irregular comebacks aren’t much of a surprise given YG Entertainment’s track record with its other groups, especially Black Pink. Still, the release of just four new songs is a bit of a letdown given the lengthy time in between their releases (although there are two bonus tracks on the physical copy of the album). 

Although The Second Step is a short and sweet EP, YG ensures that Treasure still offer something new within their own realm of music, albeit not necessarily within what’s trending or being released amongst other K-pop groups right now. Unexpectedly, where Treasure shine on this album is not necessarily on its somewhat expected EDM title track “JIKJIN,” but instead on its B-sides, which showcase the group’s newfound venture into funk, R&B, and acoustic ballads. 

That’s not to say that “JIKJIN” still isn’t a solid choice for a Treasure title track. Bordering on a fusion of a Big Bang or iKon number at certain points throughout, “JIKJIN” stays true to the YG name with its powerful and biting EDM elements, but with an updated funk twist to give it that current, fourth-generation feel. At this point in time, it’s still difficult to distinguish what exactly makes up the “Treasure” sound, and “JIKJIN” doesn’t do much to define that any further. If anything, it strays slightly away from the bright, traditional pop elements that were a selling point of previous Treasure title tracks like “I Love You” and “Boy.” As a result, it’s hard to identify where the group is going next, especially when taking the remaining three tracks on the album into consideration. 

At the end of the day, despite being a solid, catchy title track, “JIKJIN” doesn’t do much to showcase the group’s growth since their First Step days, aside from the members’ clearly matured vocals. Unlike “JIKJIN,” the final three tracks on The Second Step undoubtedly signify more growth than setbacks for Treasure.

“Darari” marks the group’s first true foray into the R&B genre, and member Bang Yedam’s first writing credits. A fresh, easy listen, “Darari” is perhaps the best showcase of each member’s improved and maturing vocals, and how well they mesh with new genres. This especially includes rappers Hyunsuk, Haruto, and Yoshi, who take turns balancing their sweet vocals and energetic rapping in the track’s second verse. The soft and delicate runs of Yedam, Jeongwoo, and Junkyu during the chorus also stand out, emphasizing the gentle yet lively feel of the track.

“U,” the next track on the EP, begins with a somewhat familiar Treasure trope — a soft series of piano notes that slowly builds along with the members’ vocals until the beat drops. However, this time, when the beat drops, the melody erupts into a sound the group hasn’t traversed too much of yet — a retro tune with bright, blazing funk elements and instrumentals, including a groovy guitar riff and disco-like horn melodies.

By engineering the buildup of “U” to make listeners think the track may be similar to a song like “My Treasure,” the production creates an element of surprise that emphasizes its funk vibe even further and how well each member’s voice matches it. Like “Darari,” U remains an earwormy, easy listen throughout. It is perhaps suggestive of what a future “Treasure” signature sound may consist of, especially as it ends with a change in lyrics when Doyoung, Junghwan, Yedam, Jeongwoo, Mashiho, Jihoon, and Asahi sweetly sing its outro:

Whatever you want

Whatever you need

I can at least pick that star for you

Whatever you want

(Whenever you need)

I’ll always be by your side

The Second Step makes one last genre switch up with its final track, “It’s Okay,” which, as its name suggests, is just “okay” in comparison to the first three tracks on the album. As with “Darari” and “U,” “It’s Okay” presents the perfect opportunity for the members to showcase how much their vocals have bloomed and matured since their last release. However, their vocals fail to stand out as much within the confines of an acoustic ballad. As the members let their listeners know that no matter the pain they endure, everything will be okay, against the backdrop of a soft acoustic guitar, their powerful vocals almost get lost in the song’s noticeably slower tempo and softer vibe. Still, they make the most of what they are given, with each member’s unique vocal tone especially getting the chance to shine as they take turns singing the track’s verses and chorus. This is especially the case for Asahi and Jihoon, who round out the bridge. 

While The Second Step: Chapter One is collectively a smaller step in Treasure’s progression, it’s certainly not for nothing. This EP is hugely indicative of how well-balanced Treasure is as a group and how well-rounded members its members are, as it proves they have the vocal chops and skillset to tackle genres both new and old, and do it well at that. While The Second Step takes several big leaps forward by giving the group the space to jump into these newer genres like R&B and retro funk, it doesn’t quite solidify and firmly identify a unique sound that separates them from the rest of the pack. Surely, that time will come, and when it does, Treasure may find themselves to be an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.

(Naver. YouTube. Lyrics via Genius. Images via YG Entertainment.)