2012 was an incredible year for boy groups. We had B.A.P., BtoB, Exo, and Vixx, who each made a significant impact in the K-pop music scene. Joining their ranks was Nu’est, Pledis Entertainment’s first boy group. At that time, Pledis was looking to replicate the success of their then-girl group After School, who were known for their unique live performances.

After almost a year since their second full album, “Romanticize”, the company suddenly announced that members Aron, JR, and Ren will leave Pledis at the conclusion of their contract while Baekho and Minhyun decided to renew. The lack of activities of the group hinted at the group’s possible departure, but it still came as a shock to many fans of the members’ individual decisions, not to mention that the group just re-signed with Pledis in 2019.

Their latest release, “Needle and Bubble”, commemorates Nu’est’s journey for the past 10 years with a re-mastering of their beloved title tracks and two new songs. From being rebellious teenagers to fine gentlemen, we take a trip down memory lane with some of the different kinds of love as expressed through their b-sides.

Like many boy groups at the start of their careers, Nu’est were once bright-eyed and lovesick boys who sang about their crush. From their second mini-album, Hello, the boys sing of “The Girl Next Door”, who happens to be a “noona” or an older sister (hence, the literal translation of the song title “Introduce Me to Your Noona”).

The song is everything about liking someone—playful, light, and fun. It begins with a piano instrumental of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” played and a skit wherein Ren asks his friend if he can like his pretty older sister. It builds layer upon layer, beginning from the drums to the trumpets and then the electric guitar, depicting the intensifying love that a teenage boy feels. Right after the first chorus, the beat stops momentarily as if preparing a confession in which JR raps:

Uh nuna, if someone touches you

Even if that someone is a Gundam, I can’t forgive

Even if I can hide my school report card

I can’t hide my heart for you

If I had no dark intentions, then I’m not a guy

I’ll be honest, let’s just hold hands and walk

If you’re gonna fall for me anyway, just fall for me now

There is a line but there are no rules

In 2014, all the members made their significant transition from boys to men. From being lovestruck teenagers, they now traverse into adulthood with their first studio album, Re:Birth. As they sing of love and pain, they learn of a different kind of love that only they themselves could satisfy.

“Big Deal” closely follows the group’s previous rock-inspired releases such as “Action” and “Beautiful Ghost”. The choir, rock, and orchestra elements remind us of TVXQ’s “Rising Sun”, much different from how these are incorporated in K-pop music today. Nu’est boasts of being the “big deal” of self-love and they did not come here to play.

I know who I am

I used to be weak and foolish

But it’s time now

It’s no big deal  

With a new sense of confidence comes the exploration of sensual and passionate love. In “One Kiss2” of the album Q Is., Nu’est sings of being reunited with their former lover. They seal their relationship with a kiss and subtly hint that it developed into something more.

Baby just one kiss for love

One kiss for us

Tell me your story

Softly to my lips

Baby just one kiss for love

One kiss for our love

Eternally, in my arms

Concluding their knight and queen concept with Happily Ever After, Nu’est returned with a lovely and bright concept with The Table. The dining table is a meaningful symbol in K-pop and it is the setting for each song of their seventh mini-album. “Trust Me” begins with a resonating sound of an electric guitar that continues to be the backbone of the song.

Since the concept of the album focuses on stories of love shared on the table, the lyrics tell of how friends become lovers. Their friendship is at risk for both as there is a line that they have to cross. Nu’est assures their lover that they can take it slow and that they need to be honest with one another.

Of course, no love is worth mentioning without the love shared between Nu’est and their fans, L.O.V.E. The group was on the verge of earlier disbandment because of mismanagement until four members made a shocking appearance in the second season of Produce 101. Since then, they have been icons of resurgence with many idols following suit in succeeding (yet controversial) seasons and other idol-producing shows.

After Minhyun’s brief stint as a member of Wanna One, Nu’est marked their official comeback in 2019 as five members with the single, “A Song for You”. The song showcased what Nu’est are good at—their emotional vocals. The lyrics displayed the members’ vulnerability, letting their fans know that they are the only ones who can “fill in the title of the song” in their hearts.

Nu’est leaves their fans with a glimmer of hope that their bond will be forever in the funk-pop “Galaxy” of their last album. They assure fans that “even though the universe changes”, they won’t. Just like how a galaxy holds all the planets in their respective place, so will their love be for their fans: it will never fall apart. And that is probably the greatest kind of love.

(YouTube [1][2]. Lyrics via Color Coded Lyrics. Images via Hybe Labels.)