JYP’s newest boyband and punk enthusiasts Xdinary Heroes have finally returned after a long seven months with a bang. With delightfully abrasive tracks like “Test Me,” “KNOCK DOWN,” and “Sucker Punch!,” the members are itching to liberate themselves from the confines of society through songs that blur the lines between hero and villain. A resentful contempt for society and dominant structures runs throughout the album in almost every song, whether the members are portrayed as unsuspecting victors, fantasy escapees, or swashbuckling, unapologetic pirates.
Before hopping into the album, it may be worth noting that Xdinary Heroes’ anti-establishment vibes come as no surprise given their musical inspirations (such as Muse, Justin Bieber, Bring Me the Horizon, as well as a multitude of other punk and punk-adjacent artists). It is, however, a bit ironic given their positionality as idols within one of the top companies in the industry (JYP Entertainment) as of now. With that being said, the portrayal of Xdinary Heroes as non-conformist and deviants against a “rigged system” identifies them as distinctly punk, hitting an audience of listeners few in the industry have been able to so firmly ensnare.
The tracklist is full of exciting, no-holds-barred bangers that bring listeners along as co-conspirators, though the song that most overtly stokes the anti-establishment fervor is the title track “Test Me.” In the MV, the members infiltrate a concert venue upon discovering that their (futuristic) music contest has been rigged from the beginning. Rather than accepting their fate in anger, they instead decide to take matters into their own hands to “rig a rigged system.” It is fun to cheer on the budding antiheroes, but the irony of the situation lies in how rigging the rigged system benefits themselves, but not necessarily their fellow contenders. Rather than being clearly altruistic, Xdinary Heroes truly blur the lines between villain and hero by subverting an oppressive system, but only for themselves.
In addition to the fun, cyberpunk concept, the MV features a multitude of interesting clothes, enthralling visual effects, and captivating world-building. CGI is through the roof, and rather than being kitschy and cheesy, it actually works for Xdinary Heroes, especially given their characteristic punk rock/pop sound. It is as though Cyberpunk 2077, Ghost in the Shell, (maybe Muse), and Rage Against the Machine had a lovechild together, but make it 2022 K-pop by punk teenagers.
This sentiment is furthered by lyrics that acknowledge the members as not only underdogs, but freaks and weirdos who refuse to stand by and conform to what is expected of them. They hilariously tell the listener to “Shush yourself, mind your own business,” and tease with Jungsu’s line of “What do you think? Will I do it or not?” However, “even if the world goes on without [them],” they still intend to march to the beat of their own drum and go toe-to-toe with combatants who might threaten that freedom.
Middle tracks “KNOCK DOWN” and “Sucker Punch!” are complementary tracks that lean into heavy overdriven guitar patches, gang vocals, and delightfully singable (and scream-able) choruses. The former song takes listeners through a day in an imaginary life full of obstacles like being knocked out in a fight. However, while feeling “sick and tired” and “trapped,” they still have hope to move on.
The opposing song “Sucker Punch!” describes gearing up for a fight where “even if the world doesn’t change” they fight for the right to live on their own terms. The lyrics are unapologetically and overwhelmingly confident, challenging would-be contenders to take a shot at them because “you don’t know I’m weak, but I’m ready”; because “even if you take a shot, [they]’ll prepare a bigger one.” This is reinforced by the intense vocals, driving guitar ostinato, and approachable, shoutable choruses. For lack of a better way to put it, “Sucker Punch!” sounds satisfyingly angry and existentialist in a way that empowers the listener to take up arms for their own free will, despite obstacles and setbacks like in “KNOCKDOWN.”
The final song on the track list, “Pirates,” is a sea-shanty-like slog that expresses an urge to “make a wave and flip everything upside down.” The lilting and slow tempo combined with the low piano ostinato and overblown brass instrument hits is reminiscent of a demented modern sea shanty. However, rather than being serious, sad, or silly, “Pirates” is gritty and unapologetic.
The most complex and polarizing song on the album (and my personal favorite) is the haunting, demented fairy tale “Strawberry Cake.” The song cleverly employs text painting to tell a story set up in the first verse. It begins with “oh, let me tell you a story,” introducing a feeling of uneasiness with “you’ll definitely get sick someday if you lie” and “you taught me to be young.” At the start of the pre-chorus, Gunil, the drummer, drops out, playing only the high hat and accompanied by Jun Han’s high, stringent guitar lines. Here, the lyrics encourage the listener to listen carefully and witness a (fake) fantasy. As the pre-chorus progresses, the lyrics become darker, describing the fantasy as ill-intentioned “like a puppet” used to “tie a child’s pure day with a string.”
In the chorus, Jooyeon, Gaon, and O.de‘s high, anguished vocals highlight the lyrics in the chorus now referring to rotting, fire, and the sickening sweetness of sugar. The pre-chorus serves as a bridge to the next verse, combining the structure from the weightlessness of the fantasy-esque pre-chorus and grittiness of the chorus. This structure persists through the remainder of the verses until the bridge raises the intensity to a fever pitch. The track ends abruptly with a “see ya later, later” and short outro almost as if the next chapter in the story is set to begin.
As a whole, Xdinary Heroes’ first album, Hello, World! is a raucous exploration of anti-establishment rebellion, cries for autonomy, and subversions of expectations, furthered by their punkish sound and musical inspirations. While the cyberpunk concept opens the door for extensive world-building for future releases, it is supported by well-written, enjoyable, and singable tracks that grasp the listener from the first note to the last.
(YouTube , “Punk: The Do-It Yourself Subculture” by Ian P. Moran, “No Future: The Conception and Evolution of Punk Music and Culture in the United States and Great Britain from 1965 to the Present” by Megan Bartelt, Lyrics via Genius. Images via JYP Entertainment)