After just three months, HYBE’s newest girl group project is already here.
Despite arriving on the scene with no warning, NewJeans, a new five-member girl group from HYBE’s independent label ADOR, took the internet by storm when the company dropped the group’s first track, “Attention,” and its accompanying MV in late July.
Fresh, Y2K-inspired, and nonchalant, NewJeans’ entire concept is all about going against the grain — not entirely unlike HYBE’s other recent debut, Le Sserafim. But while Le Sserafim debuted with a sporty minimalism about them, NewJeans instead leans toward a sporty maximalist style, which stands in complete contrast to their R&B-influenced and minimalistic sound. The subduedness of their musical style is also a noticeable change of pace from the loaded and boisterous instrumentation prevalent in fourth generation K-pop, along with their willingness to step outside the typically-expected and often oversaturated “girl crush” concept.
Although not technically NewJeans’ official debut and title track, “Attention” is the strongest and most promising showing amongst their self-titled EP’s four tracks. Deeply rooted in early aughts-era R&B influences, “Attention” starts off with a fittingly attention-grabbing, albeit discordant, mix of cheering and an old school, R&B clapping beat. From there, the intro transitions into light, airy instrumentation featuring sparkling synths and a smooth, easygoing groove. The track’s melody is led by the members’ fresh and light vocals, and especially picks up in catchiness when they hit the chorus.
The vocal stylings in “Attention” are surely its high point, and indicate the members’ ability to traverse between higher and gentler intonations and more laxed, bombastic deliveries — a nuanced representation of the broader contrast between their girliness and perhaps more “tomboy” image that anchors their entire concept so vividly.
The vocal prowess from each of the members is especially evident on “Hype Boy” and “Hurt.” Both melodies have an easiness and catchiness to them, despite the presumed simplicity of their instrumentation. However, “Hype Boy” takes the production style introduced in “Attention” to new heights, while sticking with its heavy R&B and Y2K influences.
The track is backed by a simple but prevalent clapping beat, much like in “Attention,” along with hypnotic and looping distorted synths that are kept at a low volume aside from a few moments, like the intro. This ensures that the members’ vocals are continuously front and center — a largely different approach from many recent K-pop releases, in which vocals are often blended into a song’s instrumentation to make them sound like one.
“Hurt,” on the other hand, is by far the most simple track on the album. The vocals are still gentle, fresh, and different, but more repetitive than the likes of “Attention” and “Hype Boy.” “Hurt” has a subdued, bass-driven groove that trudges the melody along, along with doo-wop style instrumental and vocal backings. While the lyrics add some intrigue to the track as the members sing of not being “the one to get hurt” by their presumed crush, melodically, it’s not a standout on the EP.
Last but not least is “Cookie,” NewJean’s official debut track. Compared to the likes of “Attention” and “Hype Boy,” which also had their own pre-release MVs, “Cookie” is a surprising choice for a title track, let alone an official debut track. Unlike the other two singles, “Cookie” is lacking in what NewJeans have already proven is their strong suit on this EP, which is to set the tone and conjure up a catchy melody with their crisp yet relaxed vocals.
Instead, the pop-R&B instrumentals on “Cookie” liven it up a little, as its bouncy bassline and fluctuating synths overpower vocals that remain surprisingly monotone and flat throughout. The track also isn’t helped any further by its questionable lyrical innuendos (“Looking at my cookie/Do you ever smell it different? (Taste it)”) — sung by a group of teens, no less.
However “Cookie” falters musically, it’s saved largely by its MV. Cute, visually simple, and performance-driven, the MV is a welcome showcase of the pieces to NewJeans’ puzzle that their pre-release MVs didn’t necessarily show. The “Attention” MV was teeming with charisma and individuality, and the series of “Hype Boy” MVs were a look into each of the member’s distinct personalities. On the other hand, “Cookie” shows how well the group functions as one, as the MV is primarily led by a synchronized group dance that takes place on a tiered bench set against a plain white background.
The MV largely emphasizes NewJeans’ togetherness through styling and a distinct color palette. It opens with the members sitting on a gray, tiered platform, all donning long, black hair, black or white knee high socks, and black and white modernized school uniforms with a slightly sporty edge to them. The members appear nonchalant and cool in their demeanor and poses — a crucial piece to NewJeans’ overall personality — then launch into a bubbly, synchronized choreography to the track.
As they perform the choreography in what appears to be one continuous take, the lighting continuously changes to alter the overall black and white color palette of the MV. At the start, the lighting is dim, emphasizing the shadows of the members and darkening the backdrop to a slate gray. As their performance continues, the lighting darkens even further until the shot is fully in grayscale, with only a blue hue appearing on the screen (much like the color palette of the New Jeans EP). These shots are completely opposite of those in the “Attention” and “Hype Boy” MVs, which are colorful, maximalist, and crowded with overstimulating images. While that is one pillar of imagery to emphasize NewJeans’ overall concept, the minimalist, grayscale coloring is another pillar too, which highlights their coolness and “it girl” vibe.
The MV continues along this same cadence, switching back and forth between a black and white color palette and other vivid hues as the group performs the choreography, until the bridge and dance break. At this point, the MV does a near 180 from its minimalist look, and launches into a series of bright shots filled with CGI cookies. The cookie imagery is cheeky and quirky, and serves as a nice break between the beginning and end of the MV, in which the set and backdrop largely stays the same, along with the members’ color-coordinated outfits. It breathes NewJeans’ distinct personality back into the MV, even if the choice to add CGI cookies falling from the sky feels a little obvious given the track’s title and lyrics.
With only four songs out in the ether and a public whose attention they’ve quickly grabbed, NewJeans have plenty going for them. And there’s a lot of promise in their future too, considering the unique image, concept, and sound ADOR’s Chief Brand Officer and former Creative Director of SM Entertainment Min Hee-jin has already carved out for the five-piece group. Nothing is cookie-cutter about NewJeans’ debut, and whether they can continue that streak will be a telling feat.