Between past and present member switch ups, their 2020 Road to Kingdom win, and a recently-completed world tour, The Boyz’s story thus far has been nothing short of exhilarating and all about embracing whatever comes their way. In their now-four year journey (and counting) as a group, they’ve learned how to play to their strengths and remain distinctly familiar, all while reinventing themselves from comeback to comeback at the same time. 

2021’s Thrill-ing was an astute example — showing off a largely new side to the group both musically and image-wise with much success and genuine innovation. Surprisingly, their latest release, Be Aware, unfortunately points in the opposite direction, grasping at The Boyz’s signature bright and cute sound but instead masking it with an overall loudness that detracts from their tried and true musical canon.

Be Aware starts off at its loudest and most uncertain, first with its title track, ironically named “Whisper.” “Whisper” is a clamoring pop track reminiscent of “Thrill Ride” or even the notably more upbeat “DDD,” but with a murkiness that makes it feel generic compared to the group’s other title track releases. Vocally, the track is catchy, unnecessary “whisper” vocals and rap verses aside. The pre-chorus is easily the highlight and perhaps the most recognizably “The Boyz” portion of the track. 

However, the rest of the song’s potential is drowned out by unnecessarily noisy background instrumentals, which volume-wise are simply too loud for their own good. As the track goes on, these harsh percussive elements and whistle-like sound effects only detract from its momentum, with only the pre-chorus to really keep it going until the end. 

“Bump & Love,” the next track on the album, falters for many of the same reasons, and unfortunately takes (too) many notes from the previous track’s book. Again, the track’s bare melody is promisingly poppy and earworm-y, and the members’ vocals are there, yet are ultimately swallowed whole by general loudness, busy background music, and this time heavy vocal processing. The post-chorus’s “la-la-la’s” are easily the highlight, but could’ve been brighter and clearer to take the track to the next level. 

Boisterous falters aside, the rest of the EP is still loud, although settles into its noise much more comfortably than with the first two tracks. “C.O.D.E.” is a primary example of this. It’s the most familiar callback to other The Boyz tracks in terms of sound, and is also the easiest listen on the album. Here, the upbeat, bombastic tempo and EDM synths serve the track well. The backing production is largely clean and clear compared to “Whisper” and “Bump & Love,” making “C.O.D.E” more digestible to the average listener. The refrain, perhaps the highlight of the track, breaks things down even further as Sunwoo raps in staccato-d rhythms: 

My G-E-N-I-U-S (Ayy)

Baby, you’re my G-E-N-I-U-S (Your genius)

Baby, you’re my G-E-N-I-U-S

Baby, you’re my genius

The group tops off the track with other cheeky, wordplay-filled lyrics (“One plus one equals one, you’re my genius” and “You’re genius, I’m so curious/I’m curious/Ha-ha-ha-ha and I love it”) that signify their own trademark cheeky persona and sound as a group. 

“Levitating” surprisingly swaps the upbeat poppiness of the first half of Be Aware for a sultry, R&B-inspired sound that could easily land the track a spot as a b-side on an EP like Thrill-ing. “Levitating” uses many of the same clanging background sound effects especially audible in “Whisper” and at times (again, ironically, considering the track’s title) feels especially weighed down by the heaviness of its backing instrumentals, processed harmonies, and intense beat. As with “Whisper,” the pre-chorus is light, airy, and stripped of excessive volume to keep the track afloat most of the way through. 

As a point of relief, the final two tracks, “Survive the Night,” and “Timeless,” are the lightest and most low-key tracks on the EP, and allow it to end on a hopeful and high note. “Survive the Night” runs with its softness, and finds a relaxed balance between its subtle but upbeat trap beat and continuous airy electric guitar riff. Although the backing production is noticeably thinner compared to the other tracks, “Survive the Night” sounds as full as it needs to, and gives room for each member’s voice to sound distinct and fill any empty space.

Similarly, “Timeless” has its own lightness about it, this time leaning into a bubbly vibe conjured up by a buzzing bass line, bright piano riffs, cute synth melody during the chorus, sweet harmonies, and unexpected key change during the final chorus. It’s not anything revolutionary, but hits just right, especially for a track dedicated to Deobi, the group’s fandom:

Like the rulеs that don’t change

Even if the world changes

It’s timeless

Our love is timeless

Although Be Aware has several challenges up against it, namely in terms of volume and overproduction, that’s not to say that it has nothing going for it either. While The Boyz’s most recent comebacks with Thrill-ing and single album Maverick have been a step in a newer, more intense and matured direction, Be Aware is a sign that they haven’t lost touch with their poppy, “DDD”- and “Bloom Bloom”-era roots — they’ve merely struggle to find a balance between both musical personas. Still, there are bright spots throughout, signaling promise for The Boyz in combining the new and old in their music that is yet to come. 

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2]. Images via IST Entertainment.)