2022 has been a busy year. Despite this, it has been P1Harmony’s year. One just needs to look at their Spotify page to see the three mini albums and two singles released in these past 11 months. And these projects do not include their first tour (at the time of writing, P1Harmony also announced their second tour, which is set to start in January 2023), their KCON performances, and The Kelly Clarkson Show appearance.
Of course, it is ironic that the title track of their new mini album, Harmony: Set In, is called “Back Down.” It is through this project that they have “set in[to]” their harmony as musicians, as a group, and as a notable player in the K-pop industry. P1Harmony have found a way for the “harmony” and “disharmony” in themselves—as musicians but also as individuals—to coexist. They display the confidence they have built from the ground up as well as the vulnerable emotions that create a stronger connection to their listeners and to each other.
Just as with their other albums, P1Harmony use the first half of Harmony: Set In to dig into their deeply-rooted self-esteem with lyrics written by rappers Intak and Jongseob, and vocalist Jiung. It will take more than baseless hate to knock the six members down, as the source of their confidence comes from the internal foundation they built for themselves. However, “Back Down,” “One and Only,” “Secret Sauce,” and “Look At Me Now” also emphasize that P1Harmony have their team to lean on and support them during the tough times.
This is how the group frames the six tracks of Set In, starting with the spitting assertiveness of “Back Down.” The clang of a bell, evoking the feeling of a death knell, and a scratchy electronic hook ushers in Jongseob’s forceful rap. “Back Down” features a chant chorus, which characterizes most of P1Harmony’s title tracks, and hefty rap sections to show off Intak and their maknae’s skills. The six are not afraid to (metaphorically) get into doubters’ and haters’ faces, challenging them to “back down” because they will not win.
Meanwhile, the pre-chorus takes a different route, amid an electric guitar riff that adds a little sonic surprise. Emotional weight forms the foundation of the group’s seemingly unshakeable confidence: “We can do it together, bring it on / yeah, whoever.” No one gets left behind in P1Harmony, a thread they continue in the bridge, “Follow me, get up, when you’re falling.” They have each others’ backs, which makes their challenge to their haters that much stronger.
“One and Only” turns the spotlight onto the uniqueness of the members. The message in this high-spirited track is clear in its title; however, the “I’m kinda special” core of “One and Only” comes from P1Harmony themselves rather than those on the outside. They hold their chins up high with a slight quirk of an eyebrow (because this is P1Harmony we are talking about, and they always carry around a healthy dash of humor with them). Intak embodies this in his rap, which features playful undertones: “Theres’s no need to explain using words / You’ll know it once you see me.”
This mini-album’s fourth track revels in the constant push-and-pull in its production. There is a bouncy, earworm melody, a faint siren in the post-chorus, rapid drum beats (perfect for those gym playlists), and another electronic element that moves horizontally. Due to this chaotic, musical playground, “One and Only” sticks with an emptier chorus.
In contrast, per usual, the bridge is where a touch more vulnerability and softness appears. Vocalist Theo admits that his confidence ebbs and flows, as he sings, “Sometimes I feel a little shy / Sometimes I get confused / Then I remind myself I’m only one.” That is where true confidence lies: recognizing that you are a human being who is capable of change, but also someone who possesses the strength to lift yourself up when you falter. In the words of leader Keeho, “Don’t forget how precious we are.”
Production-wise, “Secret Sauce” sits between “Back Down” and the smooth “BFF” in its experimental nature. However, this track is closer to “Back Down,” as it draws from the discordant side of P1Harmony. A whispered opening, a full electronic riff, and a tinny sound mixes into a musical feast. “Secret Sauce” is not as “in your face” as some of the group’s older songs, despite a “huh” reaction at the first listen. However, the combinations still work, worming their way into listeners’ brains and getting even better when paired with the lyrics.
One example comes from the pre-chorus: “You know that I’d never let you down / You’re not alone, we fight together.” (A distinct P1Harmony strength is definitely their pretty, melodic pre-choruses that juxtapose effectively with their production style.) Again, the group faces their doubters, but the six were never really focused on external validation—although awards and music show wins would be nice, of course.
Instead, P1Harmony emphasizes their internal conviction and belief in their music and themselves throughout their discography. The bold is just as impactful as the gentle. During the R&B-tinged bridge, Theo underscores this as he softly sings, “A voice spreading across the world.” The loud parts of their personalities may not always be the parts that are heard; maybe it is the quiet parts of themselves, too.
P1Harmony dive headfirst into the rock revival in “Look At Me Now,” an anthemic song that never lets the energy lag in an album of relentless spirit. The group’s bridges usually pull the instrumentals back and then build back up to exploding choruses, but “Look At Me Now” only lets the guitar get a touch lighter. Otherwise, the three and a half minute track just keeps barreling through to the end. However, it does not feel repetitive, since it is a hype song that listeners do not want to slow down.
The six members sing and rap about dreams (“I’ve always been a dreamer), taking control of their own life (“Waking up the withering me / Reigniting the dying out fire”), and the harmony and optimism of the sun (“The edge is sharp / in my hands is The Sun from the card deck”). They celebrate the wins and their moments of pride, no matter how small they may seem to other people, like what Intak raps, “With the song I wrote I got a new T-shirt / Dressed up real fancy.” In the end, P1Harmony know, “We’re all going up.”
Despite their confidence, however, the group also understands that they cannot stand alone. They know that they are stronger artists, stronger people, and a stronger team because of the other five members. P1Harmony dedicate “BFF (Best Friends Forever)” and “Better Together,” the concluding track of Harmony: Set In, to this realization.
An instantly energizing guitar riff ushers in the delectable treat that is “BFF (Best Friends Forever).” The guitar follows the vocal melody, emphasizing the chorus’ descending scale, an element that is akin to Ateez’s “Cyberpunk.” P1Harmony’s head bopping track—or, one of them—follows the title track. But unlike “Back Down,” “BFF” turns their certainty towards their friendships and connections. Since this type of relationship is not frequently highlighted nor seen in mainstream media—romantic relationships often take precedence—”BFF” is a breath of fresh air. The members even mentioned in Consequence’s “Fan Chant” newsletter that one of Harmony: Set In’s keywords was “friendship.”
The friendship focus, the earworm melody, and playful production makes this track one of P1Harmony’s most memorable b-sides in their discography. Of course, the lyrics, while albeit a little cheesy, are the icing on the cake. Jiung notes that building a authentic connection comes from vulnerability and mutual trust, as he sings, “Yeah our shared secret / We made a friendship.” They also believe “[Their] bond is like a miracle,” giving an important nod to how a strong and lasting friendship is harder to build than one may expect. But the six of P1Harmony would agree: it is absolutely worth it.
Closing an album with a ballad is nothing new, but after relishing in the range of musical textures in P1Harmony’s work, having a ballad to display the members’ pure vocals is arguably necessary. The final ballad is the calm after the storm of energy and adds another layer to P1Harmony’s identity as artists. The message of “Better Together” also connects to the “We Can do it together” line of “Back Down,” the very first track of Harmony: Set In.
“Better Together” is a gentle song, a bright burst of golden warmth for anyone who listens. The lyrics, of course, can be interpreted through a romantic lens. However, since “friendship” was an important foundation to creating this album, they can also refer to P1Harmony’s story and their relationship with their fans, P1ece.
The members acknowledge that they have the courage and the strength to go further down the path of their career because they have others who support them: “We’re walking to a new place because we’re together.” In the end, they also provide comfort for those who are afraid to fail alongside their own recognition that friendship gives them strength: “I can never do it alone / We can stand because we’re leaning on each other.”
Contrary to what their loudly assertive title tracks may suggest, P1Harmony is not always full of swagger nor unyielding self-confidence. Their vulnerable lyrics make the genuine confidence they do display, however, that much more powerful. P1Harmony are not afraid to show their insecurities and vulnerability because doing so is not a weakness for them. Rather, it is a strength, especially since they do it together.