February was a slower month to start, but delivered a slew of energetic tracks to get listeners through the winter gloom by the month’s end. Thus, February’s edition of Unsung Artists highlights a dynamic group of spirited comebacks and their MVs, perfect for both embracing the coziness of the cold and hinting at the excitement and freshness to come in the warmer months ahead.
Fifty Fifty – “Cupid”
As the rookie girl group’s first comeback since their debut with “Higher Higher” and EP THE FIFTY, Fifty Fifty’s “Cupid” does not disappoint. Although “Cupid” is a more lowkey pick for a title track, it falls perfectly in line with the group’s minimalist yet vibey musical style, as well as the greater Y2K-inspired, minimalist R&B and pop sounds echoing through K-pop right now. Even as the quartet gripes over their lack of faith in Cupid in bringing them love and saving them from their loneliness, they subvert the track’s overall message and reinforce its catchiness with their bright yet cool vocal tones and airy harmonies. The track’s production is refreshing and dreamy — a fitting continuation of Fifty Fifty’s already-established signature sound.
The styling and sets of the MV especially lean into K-pop’s current Y2K trend, along with Fifty Fifty’s youthful spirit. The members don brightly colored outfits taken from popular early 2000s fashion, including neon-colored tie dye t-shirts, Lisa Frank sweatshirts, rugby shirts, and mini hair clips. Similarly, the MV sets range from an outside set with neon storefronts as the backdrop, a lived-in teenage bedroom with retro elements, and a stage set with “Cupid is so dumb” in large neon letters. Like the track’s production and vocals, these vivid visual aspects of the MV emphasize the song’s and the group’s overall brightness and stylishness, even as the members’ sing of their loneliness at the whim of Cupid.
Given the industry’s current affinity for vibey tracks like “Cupid” with similar retro elements, only time will tell how much a newer group like Fifty Fifty is able to stand out from a competitive pack of new girl groups.
TNX – “Love or Die”
Moving into rookie boy group territory, P Nation’s TNX is bringing back another nostalgic K-pop trend with their latest comeback “Love or Die,” which sees the group’s foray into the school uniform aesthetic and a more rock-infused sound. Compared to their previous releases, “Love or Die” is a lot more mellow by nature, while still retaining TNX’s powerful aura. The track’s verses feature an electric guitar and rock-inspired beat, while its chorus leans into a combination of pop, rock, hip-hop elements, while still carrying the song’s motif of the electric guitar. Although less harsh than their previous title tracks, the change in sound and musical style suits the group’s younger age range.
In the MV, patches of the academic aesthetic and the members’ school uniforms also signify TNX’s stark concept change, while still retaining the edginess of the group when they first debuted. The school scenes, paired with a combination of scenes that take place at night, in the desert, and even in a dark and dingy concrete garage, bring to life the lyrics referencing an angsty, all-or-nothing approach to young love.
Most of the MV’s scenes take place at school — in some, like at the beginning, the members wear their school uniforms but appear bloodied and bruised, likely to foreshadow the effects their attitude towards love has had on them. Overall, the group makes it work, and they bring the storied school uniform aesthetic back with a suitably edgy twist.
Limelight – “Honestly”
While debuts were fairly scarce in February, new girl group Limelight, an expandable group with an unlimited amount of members (much like NCT’s original concept), made their official debut with title track “Honestly” this month. The group currently features three members — MiU, Suhye, and Gaeun — with Kep1er’s Kang Ye-seo and Sakamoto Mashiro expected to join the group once their current contracts end. Like Fifty Fifty’s “Cupid,” the track is lighthearted and easygoing, and follows similar themes of young and wistful teenage love. This time, however, the girls escape their loneliness and make the leap to confess their love to their crush.
Musically, the track doesn’t present anything outrageously new and exciting — it’s a straightforward, bubbly pop song with a techno twist in the post-chorus. Still, it is a buildable start that gives the new group plenty of space to grow and explore new musical styles as they add more members. The MV also suits the members and the song well, as they travel through their fun- and brightly-colored school, pining after their crush (played by iKON’s Jinhwan). Bang Jae-min (who acted in the recent drama Summer Strike) also makes a cameo as one of the member’s love interests, rounding out a star-studded first foray into the “limelight” for the soon-to-grow group.
The Boyz – “Roar”
The Boyz returned with “Roar” and mini album Be Awake last month, this time taking on a darker sound reminiscent of previous title tracks “The Stealer” and “Maverick.” It’s no secret that The Boyz can pull off darker concepts and sleeker sounds well, even though their boyish charm and easy listens are where their roots lie. Musically, “Roar” is more of a grower, excelling in several places while still falling short in others.
The track features some of the group’s most dynamic vocals yet, with the lead vocalist members fluctuating smoothly between delicate falsettos and more powerful vocals in the chorus’s repeated “ah ooh” and “da da da” lines. It also marks Eric’s return to the group, with his lines adding an even more aggressive flare to Sunwoo’s already growl-like rap verses. Despite the chorus’s simplistic catchiness thanks to its repeated lines, “Roar” has too much going on behind the scenes for its own good. The track attempts to pack too much in production-wise on top of its already dynamic vocals moments, hardly giving listeners any breathing room to process the song as it builds. Even as the beat comes across as sluggish and the instrumentals mysterious and enigmatic, “Roar” lacks the necessary structure to keep it all at bay.
However, where this comeback particularly succeeds is with its MV. Its editing is sleek and snappy, with continuously switching scenes featuring special effects reminiscent of 2000s action movies and experimentation with alternating aspect ratios. These constantly alternating scenes, which seamlessly blend into each other using out-of-the-box editing techniques, also give space for The Boyz to show off the track’s choreography and their unique dance formations in a more visual intriguing and stimulating light than the typical MV would offer. Overall, the MV for “Roar” stands in contrast to the track itself, emulating a crispness and cinematic style that the track fails to convey on its own.
Taeyeon – “Nights into Days”
Last but not least is Taeyeon’s “Nights Into Days,” a ballad track produced by Brown Eyed Soul‘s Naul as part of his “Ballad Pop City” special project series. The track is reminiscent of an OST with its warm piano instrumentals and swelling, emotional vocal moments. As with Taeyeon’s previous full-length album, INVU, she especially excels on “Nights Into Days” in her ability to convey emotion through her voice and the sheer power of her vocals. The track is overwhelmingly moving by way of its lyrics too, as Taeyeon ponders how best to carry on with her life without the person she sings of, who used to be in it.
Like the song, the MV is dramatic yet sentimental, and captures a nostalgic, wintery vibe. The beginning of the MV showcases a seaside at sunset, as a woman walks alongside the ocean wistfully looking out at the coast. She continues to ponder, until the MV cuts to a past moment in her life, signified by a cooler-toned scene set by the same sea as before. This time, however, the woman stands with another man, who ultimately leaves her behind. The rest of the MV returns to the warm-toned sunset setting shown at the beginning, and shows her tearfully reminiscing over their time together.
In the final scene, the main character walks toward the setting sun, signifying acceptance that the person in her life really is gone, but that their time together was still beautiful and meaningful, as illustrated by the prior scene in which the pair share a passionate kiss. Taeyeon’s vocals build in intensity as the protagonist reminisces, then settle down as she comes to her realization of acceptance. Overall, the track paired with the MV make for a moving cinematic experience with just the right touch of emotion and wistfulness.