U-Kiss, we’re back!

And they so are. Celebrating 15 years in the music industry, U-Kiss are back with a new album, Play List, with “The Wonderful Escape” as their title track. The mini-album bursts of second-generation K-Pop energy—melodic instrumentals, bombastic choruses, and good ol’ nostalgia. It’s so refreshing to listen to songs that go against the moody and monotonous trends nowadays!

What makes this comeback even more special is the fact that the group endured member changes, controversies, and lesser recognition compared to their contemporaries Shinee and 2pm. Having debuted as a six-piece group in 2008, new member Kiseop was later introduced through breakthrough hit, “Man Man Ha Ni.” In 2011, their former label NH Media removed Alexander and Kibum, replacing them with former Paran member AJ and vocalist Hoon. After Dongho announced his departure from the group in 2013 and AJ’s indefinite hiatus, Jun-young joined the group in 2014. In 2017, Kevin left the group following his contract expiration. At this time, Soohyun and Eli were the only ones remaining from the original line-up.

Soon after, all members left NH Media after their contracts expired. Then on January 2022, Soohyun, Hoon, and Kiseop announced that they are now under Tango Music and also under the group name U-Kiss which Tango Music has obtained the legal rights to. With the announcement of a six-member line-up for the 15th-anniversary comeback, fans were shocked upon the revelation of members.

As they say, “Let bygones be bygones,” as the past beef among members seems to have been resolved. This attitude is reflected in the album’s first two tracks—”Party Tonight” and “The Wonderful Escape”—a one-two punch of oomph and adrenaline. The blazing guitar of “Party Tonight” serves as the song’s heart-thumping backbone until it cranks up to the max in the last chorus. The highlight is found towards the end as if putting an exclamation point. Soohyun and Hoon explode with their vocal ad-libs, while Alexander and Eli exude charisma with their signature rap styles. It isn’t just a track that is great to dance to, it also can be a great song to blast in the car while going for a summer drive. 

“The Wonderful Escape” showcases U-Kiss’ strength in EDM, a genre that they mastered during their prime (“Man Man Ha Ni,” “Bingeul Bingeul,” and “Neverland” are excellent examples). The members sing of wanting to escape momentarily and leave their burdens behind. With the members in their 30s and some of them married, it is understandable that many of their fans are in those stages of their lives as well. “The Wonderful Escape” is uplifting and bright, a strong contender to be this year’s summer anthem. While the song isn’t as repetitive compared to their previous earworm hits, the word 갈래 (gallae) makes it memorable and enjoyable.

The next couple of tracks slow things down a bit. “My Favorite” is a funky and groovy song that conveys the head-over-heels feelings of a lover. Ukiss sing about the favorite things they share with their lover—whether it is a new perfume scent or songs they don’t know the titles of. In the final chorus, the members sing a notch higher and in unison, as they tell of how much they have changed and how what didn’t matter before to them are their new favorite things.        

“The Way You Are,” or as the Korean title directly translates to, “It’s Okay,” is probably the most relatable song in the album. With the melody reminiscent of early 2000s Korean drama soundtracks, the song immediately opens with “It’s okay / You can go at your own pace,” comforting listeners that it’s fine taking things slow. They remind us about the importance of taking care of ourselves, and ridding ourselves of all anxieties and worries because we are precious.

“Dear. Mom” and “Memories” close out the album as the group’s personal letters to the people they love the most. Known by KissMes for his love for his mom, Kiseop penned the lyrics and composed the heartfelt ballad, “Dear. Mom.” It’s a typical ballad, yet showcases Soohyun’s and Hoon’s amazing vocal chops. “Memories,” on the other hand, is the group’s rare attempt to do a rock ballad. Like many groups celebrating their longevity, “Memories” is dedicated to their devoted fans. The lyrics cleverly include the Korean letters for U-Kiss and KissMe, making it more special for fans who have waited eagerly for their return.

Nearly six years since their last release, Play List is an enjoyable and nostalgic listen. The entire album remains true to the group’s color and character. From this point on, Ukiss’ future remains unknown. However, as the album intends, Play List is meant to be enjoyed for the now. So let’s enjoy the music, shall we?

(YouTube. Images via Tango Music.)