One of the most exciting trends and feats of standout rookie K-pop groups from this past year is their pursuit to establish a signature sound and musical persona right off the bat, practically from debut song and sometimes even before. BoyNextDoor, a joint venture between Hybe and Zico’s company KOZ, is one of those groups that has successfully followed said trend, all while marching to the beat of their own drum. 

If BoyNextDoor’s debut single album Who! was the earwormy, preemptive setup for their “boy-next-door” sound and persona, then their first mini album WHY.. rounds that effort out to definite completion (especially given that it includes all three previously-released tracks from Who!). But, even as single albums and thus track repetition and recycling on following albums become the norm for rookie debuts, the three already-released tracks still find a worthy spot on WHY.., if anything, allowing the new tracks to build upon the group’s acoustic-heavy, early 2000s pop-rock charm even further. 

Said tracks, which include “Serenade,” “But I Like You,” and “One and Only,” already paint a vivid portrait of the type of group BoyNextDoor strive to be — a no-frills, authentic, and cheeky crew of teenage boys free of the sonic excess that listeners typically expect of today’s newest idol groups. All three have a poppy, mostly acoustic-based sound, which provides a fresh reprieve from the electronic-based production that has become industry norm. Their straightforward melodies and instrumentations, which lean heavily on strummy electric guitars, strong percussive elements, and explosive choruses, allow the members’ unique vocals to shine through to make for a fresh-but-upbeat, stripped-down perspective on what today’s K-pop can sound like.  

“Serenade” and the like make it known that much of the group’s overtly boyish charms comes from their voices, which undeniably find influence in Zico’s own flare and tone. Zico has an easily recognizable intonation and flow to his rapping, but across the three aforementioned tracks especially, the individual members strive to make it their own. Rappers Jaehyun and Taesan most noticeably adapt Zico’s sing-songy rapping style and inflections, albeit youtfully and loosely enough so that when combined with the original tracks’ chipper melodies, they still arrive at something pleasantly unexpected and new. 

That freshness makes even more headway on the latest selections on WHY.., namely on title “But Sometimes.” Just as bright and energetic as the first three tracks, “But Sometimes” is a strong reinforcement of the musical personality BoyNextDoor have quickly built for themselves — not-too-polished, youthful, and spunky. While mirroring several moments from “But I Like You,” as well as its acoustic instrumentation with a live band feel, “But Sometimes” is also fueled with a necessary funk and edge so that listeners know the group isn’t just a one-trick pony. The song’s punkier vocal and instrumental moments make it known that the members can round out their already-signature sound with influences from other genres and styles, even if they tend to take away from the potential for a stronger melodic track overall.

“ABCDLOVE” elevates BoyNextDoor’s cutesy, adolescent overtone to even greater heights, all while slowing the average tempo of the album down to an unexpectedly slower pace. Although the chipmunk vocal effect at the beginning takes the EP’s youthful spirit just a step too far, the rest of “ABCDLOVE” especially shows off a gentler side of the members’ vocals (falsettos included) against the backdrop of a relaxed ‘90s rap beat.

“Crying,” perhaps the most unexpected addition to WHY.., rounds out the group’s foray into downtempo tracks with an unexpected but welcome jazzy R&B moment that again makes for a less rap-centric and more melodic- and harmony-focused showing of all six members’ vocal chops. The repetition of the chorus’s lyric (“I’m crying like a baby”) gives the track the necessary cheeky and slightly unserious BoyNextDoor flavor, even if it does take listeners out of its easygoing sentiment from time to time. 

WHY.. isn’t the perfect album, but it is a near-perfect portrayal of exactly the kind of group BoyNextDoor strive to be. Taken together, all six tracks showcase their commitment to the plucky, “boy-next-door” personality they’ve created for themselves, while still adding just enough newness to convince listeners that there is — and will be more — to them than meets the eye. 

(YouTube. Images via HYBE/KOZ.)