The last time we heard from ONF as a group was back in 2021 when the group’s profile was steadily rising with singles like “Beautiful Beautiful” and “Ugly Dance.” Then, in a rare — though not unprecedented move — the five Korean members enlisted in the military together, leaving U to keep up the social media accounts and fans without any releases for nearly two years. Enlisting together was certainly a gamble for the group who were finally finding their footing in an industry rife with heavier boy group concepts, and when the group returned this week with Love Effect, many fans were curious as to how the group would go about re-entering the K-pop market.

As most groups coming back from enlistment have shown, taking a step back into the scene is always tricky. How much of the lore and aesthetics they built before would translate into the current market? With the changing trends of the past two years, would ONF adjust their sound to match? Above all, would the fanbase and general public still make space for the group? Thankfully with the “Love Effect” MV, ONF have managed to strike a balance between the sonically and visually familiar, while also making clear that a new season is dawning for the group.

Those who have kept up with ONF’s extensive MV lore would be more than familiar with the cyber punk, futuristic aesthetic that has long been associated with the group. Within the first ten seconds of the “Love Effect” MV, the members (specifically Hyojin) look back on that era in the form of a wormhole, and then emerge in the real world in the middle of a garage. Suddenly, the world is new around them. Gone are the space suits, the CGI buildings, and futuristic stylings that made up the geography of their past. Instead, they’re rooted firmly in the everyday — and that everyday is blooming with fascination and joy for the members.

As they make their way through ordinary sets like a diner, a public park, a public street, and ultimately an open field, the track conveys the purpose of this new world: it’s been a long night, they’ve emerged anew, and the group and the audience are starting another adventure together after a long wait.

In your and my heart
Goodbye to the long night, I’ll turn on the lights
The wind blows
Love blooms beyond the season called you

The new season marks a new beginning and a visual freedom for the members who show fascination at simple things like a clothing store or walk way. There’s a certain joy that comes with this new start and experiencing it together, though the members aren’t leaving behind their past entirely. When they stand in a town square, the buildings behind them are digitized in blocks, and CGI bubbles and flowers become more present towards the end of the MV. These small features serve as a bridge between the past ONF and the present with new environments blooming around them. When they end up in the field for the final scenes of the MV, CGI falling flowers and the breeze–that the Korean title of the track refers to–surround them, and their jubilation at this new beginning is fully felt.

In the very distant future
Even if we look different in a different world
We met then too
Promise to continue the story that couldn’t be told on this star

Where the MV serves doses of the familiar to introduce a new visual chapter, the track itself sticks to ONF’s signature bright sound — with a side of reassuring lyrics. All the familiar beats are hit: a funky beat, J-US and MK‘s high notes in the chorus and bridge, and a fun change-up in the second verse when the beat drops out and switches to piano chords for Wyatt‘s rap. It feels wrong to call the track safe because — though familiar for the group — ONF have never played by conventional composition rules nor trends. Instead, the track reinforces their experimental and funky sound. It makes no apologies for being bright and cheerful, and shows that they will continue to set their own trends in line with the sound they spent four years establishing prior to enlistment.

Another familiar beat in the MV would be ONF’s dance style. ONF have never shied away from fun formations. From “Ugly Dance” to “We Must Love” ONF have leaned towards choreography that highlights the group but makes room for individual moments of finesse. We see that trend continue in “Love Effect”: they use line formations to highlight the member that is singing while also allowing each member their own point pose. The choreography is also frequently filmed from above to highlight the group formations in contrast to the center member. Overall, these shots show not only the cohesion of the choreography but also the way each member enjoys expressing it.

Though safe and more thematically restrained than past comebacks, “Love Effect” is a smart way to (re)introduce the group to longtime fans as well as new listeners. With their distinct bright sound carrying through, the track makes clear that although K-pop trends have changed while ONF were away, the group will not shy away from their signature funk and fun. At the same time, by pulling the visual concept away from the cyber world and towards reality, ONF mark a new chapter without completely abandoning the familiar. It still remains to be seen if the gamble of their collective enlistment will pay off in the long run, but it’s a relief to see ONF pick up right where they left off — and smiling while doing so.

(YouTube. Images via WM Entertainment.)