MONSTA X – ‘The Dreaming’ review: K-pop’s chameleons reveal a new spectrum

The boyband show different sides to themselves on their stellar retro-themed sophomore English album

Disco and synth-pop are two genres that aren’t typically associated with MONSTA X, who are much better known for their powerful, hard-hitting tunes. For the boyband, however, versatility is a trait that they greatly value. “Rather than determining a specific identity, I think it’s attractive to be like a chameleon that changes with the times,” member Minhyuk commented at a press conference for their 2020 mini-album ‘Fantasia X’.

This chameleon-like versatility is what the group – also consisting of Shownu, Kihyun, Hyungwon, Joohoney and I.M – continues on their sophomore English album ‘The Dreaming’, where they immerse themselves in retro sounds and vibes. The approach isn’t exactly new (‘Reckless’, the theme song of their 2020 web variety programme Newtroland, comes to mind), though it’s not typically their go-to either.

‘You Problem’, the album’s second single, employs a bright funk groove with a clap-along rhythm that may bring to mind the 1987 George Michael hit ‘Faith’. Written and produced by British songwriter David Stewart, whose credits include BTSdisco-pop smash ‘Dynamite’, the song particularly presents the rap line’s voices at their best. In particular, Joohoney showcases his dexterous vocals with a Bee Gees-styled falsetto in the second half of the chorus (“About us / It’s simple, get lost in a romance / And just dance, baby, let’s just dance”).

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But that’s not all for the rap line – there’s also I.M’s breathy, come-hither vocals on ‘Tied To Your Body’ (“’Til I’m out of breath / ‘Til my lungs gave in”), which you can think of as a sultrier sister track to ‘Got Me In Chains’ from their 2021 Korean mini-album ‘No Limit’. The other members also have their moments to shine over the course of the album, with more expressive and emotive vocals, compared to their Korean releases. This includes Minhyuk and Kihyun’s velvety mid-ranges on the synth-pop-inspired ‘Whispers In The Dark’, along with Shownu and Hyungwon’s turns on ‘Blow Your Mind’.

‘Blow Your Mind’ is also where MONSTA X channels late-90s boyband vibes, with its boom-bap melody – harking back to sounds of the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC – paired with a guitar line a la the intro of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You’. On the flipside, there’s the standout chill EDM jam ‘Secrets’ (not same as the Hyungwon-penned track from ‘One Of A Kind’), where they plead with their other half to “tell [them] nothing more” about the secrets they have from their past. Kihyun and I.M claim that ”It’s hard to imagine you before”, but Minhyuk and Joohoney offer the real reason: “Because I can’t imagine what you’d think of mine”.

Just as actors take on personas different from who they are in real life, MONSTA X’s English releases tend to have them let loose a little more. The aftermath of a drunken night out gets its own telling in ‘About Last Night’, though with notably much less detail compared to, say, the exposé that was Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’. “All the blurry nights are when I feel alive”, Kihyun confesses, as the song transitions into pulsing brass synths mirroring their head-pounding “holy haze”, as Joohoney describes it. In the synth and electric guitar-driven ‘Blame Me’, the guys make a bold admission (“Can you blame me? / For thinking ‘bout you naked”), while Hyungwon drops the F-bomb in ‘Better’.

For all its spunky, dreamy retro dittys, ‘The Dreaming’ ends off on a more grounded and poignant note, one that would resonate well with those who’ve watched their debut concert movie MONSTA X: The Dreaming. The lyrics of the track address the paradox of achieving their dreams: “Is finding the gold worth losing the rainbow? / The colors are there / Are they the same though?”. It may seem like an unlikely choice to round up the album, but its mellow, down-to-earth feels provide an ideal sonic segue back to first track ‘One Day’. Along with bringing out a rarely heard sensitive side of MONSTA X, the song also gives much food for thought, particularly for those with starry ambitions.

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MONSTA X may have numerous “trophies to show and stories to tell” from their past six years, but nothing is more telling than the growth they’ve continued to achieve since then. Being the K-pop chameleons they are, MONSTA X continue to refine and redefine themselves with every style and genre on each new release.

Details

monsta x the dreaming you problem review
  • Release date: December 10
  • Record label: Intertwine
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