Mark Tuan – ‘The Other Side’ review: vulnerable but homogenous solo debut from the GOT7 member

Tuan shows uncharacteristic vulnerability on his debut album, but it’s a bit of a slog

Mark Tuan has taken his time. After GOT7’s departure from JYP Entertainment in 2021, his bandmates threw themselves into new projects while the group’s resident introvert laid relatively low. He spent time with family, decompressed from seven years of seemingly jam-packed schedules, and – through a slew of singles – untangled the threads in his brain.

It figures that he would have a lot to say, which might explain why there are 20 tracks on his debut solo album. ‘The Other Side’ holds relatively steady on the conceptual end with some stellar offerings – some of which have already been released, namely ‘Lonely’, ‘imysm’, ‘Save Me’, ‘My Life’, and ‘Last Breath’ – but it provides little sonic excitement, at times sounding insular and repetitive.

There are moments when Tuan breaks the monotony. The first one comes four tracks in as ‘Change Up’, where his languid R&B becomes a little more aggressive, Tuan rapping about grabbing onto something precious with all his power. It’s an easy warm-up to ‘My Name’, where his bravado shines through as he sings about his grind paying off. Even as he mentions sold out shows in multiple cities, however, the track keeps a steady, focused arrangement – it sounds less like a flex and more as if Tuan is attuning himself to a success he’s not used to yet.

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There’s a surprising humility to ‘The Other Side’ as Tuan acquaints himself with the uncomfortable, oft-hidden facets of himself. As the soaring ‘After Hours (Interlude)’ tells us – “I just need a minute when I calm down / So now I’m alone, stuck in a corner” – this reckoning isn’t always voluntary. This record is a work for no one but Mark Tuan – vulnerable, curious, and even gentle as he dives, perhaps reluctantly, into a box of memories he’d rather have kept hidden up in the attic.

The record is raw and rough around the edges in some places and almost an instinctual stream of consciousness in others. On ‘Only Human’, Tuan alternates between languid vocals and paced rapping that sounds more like spoken poetry. Other times, as on the simple piano arrangement of ‘My Life,’ he sounds introspective and uncharacteristically urgent, giving the balladic track a restless energy.

But ‘The Other Side’ isn’t just about everything that Mark Tuan had been dreading facing – it is also dotted with moments of clarity where he shows unexpected maturity. On ‘Let U Go’, Tuan comes to the sobering realisation that some people aren’t worth the effort, because no matter how hard you try, you will never be enough. On ‘Far Away’, epiphany turns into action. Over a simple arrangement that teases a rock sound with opening guitar riffs but sadly never follows through, Tuan creates distance with a sense of finality, deciding his efforts are better invested into other things. He turns this sense of awareness on himself in ‘Hard 2 Love’ and ‘Selfish’, where he admits – against grainy electro-pop choruses with powerful bass – that his loneliness might be his own doing.

Tuan’s openness on ‘The Other Side’ is its strength. But the record would have benefited immensely from a shorter length – or even a two-part release parts – and more musical diversity. The album’s near-55-minute-runtime feels like a drag thanks to homogenous-sounding filler tracks. ‘The Other Side’ provides balefully few thrilling moments, which is a shame because Tuan displays evident growth in his lyricism. It ends up just shy of being a fulfilling, revelatory experience, since we’ve spent much time in the emotional upheaval, but not enough trying to make sense of it or find a way out.

Details

Mark Tuan - The Other Side

  • Release date: August 26
  • Record label: DNA Records
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