When you achieve your dreams, there’s often an unspoken societal pressure not to let on about any downsides you might be experiencing. Complain and risk seeming ungrateful, or face a barrage of toxic positivity reminding you how lucky you are. On their sophomore mini-album ‘Border : Carnival’, ENHYPEN don’t moan about the drawbacks they’ve found in idol life so far, but they don’t shy away from sharing their frank feelings on the position they now find themselves in.
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That position is one of astonishing success already. Consisting of Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo, Jungwon and Ni-ki, the group broke records in 2020 with their debut release ‘Border : Day One’, selling more copies of the mini-album on its first day of release than any other rookie K-pop group had that year. Within two months of their November debut, they’d won four Rookie Of The Year awards. That’s not even mentioning the impeccable quality of the songs on that first release. No wonder they might be feeling caught off balance after leaping into their new lives.
“Feel like I’m in paradise,” they sing in blissful unison on ‘Intro : The Invitation’, but that feeling of finding utopia doesn’t last. On the darker pop-rock title track ‘Drunk-Dazed’, they’re thrust into the thick of things and are unabashedly apprehensive of it all. “Honestly, I’m scared / The world’s drunk in a swirling glass,” Jake observes before Heeseung adds: “At the edge is my burning heart / But I just wanna stay.”
Later, ‘Mixed Up’ finds them grappling with the pitfalls of being in the spotlight. “The world suddenly turned upside down,” leader Jungwon laments as he and his bandmates detail becoming the “main character” and “centre of attention”. By the song’s end, though, they’re ready to silence the gossips, as Heeseung sings: “I’ll show you, look carefully / This is me.”
Disorientation is a sonic theme that runs through ‘Border : Carnival’. On the largely spoken-word ‘Intro : The Invitation’, the music gently lurches from spiralling psych-pop to quiet, uneasy drones and back again. ‘Drunk-Dazed’ is produced in a way that makes you feel like you’re leaning in to hear them as you move from the rumble of a party. The distant bass envelopes the edges of their words, forcing you to cocoon into them. ‘Mixed Up’, meanwhile, staggers from part to part, switching which influence is at the fore – hip-hop or rock.
As a result, ‘Carnival’ is less immediate than its predecessor, its hooks harder to catch onto right away. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though – as ENHYPEN’s own trainee years prove, good things often take time – and it’s not to say the songs don’t command repeat listens. This time around, though, the tracks feel like there are more layers to peel back and the reward lies in unravelling the different parts.
There’s only one real misstep on this mini-album. The idea behind ‘Not For Sale’ is interesting enough – examining the Gen Z belief that you have to give something to get something back in the light of meeting someone you want to endlessly give to. It’s in its execution, though, where things falter. It takes the form of laidback pop but it’s so relaxed it forgets to make an impression, floating by pleasantly without pulling you in.
That aside, ‘Border : Carnival’ is another triumph for ENHYPEN. You can already hear improvements in the members’ vocals and the intro and outro tracks – which connect to previous and future releases like the hyphen that inspired the group’s name – are more memorable than before. As the band continue to come to terms with their new star status and all that comes with it, they propel themselves even further into the kaleidoscopic atmosphere of the carnival that is fame.
- Release date: April 26
- Record label: BE:LIFT