The winds of change have been a fixture in just about the entirety of Highlight’s existence. They parted with long-time label CUBE Entertainment, shed their previous identity as BEAST, went through two member departures, with remaining members even enlisting in and being discharged from the army – all within the last five years.
But the group – which now consists of Doojoon, Gikwang, Yoseob and Dongwoon – have proven to be extremely adept in determining their own direction and destiny. It led them to establish their own company in 2017, Around Us Entertainment, in order to “to be closer with and engage more people frequently”, per Yonhap News Agency. With ‘The Blowing’, their first group release in three years, the now-quartet aim to do just that.
“Through the lyrics of our lead single, we[’re] tell[ing] our fans that we want to get closer to them again,” said Gikwang at the album’s press conference. The song in question is ‘Not The End’ (Korean title ‘불어온다’, translated as ‘blowing in [a certain direction]’), which Gikwang co-wrote together with producers Pollen and Lavin. In between a boppy tropical house instrumental hook (harking back to their last single, 2018’s ‘Loved’) and lyrics that speak of trying times (“There is an endless waiting / I’ve gotten used to being alone here”), Highlight take turns to remind and reassure fans and listeners alike that they aren’t going anywhere just yet: ”I’m still here / It’s not the end”.
Known for their upbeat dance pop numbers, even from their time as BEAST, Highlight seem to have stepped beyond that shadow with this mini-album. This could be attributed to the absence of rapper Junhyung, who had largely been the creative force behind the group before he left in 2019 after being linked to the Burning Sun scandal. Instead, vocals now take centre stage on each of these six tracks and gives the members the opportunity to showcase their respective voices and harmonies.
On the love song ‘Wave’, the boyband sing of an enchantment that is both precarious and alluring, likening it to “getting [their] feet wet” when walking into the sea. “I’m gonna stop here / I’m not leaving first,” Dongwoon declares adamantly in the bridge, with main vocalist Yoseob adding how he too is “staying as it is”. It ends with the four members coming together collectively for the final line: “I’m going to walk like this / Singing to you from where I am / Please hear me out / Dear my love”.
Things, however, get a little iffy around the album’s midway mark. ‘Hey Yeah’, a sleek track punctuated with whistles and claps, bears a fair number of similarities to ‘Sucker’ by the Jonas Brothers. Maybe it’s the handclaps, or how Yoseob’s higher register is in a similar tenor range to that of Nick Jonas’, but it’s hard to un-hear “I’m a sucker for you”, though it’s not even part of this song – maybe a mash-up is in order.
Meanwhile, ‘Disconnected’, co-written and -composed by frequent Chung Ha collaborator Vincenzo, has a chorus melody that is a lower and slightly slower tempo version of the opening lines of BLACKPINK and Selena Gomez’s ‘Ice Cream’ –– just with less confetti and sprinkles. It’s a little hard to truly appreciate the songs as they are, simply because of what they seem to sound like.
Final track ‘Surf’, written and co-composed by Dongwoon, proves to be the redemption piece of the album. It takes a fairly unique approach to its contemporary sound, particularly in the chorus’ unpredictability, which comes as a pleasant surprise. For those who are willing to overlook the lack of enunciation in the only English lyrics “Let’s surf in the wave like a whale”, this song could well be the most memorable too, especially when the guys come together to sing the uplifting and motivational ending: “No matter the waves that come to us / Let’s ride them as we are now so we don’t get swept away.”
Despite the midpoint roadblocks, ‘The Blowing’ is an overall breezy album that’s pleasant for what it is. “We… prepared an album that shows our unique colour,” said Gikwang of it – and these ‘unique colours’ appear to shine forth much more in the members’ self-written and composed songs, as both he and Dongwoon have demonstrated. Though Junhyung is no longer around to steer the ship, this mini-album shows that the remaining members can still hold their ground vocally and creatively, even as the winds of K-pop change continue to blow their way.
- Release date: May 3
- Record label: Around Us Entertainment