The group formerly known as Beast has definitely had some trying times. Original member Hyunseung left just about a year ago, and the remaining members departed from Cube to create their own agency at the end of 2016. Though the contract renewal negotiations were over, name negotiations weren’t. Cube had apparently just trademarked it and holds the rights to it for the next decade. And since that apparently wasn’t enough drama, Cube declared that they would be reforming Beast with Hyunseung, blindsiding everybody involved – including Hyunseung.
Despite all of these setbacks, the group rallied really quickly. They chose the new name Highlight, the name of the last album they released with Cube (and as they put it, the first album with them as five). Now they’ve returned with a fun and lighthearted image. Though fans were understandably worried about how they would fare after all of these hardships, this comeback (or is it actually a debut?) should assuage those fears.
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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!
Concept: Fun and refreshing, veering slightly into goofball territory
Previous concepts: Beast has successfully done a lot of different genres, but their most recent comeback was a more dramatic and sophisticated concept.
Music and Arrangement by: Good Life (Yong Junhyung and Kim Taejoo)
“Plz Don’t Be Sad” is a fun synth pop delight. (I feel like I say everything is synth pop these days, but I guess that’s the trend) It has a very easygoing feel, with all the makings of a bright and catchy song. There’s a melody that’s easy to sing along to, and a bouncy beat that will make you want to jump up and down. It’s very simple and clean compared to some of the other popular songs, in that it has a basic structure and that there’s not a lot of different instruments or effects. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just allows us to just sit back, listen, and have a good time.
I like this song and I think it’s very well-produced and catchy. Actually, I like it even more now since I’ve listened to it a million times for this review. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s overly memorable or has staying power. K-pop is a world where anywhere from three to five groups release music each week. A song like “Plz Don’t Be Sad” will make an initial splash – and it has – but it won’t last. Highlight is an influential boy group, and that gives it some extra weight. If a lesser known group like KNK or Victon came back with this song, I doubt there would have been as much of an impact. (Nothing against them, by the way! They’re both very talented, but I’m purely talking about popularity here)
That being said, I don’t think “Plz Don’t Be Sad” really needs to be an instant classic or a remarkable moment in their discography (despite the timing). It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be: a breath of fresh air. It’s the kind of song you seek out when in you’re in a bad mood and need some cheering up. If we look at it in that context, it’s perfect. So while I won’t necessarily play it on repeat after a while, when it comes up on my shuffle I won’t skip ahead.
Lyrics by: Good Life (Yong Junhyung and Kim Taejoo)
“Plz Don’t Be Sad” is exactly what you think it’s about. The whole thing centers around the singer being sad that his girlfriend is unhappy and trying to cheer her up. The chorus goes: “Please don’t be sad, baby you look prettier when you smile / Don’t make that sad look, it makes my heart ache to see you.” Given the group’s recent history, it’s pretty easy to see the double meaning: it’s also a reassurance for the fans who have stuck by them for over seven years. K-pop markets their groups to look like perfect boyfriends or girlfriends, so the parallel is easily drawn.
Admittedly, the lyrics are pretty simple and straightforward. But as I’ve said before, I actually like those kinds of songs. I do find it a wee bit cheesy – lines like “My skies come falling down by a drop of your tear” make me giggle a little. But at the same time, I think it reads as very sincere. Personally, I always feel better when my boyfriend comforts me. He might not say it the exact way that the men of Highlight sing it, but the sentiments are the same. And that makes the song feel a little more authentic.
Junhyung, Yoseob, Doojoon, Kikwang, Dongwoon
This song is pretty evenly distributed amongst the different members. Yoseob has the most lines, which makes sense because he’s the main vocal. (The video will say Junhyung has slightly more, but if you look at some of their performances you can see that Yoseob sings the “Oh whoa oh” part of the chorus). Junhyung and Doojoon come next, followed by Dongwoon and Kikwang. The four members switch very evenly back and forth, each covering different parts of the chorus and the verse while Yoseob rounds out the rest. All in all, it’s pretty well-balanced.
Throughout their career, Highlight has had both intricate iconic dances (see: “Fiction”) and fun freestyle ones (see: “Beautiful Night”). The choreography for “Plz Don’t be Sad” is a little easier than what they normally do, but they make up for it by making it a lot of fun. It’s pretty much impossible to watch it without smiling, but that might be because it reminds me exactly of how my boyfriend dances. Seriously, it’s filled with funny and dorky grin-inducing moves.
These days, there seems to be a lot of expectations when it comes to boy group dances. It feels like every routine has ridiculously difficult choreography and knife-sharp synchronization. I do really love those types of dances, but it’s also really refreshing to have something that more relaxed and easy to dance along to. I really love how the key points for the chorus are literally acting out what they’re singing.
Aside from the key points, the choreography remains true to Highlight’s strengths. While it’s not the star this time, there’s a lot of smooth footwork and shoulder moves – a must in a
Beast Highlight routine. All in all, I think it’s a nice blend between nice choreography and fun freestyle time.
CENTER AND FORMATIONS:
Since the dance is pretty simplistic, Highlight has added a lot of different elements to add up some variety. There’s only so many formation changes you can do with five members, so they’re pretty simplistic. But they move constantly to keep things interesting. They do have backup dancers (which I do approve for smaller groups), and they use them well. I usually think backup dancers are effective if they come in at certain times to help fill out a performance, which is exactly what’s done here. Most of the time it’s just the five guys dancing, but some male backup dancers dance with Junhyung and some females ones dance with Doojoon. Then everyone comes out for the chorus. I think this is a pretty well-balanced arrangement.
I’ve noticed in past choreography that the center usually rotates. Yoseob and Kikwang usually end up with the most as main dancer and vocal, but I’ve seen the other members in the center more depending on the song. In “Plz Don’t Be Sad,” it’s so well-balanced that there isn’t really a center. Whoever’s singing is usually in the center. This works because the dance is relatively easy, so it doesn’t require someone with awesome charisma or dance skills to draw attention.
At first, it doesn’t seem like the music video has much of a plot. In fact, seems pretty nonsensical and unrealistic. An alternate universe within a trailer park? People with animal heads? An arcade game that has emoticons as the controls? But if you look at it closely, it’s about the little things that make us happy. The most concrete example is Kikwang. He’s clearly stressed out at work, and finds solace in his lunch break. He’s extremely ecstatic to be eating sushi, and it’s cute and funny.
The other cases are a little more abstract. Junhyung is bored, but he amuses himself by taking a nice golf club from the trash and inventing a new game. Dongwoon seems to be looking for something and can’t find it. When he does, he’s so happy it’s like he won a competition. Doojoon is shopping with an empty cart and sees a nice suit. He trades in his sweatshirt and cap, and instantly changes his image to a stylish and wealthy man. I’m not quite sure what Yoseob’s storyline is, aside from him playing an arcade game and gets abducted by aliens. Maybe he’s looking for adventure or something like that.
When we’re unhappy or in a funk, it’s hard to snap about of it. It gets really hard to see the little things sometimes. But just the tiniest detail can put a smile on our faces, if only we noticed it. Sometimes it really is as simple as eating your favorite food when you’re in a funk, buying some nice clothes that make you feel better. Or on the less materialistic side, making the most of a situation or allowing yourself to feel good about completing a task. I don’t necessarily think that the music video has as much of a double meaning as the song (as in I don’t think it’s a commentary on their recent situation), but it’s reassuring in it’s own way.
Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. I was captivated from the first shot. The use of color is so gorgeous. It actually looks like the whole thing was shot in Lo-fi, which happens to be my favorite Instagram filter. And there’s a lot of nice contrast of color. For example, the trailer park has a dark blue background, but it’s surrounded by neon signs while the members dance wearing pastel colors. And there’s also a lot of bright and neon colors in the members’ individual scenes. I’m someone who really loves bright colors and patterns, so I enjoyed it.
The members have opted to go a little funky with their styling. Most of them sport colorful stripes or patterns, and Kikwang and Junhyung have bright colored hair. It’s probably not a look any of them would rock out and about on the streets of Seoul, but it fits well into the quirky world that they built.
I also really like their choices of costumes. The bathrobes in particular are hilariously awesome. I haven’t watched every music show performance, but I did see them recently in doctor costumes. I think it’s great that they’re using their promotion outfits to add some extra fun to the performances.
STYLING MVP: Junhyung, who still manages to be chic and cool in a shirt that basically makes me think of a Rubik’s cube
Song – 17
Lyrics – 8
Line Distribution – 8
Choreography – 16
Center and Formations – 9
Music Video – 18
Styling – 9
CONCLUSION: It’s pretty obvious that this comeback/re-debut is incredibly meaningful for Highlight’s fans. It must put everyone’s hearts at ease to see that “Plz Don’t be Sad” is charting well and winning music shows left and right. At the same time, this is an example of a top-tiered group’s influence and pull. While I enjoy the music a lot and like this comeback (or re-debut), I can tell a lot of it because that I really like Highlight. Again, a lesser known rookie group would not receive as much love with the same song.
Is the best, most innovative and ground-breaking music that they’ve released in their almost decade long career? Not really. But at the same time, that’s not really the point and that’s not what they’re trying to do right now. This is obviously the comeback that former Beauties needed. (What’s their new fan club name? Highlighters?) But I think we need to remember that it’s also the comeback that Highlight themselves needed.
They could have taken their time to regroup, but they decided to jump in and come back as quickly as possible. Since they have creative control, they could have returned with a more serious song that alluded to their difficult times in the past (like B.A.P.’s Yongguk recently did with “Wake Me Up”). But they deliberately chose a fun and whimsical song because they’re choosing to move forward. Even if they still have unresolved feelings about the past (and I’m sure they do), promoting “Plz Don’t be Sad” will force them to keep seeing the bright side of things. I have nothing but respect for them and how they’ve handled the past year.
Artistically, I’m not sure where Highlight will go from here. It’s hard to tell if they’re just trying something out, or if they’re revamping their concept and image along with their name change. But whatever they decide to do from here, it’s abundantly clear that it’s going to be okay. If they could make it through this, they can make it through anything.
Sources: Youtube, Around Us Entertainment, Wikipedia, Soompi, M! Countdown (MNET)