I tend to say a lot of K-pop groups are underrated, but UP10TION is most definitely one that gets slept on. I got into K-pop not long after their debut, and I remember there was definitely some buzz about them at the time (at least in the international fan community). They had so much promise and potential, but for some reason they just kind of faded away as the years went by. I thought things would change when Kim Wooseok and Lee Jinhyuk did so well on Produce X 101, but it seems like TOP Media has turned those two into soloists and left UP10TION to fend for themselves. Personally, I really loved their early releases… but I kind of stopped listening to them after a while because I didn’t click as much with the music that came after. So I fully admit I’m part of the problem, but I’m doing my best to turn it around – starting with checking out their latest track “Spin Off.”
(Random observation: It’s been a few years since I really took a close look at UP10TION – besides Wooseok and Jinhyuk on Produce X 101 – and all the members have definitely glowed up. Xiao in particular looks decidedly not maknae-like.)
“Spin Off” is a fast-paced and dynamic song with slight jazz or swing-like vibes. It’s pretty clean and classic, but it’s also quite high-energy with a larger than life feel. It actually reminds me a bit of SHINee’s “Dream Girl,” mostly in terms of style but also because of the powerful soaring vocals. It also makes me think of NCT 127’s “Superhuman,” but not as futuristic sounding. I think has something to do with the chords and/or the rhythm. In any case, I’m a huge fan of both of those songs – so I hope that says something about how much I enjoy “Spin Off.”
One part of this song that really stands out to me is the vocals. I’ve always thought UP10TION had a really nice balance between Sunyoul’s clear high voice and Hwanhee’s rich power-belting. I don’t know why they’re inspiring so many comparisons to SM boy groups today, but it’s kind of similar to the dynamic with EXO’s Chen and Baekhyun. (I’ve genuinely believed Hwanhee sounds like Baekhyun for years, and I for sure heard it in the first verse here.) “Spin Off” really highlights how their voices contrast each other, with the other vocalists providing the balance that helps them blend together. It’s too bad that Jinhyuk wasn’t part of this comeback, as he could have helped create the same kind of dynamic in the rapping with his high tone. However, Bitto and Kuhn both have nice flows and give the rap breaks the appropriate amount of punch.
As always, I like watching the choreography. It’s very sharp and detailed, and it matches the music well. Though it has a nice overall look, I was hoping for some kind of key point or even just a moment that really stood out like their earlier work did. “So Dangerous” had all that emphatic shoulder shaking, and “Attention” had that amazing sequence where they were ducking under each other’s fan kicks. Both of those songs came out over five years ago, and I still remember them vividly after all this time because of those moves. So I just wish “Spin Off” had something similar, because they’re clearly capable of tackling difficult stuff. But there are still a lot of interesting formations to watch, so I’ll just focus on those.
While I like “Spin Off,” I can’t help but feel like something is missing. I know what UP10TION can do in terms of skill and technique, so it’s not that; it’s more that I just don’t have a grasp of their image or artistry. I’ve actually never known what their musical identity is supposed to be, because all their early releases had very distinct concepts. I’ve been away from them for a few years, so I was basically looking at this music video from a newcomer’s perspective. And my immediate reaction was, “I still don’t know what UP10TION’s musical style is.” It’s true I haven’t heard about half of their singles – or more accurately, I listened to them once and don’t remember them well – but it seems like they’ve never settled on a signature sound or aesthetic. It’s a shame, because establishing that early on would have helped them a lot in the long run.
MY OVERALL INTEREST LEVEL
(NOTE: My options for each category are “Love,” “Like,” “Neutral,” “Not My Style,” or “Dislike.” But I rarely dislike anything, so I’ll mostly be using the other four.)
Thinking about UP10TION and their situation honestly hurts my heart. I look at other six year boy groups like Monsta X and SEVENTEEN, and I think how sad it is that they never really got the same momentum. Seeing “Spin Off” gave me the impression that TOP Media has all but given up on them – it’s certainly a good comeback, but it could have been great had the agency put in as much effort as they did for Wooseok’s and Jinhyuk’s recent solo comebacks. And unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that this release will probably get lost among all the big names that dropped music this month. But as sad as it is, it’s inspired me to return to UP10TION and show them some more love. I’m not sure what awaits them in the future, but I’ll definitely be there for it.
(“Knee Jerk Reaction” is a column I created to talk about comebacks or debuts when I don’t have a lot of time to write in-depth reviews. A knee jerk reaction is like an automatic response, so it’s a post about my initial thoughts on the song, the music video, and the performance if it’s available. Compared to my reviews, everything is more stream of consciousness and less analytical. And everything is 100% my own opinion!)
SOURCES: Featured image and music video belong to TOP Media.