BoyNextDoor Hold True to Their Name in “Who!”

Much like with NewJeans’ debut last year, Hybe, now paired with rapper Zico’s new company KOZ, has pulled out a similar set of stops for the debut of their latest boy group, Boynextdoor. Helmed by a musical and visual aesthetic similar to that of Newjeans’ own brand of Y2K nostalgia, Boynextdoor’s debut is very much Hybe’s attempt at the boy-centric answer to their latest girl group’s explosive success, paired with obvious influences from Zico himself.

Although their debut hasn’t hit the same level of virality that NewJeans did nearly a year ago, Boynextdoor seeks to offer a similarly subversive, more simplistic take on the current trends in fourth generation K-pop — especially when it comes to boy groups. The group’s pre-release videos even followed the same structure and strategy as NewJeans’ rollout, with KOZ releasing member-centric MVs for the single album’s non-title tracks ahead of the title track’s official release.

The six-member group’s vibe is much like their name suggests: for lack of a better term, “boy-next-door.” To establish this vision, all three tracks on the single album, entitled Who!, are straightforward in structure and noticeably more stripped down in production and instrumentation compared to the discographies of their other fourth-generation idol group counterparts. The boys sing of teenage crushes and all of the frustrations woes, and pleasantries that come with them with an air of authenticity and relatability, while the various MVs depict them pining after the girl they like against the backdrop of the typical Western, suburban neighborhood — a concerted effort to position the group toward a more global fanbase and again, as “the boys next door.”

There’s no clear standout between the three tracks, even the title “Serenade,” mainly because all three have an overwhelming cohesiveness and catchiness about them. Easygoing, plucky melodies flow from poppy, guitar-centric “But I Like You” to beat-heavy “One and Only,” then back to guitar-centric “Serenade.” The members play around with vocal delivery on each track to showcase their skills, although mostly stick to simultaneously boyish and gritty rap and vocal tones that teeter between charming and grating depending on the verse and song.

Zico’s own influence on Who! also shines through loud and clear. Rappers Jaehyun and Taesan, and on several occasions mimic Zico’s bombastic, sing-songy rapping style, intonations, and inflections to a tee. This especially manifests on more rap-centric “One and Only” and during the verses of “But I Like You.” “Serenade” is easily the most melodic of the three, but when paired with these particular “Zico-isms” makes for a fresh but not entirely unexpected combination.

Overall, and for better or worse, Boynextdoor is extremely “boy-next-door” in their debut album. Zico and Hybe’s ability to produce such a strong vision is impressive, but elements of it feel too forced and obvious for their own good. And, while Who! is a solid, fun, and fresh EP, Hybe’s influence on the group comes with its pros and cons. Boynextdoor’s sound clearly has its influences from Zico, but in the end, those influences — along with the potential for more experimentation — feel stifled and stopped short (first track “But I Like You” is quite literally only two minutes long). Still, Who! is a promising start — hopefully with runway for an even more fleshed out vision down the line.

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