The Complexity of Romance as Told in NU’EST’s ‘Romanticize’ Album

On April 19, NU’EST dropped their much anticipated new full-length album Romanticize with title track “INSIDE OUT.”

The first full album release in seven years, Romanticize focuses on the theme of romance itself, on “making things more romantic than reality,” and invites thoughts and empathy from listeners. The album also serves as a way for JR, Aron, Baekho, Ren, and Minhyun to share their individual interpretations about romance, their thoughts and moments of “unforgettable romance,” their personal growth, and challenges that they had to overcome since debut. “I think the biggest difference and the biggest growth that you can see is in our participation in producing in making the album,” said Aron at their Romanticize Global Media Showcase. NU’EST had minimal participation in the production of their first album Re:BIRTH in 2014, but now they have all had a hand in the songs for Romanticize with the opportunity to put their thoughts and messages into their work. As a culmination of a decade’s worth of personal and professional experience and growth, Romanticize is highly anticipated to be a masterpiece that truly reflects NU’EST as they have become. 

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Romanticize consists of ten tracks, nine of which are completely new (“Drive” was previously released in Japanese in October 2020). The new album conveys the message that there are various interpretations of what’s considered “romantic” while the solo tracks specifically reflect the member’s own interpretations of what romance and “being romantic” means to them. From finding comfort in music and acknowledging the difficulties of reaching a goal to becoming a new person, NU’EST has an eclectic definition of “romance.” “Usually, the word ‘Romance’ is also seated with ‘Love’,” said Baekho at the showcase. “That’s what most people think. But through our album we wish to break that stereotype.” Instead of focusing on the typical bubbly, joyful happiness of a first love, or the tearful and resentful heartbreak of a breakup, they have decided to focus on the complexity of romance.  NU’EST brings a new depth to a different side of K-Pop, constantly challenging the status quo of both concepts and music genres.

Musically, this album is a wide mix of genres, from the unique R&B sound that NU’EST has made their own in “Don’t Wanna Go” to some rather interesting experimental house in “Dress” and even ballads like Aron’s “I’m Not.” This variety showcases NU’EST as they are: unique, versatile, and adaptable. They are constantly challenging themselves to evolve, and have gained a reputation for being innovative. They experiment with new ideas rather than consistently focusing on what has worked in the past. Personally, I’ve come to look at it as, “What new and unexpected piece will we get this time?” Each work is a masterpiece in its own way, and each comeback is a pleasant new way to discover music. 

Romanticize’s title track, “INSIDE OUT,” is about someone who denies that they are affected from a breakup and pretends everything is fine, only to realize and eventually accept that they are still in love and want to return. “INSIDE OUT” incorporates minimalism with a chill house beat, highlighting their vocals and evoking subtle emotions. The music video shows that NU’EST tackled this concept in three ways. One, the lyrics progress from staying away to “running to you.” Two, the music video is dramatic, bold, powerful, and a cinematic masterpiece showing not only the collapse of the person’s denial through multiple objects shattering, but also literal “running” at the end. Lastly, the choreography is a surprisingly intricate combination of movements and gestures that lead the story. 

One interesting observation about NU’EST’s choreographies is that while many of their performances don’t seem bombastic with large movements all the time, they are very detail-oriented with small and very particular eye-catching hand gestures or head tilts that really make an impact. This is especially evident in the choreography for “INSIDE OUT.” For example, the finger trailing across their chest in the chorus reflects the lyric’s lovesickness, the hand over the heart during the shoulder rolls for “the one that I need,” or Baekho’s hand flips in the bridge to show “running away.” There were also many moments in the choreography where two members pair up. In the bridge, JR and Baekho metaphorically act out the lyrics while Baekho pushes aside Minhyun’s arm in the following chorus.

From one perspective, Romanticize can be interpreted as the culmination of NU’EST’s feelings and experiences from their nine-year career. From the brief high of their successful debut to the challenges and obstacles in the years after, they struggled and fought their way to reach success in doing what they love. To date, they hold the record for the longest time from debut to first music show win with their original line up. They went from releasing an album with minimal input for Re:BIRTH, to one that is completely produced, composed, and written by the members themselves. In this way, their second album Romanticize is a way to show us their development over the course of their career.

Tracklist Review:

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  1. DRESS
    At first listen, the verse and pre-chorus are quite curious with the glitchy, abrupt beats and snappy lyrics. However, “Dress” is one of the catchiest songs on the album. Though not initially obvious, “Dress” has a strong house beat layered with open synths that create a mysterious feel, appropriate for the passionate attraction of falling in love at a masquerade. 
  2. INSIDE OUT
    “INSIDE OUT” incorporates a chill house beat with minimal sound. This highlights their vocals and it is interesting how much subtle emotion they are all able to show with just their voices. The song itself is about someone who tries to pretend that nothing is wrong in the face of a breakup, only to eventually accept and acknowledge that they are still in love and still want to be with the person they love.
  3. DON’T WANNA GO
    A song most representative of the urban R&B sound that NU’EST is often known for, “Don’t Wanna Go” expresses the deep yearning and sadness of a lover post-breakup. A soft but powerful R&B pop ballad, all the members demonstrate their vocal versatility in their expression of yearning and frustration to match the lyrics.
  4. BLACK
    A song from the Neo-Soul genre infused with hip-pop elements, “Black” is about the feelings of experiencing a new world with another person. The groovy rhythm and repetition creates an entrancing effect that grows on the ears.
  5. DRIVE
    “Drive” was originally released in Japanese in October 2020, though it does not have a J-Pop sound. An electro pop song with a very fluid beat and melody, “Drive” is about enjoying the journey to a destinationless place with someone you love. With a dreamy back beat that cohesively connects the song, another notable aspect is the rap that flows right in from the verse and into the chorus. NU’EST has some of the smoothest transitions from melodic singing to rap without requiring a change in the music, as seen in previous songs like “Not Over You.”
  6. EARPHONE” (MINHYUN SOLO)
    As the first solo on the album, “Earphone” is a calm, low-fidelity R&B pop ballad. The gentle beats and guitar contribute to a drowsy, fluid, and comfortable feeling. Perfect for a late night de-stress at the coffeehouse, the song features the sweet “honey” vocals that Minhyun is well-known for, appropriate for this particular theme. For his concept of romance, Minhyun elaborated, “when I felt tired or lost, I would just put on my earphones and listen to my favorite music and get consolation.”
  7. NEED IT” (BAEKHO SOLO)
    “Need It” is an urban soul piece with a 6/8 beat. Layered on a soft background of instrumental accompaniment, Baekho’s extraordinary vocals single-handedly create a dramatic and emotional sound that successfully tells a story of pain and triumph. For his concept, Baekho said his romance is “the process of going towards a goal and the feelings you get during that process…it’s not going to be an easy journey…there are going to be trial and errors and those can also be romantic.”
  8. DOOM DOOM” (JR SOLO)
    An upbeat electro house song, “Doom Doom” features a powerful synth bass with a beat that gets stronger and stronger as the song progresses. After JR’s debut as a sub-vocalist in “If We” in The Table, it appears he has continued to branch out. “Doom Doom” incorporates both regular rap and vocals, along with other rather interesting production variations and compressions. For the concept, JR admitted that after much thought, he wanted to “move away from the theme called ‘love’” and instead reinterpret romance as the “search for a better, new me.”
  9. ROCKET ROCKET” (REN SOLO)
    “Rocket Rocket” is an explosive and energetic synth pop that embodies Ren. An interesting mix of power pop and electronic rock, this song would not be out of place in an action-battle scene. Ren’s dynamic and dramatic vocals give the song an extra flair. “I love expressing my energy on stage,” REN mentioned at the showcase. “I love really fancy and flashy things and I thought that the word ‘rocket’ would suit that well. So I really wanted to create a great performance with the word rocket.
  10. I’M NOT” (ARON SOLO)
    Aron’s solo is the perfect closing to this album. A sweet, soft modern rock ballad, “I’m Not” features a slow, gentle beat layered with dreamy guitar strums. The highlight of the song is Aron’s almost wistful and reflective vocals. His talented control of vocal dynamics brings the emotional lyrics to life. This song would not be out of place as part of an OST for a drama. For the concept, Aron said, “my romance is me becoming myself in NU’EST.” It is Aron’s story of how he became who he is in NU’EST.

NU’EST’s second studio album Romanticize is out now and available on all streaming platforms.

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