It’s hard to believe that we have been a group for so long,” says JR, the leader of K-pop group NU’EST, at their global media showcase for the release of “Romanticize.” “Every time we have an album, it feels new.”
Under the limelight, the five evoke a mood of calm, practiced finesse as they answered questions from the press. JR, Aron, Baekho, Minhyun and Ren are used to this, having an almost decadelong career that has spanned every trend imaginable.
When they first debuted in 2012 with “Face,” it was obvious that their out-of-the-box musical stylings would make them stars. But it’s been a long, arduous journey for the boys of NU’EST. The quintet is one of the few groups in K-pop who’ve proven that their skill and talent can survive the test of time. When their career hit a plateau, the boys returned as rookies on the reality show “Produce 101” in 2017, wanting to prove that, if anything, a group like them shouldn’t be sidelined.
And they succeeded. The stint has earned them newfound popularity after consecutively weathering mountains of defeat. NU’EST’s spirit has always been resilience. Their story is one of K-pop’s greatest revivals—but one they’re not willing to tell in “Romanticize,” where it is evident that they have nothing left to prove.
“I think the biggest difference that you can see is our participation in the album,” says Aron. “I think you can see the most growth within our tracks,” he adds.
“Romanticize” gives NU’EST space and freedom to ruminate on what “romance” in all the mundanities of life has meant to each of them. Across nine years, the five can now experiment and take control of their musical direction in their second full-length album after 2014’s “re:BIRTH.”
7 years in the making
The boys explore multitudes of feelings in this seven-years-in-the-making LP. Romance comes with caveats, after all. In “Romanticize,” the boys challenge themselves to capture it in its different forms—from yearning, angst, hunger, ache, and of course, affection.
“I think [being] romantic is taking a step away from your ordinary daily activities and finding your own happiness,” Minhyun says. “Although our everyday lives are different from before, I hope that they feel romance even in the slightest moment when they’re listening to our tracks.”
In the shadow of a pandemic that has forced us into isolation, we’ve all been starved for morsels of companionship—one that NU’EST is more than willing to offer in this album.
NU’EST lets you experience this now-impossible intimacy in “Romanticize.” “Dress” leads you into a fantasy club, mystified by sultry EDM beats and a catchy chorus that harkens back to old-school K-pop. The invite asks you to get rid of your inhibitions, and “Baby, just let it be,” as the boys unravel their true intentions.
The narrative of a romance undone is masked in the sleek and barebones title track “Inside Out.” The song of the hour provides a sophisticated, yet unnerving take on a devastating breakup, cloaking a lovelorn meltdown in an addictive hook and polished choreography.
It’s easy for veterans like NU’EST to captivate, especially with an album where they’ve been given the go signal to try just about anything. “Usually, the word romance is also seated with love. That’s what most people think. But through our album, we wish to break that stereotype,” Baekho says.
Still, the melancholic “Don’t Wanna Go” is a classic breakup song that is sure to take you back to the early 2000s. “Do you think about me still?” they croon as they confront their lover’s incompatible desires. The heart-wrenching confession will make you take notice of the band’s vocal prowess. Idols of their stature don’t need too much to impress, after all.
The 10-track album is divided into two parts. The first five songs are a luxurious journey into what a group of NU’EST’s caliber has to offer. While these seem calculated and a little bit more guarded, the second half, composed of the solo tracks, is unhinged and brimming with honesty. The boys take the step toward the melodramatic—lyrically and sonically. Baekho, who the members describe as the center of the album’s production, has long had a heavy hand in the band’s sound. “I think our members each have a uniqueness … and their individuality is very clear [in the solo songs]. It’s amazing how we have one group and so many unique members,” he says.
Beneath all the spectacle of “Romanticize” is NU’EST’s own journey as artists as they further uncover their individual sounds and idiosyncrasies.
The solo track of each member preserves liminal conversations into songs—from moony thoughts about inanimate objects (Minhyun’s “Earphone”) to bass-driven battles with failure (JR’s “Doom Doom”). The flurry of five tracks is way too different to be listened to cohesively, which is exactly what the members meant to do.
“There’s a world inside of me,” declares Ren in the high-energy “Rocket.” The seasoned idols are much more candid individually, offering a no-holds-barred entryway into their most intricate musings.
“We hope that everyone who listens to this can think about what ‘romantic’ is, and can be healed and consoled as we feel those emotions together,” Baekho says. Rebirth
“Romanticize” oddly and aptly feels more like a rebirth, a nod to their first album. The boys of NU’EST finally show their cards, proving once and for all that they’re here to stay. JR is set to star in the new drama “I’ll Be Your Night,” which will premiere later this year, while Baekho also marks his musical debut as Haram in “Midnight Sun.”
As they further grow into the peaks of their popularity, NU’EST continues to turn any song into currencies of feelings—ones they’re most excited to share with their listeners. After all, what is the act of romanticizing if not the introspection of our most mundane?
Aron puts it simply: “My romance is me becoming myself in NU’EST.”