Monsta X Comeback Review: “Beautiful”

Monsta X is hands down one of my favorite groups.  I like everything about them: music, choreography, MVs, personalities/variety sense – and yes, visuals.  While they’re pretty successful and well-known compared to other rookies, they have yet to really “hit it big.” Unfortunately, “Beautiful” is not smashing through the charts or racking up music show wins like I hoped it would.  But on the bright side, it shows all that Monsta X is capable of and proves that they’re a very skilled group.

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!

Current Concept: Sophisticated and mature.

Past Concept(s): Powerful and masculine.

SONG:

Music by: Star Warz and Athena

Arranged by: Star Warz

“Beautiful” starts out like any Monsta X song: aggressive rapping, in-your-face electronic effects, and a thudding beat.  But as the vocalists take over, it turns into something more. Kihyun especially sings very smoothly and sweetly, pulling the listener in.  Just like its title, the song – particularly the chorus – sounds beautiful.  Despite the vocalists outnumbering the rappers five to two, they generally take a backseat in title tracks. So I’m happy that “Beautiful” really let them show off their skills. It actually took me several listens to even realize that there wasn’t any rapping after the second verse, proving that the song has very smooth and subtle transitions and flows well.

I absolutely adore “Beautiful.”  I was pulled in from the quirky introduction, and it’s been playing on repeat ever since.  It’s my favorite title track to come from the Clan trilogy, and possibly my favorite title track of theirs so far.  It has all the elements of Monsta X’s signature sound, but it also goes beyond that and tries something different.  Most of their songs go pretty hard, so it’s nice to hear that they’re capable of a more mature and romantic side.

SCORE: 19/20

LYRICS:

Lyrics by: Star Warz, Jooheon, I.M.

“Beautiful” is about being captivated and spellbound by someone (“You make me say words of awe, you take away my right mind”).  There’s also implications of it being a dangerous or forbidden love (“Don’t give out secret looks, don’t smile at me”) The standout element is that the men liken the object of their affection to a rose. It’s beautiful, but you can get pricked if you’re not careful:

“You’re so beautiful, I can’t take my eyes off you
Like a thorn on a flower, I know I’ll get pricked, but I want you
So beautiful, so beautiful
You’re so pretty, so beautiful it makes me sad, too beautiful to handle”

Other reviews I’ve read feel like the song overly promotes beauty and looks as a woman’s most important (or only) quality. I get how that can be offensive, but I don’t think this song is supposed to be romantic.  It certainly sounds romantic, but I think it’s really about lust and desire.  It talks about love, but it’s an almost unhealthy kind of love. The core of it is about wanting something you can’t have, and the verses deal almost entirely with obsession.  Jooheon opens the song with: “Why is it you? I’m going crazy / What is this? I think I’ve fallen for you / “All day, in my head, round and round it goes like a question mark, every day.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if someone I consider much more attractive than me sits me down, looks me in the eye, and sings to me about how beautiful he thinks I am, I’d hardly be stone-faced. So if it feels like we’re being reduced to face value here, I suggest we take the song itself at face value. The way I see it, it’s not about being realistic – it’s about indulging fantasy. It paints a situation that we might get a thrill out of but don’t actively seek in real life.  It’s just a song to enjoy, and the lyrics accomplish their main objective of making our hearts flutter.  It just does it a little differently.

SCORE: 9/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

Monsta X has come a long way from the songs that were approximately 60% Jooheon, 20% I.M., 10% Kihyun, and 10% everybody else. The line distribution has slowly improved over time, with Shownu and Wonho benefiting the most.  But now “Beautiful” has also included Hyungwon and Minhyuk, and I couldn’t be more excited. I am a loyal Hyungwon stan, and I’ve literally been waiting every comeback for him to have more lines.  I suspected it’s because this is a song and style that suits him well, and it turns out I was right.  If it’s true that Shownu gave up some of his lines for Hyungwon, that says a lot of great things about his character.

Fangirl appreciation aside, I think that they divvied up the song in a great way.  Kihyun is definitely the main vocal, so per usual he has most of the chorus and the high notes.  Shownu and Wonho are also strong vocalists, so they take care of the pre-chorus and the bridge.  Meanwhile, Minhyuk and Hyungwon have lines that aren’t really challenging (read: no high notes), but they are important moments in the song.  It’s definitely the fairest distribution that Monsta X has ever had.  I don’t expect it to be the new standard from now on, but it’s nice that it happened at least once.

SCORE: 10/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

Most of my favorite boy group choreographies are Monsta X.   Their performances really show off the masculinity and power that they’re known for.  Any good boy group will have the moves to make your heart skip a beat, but they seem to be a step above that. I don’t know what it is, but every time I watch them dance I melt into a puddle. I’ve always maintained that being a good dancer is crazy sexy and attractive. If for some reason you don’t agree with me, just watch the dance break of this song.

Beautiful-Dance-Break.gif

“Beautiful” has a lot of Monsta X’s classic style.  It flows seamlessly from beginning to end, without any noticeable breaks. It’s filled with energy, with the members constantly moving.  It’s angular with sharp clean lines, and it hits the beat hard.  And there’s some variations on the nae nae, which is both hilarious and awesome. While they’re not an overly sexy group, over they’ve discovered some moves that will make their fans squeal with delight. (See: “All In” with that fatal back roll)  The shoulder moves aren’t as provocative this time around, but they do act as attractive key points.

Beautiful-Chorus

 

I often say that my favorite moves in K-pop choreographies are the simple ones, and that’s true here too.  Monsta X in particular makes sure that every move has meaning and that nothing is a throwaway.  Even in moments like their key points, each step and hand movement clearly has purpose and power.

Beautiful-Key-Point

I’m also very impressed that they added their jackets as part of the choreography in the end.  Props are super tricky, and it’s not hard to mess up – even though the sequence looks fairly simple.  So props to them (hahaha) that they manage it so skillfully.  It adds some coolness and chic to the routine.  All in all, I think it’s very well-balanced between standout key points and more complicated eye-catching moves.  In any case, it’s definitely one of my new favorites.

Jacket-Choreo

SCORE: 20/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

“Beautiful” is a little less formation heavy than some of Monsta X’s other routines.  They mostly favor two lines, a V shape, or breaking off into small groups.  But there are some nice standout moments, like the beginning and ending where they all form a moving picture.  I especially like Shownu’s part, which is very well-timed and looks really cool.

Shownu's-Part

Monsta X has always had a vocal and dance center.  The vocal center is always Kihyun, who is a decent dancer but mostly commands with his voice.  The dance center is usually Shownu, who’s the main dancer and has the body, moves, and charisma to prove it.  But “Beautiful” is clearly Hyungwon’s era, and he’s every definition of a center here (beginning, ending, various key points, etc). Though he obviously is very skilled, as the lead dancer, I’d say that his long-legged fluid style is generally not center material for Monsta X’s power dances.  In this case however, he fits the smooth and chic aura of the dance and is a strong choice.  Being the visual doesn’t hurt, either.

Hyungwon-as-Center

Minhyuk also gets to center some of the key points of the song, and bless his heart he’s clearly working very hard (performance-wise, not dance-wise).  Wonho and Shownu mostly act as back up for the center this time around, but it was a very smart choice to have Shownu anchor the dance break.  Like the line distribution, they made some very wise decisions.

SCORE: 9/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

The Clan has been a very interesting trilogy.  None of the three music videos have anything in common aesthetically. “All In” clearly had some kind of story and a realistic setting (minus the opening and ending scenes).  While we didn’t get answers to everything, it laid out a solid foundation.  “Fighter” continued some of those narrative threads, but started to get more abstract in the aesthetics.  There was kind of a blend between places and events that seemed “real” or “not real.”

Now we have “Beautiful,” which hardly seems to have any plot at all.  To be fair, it’s gorgeous, colorful, and visually stunning. But we only have small glimpses and clues to what the ending of the story is – or what the whole thing was even about in the first place. I haven’t really found any other theories that include “Beautiful,” so I’ll try and break some of the key points down on my own.

With the exception of Jooheon, all of the members are locked in different rooms in a hallway.  Each room has a different color and aesthetic.  Shownu’s is a light blue garden, with the flower that we’ve seen throughout the series.  Wonho’s has a bunch of mail boxes and is heavily accented by green and yellow.  Kihyun’s is dark, gray, and filled with swords. Minhyuk’s is deep purple and has pendulums and orbs.  Hyungwon’s has mirrors and sand and is multicolored (notably neon accents).  And I.M.’s is yellow and filled with money and gold.  Jooheon prowls up and down the hallway, eventually handing each member an item: the blue liquid, a pen and ink, a hammer, a watch, a hand mirror, and a match.  How they react seems to be some sort of test, which they all pass because the doors eventually open and they all leave together.

 

It’s obvious that all of these items and rooms mean something, but what exactly? In the behind the scenes film, I.M. mentions that all of the rooms represent parts of human nature. Kihyun also mentions that his room is anger.  I have literally no other confirmation of this, but I suspect that each member represents one of the seven deadly sins.  The obvious examples are Kihyun (wrath/anger) and I.M. (greed).  The others are a little more abstract. I think Shownu is gluttony, because he has the blue liquid that they’re all supposedly addicted to. Hyungwon is pride, because the mirrors in his room insinuate ego. Wonho would probably be sloth, because he’s hesitant and reluctant to write that letter.  I think Jooheon locking the other members up and watching them closely would symbolize his envy or jealousy. This leaves Minhyuk with lust, or I think more accurately intense desire. This is all purely conjecture on my part though, so feel free to ignore what I say!

MV-Wonho.gif

So why is it so confusing? In analyzing Got7’s “Never Ever,” Dream Teller said (and I agreed) that there were continuity issues between the music videos because it was actually symbolism and not narrative.  I think this could also the case here. For example, Shownu should be in the room with the money (because he stole to save his father).  But instead he’s with the plants. I have two ideas about why this is. The first is that because “Beautiful” is all about desire and what you can’t have, it’s possible that they’re not in rooms representing themselves but rather other members.  This could work because the seven sins actually all boil down to some form of desire or jealousy.

MV-Minhyuk's-Test.gif

The other explanation (which I find more plausible) is that there’s a significant amount of time between the “Fighter” and “Beautiful.” The members no longer appear like the young boys in the previous music videos, so it stands to reason that some major stuff could have gone down between their escape.  In this case, the rooms represent events that happened in that span of time – and perhaps the test items are things that tempt the members. Whatever the true explanation is, the suggestion seems to be that the members must interact somehow with their flaws or temptations to move forward and become true adults. Do they confront them? Fix them? Own up to them?  The answer is clearly different for each person, so maybe it’s a combination of all three.

MV-Ending.gif

The way these music videos are organized reminds me a lot of Got7 and their recent Flight Log trilogy.  Both of them started off promising a narrative, and then for whatever reason slowly became less plot-centric over time.  It really irritated me with Flight Log, but I think that The Clan handles it better.  There was enough similar elements between the three music videos to satisfy my need for continuity.  For example, take Jooheon.  In “All In,” he’s shown leading the ceremony and giving the drug to the other members.  In “Fighter” it’s heavily implied that he has some greater role, because he knights Shownu and shows up as the doctor at Hyungwon and Minhyuk’s hospital.  So it comes as no surprise that he’s the free one, watching the others locked up.

MV-Closed-Doors

These kinds of music videos have to walk a really fine line.  They have to let us know the basic plot while at the same time keeping us intrigued.  Sometimes they strike the perfect balance, like in B.A.P’s “Skydive.” But most of the time they decide to stay on the cryptic side of things, which really irritates me.  I will admit that when it comes The Clan, I still have more questions than answers. However, I could still grasp the gist of it on the first watch.  Without knowing the details, the clear message is that the boys are grown up and leaving their past behind.  Then after that, I could re-watch it to my heart’s content and try to decipher all of the little visual details.  For example, I love how some members are accepting of staying in their rooms while others are more frustrated.  What’s key is that these small nuances add to the story, but they’re not intrinsic to the plot.  They enrich your understanding when you re-watch it and make multiple viewings actually fun.  But you don’t feel like you’re being left out if you don’t get it.

MV-Hyungwon

While The Clan leaves me with about a billion questions, I’m somewhat satisfied.  This is because they have successfully portrayed both themes of the individual videos and the trilogy as a whole.  The Clan is about intense bonds that perhaps go beyond friendship, and it’s also about growing up and learning to confront the real world.  “All In” shows half of the members making decisions out of love for someone else.  They’re bad ones, but they were made with good intentions.  “Fighter” deals with the consequences of these choices, as the other members get involved to help their friends. “Beautiful” is about them facing their inner demons.  Only then can they grow up and truly become adults.

MV-Shownu's-Decision

 

 

SCORE: 19/20

STYLING:

The outfits play a key role in this music video.  As I pointed out earlier, it’s clear that the seven men have grown and come a long way since their village days.  They’re no longer wearing casual clothes, but instead are dressed in formal attire and beautiful colored jackets.  The clothing reminds me of two other popular boy groups: EXO in “Monster” and BTS in “Blood Sweat and Tears.” Both of these groups used this style to portray a more mature image. I wouldn’t say Monsta X is copying them, but the suits are a proven way to the chic and mature look.

About half of them changed their hair up this time around.  Jooheon’s blonde hair and Kihyun’s dark hair are pretty drastic changes, but they look great.  I also like Shownu’s lighter dirty blonde style.  And I’m very iffy about idols with red hair, but I think Minhyuk picked the perfect shade.  It’s just dark enough so it looks good instead of clownish.  I think Hyungwon and I.M. look better with natural colors, so the dark hair was a good choice.  Wonho looks good either way, but blonde does suit him.

STYLING MVP: Minhyuk, who is really giving it his all for this concept.

MV-Minhyuk

SCORE: 9/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 18

Lyrics – 9

Line Distribution – 10

Choreography – 20

Center and Formations – 9

Music Video – 19

Styling – 9

TOTAL: 94

CONCLUSION:

Monsta X definitely has an established sound and image.  With some groups that can get old quick, but Monsta X has always found ways to keep it fresh.  I was perfectly happy with their music, and I never even thought I wanted something else from them until I saw and heard “Beautiful.” It’s funny because they have such a masculine hip hop vibe, but the members themselves don’t all represent that collective.  Somehow they all ended up portraying seven different (but equally appealing) types of guys.  “Beautiful” showed a more sensitive side that they haven’t given us through their music before, and I’m so happy to see it.  I’m also pleased that their creative team clearly put work into their trilogy. Even if everything isn’t crystal clear, what they gave us was enough.

I was so convinced that “Beautiful” would be the song that launched Monsta X into the next tier of stardom.  To be fair, a good deal of this might be because I love Hyungwon and I was happy to see him get some good lines and center time.  But it has a lot going for it besides that. It’s a good song, it has great choreography, and it has a beautiful music video.  For whatever reason, it hasn’t hit #1 on charts or on a music show.  But if Monsta X keeps making quality releases like this, it’s only a matter of time.

Sources: Youtube, Starship Entertainment, Wikipedia, AllKpop

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