Teen Top Comeback Review: “Love Is”

Teen Top was actually the first group from the second generation (or is it third?) that I checked out. They motivated me to venture outside of the currently trending groups and really check out all the artists K-pop had to offer.  It sounds cheesy, but if it weren’t for them I might be a very different kind of fan.  So it’s safe to say that I’m very fond of them. “Love Is” is slightly sad for me, because L.Joe was my bias.  But at the same time, it’s a good reminder of what Teen Top is good at and what they’re capable of.

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

Concept: Teen Top doesn’t have a visual concept like “boy next door” or “tough guy.” They’re generally known for catchy EDM music (think club bangers) and their insane dance skills.  Though they’ve been experimenting with other styles recently, “Love Is” signals a return to their roots – complete with their colorful neon aesthetic.

SONG:

“Love Is” revives Teen Top’s collaboration with Brave Sound, who’s also responsible for some of their earlier title tracks (“Going Crazy,” “To You,” “Be Ma Girl,” and “Miss Right”).  “Ah Ah” was a little mellower and fun, while “Warning Sign” was sensual and tense.  But “Love Is” brings us back to the pulsing club beats that made them popular in the first place. I tend to favor those songs, so “Love Is” is naturally right up my alley. However what I really like about it is how it shows the group’s growth.

It’s still very classic Teen Top. The almost constant techno and the thudding dance beat is still there, but there’s something else that I don’t often hear from them: emotion. Teen Top’s music usually on the same plane energy-wise, and most of their songs don’t require any deep sentiment.  But “Love Is” is a break-up song, and there’s an appropriate sad and wistful quality in the melody and vocals.  There’s also a gentle piano that highlights the more poignant moments, giving it some variety.  Despite their name, no one in Teen Top is actually a teenager anymore.  Nearly seven years in the industry has matured them, and it definitely shows here.  It’s nice to see that they’ve been able to build on their signature pop dance sound and give it something more.

SCORE: 18/20

LYRICS:

CAP's-ExplanationAs C.A.P so eloquently summarized it, “Let’s say bye bye to that bad girl.”  Of course, it’s slightly deeper than that. “Love Is” is about struggling to move on after a breakup you weren’t expecting or didn’t want.  While the members of Teen Top are despondent, the ex seems to emerge from the break-up unscathed – and perhaps even cruelly happy:

“Is this fun for you? I’m dying right now
If you’re gonna love, do it right
No more of the me from the past, now there’s no man like that
Don’t misunderstand, you know what I mean girl”

While the lyrics are simple in their language, they evoke complex emotions. There’s longing for their lost lover (“You have left, and I’m still here / Although you left me all alone, your warmth is still here”). There’s sadness, as they spend their nights in tears. There are even hints of anger and resentment (“You say you’re gonna change, but that makes me laugh / You say you’re sorry, but you’re a freaking liar.”) Break-ups are complicated and messy.  Love and hate can be very close, and that’s never more clearer than after a break-up.  Letting the lyrics move freely between these states of mind accurately depicts a person’s mixed feelings during such a vulnerable time.

SCORE: 9/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

Teen Top is one of those groups that’s usually accused of being “[Insert prominent member here] and the backup dancers.” The prominent member in question is Niel, who usually takes most of the lines.  He’s still responsible for almost half the song, although Chunji has the honor of doing the high notes (and he crushes it).  The other member who makes out well is Changjo, who I presume picked up most of L.Joe’s parts after he left.  Ricky and C.A.P. don’t have that many lines, but they feel more prominent than they usually do.  So although it could be argued that it’s still somewhat “Niel and the backup dancers,” they’ve done a fairly good job of spreading attention to the other members.

SCORE: 8/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

If I’m not mistaken, Teen Top is part of the reason why “knife choreography” became so popular.  In an age where hard dances are steadily becoming the norm, they still remain the golden standard. I love many boy groups for their choreography, but Teen Top is seriously on another level.  “Love Is” is just as complex and interesting as any of their other dances. As usual, there’s a lot of fast movement that remains effortlessly sharp and clean (and synchronized!).  I’m a huge fan of “Rocking,” and I counted three separate occasions where the members display their fancy footwork.

Fancy-Footwork

Just like the song, the choreography for “Love Is” is classic Teen Top – with a little something more.  I’ve already spoken about the growing trend of modern dance inspired performances, most notably with BTS. Whereas most groups incorporate certain moves into the choreography or adopt the style outright, Teen Top has created a hip-hop/modern fusion. There are sections that are purely hard hitting hip hop, and there are sections that focus more on the emotions brought out by modern.  But they often blend the two by combining modern movements with a more hip hop rhythm.

Leaps

The combination of two opposite styles is really impressive.  It’s not something you’d think would work, but it does. And it’s very fitting for a group with such a high dance pedigree.  Just when I think that they couldn’t top themselves, they go ahead and knock out another stellar routine. Teen Top’s reputation is partially built on their choreography, and they certainly don’t disappoint.

Back-Bend

SCORE: 20/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

Teen Top has always had pretty good formations, but they’ve taken extra care with this dance. You wouldn’t think a group of five people has a lot of options, but they do. They use very simple yet effective ways of giving dimension to their routine, such as staggering the members’ movements or changing the order of a sequence.  They also work a lot in directions and diagonals, which also gives the impression of long and clean lines.  I really love the chorus, where they form a moving triangle.

Chorus

I don’t think that Teen Top has a fixed center, but this time it’s Chunji.  He’s done it before, but it’s interesting that he’s definitively in the middle for such a large part of the song (Ricky takes care of the dance break).  There aren’t any dance holes in Teen Top, but I think it’s an unconventional choice to pick him. He’s not as strong as Changjo or as sharp as Ricky.  I imagine that they chose him because he’s the visual, but I do think it has a nice effect.  Most of Teen Top are power dancers, and Chunji has a more softer style.  It helps bring out the emotional and vulnerable aspects of the routine.

SCORE: 9/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

There is a subtle narrative to this music video.  We see the members in different colorful locations, but they’re so unresponsive.  Some interact with items – Chunji smells a rose, Changjo tries to use the pay phone, and Ricky examines a pill labeled love.  But for the most part they’re fairly nonreactive to their environment, just staring blankly ahead.  It’s a stark contrast from the energetic and emotion-filled shots of them singing and dancing.  Every once and a while we see flowers that blink in and out, perhaps signifying loss. It’s like they’re quite literally missing their hearts. At the end the men disappear completely, flickering out of existence as if they can’t continue on anymore.

MV-Niel-Disappears

C.A.PTeen Top has developed a signature aesthetic over the years.  Many of their videos rely heavily on color – especially neon – and this one is no exception. There’s so much color it feels like we see every shade of the rainbow at some point.  But although the music video seems to prioritize aesthetic over narrative, it goes a little deeper than that. It depends on color, contrast, and framing to visualize the members’ moods and feelings. The exact symmetry of this shot with C.A.P. makes it look perfect, but the darkness and the shadows suggest that something is off.  The pretty colors are contained to one area, and it’s a very small one.  This could indicate that he’s trapped or stuck.

ChunjiThe colors in the background reveal information about the members’ personalities and/or state of mind. Chunji is dressed in red, stands against a wall painted with red flowers, and holds a real red flower.  Red can often stand for love and passion, and flowers are a trademark romantic gesture. His constant smelling of the flower and picking the petals indicates that he might be caught up in romance.  The background is largely sky blue (an optimistic color) and there’s very little shadow, which perhaps means that his outlook on love is largely hopeful and positive.  Niel is in a large room of yellow (a very bright color) and purple (a very dark color).  The two very different shades signal his conflicted feelings about the situation at hand, and the amount of color in each shot might show which feeling is winning.

RickyThe sight of shadow among such vibrant color hints at a turbulent state of mind. Ricky is in a neon pink room, and pink definitely symbolizes love.  But the room is also surrounded by darkness, and the neon makes the contrast even more apparent.  We definitely realize all is not as pretty as it seems, which is confirmed when the camera zooms out to reveal a bunch of black X marks. In Changjo’s case, the darkness is the dominant color.  The only light comes from the bus station sign, which is a flower – the recurring motif in this music video.  It would appear that Changjo is resigned to his fate or largely overcome by his negative feelings, but he has a glimmer of hope.

ChangjoNow, I realize that I could be going way overboard in my interpretation of things. The filmmaker in me likes to think that directors make aesthetic decisions for other reasons than “It looks cool,” but at the same time I know not everything has a deep meaning.  This is mostly speculation on my part, and you really don’t have to know any of this to enjoy it. But at the very least, I do think that the video uses color to literally show us that not everything is black and white.  Feelings like love, confusion, denial, frustration, and despair are very complex.  Having color visualize those feelings is simple yet effective.

SCORE: 18/20

STYLING:

This isn’t one of those comebacks that heavily relies on outfits.  But the members favor the “casual chic” style that’s all the rage these days.  Every time I watch the music video, I can’t help but remark how well dressed they are.  They also go for somewhat natural hair. I say “somewhat” because Niel’s is bright red and Changjo’s has sparkles, but I really mean that it’s not overly gelled.  They mostly let it fall softly around their faces, which I think is a subtle way of making them look more vulnerable (overly styled hair can create a cool and unapproachable vibe, depending on the rest of the look). K-pop is hugely based on visuals, and part of the fun in a break-up song is making idols look so good that you want to be the one to take away all their pain.  I can’t stop staring at Chunji, so I guess it worked.

STYLING MVP: Ricky, who is finally growing out of that baby face and turning out super handsome

MV-Ricky

SCORE: 9/10

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 18

Lyrics – 9

Line Distribution – 8

Choreography – 19

Center and Formations – 9

Music Video – 18

Styling – 9

TOTAL: 90

CONCLUSION: All in all, this was a pretty solid comeback. Teen Top has been around for almost seven years, so it’s safe to say that they know what works for them.  The song, dance, and music video are all filled with their signature elements.  But at the same time, they’ve added just enough to prove that they’re capable of growth.  It’s nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, but it’s solid. “Love Is” won’t replace “Rocking” as my favorite, but I definitely like it and enjoy listening to it.

I know that L.Joe was part of the comeback preparations before he left, so his absence makes this comeback even more bittersweet.  I was L.Joe biased and I’m a little emotional about the whole situation – much more than I am with the other groups promoting minus a member.  I can’t help listening to the song and wondering what his lines were, or thinking where he would go in the dance or the video. But although one member leaving can signal hard times ahead for the rest of the group, it shouldn’t. “Love Is” makes me confident in the Teen Top with five members, and I look forward to what their next step will be.

Sources: Youtube, TOP Media, Wikipedia, K-Rush Magazine Episode 7 (KBS World), Soompi

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