Despite a lackluster debut, Boyfriend quickly followed up with a string of singles that were distinctive enough and consistent enough in theme to carve out a successful niche for themselves. The R&B tinged “You & I“, the adorably assertive ”Don’t Touch My Girl“, and most recently “I’ll Be There” (their highest performing single to date), though all different, were underpinned by the same wide-eyed innocence that ﬁrmly put Boyfriend, despite a dearth of releases, in a defined niche.
Then, just as it looked like Boyfriend was gaining traction after “I’ll Be There”, they took a break from January to June, ﬁnally making their comeback this month with their ﬁrst mini-album (EP), “Love Style“. But despite a wonderfully cohesive selection of songs, in the rush of the May-June comeback season, “Love Style” got lost in the mix. It’s a shame it did, since it’s very good K-pop. If Starship Entertainment waited until the end of the Big Bang/Wonder Girls/f(x)/Busker Busker promotion cycle, ‘Love Style’ would have almost certainly charted higher. And given Starship’s stellar track record so far, especially as a non-Big Three company – this came as a surprise. They’ve successfully managed SISTAR‘s growth from promising rookies (albeit an awkward debut song title – remember “Push Push“, with its admonition for listeners to push “just like a sistar”?) to established girl group, even weathering through a potentially career-ending online smear campaign.
I mention the above because I want to reiterate how good (and under appreciated) this mini is. I’m inclined to put most of the blame for its underwhelming chart performance on poor timing rather than bad music. Because not only are all the songs catchy - there are no left-ﬁeld ﬁller tracks in this EP – but the concept is (perhaps also to the detriment of the EP’s commercial success) consistent with previous Boyfriend releases. Earlier singles – “Boyfriend”, ”Don’t Touch My Girl”, and “I’ll Be There” – were all cutesy and adorable, in the most affectionate way possible. ”Love Style”, with its enthusiasm and eagerness to please, fits perfectly in with the rest of Boyfriend’s back catalog.
Even “Don’t Touch My Girl” – arguably their most aggressive song – in which they warn potential suitors to back off, has the feel of a younger brother playing dress-up. Which is only natural – given the stick-thin proﬁle of the boys (especially the Jo twins, who look painfully thin and stretched out) – as it’s hard to take seriously any threat of physical retribution. Thankfully, for this release, Boyfriend returned with a more dandy-like (think slim ﬁtted suits epitomized by Lee Minho circa ”Boys Over Flowers“) concept that’s much more natural and unforced than the aforementioned “Don’t Touch My Girl” era.
And form equals content. One thing that has characterized the “Boyfriend sound” so far is the air of fanciful whimsy, the synth-ﬁlled leads that aren’t so much instrumentation as much as props in their soft-lit, pastel-toned MVs. Similarly, in this release, listening to “Love Style” is to be transported into an alternate universe, a Boyfriend-reality with no sharp edges. One that is, upon closer observation, the polar opposite of the post-apocalyptic universe that BAP inhabits, I might add – take that as you will.
The superficial, naive depiction of frictionless love falls flat in “Love Style”, but it’s this very same quality – an unrestrained eagerness to please – that forms the core of the song’s appeal. As they sing on their lead single, “The love style you want, I’ll change to be it now, now, now/For every time and every situation, I’ll change [my love style] to match it“.
Production-wise, Starship once again enlisted super producers Sweetune, who were behind “Don’t Touch My Girl” and “I’ll Be There”, to write “Love Style”. This time, though, Sweetune melded their signature guitar sounds with the soft, pumping pad sound that characterized Boyfriend’s earlier releases, and mixed things up some more by adding some talking synth sounds that make the instrumental sound much more of-the-present. However, other than a few other subtle production elements, this song lacks the standout “hook” quality of Inﬁnite’s singles. It’s a great pop song that gets better with each listen, but perhaps not the best lead single.
As mentioned earlier, the rest of the tracks on this EP are unexpectedly good. The surprisingly edgy intro, “I’m In Love“, features grungy bass and industrial-sounding synths. The perfect-for-drama-OST “Superhero” has an its infectiously catchy, piano-driven melody, supported by a cast of sidechained synths and electric guitars.
“One Day” is a lovely pop ballad about two lovers separated as children, and although this could easily be fodder for a tearjerking ballad, in typical Boyfriend fashion the chord progression leaves the listener feeling uplifted more than anything else. Instead of regret for love lost, the song implies a fond, nostalgic longing for the past. Just as in “Don’t Touch My Girl”, there’s not a hard edge to be found anywhere.
“Wonderful Girl“, a funky, nu-disco offering, is a romantically cliche confession, with lyrics like, “My heart that trembles with joyful pain, please accept it/A determination rose in my heart/Whatever my heart wants me to do/I’m already not myself/I’ll match anything, I’ll do anything you want/You wonderful girl“.
“Do“, another song that could find itself on a drama OST, opens with another style of nu-funk before diving straight back into safe, familiar pop-rock territory (think Avril Lavigne).
Overall, although “Love Style” is a great, neatly packaged first EP from Boyfriend, in an über-competitive market saturated with rebels cum social critics (B.A.P), monsters/vampire hunters (Big Bang), demigods that come out of the box with their own creation story and mythos (EXO), 4D comic book superheroes (VIXX), and cold city men (TEEN TOP), it’s easy to see why the comparatively no-frills, by-the-book classic K-pop sincerity of “Love Style” didn’t resonate with domestic audiences. The boys genuinely want to be your boyfriend, but unfortunately – for commercial success at least – that’s not enough.
Net Assessment: A hidden gem definitely worth listening to. If you’re nostalgic for the good old classic K-pop and some good, squeaky clean fun, give this a listen.