Xiumin & Mark’s “Young & Free” is the best 2017 ‘SM Station’ song, which isn’t saying much

So far, the 2017 “season” of SM Station has been pretty underwhelming. Even when bigger name artists have gotten involved, it’s usually been in the form of a ballad or forgettable mid-tempo. What we need is a good pop song, and as soon as Xiumin and Mark were announced as the next Station artists, it seemed as if we’d be getting one. Not only do the two seem to be close off-screen, but they each have a playful performance style that complements the other. And while “Young & Free” isn’t quite the buoyant piece of pop energy that I was hoping for, but it’s easily the strongest Station release this year.

Rather than fueled by a big dance beat, “Young & Free” rests on a constant riff of 90s house piano. Its actual percussion feels much more jazz-oriented, painting a nimble tempo that gives the track an organic, almost free-form, appeal. The verses trade between Mark’s characteristically ear-catching rap and Xiumin’s layered vocals. It’s an effective blend that takes recognizable pieces of both NCT and EXO‘s sound and mashes them together.

Though the aesthetics of the track hit on all fronts, the melody could be a bit stronger. The chorus is catchy and laid-back, if a little one-note. The verses feel a bit unfocused, like two friends just goofing off with each other. I’m sure this was intentional, as the track (and music video) are clearly going for a jovial, off-the-cuff tone. But while this feels refreshing, it causes the song to lack the kind of impact I was hoping for. If this were a full-fledged comeback, that could be a total deal-breaker. But as a Station release, “Young & Free” is a fun addition to this summer in K-pop.

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