WANNA ONE perform admirably on “Beautiful” but are hamstrung with a mediocre song

Though they’ve only been around for just over three months, Wanna One already feel like a vital part of the current K-pop landscape. Their big personalities have been especially welcome on variety shows, but their debut “Energetic also enjoyed unexpected staying power, becoming one of this year’s most addictive dance tracks. With “Beautiful“, the group takes a hard turn to tackle a big, modern pop ballad. And though its familiar structure limits the song’s punch, the guys ably pull off the sound.

Unfortunately, “pulling off a sound” is the bare minimum a group of this caliber should be striving for. The biggest hurdle for “Beautiful” is its lack of imagination, as its subdued instrumental is a blend of things we’ve heard a million times before. The pitched synths that tickle the song’s soundscape are particularly grating and unnecessarily trendy. The percussion-heavy arrangement recalls those Ryan Tedder-produced ballads that were ubiquitous a decade or so ago — too slow for exciting choreography and too plodding to drive the kind of emotional weight the song pursues. The track seems pinned down by its own production, never able to transform into something unique and essential.

Instead, “Beautiful” succeeds on the strength of Wanna One themselves. A song of this genre isn’t ideal for such a large group, but its restraint allows for an effective spotlight on their voices. The explosive pre-chorus is especially nice, injecting a needed spike of energy after the murkier verses. I wish the actual chorus felt more dynamic, but its final repetition ignites a few sparks as the guys let loose with a couple cathartic notes that could have pushed even farther. And that’s “Beautiful” in a nutshell. I can see what the group was striving for, but with their current level of unrivaled popularity, they should have been given a stronger song to accomplish this goal.

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