[Review] Produce X 101’s “X1-MA” is appropriately desperate

As much as I loathe the effect ‘Produce 101‘ has had on the K-pop industry, the series can always be trusted to deliver a killer theme song. I may drift in and out of interest when it comes to the episodes themselves, but Mnet knows how to build excitement at each season’s kick-off. K-pop rarely enjoys the excuse to go this bombastic anymore, and these themes will never be cool or trendy, so that freedom works to their advantage. There’s a reason why season two’s “Pick Me (Nayana)” was one of my top songs of 2017.

X1-MA” is the second theme written for male trainees, and it largely picks up from where its predecessor left off. Things feel even bigger this time around, as the entire track is delivered by a vast wall of layered vocals. This limits the amount of personality the performers are able to bring, but that’s to be expected with a song of this magnitude. Still, “Nayana” was a masterclass in gargantuan builds and satisfying payoffs. With “X1-MA” operating on full power the entire way through, it runs the risk of exhausting its listeners. What comes across as exciting for the first two minutes wears a little thin by the time we make it to the frenzied finale.

The ‘Produce’ themes are all about over-the-top excess and intense — almost palpable — desperation. “X1-MA” feels like something you’d hear when entering a coliseum, in which those who can’t shout loud enough or wink fast enough face execution. That’s an exaggeration of K-pop survival series, but not by much. In this climate, I understand the need to go big or go home. But, when everything — from the tenacious vocalists, to the whooping electronics, to the feverish arrangement — is hitting you with the same level of force, it all kind of blends into one droning whole. At least the melody’s fun!

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