With K-pop becoming more global by the year, it makes sense that we’re seeing more acts specifically target Western audiences. BTS have gone about this the right way, refusing to sacrifice their sound (or language) simply to fit in. Too many K-pop artist have tried to crack the American market with sub-par, English-language material. Few of these efforts have resulted in decent songs, and that’s no surprise. Who wants to hear an artist performing in a language that’s not their own, with a sound that’s bending backwards to conform to another culture’s preferences?
With this in mind, Monsta X’s first English-language single is not half bad. I would have preferred a mostly-Korean performance, as it would have felt more authentic, but other than the lyrics, “Who Do U Love?” feels as if it could have been plucked straight from the K-pop charts. The song draws influence from New Edition-inspired retro r&b, augmented by today’s trendy, Charlie Puth-esque beat drops. It’s a nice blend, anchored by a catchy hook that feels very classic boy band. And unlike most English-language tracks by K-pop artists, the lyrics won’t make your toes curl. Monsta X were smart to stick to vague platitudes like “who’s the one who takes you higher than you’ve ever been?” over swaggy posturing.
Speaking of swaggy posturing, I could do without the French Montana feature. He bursts in during verse two to remind us why American pop music is in such a sorry state. His “skrrt, skrrt” announces an autotuned performance puts an automatic expiration date on the track, and it’s at odds with the refined vibe all around it. Thankfully, his segment is relatively brief, and it actually has an unexpected side effect. Taking all the hip-hop spotlight for himself, Montana has forced rappers Jooheon and I.M into vocal positions. This is especially revelatory when it comes to Jooheon, who delivers some pitch-perfect, Michael Jackson ad-libs that give the track unexpected funk. I’d love to hear more of this in Monsta X’s Korean work.