[Review] Key delivers a standout solo comeback with the irresistible “Bad Love”

Bad Love” marks the solo return of SHINee member Key, and while others have long been enamored with his solo career, to this point my thoughts on it had been rather tepid. Not so much unpleasant, but lacking a signature standout moment.

Well, Key solved that issue with an exclamation mark on “Bad Love”, a synthpop smash hit deserving of all the praise it’s sure to receive.

I’ve certainly complained enough about K-pop releases that are cynically geared to chart on Billboard. The problem isn’t the attempt to appeal to the west, but rather that it often makes K-pop artists with their own identity painfully generic and faceless. Key himself fell victim to this recently with “Hate That”, where him and Taeyeon combined on a perfectly nice song that could’ve been by anybody. Still, despite those misgivings about western-sounding songs by K-pop artists, if the music is there then I enjoy chart-toppers from the west just like anybody else. Well, “Bad Love” is the type of on trend song that threads the needle perfectly.

From start to finish, “Bad Love” is demands the listener’s attention, never falling into lulls and providing constant melodic moments within its space-y retro soundscape. The verses are relatively simple, powered by a thumping synth (with a bit of grit to it) and carried by Key’s vocals (though a lower starting range might’ve benefitted him later). But it establishes the production’s foundation immaculately, and transitions nicely into the pre-chorus that drops everything but a keyboard out before a buzzing bassline enters to build tension.

The eventual release is worth the wait, as “Bad Love” delivers a rousing and complete chorus, immediately dropping amped up synths back in and hitting an impressive vocal peak. It’s melodic as fuck and extremely easy to get hooked onto with lines like the “don’t need thattttt kind of love”. Furthermore, arguably the best part is the rapid-fire drum fill to cap the chorus, providing a signature close instead of the typically weak fade out/fade in.

Key obviously isn’t breaking new ground with 80s synthpop, but he has effectively made it in his own image, and provided one of the best examples of executing the concept with an impeccably produced and impressively performed release. The visuals that surround “Bad Love” only enhance the effort, and Key has his magnum opus of sorts, which hopefully gets the popularity it deserves.

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