Key’s Tour de Force: Bad Love (2021)

Bad Love. Credit: SM Entertainment

After a series of visually stunning teasers, Bad Love has finally arrived, and it is everything that we have expected from Key. Grand, loud, and meticulous. It even hints the superficiality of not only the whole 80s-inspired and retro space concept, but in a way, also the Cheongdam-dong It boy persona alias anak gaul JakSelnya Seoul (intentionally or unintentionally), in a good way (after all, there were times when the 80s music, especially synth-pop and new wave, was denigrated as ‘style over substance’ and ‘superficial’). Bad Love is the epitome of Key.

Though super excited, I felt slightly nervous and skeptical as his previous works never sit quite well with me, but Bad Love sheds a new light on Key as an artist. “In the stunning new visual for the ’80s-inspired synthpop track, Key pays homage to retrofuturism through its fashion and colourful sets,” according to NME. What you hear and see in Bad Love is profoundly Key, through and through. It is Key’s manifestation of his fascination with every intersecting aspect of pop culture he experienced growing up. He took control of the whole process by being the creative director of the entire project and conceptualised everything from A to Z. Though I don’t know how far his involvement goes, a quick glance at the teasers is all that it takes to recognise his imprints all over this work. Bad Love is Key’s embodiment of SHINee’s unrivaled experimentalism and risk-taker trademark.

Bad Love Image Teasers. Credit: SHINee’s Twitter

Key avoids cliché reproduction of 80s synth-pop by mixing in American rock-pop and Korean pop melodies, which suit his bright nasal-y baritone (that can also reach higher pitch) well. The title track exudes Laura Branigan’s Self Control and Kim Wilde’s You Keep Me Hangin’ On‘s feel, and when belting higher notes, his runs somehow remind me of Steve Perry, especially in Foolish Heart. The latter is a great reminder that Key is an excellent wide-ranged vocalist, aside from being a SHINee’s fierce rapper and dancer. In fact, he is probably one of the most stable ones, which he has proven over and over again in live performances. Unfortunately, many people oftentimes overlook Key’s many talents for his sassy entertainer and fashion aficionado persona.

The rushed beat of Yellow Tape feels like “Run Lola Run” set in a futuristic crime scene. If SM ever plans to make an MV out of this song, I can visualise red-haired Key running around the entire duration while occasionally rest to catch a breath as he sings “breath in, breath out.” Now come to think of it, ‘Ziggy Stardust‘ Key as ‘Lola’ Key would make an epic MV concept for Yellow Tape. In an odd juxtaposition effect on Helium’s song structure, I feel thrown down in the high-note chorus, but lifted up in the low-note pre-chorus/bridge (pardon me if I get these musical terms wrong as I’m no expert in music). The same feeling I get from Eighteen (End Of My World). Love the rhythm and melody of the instruments, not so much with the singing part, which has always been the element that kept me off from liking his previous works. Probably because it sounds very Lady Gaga-esque (maybe because he is a fan?) and Gaga is always a no for me. Hence, it took me a few listens before I could finally have a solid grasp of Bad Love.

If there is one thing that Bad Love can do without, I think it is Hate That… because it messes the sound consistency and feels out of place. But then again, it is not something new in K-pop albums (or any other album, really).

The visual aesthetics for the entire project is nothing less than astonishing and Key’s impeccable fashion style is not just a cherry on top, it is quintessential. All of these may sound too much to take, but he blends them smoothly, treating the audience to wholesome audio and visual experience. Even the physical albums look like sets of collector’s items.

Do I think this album is perfect? No. There is still a wide room for improvement in the singing part’s melody (but that could have been just my preference) area. I would also love to see him play with his vocal register and techniques. His high notes are great, but his low notes have their own charms, like the one he showed in Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook where he sang Kim Kwang Seok’s The Story of a Couple in Their 60’s. For such a tour de force, this mini album also feels regrettably short, I wish that it was a full-length album so he can show a wider range of sounds. But his growth is tremendous, which is a good sign for future development. This album sees an inundation of Key’s enormous potential.

SHINee in Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook

Aside from the minor drawbacks, Bad Love is near-impeccable. And it is something that can only come from Key, the epitome of K-pop’s pop child.

Key. Bad Love

The Golden Era of K-pop : 2015

Celotehan asli ada di Instagram Stories-ku.

Beruntung aku berkenalan (kembali) dengan Hallyu di awal 2014, because for the next two years, I got to experience what fans dubbed as the golden era of K-pop. Probably the second, because many also said 2008-2011 (or in between 2007-2012, it’s debatable really) is the first golden era of K-pop.

2014-2016 were definitely my formative years. Segala yang berkaitan dengan Hallyu kulahap, from its pop culture; cultural, social and political history; gender analysis, to US imperialism. I practically watch/listen/read-hopping everything.

Mungkin itu juga sebabnya saat itu aku belum fanatik terhadap apapun, atau siapapun. Variety shows, terutama Running Man, berkontribusi besar atas pengetahuanku karena banyak membukakan jendela budaya populer Korea Selatan yang dari luar seringkali dilihat secara sempit hanya sebagai K-pop, lebih sempit lagi, musiknya idol groups. Itu sebabnya dalam konteks musik, segalanya kudengarkan.

Now, back to mainstream K-pop. More often than not, most albums consist of a few hits and the rest are fillers (and by this, not just K-pop), but 2015 saw a change with many artists released solid songs well-curated albums.

Great songs were released one after another making 2015-2016 arguably the most exciting years for K-pop (on a side note, even “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, the best K-drama of all time (for me lol)), by far, was also released in 2015).

Whether the song(s) laid a foundation for the artist’s future sound or marked a turning point in their sound and artistry, here are the songs that define the year:


Ah-Choo is that simple, banal, fun song that I just could not stop replaying. There’s nothing much to it, but the notes are so addictive, making you feel like you just took on a happy pill. It also has that happy-adventure animation movie soundtrack feel.

10. IF YOU DO (MAD) – GOT7

GOT7 released ‘Just Right’ (EP) in July, but it is If You Do, the lead single in ‘MAD’ (which was released in September, also as an EP) that marked a turning point, shaping GOT7’s future sound and their more mature and sexier image.


Never quite a fan of Big Bang’s sound (or YG’s in general), but MADE is phenomenal and Bang Bang Bang from the single album ‘A’ is just too distinctive and iconic to ignore, despite the sound was not much different from most Big Bang’s songs.


Finding Sunwoo Junga was like finding a gem. Whereas so many female vocalists sound pretty much the same (this also applies to male vocalists, don’t get me wrong), especially in mainstream K-pop (though she’s more of an indie artist), her husky timbre (probably a contralto, my favourite type) and her music set her apart.


Upgrader definitely sounds less experimental than Awoo, but this B-side synth-pop was the one that I played in an infinite loop at the time.


‘Love Me Right’ perfected the already great ‘Exodus’ album, making it one of the impeccable albums of the year. Love Me Right and Call Me Baby marked a shift in EXO’s music, setting the tone for the group’s future sound.

5. 4 WALLS (4 WALLS) – f(x)

4 Walls is SHINee’s View soul sister sharing a similar sound of electropop/UK garage/house/synth-pop, thanks to LDN Noise who was responsible for both songs’ tunes. ‘4 Walls’ as an album could have been a musical turning point for f(x), but unfortunately, the rest of the songs are just not on par with 4 Walls. Plus, they are on indefinite hiatus now, so what will happen with the group’s future is still unclear.


My friend, Ninin, introduced me to Lim Kim. I think we were on some sort of a quest to explore the K-indie scene at that time. Simple Mind has a meticulous tracklist that I feel every single song in this album should have been included in every 2015’s best list. SHINee’s Jonghyun composed, wrote, and produced a track titled No More.


It is extremely difficult to be distinguishable in a saturated industry and to achieve that, an artist must have a distinctive identity to be recognised. Call Me Baby did exactly just that for EXO. The cohesiveness of thumping beats, vocal harmonies (one of the best in the industry), the sliding-staccato sexy choreography topped with a slick (and sick!) look created an identity that is distinctive EXO’s.


Married to the Music is an homage to 80s-90s pop/R&B tunes with a quirky music video that’s reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and The Rocky Horror Picture Show meet American-college-party-turns-into-a-disaster movie

The fact that they played with a completely different theme of the same concept, but taking the oddness up a notch for this song, only strengthens the group’s brand as THE experimental contemporary group.

With this album, the group ventures a new area in their vocal arrangement experimenting with overlaying vocals, equally divided parts (which made possible because they are all vocal lines, though objectively speaking, Minho is on the weak side), and interspersed raps everywhere in between singing parts.

1. VIEW (ODD) – SHINee

View was probably the first song that opened the floodgates of UK-garage/deep-house-infused and retro-inspired songs in K-pop. Odd & Married to the Music also marked SHINee’s another turning point, which they have created constantly with every album up until now (2021) since their third. At this point, we don’t even know what’s a turning point for them anymore because they always bring something new to the table, but Odd was definitely a major one for them as it was also the first album they had direct involvement in the production.

It is still mind-blowing how they thoroughly conceptualised every little detail, from music, vocal arrangement, tracklist, choreography to stage outfits! View & Married to the Music era also have the most gorgeous stage outfits and looks I’ve ever seen K-pop. Not even once did they set a foot wrong in those comeback stages. Brilliant job by Key who since then has been involved in designing SHINee’s stage outfits (and he never disappoints). A truly wholesome experience which makes the series a masterpiece.

Lastly, SM basically crushed 2015 by delivering some of the best albums of the year. Not only did they make brave shifts in musical and artistic direction, but they also executed them flawlessly.