Confetti tumbled. Tears were shed generously. Fellow trainees clenched one another in tight embraces while the thousands in the room cheered in celebration, witnessing the formation of a group to pioneer K-pop’s 5th generation. It’s been three months since the nine winners of Mnet survival show Boys Planet first assembled as ZEROBASEONE, having successfully competed against 90 other boys across an intense several months of filming. Since then, the nine have been restlessly gearing up for their debut, and finally the hour is here.
Before even being able to grace our playlists with their music the boys were already breaking records. 13 days after the preorder for YOUTH IN THE SHADE went live, it had already surpassed a million orders, becoming the first K-Pop group in history to do so with a debut album. With immense popularity and a record on their backs already, the group has laid the path ahead for high-flying careers. The boys each already have their own well established fanbases thanks to their appearances on Boys Planet, but now they’ve ditched the grey blazers and are ready for their sweet embrace of success: for being ZEROBASEONE, and nothing else.
The boys open their first mini album with the melodic and optimistic ‘Back to ZEROBASE’, which pleasantly surprises listeners with its liquid drum and bass elegance, a subgenre K-Pop is only beginning to see more of. Throughout, the singers plead, ‘Tell me, is it real?’, while the lyrics possess a disbelief at the beauty of a new beginning. The vibes are unequivocally and wholeheartedly joyous, which makes sense: they’re celebrating their debut after having fought hard for their places. Their fame and popularity has shot up in such a short amount of time that they’d be forgiven for feeling nervous at such dizzying heights, but the boys certainly don’t show it.
‘In Bloom’ is the synth-pop title track K-pop fans are going to be hearing a lot of for the next few months. Like its neighbour, the song has its moments of catchy but digestible drum and bass, but what’s perhaps even more interesting is that many would initially categorise it more as a typical girl group hit, making it slightly impressive that ZEROBASEONE can pull it off so well. The lyrics led some fans online to believe that the boys’ two-and-a-half year contract is not set in stone, and that an extension may be possible thanks to their early success: ‘Nothing lasts forever / But I can change that, my fate’. Whether or not the fate of the survival show winners will change is up in the air.
Deep house banger ‘New Kidz on the Block’ has the group introducing themselves to the K-pop scene, correctly prophesying their immediate success in the chorus: ‘We’re going straight to the top.’ Following track ‘And I’ is sweet and simple, telling the tale of someone admiring their crush over social media, and its innocence may remind listeners of ‘Say My Name’, originally a beloved Boys Planet song that was performed by the then-predebut group at KCON Japan in May. ‘And I’ is composed simply to let the singing shine through, and the same can be said for ‘Our Season,’ which seems to be a direct sequel to the former: looking out from the thrilling first days of a new relationship and anticipating the memories to come. It’s genuinely refreshing to hear how much each member gets their share of time in these songs, and as one journeys through the album, slowly one’s ears may notice what significant thing is missing: there’s virtually no rapping. It’s a card no one saw them pulling, as rapping and singing often come hand-in-hand on K-Pop albums, but they’ve used it to their advantage. All nine members get their moments - from Hanbin’s dulcet singing to the deep and velvety voices of Jiwoong and Taerae - and with this debut release they’re telling the world in confidence: We’re all singers and we’ll prove it.
The sixth and final track on ZEROBASEONE’s hello to the world is brought to us by Zhang Hao alone: as the glorious first place winner of Boys Planet he was rewarded with the centre position and his own solo song on the debut album. In ‘Always’ Zhang Hao pledges to always be by the listener’s side, and, following the tone of other songs of this album, plants thoughts of a dreamy future where wishes come true. He clears any doubt he deserved first place with some striking vocals, effortlessly gliding into falsettos like the smooth ascent of an arrow on its way to pierce the moon.
YOUTH IN THE SHADE takes you on a high that it doesn’t let you down from. The good vibes, never interrupted, set the mood for the next two-and-a-half years, and we hope the boys will continue bringing a new light and joy to K-Pop during their time together. Where they’ll go after is up to fate, but for now, we’ll embrace what ZEROBASEONE brings to the present, as ephemeral as it may be.