Consider this album a mission accomplished
The word golden has followed Jung Kook for most of his career as a member of BTS. Coined by their leader, RM, the nickname “golden maknae (youngest)” points to the many hats he could wear. Ask any ARMY, maybe even his BTS hyungs, and they’ll return with a stacked list of the things he has mastered in his 26 years of existence, from the world of music to the seemingly impossible task of beating five other grown men at watersports. Much like the nickname, two more things that remained consistent with the singer are his competitive streak and admirable humility. Combine them both, and you get a well-trained performer ready to take on the world.
Jung Kook actually expresses the intention in an interview with Naver. He shares that Golden means the perfect moment, a combination of what he likes, the name bestowed onto him, the skills that he has and his drive to prove himself further. For Jung Kook, this means pushing his limits as a pop star for the overseas market. The all-English, 11-track album shows such desire, an offering of varied sounds and styles he settles into like a chameleon. Wielding his voice like a knight does his sword, the 26-year-old tells the world that, yes, he can step and dance in the shoes of his predecessors, from Michael Jackson to Justin Bieber, but he is still his own artist.
Golden carries two of his hit singles: the addictive UK garage of Seven featuring Latto and the 2000s-era pop goodness of 3D with Jack Harlow. All of these play heavily into the unfamiliar territory (for the group’s new fans, at least) of romance and sex, pulling the curtain on the strictly family-friendly image brought about by BTS’s recent releases. While these singles already give us a taste of what he can do, Jung Kook’s first show of his flexible ability makes itself known in Closer to You, featuring Major Lazer, as his silken falsetto transforms into an alluring whisper that transports the listener to a dark dancefloor.
But the singer fully shines in the title track, Standing Next To You, a soaring pop anthem that crests in waves. Andrew Watt and Cirkut, the two minds behind Seven, employ groovy guitars and funky beats underscored by hypnotic flutes that bolster Jung Kook’s solid vocals. This single fully cements his drive and skill, his star power palpable in every second of the song, whether you’re watching the music video or simply streaming.
While Jung Kook can pull off the cheeky One Direction-esque Yes or No or the drumming warps of Somebody, the hard-hitting ballads highlight the best of his vocal chops. Hate You, penned by Shawn Mendes, provides a gripping taste of resentment that carries over from songwriter to performer. The bare piano instrumental fully lets Jung Kook control the emotion, something that Shot Glass of Tears follows in the same vein. This song finds its strengths in the repetitive hook and echoing choruses by the guitar-led crescendo that will make you yell cheers! in consolation.
However, even pop stars have temporary stumbles from grace. In Golden’s case, Jung Kook’s curated selection of songs didn’t always rise to the occasion of helping the Golden Maknae fully realize his talents. If anything, some of these songs needed to catch up with his skill. While Please Don’t Change could have any house music aficionado hook, line and sinker, the chorus feels a bit derivative of DJ Snake’s past hits. The same could be said with Too Sad to Dance, a piece reminiscent of Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself, where its salvation is found in Jung Kook’s earnest storytelling. To some, there could be a feather-thin disjunct because of how the songwriters crafted the lyrics and the performer’s history. But Jung Kook’s way with his voice makes such a slip worth glossing over.
The narrative of Golden gets lost if you seek it in its arrangement. Instead, you look for the story in the different personas Jung Kook presents as a new song begins. A heartthrob from the 2000s, the King of the 2010s, the beloved youngest member singing covers from his closet (later uploaded on SoundCloud), and the passionate artist that all these influences and experiences have helped mold.
It’s no secret that Jung Kook relinquished his producer and writer hats for this project, choosing to focus on sharpening his performance level to a standard not many can reach. And that’s what makes a remarkable artist—someone who can make someone else’s art into theirs. A singer who can take what’s given to them and turn it into a universal message sung to and reverberated by many. Golden betrays a mission accomplished: Jung Kook came, conquered and proved his worth as the pop star of the decade.
Words Kai Franco
Art Macky Arquilla