Apink were faced with an interesting choice last year: Would they finally mature their sound with the dreamy R&B of “Only One,” or stick to their tried and tested formula with the bubblegum “Bye Bye”? They went with “Only One,” which became the lowest-selling lead single of their career, while “Bye Bye” was sent to Japan.
Reeling from their first flop, Apink rushed back to the studio to record Pink Up. After working with Black Eyed Pilseung on “Only One,” the girls have returned to Shinsadong Tiger for the album’s title track “FIVE.” The production is exquisite, with an early-noughties bubblegum bounce awash with springtime strings and fluttering synths. It’s also incredibly safe by Apink standards, and dare I say, regressive?
“FIVE” is a blatant rehash of Apink’s old hits like “NoNoNo” and “Luv,” which is a clear response to the negative feedback the unfairly-maligned “Only One” received. It’s one of the best songs they’ve ever done in this style, but it also shows that the Korean public won’t let these girls grow up. Even the music video harks back to their early clips, except that the members now look noticeably older, like S.E.S. reuniting on an Infinity Challenge special to perform their greatest hits. I love “FIVE” and “Only One” so I can’t really complain, but it’s disappointing that people won’t let Apink evolve past this one very specific thing.
As a whole, Pink Up is good, but not great. The hilariously-titled “Kok Kok” is a standout with its seductive synth-pop production. It’s like a strong Kylie Minogue b-side and probably the closest thing we’ll get to an Apink sexy concept. Then there’s the sugary “Like!,” which has some great disco strings on the chorus. The pop-rock fan single “Always” is a nice way to close the album, but you’ll have to skip a few ballads to get there. I’m not against ballads, but I’m waiting for Apink drop another album of just non-stop pop from start to finish, like their fantastic 2011 debut.
“FIVE” is currently performing well on the digital charts and netizen feedback has been positive so far, so this comeback will probably do well. I’m happy, but how much longer can the girls keep doing this? They recently renewed their contracts for another three years, so they’re not planning to disband anytime soon. Hopefully they reinvent themselves between now and then, because their Sinsadong Tiger thing might still be working at the moment, but I don’t know if it’s still going to fly in 2020.