Given the moniker of “golden maknae” (golden youngest) at the start of his career by fellow BTS member and leader RM, Jung Kook has long lived up to the description. Now, as his solo career launches, with that nickname comes heavy expectations. A versatile and magnetic performer, he’s repurposed the descriptor for his debut album, Golden, as a means to suggest he’s living in a “golden” period. As the latest band member to release his own full-length solo project (with the eldest, Jin, being the only remaining member who hasn’t produced a full-length album due to South Korea’s mandatory military service for men) Jung Kook delivers an album brimming with clear reverence for pop music and it’s history while injecting it with his own distinct flavor.
There’s been no shortage of names of pop stars lobbied in the wake of Jung Kook’s Golden. From Justin Timberlake to Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran to Shawn Mendes, there’s been an abundance of comparisons made as Jung Kook sets out on his own pop star journey. But the one that Golden best emulates, for good and bad, is Harry Styles. Specifically, Sign of the Times. Both singers were poised as the big breakouts from the bands that built their image. And, most notably, both their debut albums hint at their possibilities, rather than fully encapsulating their immense, undeniable star power.
All of which is to say that Golden is a perfectly fine debut album, albeit safe. With no writing or producing credits on the album from Jung Kook, the shifting genres and inspirations are more indicative of an artist finding their footing — their groove — and the place they feel most at home as an artist. Sung all in English, the album is a clear reach for global popularity, which he’ll certainly find, especially with album highlights such as “Yes or No” that play with the singer’s chameleon vocal abilities.
Of all of the songs though, it’s the main single “Standing Next to You” that stuns, especially when coupled with the music video with his dancing abilities on display. From the clear Michael Jackson vocal inflections — adopted by The Weeknd and now Jung Kook too — to ’70s and ’80s disco, funk, and house, the song is a blast all the way through, aided by his penchant for detailed vocal layers.
Not every song manages to capture that same energy, such as the ballad penned by Shawn Mendes, “Hate You,” which is a touch too simplistic and seems better left in drafts. Jung Kook’s voice is, as ever, dynamic but the song itself can’t rise to the occasion. Similarly, the previously released “3D” remains an off-putting inclusion, mainly for Jack Harlow’s verse which tips the sexy tone into skeevy. “Seven,” the other pre-release that became the fastest song to reach 1 billion streams on Spotify history, remains an undeniable bop. Simple, but there’s nothing that can stop the chorus from getting stuck on a loop in your head.
If there’s a main complaint it’s simply that the album, enjoyable with some definite highlights, never quite rises to the occasion or the bar Jung Kook has risen for himself. With songs such as “Begin,” “Euphoria” and “My Time” under his belt as solo releases through BTS albums, he’s already delivered timeless songs — “Euphoria” in particular — that beautifully deliver on all that the singer is capable of. Golden, a nice and engaging if standard pop album doesn’t quite hit those highs. And, in reality, it seems that it needed more of Jung Kook’s actual touch, rather than pulling from across the globe from others’ works.
That said, there are still high points beyond “Standing Next to You” which is, again, addictive. “Somebody” offers a catchy EDM track that dives into his deep vocal register while “Shot Glass of Tears” similarly emulates a mid-2010s dance track that speaks to the singer’s own tastes. They, along with “Standing Next to You,” “Yes or No,” and “Seven” are demonstrative of the singer’s ability to adapt and emulate distinctive sounds that best speak to the genre they’re born from. From bright, buoyant vocals, to emotive, airy deliveries, his best weapon is his own mastery of his vocals which will only continue to develop and grow.
By all accounts, Golden succeeds in what it set out to do by establishing Jung Kook as a singular pop star. But for someone as talented as Jung Kook the album needs just a bit more energy and synergized cohesion to make it something truly great. Instead, it’s a compilation of solid pop songs sung by a great singer and captivating performer.
Golden by Jung Kook is out now. Listen below.
Featured Image Courtesy of Big Hit Music
Jung Kook — “Golden” - 7/10