It’s no coincidence that the release date for Monsta X’s latest project “All About Luv” is on Valentine’s Day — title aside, all of its songs explore elements of relationships. But don’t call it a love album: for as many sweet nothings as the set contains, its most powerful tracks deal with breakups and deceit.
Another distinguishing trait of the album: it’s the rare instance — excepting BoA’s eponymous 2009 LP and JYJ’s 2010 release “The Beginning,” which included input from Kanye West and Malik Yusef — of a K-pop act singing entirely in English. Most groups wouldn’t attempt this. The Korean and English languages don’t share a common alphabet, which makes it difficult to enunciate certain words without sounding awkward.
But this K-pop twist works well on Monsta X’s 11-track offering, released by Epic Records. Full of throbbing beats, inquisitive lyrics and, yes, the international language of love, the Korean group’s powerful vocal delivery doesn’t get lost in translation. “All About Luv” is a sleek production that seamlessly blends soulful pop with elements of hip-hop and EDM.
Since their 2015 debut, Monsta X’s strength has been in the versatility of their rappers (Jooheon, I.M) and vocalists (Shownu, Minhyuk, Kihyun, Hyungwon and Wonho, who is featured on this album, but no longer a member of the group). Both lines co-exist beautifully in almost every song.
“Is it him or me? / ‘Cause I can’t take the pressure anymore,” the group pleads in the opening track “Who Do U Love?” — which also closes out the album with a reworked remix by will.i.am. Originally released as a single last summer, Monsta X members trade lines with each other in falsetto, before stepping back to let rapper French Montana do his thing. Montana’s vocal style is catchy, but his lyrical input is a bit of a head-scratcher: “Show me the ‘Titty Boi’ / 2 Chainz / Now the beef cookin’ like Gordon Ramsay.”
If that’s the version you listen to getting ready to go out, the will.i.am collaboration is the song you’ll want to hear when you hit the dance floor. With precise syncopated beats, the bass-heavy instrumental is the perfect backdrop for will.i.am’s droll delivery. He already knows the answer to the question he’s asking: “You’re the one I love / Come on, come on baby, baby tell me / Who do you love? / Talk to me girl.”
With “Love U,” the sugary delivery can’t disguise the fact that the song is about young love and, um, sex. “What can we do with all your friends around?” Jooheon impatiently asks. Wonho and Shownu wryly acknowledge that if they didn’t have to worry about being bleeped, the song would be more graphic than it is: “I really really wanna love you / But I can’t say the word I want to / Cuz they won’t play it on the radio / But I know you know.”
Monsta X switches into player mode with the gospel-like “Got My Number,” offering themselves up as willing side pieces. The table is turned for “Middle of the Night” as they sleep alone, fretful about having been replaced by other love interests. And in what could be the final song in this co-dependent trilogy, the piano-driven ballad “Misbehave” tells the story of a messed up relationship that revels in the euphoria of makeup sex: “Love it when we mess things up / Every time we argue / Straight into the bedroom.”
By comparison, “Beside U” — the highly-anticipated collaboration with Pitbull — is surprisingly lethargic and lacks the punch of the other tracks.
“Happy Without Me” will resonate with anyone who has ever been through a split. The passive aggressive lyrics are offset by the group’s lush harmonies. As each member offers platitudes (“I should really want the best for you”), Kihyun’s vocal arpeggio drops the truth bomb: “I hate to see you happy without me.”
With “All About Luv,” Monsta X has proven that K-pop transcends language barriers. And that’s something to be happy about.