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Jung Kook Plays with Pop Stardom on Golden

As fans of BTS know, the group’s youngest, Jung Kook, has a bit of a competitive streak. That might be putting it lightly — Jung Kook has a notoriously remarkable work ethic, and to say he’s always pushing himself to be the better than the day before would be an understatement.

When speaking with Consequence around the release of his single “3D” featuring Jack Harlow, he shared, “What I want to do is test how far I can go with my voice and my capabilities. How far can I go completely on my own?” He set out to answer that question with his full-length solo release, Golden, which arrives today, November 3rd.

While the name of the album appears in lyrics here, it could also be a reference to a longtime nickname for Jung Kook, who is known in the K-pop world as the “golden youngest,” or maknae. He’s the resident all-rounder, able to meld his vocals, stage presence, and movement style to fit various genres. But most of all, he knows how to use his greatest instrument: his voice.

We are now well into BTS’s second chapter, a time the group has designated for the individual members to experiment with sounds and aesthetics that don’t always find a home in the music they create as a team. For j-hope, it looked like flipping his reputation on its head; for Jimin and SUGA, their solo projects offered space to process hardships and arrive at places of peace. V dove into stripped-down, jazzy R&B, while RM grappled with art, legacy, and his place in the world.

With Golden, the thesis is less obvious, but the highs are high. The album’s main track, “Standing Next to You,” is an utter smash — it’s like if BTS favorite “Pied Piper” got into a dance battle with a Michael Jackson track, which turns out to be a situation where everyone wins. The brassy instrumental break towards the end recalls an album from another global pop star, Harry’s House, while the choreography includes clear nods to the King of Pop.

“Afterglow, leave your body golden like the sun and the moon,” he sings, gliding into that seemingly effortless falsetto of his. Like Jung Kook’s previously released “Seven” featuring Latto (the fastest song to hit 1 billion streams on Spotify), “Standing Next to You” enlists Andrew Watt and Cirkut for production duties.

Another bright spot arrives towards the top of the record with “Closer to You,” a dark, rich, reggaeton-inspired track where Jung Kook teams up with Major Lazer. Less memorable is his collaboration with DJ Snake, “Please Don’t Change.” Jung Kook shines on the verses, but maybe a chorus that features repetitions of “Please don’t change, because I love you the way you are” doesn’t hit the same after you’ve heard him deliver a sentiment as eloquent and lovely as “I hear the ocean from far away/ Across the dream, past the woods/ Following this clarity, take my hands now,” as he does in his BTS solo track “Euphoria.”

Jung Kook has never been shy about his love of Justin Bieber’s discography, and the bouncy “Too Sad to Dance” feels sonically and structurally reminiscent of Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran jumps in for the catchy “Yes or No,” a bright, easy offering that includes Sheeran himself on guitar. The layered harmonies on “Yes or No” are one of many examples of Jung Kook’s truly remarkable vocal abilities — listening to him sing often feels like witnessing someone do exactly what they were put on this earth to do, even when the songs themselves aren’t the most compelling. “Hate You,” a ballad that features lyrics from Shawn Mendes, allows him to play around with his lower register and fly back into a breathy tenor on the chorus.

Golden is an all-English album. Through his collaborations and releases ahead of the full project, Jung Kook has made it clear that his solo era is a place for him to push his limits in that regard, and the press release for Golden notes “his ambition to become the male dance solo artist of the decade.” The bright spots in the album are truly dazzling, while some of the b-sides aren’t very memorable in comparison, and for that reason, the album feels quite top-heavy — the first five tracks are clear bangers, but the energy dips through the back half of the record.

In an interview with Naver, Jung Kook confirmed that this album was “aimed at the overseas music market.” He explicitly set out to create a big, pop record, and he succeeded on that front — even if some of these songs don’t always play to his strengths. Jung Kook is an utterly entrancing performer who imbues his work with charm and a trademark intensity, a dynamic that clashes with a lackluster song like “Somebody” (which also features a particularly odd mix on his vocals in the first verse). Jung Kook himself is exceptional — but a few of these songs don’t rise to meet him at that level.

Within the scope of Golden, we do see just how great of an idea it was for Jung Kook to lead with “Seven” as his solo introduction; the No. 1 hit is as irresistible now as it was upon release in July. Many pop artists might have been content with the enormous success of such a song and not felt the need to pivot that energy into a full project — but, as established, Jung Kook is not most pop artists. Even in the less enduring moments in Golden, Jung Kook remains interesting, wielding his voice with athletic precision. It’s one of the things that seems to bind the members of BTS together, despite the clear differences in their solo styles; their immense care for their craft is consistent between them.

What’s clear is that Jung Kook set out to solidify himself as a global pop star. Best of luck to anyone who tries to get in his way.

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