we fresh (troubleshooter); kep1er

oct 14 2022

Let me be honest and say upfront that I've never really liked Kep1er's music. They typically put out songs that are not my style as a lover of vocalists, cute/fresh concepts, and dreampop. The production on their albums can be baffling and while I liked their last EP (due to its fresher sound), it still wasn't really gripping enough for me to revisit it frequently. The only time I hear their music is when I put my entire library on shuffle for kicks.

I basically knew from the moment the teasers for "We Fresh" started coming out that I wouldn't really like this track; too dark, too "edgy," probably dance based. When MV teasers and the highlight medley for the album (called Troubleshooter) came out, I paid a little more attention, but only because I rolled my eyes and went, "Ugh, another group doing a 'Tomboy' concept." Tangent here: "Tomboy" utterly fails as both a Kpop song and as a rock song. It's the most basic guitar riff of all time repeated over and over again while Soyeon performs the worst rap known to man on top of it. It is not a rock song. It is not a punk song. It is a Ford Truck Month song.


The only Kpop artists who have pulled off Kpop-punk/rock songs are TXT and Choi Yena, because they don't just slap a guitar riff on a Kpop song— their songs genuinely follow the genre conventions of a pop punk/rock song with a Korean twist. Anyways, mini-tirade over, because "We Fresh" isn't even just a lazy "Tomboy" ripoff song; it's much worse.

"We Fresh" is a baffling song. It starts out with a guitar riff bringing us a lazy "rock" sound for the verse and prechorus, then completely drops the Kpop-rock sound in the chorus in favor of a loud EDM instrumental background that seeks to overwhelm with noise. There's a lack of singing and the song mostly relies on shouty speak-singing.

Which, honestly, wouldn't be a problem if this song just stuck to a genre. There was a point in the prechorus where I was like, "Okay, this is messy, but not really that bad..." and then the chorus hit and I went, "Ohhhh.... uhhhh..." Listen, I get that it's in vogue in Kpop to throw a bunch of genres together, but it just doesn't work all the time. If this song was simply a pop-rock dance jam, the loudness would work in its favor. Instead, it's just simultaneously overwhelming and uninteresting.

What is honestly the most shocking about this album is how good the bsides are. After "We Fresh," I went in expecting a bunch of noise, but I was surprised at how much I liked the bsides. "Lion Tamer" is a track with infectious energy, although it did lose me a little bit at the end with the extended bridge/final chorus that went on for a bit too long. "Downtown" is funky and fun, balancing vocals and an interesting instrumental well. Then, Kep1er prove it's not just shouty upbeat tracks for them with the more relaxed "Dream," which is lazy in the best way, relaxed without being boring. It's a nice closer to this album (if you pretend they didn't smack their god-awful Queendom 2 song at the end of this album, which I will generously do).

Kep1er are an oddball group. Despite their massive amounts of fame and sales from being an MNET survival group, they don't seem to be a group with any kind of mainstream popularity or sticking power. When I think of how immediately impactful and huge IZ*ONE were at debut, Kep1er seems like they don't quite match up. Perhaps this is because of lingering bad press from the Produce rigging scandal, but I think that the public are honestly just tired of survival groups at this point. While IZ*ONE felt like they had a lot to offer as a group, not just as a survival group, Kep1er has no standout singers and a bunch of standout dancers who, because they're all standouts, all end up looking kind of average. They're not even bad enough to be fun bad, they're just painfully mediocre in a time where most Kpop groups are going above and beyond.

hen you look at the bsides on Troubleshooter, you start to see a little bit of what they have to offer. You start to see an argument as to why Kep1er deserves to be a group, why they have a place in the industry. But "We Fresh," the title track, completely fails to make that argument. To me, they're not putting their best foot forward here. If they had some time to figure it out, get more voice lessons, find and stick to a strong sound, and build up a nice catalogue, I do think Kep1er could be a great group, and that's coming from a hater like me. But Kep1er don't have time; they're stuck on a two year contract ticking like a time bomb. If IZ*ONE couldn't get their contracts extended, there's no way Kep1er is, and honestly? I don't think they want to. Kep1er feels like a group made out of people doing their time until they can escape and debut as soloists.

So they probably see no point in actually putting effort into their releases. "Good enough" is fine. This turned into a something more than a review (more like my introspection about the Kpop industry and Kep1er's struggles as a group) so let me just get back to the review: "We Fresh" is awful. The bsides are surprisingly great. That's it. Bye!

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