‘Orange Blood’ Review: No Longer ‘Monster Rookies,’ Enhypen Settle into Veteran Idol Status | Arts

In 2020, following the conclusion of the K-pop survival show “I-Land,” Enhypen rocketed onto the Kpop scene finding almost instantaneous success internationally and earning the title of “Monster Rookies” from the Media. But a lot has changed in the three years since the group’s debut. With four EPs, one full length album, several Japanese releases and a sold out world tour under their belts, Enhypen are no longer promising rookies finding their sound, but seasoned industry veterans. The group’s fifth mini album, “Orange Blood,” is a testament to this growth — showcasing a newfound confidence as the group sheds their darker image to embrace a bright and flirtatious sound across the seven track EP.

With the release of “Orange Blood” placed deftly between the US and Asian legs of their second world Tour “Fate,” Enhypen has a whirlwind schedule lined up for the next two months promoting the EP’s title track — “Sweet Venom.” With dozens of performances lined up at South Korean music shows, end of year awards shows, and even an appearance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the group is banking on the song’s success.

“Sweet Venom” is an upbeat nu-disco track embracing a bright, danceable sound that, while derivative of earlier Kpop releases from other groups, is new for Enhypen who has traditionally stuck to a darker, more sultry soundscape. The accompanying choreography takes cues from the style of Michael Jackson following in the footsteps of recent Kpop releases including Jungkook’s “Standing Next to You,” and Tomorrow X Together & Annita’s “Back for More.” While the song struggles to separate itself from every other run-of-the-mill Kpop release, it’s a perfectly pleasant listening experience with a particularly groovy bass line that will have listeners dancing along as the choruses melodic repetition of “Sweet-ee-eet , ee-ee-ee-eet” stays stuck in their heads.

The album features three different versions of “Sweet Venom” including an all-English rendition and a remix with a feature from TikToker -turned- musician Bella Poarch. While English versions of title tracks are extremely common among K-pop releases, they rarely add much to the song and drastically underperform the original versions even when considering streams in English-speaking countries. However, the English version of “Sweet Venom” genuinely makes improvements to the listening experience. While it’s unclear if the changes were intentional, the vocals on each verse are less processed and retain more bite and grit in their delivery, helping to alleviate the flatness and overprocessing heard across the Korean language version. It’s a subtle but substantial change that adds desperately needed depth to the track helping to distinguish the song from other Kpop groups and giving it a more unique character that belongs distinctly to Enhypen. On the remix, Bella Poarch’s feature neither dazzles nor offends.

The mini album’s third track — “Still Monster” — continues to uphold an impressive record of B-side successes from Enhypen who have become known for their surprise B-side hits such as “Border: Carnival” “Fever” and “Dimension: Answer ,” and “Polaroid Love.” While “Sweet Venom” plays into the trends and tropes of contemporary K-pop to a fault, “Still Monster” is a refreshing deviation from the groovy disco and aggressive noise music that have nominated male K-pop releases over the last year. The pop ballad carries over the thematic darkness of May’s “Dark Blood,” bringing a brighter perspective to these themes as the members playfully vacillate between singing “Still a monster” and “I’m not a monster” while begging a lover to save them from themselves. The laidback track oozes nostalgia remaining on the newfound confidence and sensuality demonstrated by Enhypen across the project.

“Blind” is the track that feels most at home amid Enhypen’s earlier discography. Opening with a climactic build up over dueling synth and percussion lines before an early beat drop, the song brings a complexity and grandeur complemented by particularly impressive vocals. Lee Heeseung remains the most impressive vocalist among the septet and his talent shines particularly bright on this track. Yet, “Blind” also makes room to showcase the other six members, doing so in a way that retains each vocalist’s unique tone and delivery. The bombastic, throwback production throughout the song wouldn’t be out of place on a 2010s album like Justin Bieber’s “Believe,” yet doesn’t feel outdated when listening through 2023 ears. Despite being the longest of the four full-length tracks on the album, at three minutes and eighteen seconds it still leaves listeners wanting more as the final riser lands to end the song.

Rounding out the new releases before two alternate versions of “Sweet Venom,” “Orange Flower (You Complete Me)” is a worthy closer, ending the album on a bright note. The upbeat soft pop track contrasts the tension of “Still Monster” and “Blind” on an unashamedly cheerful proclamation of hope for a budding romance.

Across the board “Orange Blood”’s greatest failure is a disappointing lack of lyrical or emotional depth behind each song. K-pop singles, particularly those from groups like Enhypen that have found greater success abroad than within South Korea, often rely on non-lexical vocables like “la” and “na” in their songs because these sounds transcend language and can easily be sung along to by audiences around the world. However, even the desire for worldwide appeal cannot excuse the half-baked generalizations and metaphors used to tangentially hint at love, lust, and temptation across the album. “Sweet Venom” and “Still Monster” are particularly egregious offenders with the repetition of “Sweet-ee-ee-eet, ee-ee-ee-eet” and “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na- na” seemingly taking up half of each songs runtime.

Nevertheless, Enhypen continues to distinguish themselves from their peers delivering consistently diverse and enjoyable songs across the project. The group is at their best when bucking the trends of an oversaturated K-pop market and although “Sweet Venom” falls prey to these pitfalls, the project’s B-sides continue to cement Enhypen as a unique player in an otherwise monotonous field. While “Orange Blood” doesn’t quite reach the peaks of Enhypen’s earlier projects it shows clear growth from the now veteran group and leaves hope for further experimentation in the future.

—Staff writer Jen A. Hughes can be reached at jen.hughes@thecrimson.com. You can also find her on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, @Jenhughes_.

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