K-pop tropes continue their unrelenting push into the Japanese market with the debut of &TEAM. They’re the latest in this new iteration of the Hallyu Wave, where K-pop agencies localize their sounds with members from the target country. This way, you get the infrastructure and popularity of a label like HYBE, but the group can actively promote in their home language. I fear the overall effect this is having on the Japanese idol market, but it’s a smart move from a financial standpoint. Groups like JO1, INI and NiziU have already taken this path to great success.
In &TEAM’s case, they formed through the HYBE audition program &Audition – The Howling. Composed of new members and familiar faces from 2020’s I-LAND, the group arrives with a built-in fanbase. They also arrive with a built-in suite of composers, with HYBE-favorites Slow Rabbit, Melanie Joy Fontana and Kyler Niko all onboard for debut track Under The Skin. Occasionally, the agency gets this angsty pop-rock sound just right (most often with TXT, for whatever reason). But, Under The Skin plays like reheated leftovers.
Granted, this mix of overdriven guitars and trap beats doesn’t usually inspire me. The song plods along on a dull, midtempo energy without any fantastic melodies to break the monotony. The chorus nearly gets there, and I like how it’s heralded by a dramatic chug of guitar. But, the vocals sound like every other HYBE artist, smoothed of their imperfections and character. This makes Under The Skin feel more like a means to an end instead of the galvanizing rallying cry we need from a debut. It’s perfectly pleasant, but I see no reason for it to exist. Concept and members aside, who are &TEAM musically? They must be more than the latest product from the HYBE assembly line, and it would’ve been nice to hear that right from the start.