Personal perseverance doesn’t always turn out to be a merit in K-pop; plenty of talented folks, whether members of groups or aspiring solo stars, will duck in and out of the public eye determined to keep their careers afloat even if the stars just refuse to align for them. This isn’t the case for Roh Taehyun, who since debuting as a member of the group HOTSHOT under the regrettable alias of ‘Kid Monster’ has spent four long years grinding very visibly for public attention.
First, it was in the ranks of HOTSHOT, performers of the second-best 2017 song titled “Jelly” but who otherwise released very little music in 2017. Then it was Taehyun’s brief tenure on season 2 of Produce 101, along with fellow HOTSHOT member Sungwoon. Sungwoon joined up with the short-lived Wanna One, while Taehyun came within a hair’s breadth of doing the same (reaching rank 35 on P101). Lastly, Taehyun briefly departed HOTSHOT to become a member of JBJ along with members of Toppdogg and rising soloists Kim Donghan and Jin Longguo.
In any of these circumstances, one gets the sense that Taehyun is an artist who commits himself thoroughly to anything and everything he does. An exceptional dancer first and foremost, performances with Taehyun demonstrate an electricity that recordings and sometimes even music videos simply fail to encapsulate. Many members of boy groups come off as dynamic performers, but Taehyun appeared to be incredibly devoted during his brief tenure in JBJ. Interestingly, before HOTSHOT officially reunites, Taehyun has already struck out solo for his debut mini-album, the four-song biRTHday. Without the assistance of a group to play off of, does Roh Taehyun manage to come across as a future star, or is his destiny to remain MVP?
Given that as a solo artist Taehyun is relatively unproven, there’s a lot of room for experimentation and trial-and-error to see what kind of material he can pull off, material that might’ve been unsuited for Hotshot’s constant aspirations to style and flash or JBJ’s stiffly charming and friendly atmosphere. biRTHday appears instead to find the middle ground to these alternate versions of Taehyun, opting for a lite-funk indebted R&B style that maintains a poppy sound and presents a slick sense of cool. Lead single “I Wanna Know” is a relentlessly bouncy piano-tinged number, featuring production from Shin Hyuk (EXO’s “Growl”, SHINee’s “Dream Girl”) and lyrics penned by Taehyun himself, demonstrating that the singer is clearly aware of what style benefits his particular voice and character. The MV for “I Wanna Know” centers around Taehyun’s charisma (eating chips … coyly!) and energetic dancing, as well as a clutch of loud outfits.
The mini has a unified sound without getting too homogenous. The self-titled opener is a soft jazzy mid-tempo number while “Love Lock” features a tough electro-disco vibe that showcases the limits of Taehyun’s airy tone. Both of these, produced by 1Of1, are solid jams that depend on the energy and commitment of a performer such as Taehyun, without feeling too perfunctory. The final track is a ballad co-written by Taehyun and fellow Hotshot member Choi Junhyuk called “Star in the Sky” which is a slow-jam caked in crackle effects before the production kicks off into lush orchestration.
For all its brevity, biRTHday manages to cover a decent amount of ground and present several sides to Taehyun perhaps not made clear in the group setting. With JBJ officially concluded and HOTSHOT still inactive for the moment, it remains uncertain what the next steps are for Roh Taehyun. While the lessons learned in the last few years by the members on their various excursions might help make HOTSHOT an even stronger group, it stands to reason that many of the individual members also have solo potential, and biRTHday makes a strong case for Taehyun’s capabilities. For now however, it is a promising debut from an idol who’s tirelessly demonstrated a special something.