When Jungkook of BTS was asked about his goals in a 15-minute behind-the-scenes documentary on his first single, “Seven,” he responded with a simple yet hefty statement.
“I’m Korean, but I’d like to be the one and only singer who can cross back and forth between K-pop and pop songs,” he said. “I’m going to conquer all genres,” he continued, with a large, disarming grin known for charming millions of adoring fans and celebrity peers alike.
On my first listen of “Golden,” Jungkook’s debut solo album, this exchange is all I could think about. With these 11 tracks, Jungkook has cemented himself as a force to be reckoned with in pop, just as he said he would.
Five-time Grammy nominee and K-pop phenomenon BTS is currently on hiatus as its members complete their mandatory service in the South Korean military. However, like Jungkook, each member has released their own solo music during this time. Their work spans a range of genres such as drill hip-hop, soothing soul and grunge rock.
Jungkook’s focus is on pop coupled with a signature flair that shows off his exceptional vocal chops. He kicked off his solo journey by featuring with artists like Charlie Puth and releasing a song for the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
Then came “Seven,” an upbeat UK garage pop song, featuring Latto, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 and became the fastest song to reach 1 billion streams in Spotify history. Following “Seven,” Jungkook released another single, “3D,” an R&B pop song featuring Jack Harlow reminiscent of 2000s-era Justin Timberlake.
Finally, he released “Golden” on Nov. 3, which includes “Seven” and “3D.” The album is both a callback to his quintessential style and a stepping stone to even more future success.
Throughout the first 10 years of BTS’ remarkable career, fans and fellow members have referred to Jungkook by the nickname “golden maknae” (meaning “golden youngest”), referring to how he’s good at everything he does. Whether it’s his sharp, clean dancing on stage, his crystal-clear singing or the way he can keep a tissue from touching the ground by blowing under it on BTS’ variety show, it certainly seems Jungkook can handle anything that comes his way with finesse.
Jungkook expressed challenges he’s experienced while striving to live up to the characterization in the past. But with “Golden,” he embraces it.
“Golden” is a testament to Jungkook’s versatility. He isn’t afraid to experiment with genre and vocal tone; rather, he revels in the open slate of possibility he’s staring in the face.
The title track, “Standing Next to You,” is a grand proclamation of love and loyalty complete with loud brass and a thrumming bass line. The opening of “Somebody” had fans puzzled as they tried to pinpoint the singer before realizing it was indeed Jungkook, just singing deeper than usual with slight audio effects. However, the emotional ballad “Hate You” puts his signature vocal abilities on full display, giving a simple piano instrumental incredible gravitas and depth.
The standout track of the album is “Closer to You,” a Major Lazer-produced R&B-reggaeton fusion whirlwind of a song. Jungkook’s breathy lower register takes the listener into an aural trance, pausing slightly during the chorus before dropping them into a free fall through the fast-paced second verse, abating only when returning to the hook. It’s psychedelic, rolling and unlike anything Jungkook’s put out before. But he’s in full control of the rhythm, pulling and pushing the momentum between each falsetto.
K-pop is often overlooked in Western media, a challenge K-pop artists battle as they gain popularity abroad. Notably, as BTS rose to their historic stardom in the late 2010s, they had to field repetitive and condescending interview questions about their dream collaborations or their American celebrity crushes, their intriguing music pushed to an afterthought. Even now, the members’ solo work is nominated for American award shows under the K-pop category simply because BTS is Korean, disregarding the varied genres their collective work encompasses.
“Golden” explicitly demands Jungkook be given the same legitimacy as his Western peers. Sung fully in English and boasting a star-studded list of songwriters, producers and featuring artists, it demonstrates his star power and status as a well-established figure in the industry. The album also displays his raw talent and determination to not only try new things but perfect them. These, coupled with Jungkook’s powerhouse voice and the explosive choreography of “Standing Next to You,” paint an intimidating picture.
Behind Jungkook’s boyish charm as the youngest BTS member lies an intuitive, technically skilled artist with an expert handle on global music trends. He’s also a man with enough fire in his heart to make his dreams a reality.
So when Jungkook jokes about spreading into every genre, I crack a smile along with him, because I know he’s just getting started.