Friday, December 10th, 2021

Key – Bad Love

Next up, a member of SHINee does not record a Booka Shade cover.


[Video]
[7.21]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: K-pop integrates such a swath of separate parts that the mastery and experience SHINee member Key demonstrates on “Bad Love” is staggering to consider. A retro-futurist dark sci-fi work encompassing music, dance, visual, and narrative, it is both a fantastic song and one of the most thematically unified K-pop releases I’ve ever seen. From the initial teasers, to the raygun album packaging, the opening drum machine, the analog-sounding synth lines strung throughout, the fantastic music video, the outstandingly precise choreography, Key’s outfits, everything hangs together with great cohesion. The lyrics, penned by Kenzie, are a narrative of, well, a love gone bad, well written and packed with easter eggs for Key superfans like me. In the video, while lamenting having lost control of his own feelings, Key pilots a spaceship that spins out of control; later he’s trapped in a mirror room at a line about filling a glass with lies; later, as the now-exploding spaceship careens towards an alien planet, a disembodied English-speaking voice says, “I’m not even thinking of you”, with close captions hovering over the planet.Key’s superpower is his analytical approach to his own artistry and place in the cultural landscape of modern K-pop, and “Bad Love” radiates the assurance of an auteur in full command of their art form.
[10]

Kayla Beardslee: For an SM title track, the credits are amazingly lean — produced solely by Kenzie and co-written by her and Adrian McKinnon — and the lack of meddling shows. “Bad Love” is as playful as it is dark, as urgent as it is willing to slow down and when the moment calls for it. (Example: The airy prechoruses serve as the perfect breather between the intense verses and choruses. Damn, Kenzie and McKinnon know their stuff.) And Key gives it his all, the forceful production fitting his voice like a glove. This comeback may end up being one of the swan songs of the 2020-2021 retro trend in K-pop, and I can’t think of a more perfect note for it to go out on.
[9]

Claire Biddles: Even half a decade into its throwback reign, I absolutely cannot resist this massive ’80s synthpop sound, especially when it’s as theatrically deployed as it is here. Those colossal drums and melodramatic minor keys make me think of one of the best examples of the revived genre, a thrill I’m always keen to revisit. 
[7]

Iain Mew: Surging, passionate synth-pop that it’s difficult to find fault with. Thing is, I can’t find a way into it at all either. I think it’s the way it’s so thoroughly filled with sound and energy without ever using that fullness for spectacle.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Sounds like the faux-80s remix of itself, and not even in a fun kitschy way.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: More boy-band “Blinding Lights”core, a sound that got old several years ago yet a sound that still hasn’t gotten old for me. “Bad Love,” to its credit, goes darker than some. But the pacing is off — the verses drag, the choruses are muddled, and nothing claws back the excitement of the intro. Call it the Long Weeknd.
[7]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: While the opening speaks to something more grating than what we get, Key gives us some serviceable if derivative synthpop. His vocals land somewhere between Phil Collins and late-era Good Charlotte, with not an ounce of irony in their tone. But his commitment sells this, even with the cheesy drum pads.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Dense, gothic synth pop requires more memorable vocals than the singer provides. Give it to Halsey.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Key’s keening, shrewd tenor blinds and flashes when it climbs and spirals into the depths when it doesn’t, and the bass loops growl playfully. The drums, though, are a heavy granite boulder trying to tear through the thin mix. When they do, a flash of insight: “I’m not even thinking of you, that’s what I wanna say to you”. It’s a brief, cutting bit of anger and spite, in an outside world’s voyeuristic language, just to cut off an obsession that has salted the earth around Key’s feet.
[9]

Jessica Doyle: There’s never shame in wanting good things to happen to Key, and “Bad Love” is one of those good things: it’s big enough for his personality and flexible enough that he can holler his way through the high notes, showing emotion when a smoother singer might have come across as boring. This wouldn’t have worked as a Taemin song, is another way of putting it. (Though I may always wonder what it would have been like as a Toheart song.)
[7]

Alex Clifton: Like living in a kaleidoscopic disco world full of bright rainbow lights and bad choices — a thrill ride of a party in three minutes.
[8]

Michael Hong: Like all of K-pop’s big retro inclinations, “Bad Love” is expertly performed. But the intro leaves you wishing Key went just as alien with the drums as the packaging seemed to suggest. It seems to save all that for the end.
[6]

Ian Mathers: The most damning thing I can say about this perfectly fine song is that I would bet more money than I can afford to lose that I will enjoy most or all of the other blurbs here more than I actually enjoyed listening to the track.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: When I read Hannah Ewens’ “Fangirls”, I learned that fans love waiting , either outside a concert for their favorite band or in their room for the release of an album. Waiting — the illusion, the excitement, having in your mind something that doesn’t even exist yet– is a big part of a fan’s identity. And “Bad Love” has the force of someone who has been waiting for a long time and can finally let it all out. You can hear it in Key’s voice. He always had the sharpest vocals in SHINee, and the music joins him well. From the opening strange noises followed by that incredible drum fill (in a very ’80s fashion, there are so many throughout the song), to the restless bass synth and the slightly creepy backing vocals that fill the space in the chorus, this is intense — but also incredibly fun. When Key dances to this song, he punches the air, pops his body while jumping with one leg, drops to the floor, quickly stands up and he even runs. Each movement and each word is raw and full of a desire that in the lyrics is portrayed as contradictory yet inevitable. Key said that he’s had this retrofuturistic concept in his mind for more than a decade, and it’s as if every SHINee fan had been suddenly waiting for that period of time along him. And it sure was worth the wait.
[10]

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3 Responses to “Key – Bad Love”

  1. I’m saving this post as a perfect example of the TSJ format: most of the K-pop fans are on board, most of the other writers aren’t, and we’ve covered just about every opinion on how well or poorly the production and vocals work.

  2. Oh also I want to mention, to this song’s credit, that my mom knows almost nothing about K-pop (except what she’s learned by osmosis from me), but after she heard me play “Bad Love” on my radio show, she ended up downloading and listening to Key’s entire new mini album, and now she’s a big fan of his. I just think that’s neat lol.

  3. Thanks everyone for your blurbs, really enjoyed reading all of them <3

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