It’s been 364 days since NewJeans debuted and energized the K-pop scene. The then newly unveiled rookies instantly captured the imagination with their refreshing approach to what a girl group could sound like, harnessing elements of ’90s R&B and pop with modern production and wrapping it in a Y2K aesthetic. It was out of step with anything anyone else was doing at the time, and all the more brilliant for it.
While the sounds used by the five-piece have become more mainstream in K-pop over the past year, NewJeans still lead the pack – quickly becoming contenders on the international stage with just one mini-album, last year’s ‘New Jeans’ and the single ‘OMG’. A day before their one-year anniversary, they have returned to further strengthen their status as that group to see and they are fully aware of the attention being paid to them. “All eyes on us NewJeans / So fresh, so clean,” they sing in ‘New Jeans’, the opening track of their second mini-album ‘Get Up’. It feels like a subtle mission statement – a promise to keep carving their own path.
Since the beginning, NewJeans has presented an intoxicating combination – fresh and cool, but with an air of sophistication and poise; the sound of youth, but delivered in a way that sidesteps the chaos-whirlwind of teenage life in favor of something put together and in complete control. On ‘Get Up’, the six songs feel largely as if they are a conversation – with the listener, but also with themselves.
Over Jersey club rhythms and breakbeats, ‘Super Shy’ shares the story of crushing on someone new and overcoming timidity to secure their feelings. At times, the beat reflects the nervous feelings of approaching love, as Haerin laments: “I’m usually quite talkative, what’s wrong with me? / I do not like that.” It’s a motivational anthem for introverts and an instantly uplifting contender for song of the summer.
However, ‘ETA’ seems to approach this blossoming relationship from a different perspective, warning the girls from the song before they could get hurt: “I saw it before, but when you weren’t there / Sprinkled his gaze everywhere.” Upbeat, choppy brass adds energy but also urgency to the track, and in the chorus NewJeans form a support group to help deal with this player. “Mmhmm / What’s your ETA, what’s your ETA,” they sing. “I want to be there right now, drop that boy on the arm.”
It would be easy for the narrative of the project to slip into themes of empowerment after that, but instead it takes a more complex path. There’s plenty of dramatic realism in these songs, even if it’s whispered into them, from the UK garage-driven ‘Cool With You”s cloud of what the rest of the world says about their partner (“You Can Come Back / I Don’t Care What Anyone Says”) to the fragile, fraught struggle implied in the dreamy interlude ‘Get Up’. “Get up, I will not fight your shadow,” they keep quiet. “Meet you back in five if I matter to you / Like you say I do.”
As things come to a close with ‘ASAP’, NewJeans seem like they’re head-over-heels in love. “Think I’m done talking, I press red / I remembered something, so I call again,” they sigh happily, depicting the modern version of talking on a landline as you twirl the cord in your fingers as you gossip. It’s a splendid conclusion, regardless of which interpretation you adhere to, of the five-piece “tick tock tock tock tock tock tock” refrain from a mind-scratchingly addictive phenomenon between soft pillows of pop beauty.
As early years go, NewJeans’ had been nothing short of a dream even before ‘Get Up’. But now, with six more flawless songs and even more songwriting credits for Haerin and Danielle, they close out their first 12 months and introduce the next round in divine style. Thanks to this mini-album, all eyes will continue to be on them, and we couldn’t be more excited to see where they go next.
- Release date: 21 July 2023
- Record label: ADOR / HYBE