Every decade has its pop king. The 2000s were dominated by Justin Timberlake as he shimmied into the spotlight solo, away from his *NSYNC bandmates. The 2010s belonged to Justin Bieber, the Canadian singer presenting a modern teen icon. So far, the 2020s have been lacking one huge male solo star that reigns over the pop world but, with ‘Golden’, BTS’ Jungkook proves he’s more than up to the task.
Known as the “golden maknae” (or golden youngest) of the world-conquering group, the 26-year-old singer has often been spoken about as if he has the Midas touch no matter what he tries his hand at. While Jungkook’s creative contributions to his debut solo album are limited – he has no writing or production credits, but is described as having “curated” these songs to “reflect his artistry” – he embodies each song’s emotions and style with ease; a musical chameleon becoming each new sound.
‘Golden’ is a story of two halves. On the first, upbeat and light-hearted, Jungkook shares vignettes about falling in love and standing strong in a relationship. Opener ‘3D’, featuring Jack Harlow, snared a lover over 2000s pop, while first single ‘Seven’ with Latto sets either a romantic (in the clean version) or lust-filled (the “explicit” version) sentiment to UK garage beats. Lead single ‘Standing Next To You’ takes things more retro, mining funk grooves and disco flashes as Jungkook promises: “They can’t deny our love / They can’t divide us / We’ll survive the test of time.”
Some more electronic-leaning collaborations offer up the chance for the star to show off his versatility. ‘Closer To You’ featuring Major Lazer’ slinks along a reggaeton rhythm and, for the first verse at least, Jungkook’s voice becomes an alluring whisper. “Feeling like I’m floating / Something’s in the air tonight,” he hushes, inviting us into a world rushing with bubbling euphoria. ‘Please Don’t Change’ featuring DJ Snake, meanwhile, finds him commanding the dancefloor as he asks a lover to remain the same.
The album might do well at showing Jungkook’s ability to mould himself to a variety of sounds but, on both halves of the record, the best songs are those that feel like classic pop king anthems. On the first half, that’s ‘3D’ and ‘Yes Or No’, the latter written by and featuring Ed Sheeran on guitar. “Are you feeling the rush?” the BTS singer asks earnestly in the bright, simple chorus. “If so, then I think I know what’s going on / Are we falling in love? / Say yes or no, yes or no, yes or no.”
The second half of ‘Golden’ charts much heavier feelings – those that come after suffering heartbreak and trying to make it through a break-up. Its timeless highlights come in the form of ‘Hate You’ – a piano ballad co-written by Shawn Mendes that finds its narrator forcing himself to hate an ex to make things easier – and ‘Too Sad To Dance’. Although the latter sometimes veers into cliched lyricism, its clean melodies and Jungkook’s portrayal of someone hopelessly heartbroken are strong enough to save it.
For the most part, ‘Golden’ works and achieves exactly what its mission seemingly is – capture Jungkook’s multifaceted artistry, charismatic vocals and irresistible pop appeal in 10 easily palatable songs primed for commercial success. There are moments that flounder, like ‘Somebody’, which puts the singer’s voice through a robotic processor that removes its charm – a welcome experiment, but one that doesn’t quite land.
Largely, though, the record plays it incredibly safe and, although Jungkook curated the tracklist, it doesn’t feel like an album he and he alone could have released. Would another contender pull off the songs as well as him? Perhaps not, but there’s still a hollowness at its core. Regardless, that won’t stop Jungkook’s star from ascending even further into new stratospheres. The 2020s have found their pop king and ‘Golden’ more than secures him the throne.