So obviously, I watched "No Mercy." If anything, I watched it to find out how Starship thinks as an agency. I wasn't totally impressed with MONSTA X when they finally debuted, and their follow-up EP was consistent but not memorable.
So you can imagine my surprise when I listened to "All In."
Beyond being a lead single through and through, "All In" is one of the best Kpop releases I've heard this year, if not the best.
Being a DBSK fan makes me very particular when it comes to performance-heavy songs. The common mindset towards performance sort of overlooks the song and focuses all the spectacle on the visuals, and it's rare that I see performances like "Rising Sun" or "Keep Your Head Down" which are just as much aural experiences as they are visual. And as far as "All In" goes, it's one of the best performance-heavy songs I've heard from their generation of groups.
"All In" starts strong with the obligatory lead single elements: the strong hook and the rap part. But the first vocal bridge immediately shifts the song to the other end of the spectrum—a light and melodic, but not weak, build up. Then the chorus comes in and strikes the perfect balance between power and grace. This contradiction is extremely difficult to achieve, but MONSTA X's success speaks for itself. And unlike songs wherein it's the melody or the treatment that carries the success, in this case it's everything. The constant line breaks/short lines allow for more opportunities for the vocals to exhale, which means each line becomes a burst of power for the vocalists. On the other hand, there is variety to the line cuts—some are very short, some are a bit longer, which means on the listeners' side the chorus is nowhere near boring.
I talked about multiple levels of contrast when I reviewed DBSK's "Rising Sun," but honestly up until "All In," I hadn't heard K-Pop come close to that level of sophistication. While "All In" has less contrast in terms of over-all sound, the idea that various contradictions can exist in a single song is more than enough to make this the best K-Pop single I've head all year. There's the hard, spaced out phrasing of the hook against the melodious, graceful bridge—brought together by the fact that they're both delivered with a sense of urgency. There's the first half of the chorus with short, powerful lines and then the second half with longer, sustained melodies. There's the aggressive rap parts against the epic melodies. All these things are happening at the same time, so it's such an experience to hear—and an even better experience to see performed.
I mentioned earlier that when it comes to "All In," MONSTA X have a hand in the song's success as well. It's rare that you see a group that isn't eaten alive by a song as large and complex as this, but when you listen to the song and watch the performances they have it all under control. Call it a "taming of the beast," if you will. The performances are smooth, they're powerful, and every aspect is given the same amount of attention—the singing, the rapping, the dancing, the showmanship.
It's been around a month since I first heard "All In," but every time I listen to it I hear an amazing track, and every time I watch performances I see a song literally coming to life.