Why this K-pop legend, which counts BTS as fanboys, remains on top of their game 2
From left: Yang Yo-seob, Lee Kikwang, Song Dong-woon, and Yoon Doo-joon

Why this K-pop legend, which counts BTS as fanboys, remains on top of their game

The group has always been known for its solid discography and well-conceptualized music videos, and “Not the End” is no exception.    
Lito B. Zulueta and Dexter Matilla | May 08 2021

Highlight, the 11-year-old K-pop act formerly known as Beast and identified by BTS as the band  it “looks up to,” has made a triumphant comeback from military service with “Not the End,” a scintillating dance ballad that celebrates spring, vitality, hope, and fresh beginnings.

The song immediately skyrocketed to the iTunes charts around the world, including the Philippines, and its MV on Youtube trended well, with Netizens commenting that the song seemed to herald the return not only of Highlight but also of other second-generation K-pop acts such as B1A4, Super Junior, and Shinee. The last in fact has made its comeback only in April. 

Meanwhile 2 P.M. from JYP Entertainment is set to make its return after Highlight’s.

Composed by Lee Ki-kwang, Highlight’s main dancer and lead vocalist, with some help from Joo Chan Yang and “Lavin,” “Not the End” is a mid-tempo dance ballad that starts reflectively then picks up pace to build up to a refrain that’s an electronic-orchestral drop reminiscent of the band’s very memorable valedictory before entering the military in 2018, the highly acclaimed “Loved.”

Not surprisingly, “Not the End,” the lead single of Highlight’s third mini-album “Blowing,” seems to echo the melancholy strain of “Loved,” which, in true Beast/Highlight tradition, is about heartbreak and separation.

Conjuring the “cold winter” at first, the lyrics declare, “Spring will come.” The pre-chorus, sung beautifully by Yang Yo-seob and Son Dong-woon, evokes “the moment we spent together” and begs the beloved to “stay”: “The times that have stopped for you/ Wake me up from the frozen.” The chorus proclaims, “I’m still here, it’s not the end,” then drops the striking bouncy instrumental riff.

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Gorgeous music video

Highlight has always been known for its solid discography and well-conceptualized music videos, and “Not the End” is no exception.

The MV of “Not the End” is a gorgeous celebration of spring, spirit, and vivacity. The color palette ranges from organics to pastel, with lots of blooms and greenery. The images are serene, dreamy, and meditative. The ever photogenic and handsome members—Lee, Yang, Son, and leader Yoon Doo-joon—are styled flawlessly.

Lee Ki-kwang has always been known as K-pop’s top “visual”: in fact, he was named by Hong Kong I-Magazine in a survey of the region’s photographers and stylists as No. 1 Asian Male Fashion Celebrity Face (“Most Handsome”) for two consecutive years, 2016 and 2017. But in the “Not the End” MV, he appears more striking and aesthetically overwhelming. He also did the excellent choreography in the video.


Rookie sensation

Highlight debuted as the six-member Beast in 2009 with the smash-hit “Bad Girl,” rivalling Super Junior of SM Entertainment and Big Bang of YG Entertainment in popularity, and catapulting their small agency, Cube, to the big time, becoming only the fourth agency to go public, after SM, YG, and JYP.

The group went on to make hit after hit—“Mystery,” “Shock,” “Special,” “Breath,” “Fiction” (arguably the foremost K-pop anthem), and “Beautiful Night.” Melon Awards named them Artist of the Year for two consecutive years, 2011 and 2012.

By the time they left Cube in 2016, Beast was generating nearly 50% of the agency’s annual income.

Most of the songs in their initial years were written by Shinsadong Tiger, but even then, Beast members showed a knack for collaborating and turning out interesting tunes themselves, especially rapper Yong Junhyung.

Yong, with  his collaborator Kim Tae-jee under the Good Life team, took over composing and producing Beast’s albums, starting with 2013’s “Hard to Love, How to Love,” whose lead single, “Shadow,” won Best Music Video in the Melon Awards that year.

Good Life also wrote the riveting “Good Luck,” which Billboard named No. 1 K-pop Song of the Year in 2014; the powerful “12:30,” whose album, “Time,” was named Melon’s Album of the Year in 2014; and “Yey” (2015) and “Ribbon” (2016). For their knack at making smash comeback records, Beast/Highlight has been called the “Comeback Kings.”


Going independent

In 2016, Jang Hyunseung left the group and the five remaining members didn’t renew with Cube and formed their own agency, All Around Entertainment. But finding out their name had been trademarked by Cube, they renamed themselves as Highlight (from the title of their last album as Beast) and in 2017, released the hit, “Plz Don’t Be Sad,” achieving the most successful rebranding in K-pop history.

When BTS won Billboard’s social-media award that year, Rap Monster was asked by the western press which K-pop band they looked up to and wanted to be like. He answered Beast.

"They are now known as Highlight,” said RT. “Back when they were Beast, we had a chance to watch their concert at the (Olympics) gymnastics theater in 2012, all the way from the back. They were so amazing and we told ourselves that we wanted to be just like them. We still talk about that sometimes."

But the following year, the absolute age of rendering compulsory military service was lowered, so Yoon Doo-joon, also a popular actor, had to cut short his acting and other commitments to enter the military. The rest soon followed, casting doubt on the future of their career and their fledgling agency.

Moreover Yong Junhyung resigned from the band after being dragged unfairly into the Burning Sun scandal involving other K-pop idols.


Reversals, rebounds

The setbacks seemed in keeping with Beast/Highlight’s history of struggles. Before Cube, the members had been rejected by leading agencies. And even when they swept the charts with “Bad Girl” and “Mystery,” they were taunted as a bunch of rejects.

They silenced their detractors when, unique among rookie groups at that time, they mounted their first major concert less than a year after debuting. “Welcome to Beast Airline” showed their powerful stage presence, incredible lung power, and infectious charisma. The concert had several return bookings because fans couldn’t have enough.

Today, Highlight is known for its solid and well-loved discography and powerful stage performances. Critics have noted that Highlight seems not to have written and produced a single bad song, even their B-sides are interesting and catchy (“Oasis,” “Say No,” “Rainy Day,” “No More,” “Gotta Go to Work”), and every record is graced by the group’s distinct and powerful vocals, especially Yang Yoseob’s, generally acclaimed as the best K-pop main vocalist.

Its history of reversals and rebounds has endeared Highlight to its fans and gained admirers even among members of the highly competitive Korean entertainment industry. “Not the End” heralds for the group a fresh beginning and a new spring.