The Lowdown: Over the latter half of 2019, MONSTA X began steadily putting out English singles, culminating in the aptly titled ALL ABOUT LUV being released this Valentine’s Day. A full English album is an unusual move, even for a K-pop group looking to solidly break into the States, but one that perhaps makes sense for MONSTA X. Their past few Korean singles have placed low or haven’t even charted on the Gaon Charts, but have done rather well on Billboard’s World digital song sales. With a full English album, it looks like MONSTA X aims to further build their international fandom.
However, in the midst of the buildup to this album, group member Wonho abruptly left the group after allegations of drug use and poor financial management. TV personality Jung Da-eun accused him of smoking marijuana (a tame thing in the States, but pretty controversial in Korea) and not only owing large amounts of money to her and others, but also stealing her personal belongings to sell online. Wonho’s contributions are kept in ALL ABOUT LUV, but going forward, he won’t be in any of the group’s performances.
The Good: If you haven’t guessed it from the title already, ALL ABOUT LUV is a well-crafted pop album about the various faces of love. In the album’s 12 tracks, MONSTA X impressively sample all the current trends in pop music. “Who Do You Love?” is about asking a girl “Is it him or me?” and has an arrangement similar to a Charlie Puth track. “Someone Someone” puts MONSTA X in EDM-pop territory, with a song structure similar to Marshmello and Bastille’s late 2018 hit, “Happier”. “Love You” and “Happy Without Me” tap into pop R&B and are two songs that could easily appear on an old Justin Bieber album. ALL ABOUT LUV’s later songs, like “You Can’t Hold My Heart” and “Misbehave”, provide the moodier moments on an otherwise upbeat album and tell the story of a romance ended and a hurtful relationship, respectively. “Middle of the Night” provides a standout with its charming retro-inspired, synth-driven instrumental underlying lyrics about an irresistible love.
The Bad: Overall, ALL ABOUT LUV is an inoffensive pop album with a handful of standout moments. The part about being an inoffensive album, though, is that MONSTA X lacks a distinctive sound or identity in their United States promotions and albums. The group certainly had a signature sound with their Korean title tracks. Songs like “Alligator” and “Shootout” featured heavy hip-hop influences, very noisy instrumentals, and a very aggressive tone. MONSTA X played up their “hot bad boy with a chip on their shoulder” image with a similar antagonistic sonic identity. With this polished pop album, for better or for worse, MONSTA X have lost a distinctive viewpoint and traded it for exploration of mid-tempo, more sparsely produced pop.
The Verdict: For MONSTA X’s first full English album, ALL ABOUT LUV is not a bad effort at all. They could have done much worse. The thing that makes most K-pop groups’ English debuts fail (definitely recalling JYJ’s disastrous English album here) is the groups deviating from the sound that won them fans in the first place and then trying to force themselves into sounds considered “popular” in the States. MONSTA X for all intents and purposes, while deviating from their usual sound, at least did not engage in any cringeworthy mimicry. However, what made MONSTA X unique and earned them their international fans has been watered down in ALL ABOUT LUV. The new album itself doesn’t provide MONSTA X with a clear different direction either. For all that ALL ABOUT LUV professes to look at love from all angles, it feels like a quite sanitized take on the complicated emotion. Supposedly sexy and dirty tracks like “Misbehave” don’t have a real type of raw sexuality and feel truly surface level. Most of the album is like that: clean and generic, but pleasant enough to listen to.
Essential Tracks: “Who Do You Love” and “Middle of the Night”