In honor of SHINee’s Key taking charge of his sound on new mini album Bad Love, I’ll be taking a look at each track throughout the week. Check back every day, and make sure to explore my other In-Depth Album Reviews if you’re interested!
Back in 2018, Key collaborated with British artist Years & Years on a remix. Of all the tracks on Bad Love, the English-language Helium (헬륨) reminds me most of that alternative electropop sound. It’s a niche not well-covered in K-pop, and Key feels like a natural fit.
Helium is more about texture and atmosphere than melody, and that’s okay. I like how the track plays with breathing as a musical theme. At times, the structure fills and ascends as if blowing up a balloon. It’s the same tension you get when that balloon is about to pop. But before that happens, a few rhythmic exhalations lead us to a moment of musical release. It’s a neat trick, and gives Helium plenty to work with.
Key breaks up the hooks with a fun spoken-word segment, and his English-language performance is something of a revelation. Elsewhere, his voice takes on a breezy tone, light and airy but somehow sinister. The instrumental is a bit more downbeat than expected – a steady creep rather than an ebullient bounce. But, I like the Daft Punk-esque synths that underline each chorus. As with the rest of Helium, there’s a ruggedness to this sound that sets it apart from most K-pop.