Established boy band 2PM made their overdue return to Korean with their new album “Grown” in May. The record has topped domestic album charts for weeks now, despite almost two years since their last K-pop release--a time when the K-Pop Hot 100 hadn’t even existed. Though, the long wait was unsurprising given the circumstances of a drunk driving scandal and 2PM’s major success in Japan.
In late July 2012, 2PM rapper/dancer member Nichkun was involved in a hugely-controversial drunk driving incident. He was arrested for drunk driving following a collision with a motorcycle while driving home after a few drinks that gave him a blood alcohol level of 0.056%--above South Korea's legal driving limit. Confusing and conflicting reports came out--as is typical in Korean pop scandals (i.e. Tara’s bullying scandal)—about the condition of the cyclist he hit, but he lived. It now seems to be agreed that both the star and cyclist were at fault. According to label JYP Enteratinment (home to Wonder Girls, 2AM & miss A) the drive was short.
The handsome K-pop star was edited out of 2PM's endorsement commercials and ads. His license suspended and he did not make a public South Korean appearance until late January 2013.
Instead, 2PM focused on the more-forgiving (and more-lucrative) Japanese market where they already had five Top 10 Japan Hot 100 singles. The group racked up hits (including the No. 2-peaking ballad-dance hybrid “Masquerade”).
2PM seemed to test the waters for a comeback by announcing at the top of the year they would return to Korea soon. There was no backlash and May was confirmed for their return. JYP made sure to surround the boys in positive press including they'd donate part of the album profits to charity as well as the group candidly discussing Nichkun's scandal with the message that of 2PM sticking together (despite sub-unit offers) and not feeling comfortable without promoting with him onboard.
For such a long wait, the return was twice as nice with two lead singles revealed a week between each other--a lot of testing the water to ensure a successful return to the K-pop sphere. It seems to have worked.
“Comeback When You Hear This Song” (currently at No. 27 on the K-Pop Hot 100 after a No. 16 peak) isn’t a groundbreaking track, but suitable and safe for a group treading lightly. It's a light electro-pop track with a layered R&B vocal stylings.
The accompanying video is focused on the seven deadly sins with each band member dabbling in one before losing their love interests and needing to apologize before the dream girl returns. There's a clear parallel to Nichkun's situation with 2PM dabbling in "sin" (drinking too much, putting others in danger), needing to apologize (going into hiding, donating album sales) until the girl (their fans) returned.
The only thing that would have made the song more perfect for their apologetic return would be Nickhun portraying the gluttony sin (he instead is greed) and him singing the line that translates to “I’m sorry and I love you.” But the ploy may be too obvious then.
The second single “A.D.T.O.Y.” (at No. 25 this week with a No. 21 peak) is sonically superior and showcases the many talents of 2PM. If the plan to get domestic fans to forgive them were to work, this would be the song to remind everyone why they fell in love with 2PM in the first place. The track jumps from a slow-grinding beat to dubstep to dramatic violins featuring--the type of experimental R&B we’ve come to expect from an Usher and Diplo collab.
The music video is much sexier than “Comeback” with many members shirtless and getting close with their female counterparts.
The chart position of “A.D.T.O.Y.” seems to indicate that the public hasn’t fully forgiven them yet. But with album sales remaining high it appears like 2PM has instead moved into a realm similar to other K-pop kings like TVXQ! and Super Junior--whose singles give respectable performances with success lying in album sales. 2PM has spent two weeks on Billboard's World Albums chart as well has topped Korea’s album chart for two weeks running now. Album sales are the way to a sustainable career. Similarly how U.S. artists can't rest their laurels on selling singles.
The rest of the “Grown” album follows a similar suit of the two lead singles with strong R&B tracks mixed with different genres. From the 90s grooves in "I'm Sorry" to the dance funk of "Dangerous" to R&B-pop stylings of "Back to Square One" its the strong, but somewhat safe, material 2PM could use to get in the public's good graces.