For many male Korean celebrities, taking nearly two years off to fulfill their mandatory military service means a huge setback in their career. For the duo known as TVXQ!, however, it just means the start of another era after a decade-and-a-half of leading K-pop’s ascent throughout Asia.
When they released their first album in three years at the end of March, Jung Yunho, known as U-KNOW, and Shim Changmin, aka MAX, set out to reintroduce themselves to K-pop audiences with New Chapter #1: The Chance of Love.
A more laid-back album than the majority of their past work, The Chance of Love, or Fate/Destiny as it’s called in Korean, blends jazzy pop tunes, touching ballads, and some trendy dance tracks with house and future bass leanings to showcase the type of romance fitting of 30-somethings. “If you link the first track to the last track, you will find a whole story,” U-KNOW told Billboard over a video call from Seoul. “Then, you will receive some kind of feeling as if you are watching a movie. Personally, I want a happy ending. But we wanted to leave it to fans to have their own open conclusion. When I listened to the album, I felt that it was a happy ending, but I wonder how you think about it.”
Despite sharing the same name with one single, The Chance of Love actually starts off with the leisurely tropical pop of “Love Line,” the second song released as a single. “This song is warm and delivers the sweet emotions of a couple this spring,” said MAX. The sweetness leads into a more refined, suaver feeling on “The Chance of Love,” the electro-swing and R&B-hybrid that fronts the album. Neither song plays like the melodic power ballads and dynamic dance tracks the group grew famous for in the ‘00s and early ‘10s, but are representative of where the group’s gone over the past few years. “We thought TVXQ!’s sophistication and skills can stand out when combined with these fun elements,” said U-KNOW, referring to “The Chance of Love.” “Also, we wanted some musical-like performances reflected within the lyrics which naturally led us to swing jazz. The song’s addictive hook is the focal point. Even if you listen to it ever so slightly, the song is attractive enough to capture your ears.”
Like 2015’s Rise As God, The Chance of Love gets personal with each member. “For our solo tracks, we chose genres that TVXQ! hasn’t tried before,” said MAX, who delivered the sultry “Closer.” “My solo track is called ‘Puzzle’ and the song itself acts like a puzzle that bridges the tracks together in the album,” explained U-KNOW. “It’s the perfect puzzle piece that adds a little bit of sexiness.”
The album also saw the duo reunite with songwriter Park Chang Hyun, who wrote their 2003 debut track “Hug.” A lot’s changed for TVXQ! since then — most notably the group underwent major changes between 2009 and 2011 after three members left the once-quintet — and working with Park for a track on their first post-military album meant a lot to the pair. “I’m thankful that he has given us a song that TVXQ! could perform in a very TVXQ! way for our fans around the world,” said U-KNOW, referring to the lilting ballad “Lazybones” that, like “Hug,” emphasizes the act’s vocal prowess with gentle pop-rock elements. “While we worked together, we talked about the past memories and encouraged one another with positive energy.”
Moving forward in their career, TVXQ! is well aware that they’re no longer the most popular boy band in Asia, even though their ever-supportive Cassiopeia fan base is still extremely active and they still regularly sell out concerts. It’s been 15 years since they got introduced to the world through a BoA and Britney, (yes, that Britney) Christmas special in 2003, but the two are working out what it means to be a more mature type of boy band. “I want to become a friendly group that lasts for a long time for many people,” expressed U-KNOW. “I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable, but we want to be a dependable, sturdy group, like home.”