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A Love Letter to “The Dream Chapter: Eternity”

A Love Letter to “The Dream Chapter: Eternity”

Tomorrow X Together, (read as “Tomorrow by Together” and shortened as”TXT”)  is a five member South Korean boy group under the label BigHit/HYBE. They debuted in March of 2019, and are the only other boy group under the same label as the global powerhouse BTS. However, members Choi Soobin, Choi Yeonjun, Choi Beomgyu, Kang Taehyun and Heuning Kai quickly became a phenomenon of their own. With the intoxicating mixture of the boy’s charms and otherworldly talents, it’s no surprise that the rise of this group was a quick one. Unintentionally, TXT has also become representative of a younger demographic of K-Pop fans. Whilst growing alongside their fanbase, TXT has exhibited a level of depth and care in their music that has become a distinctive characteristic of their whirlwind career.

While writing this, the group’s fandom (myself included!) is currently celebrating their third Dream Week; a week of various events and content done to commemorate the anniversary of their debut. From special performance clips, fan meetings, limited edition merchandise and never before seen behind the scenes footage, Dream Week serves as a great insight into how and why TXT has become as popular as they have. As an only three year old group, they have created a welcoming community with its own etiquette, inside jokes, lore and art. They have also expertly crafted a diverse discography that deeply resonates with young people navigating the world today. Whether it’s through punchy pop punk lead singles, alternative R&B b-sides or somber ballads, the group’s hard work and versatility sets them apart from the rest.

It was impossible to restrain myself from swooning over TXT’s music while drafting what was initially supposed to be a simple breakdown of the group’s accomplishments, so I decided to fully lean into my fangirl tendencies. (Think of it as my contribution to Dream Week.) Though there are plenty of projects I could (and do) talk about for hours, there is one I feel epitomizes everything I love about TXT’s work: The Dream Chapter: Eternity. The six song EP, and its accompanying visuals, is a macabre but hauntingly beautiful painting of self discovery and the hardships of youth. It features a level of depth and angst while maintaining a polish that doesn’t take away from its authenticity. Released in May of 2020, the EP was a dark and risky follow up to their bubbly debut of the previous year. The result was a project that set the precedent for the caliber of Tomorrow X Together’s artistry, while birthing moments that would be referenced in their work to come.

About a month out from the EP’s initial release, a concept trailer was released. It gave insight to the thematic throughlines of the work and jump started the journey it would take us on. The trailer starts by showing us the five members sitting at a large circular table, reminiscent of a swirling galaxy. The camera remains in constant rotation around them. There are snapshots of joyous moments between the boys- Kai throwing a baseball, Yeonjun whispering a secret into another’s ear, Beomgyu listening to music while beaming at Taehyun- but there’s an eerie undertone. While they may seem bright and happy, the rest of the frame is engulfed in complete darkness. The acapella notes of the opening track, Drama, ominously echo with a piercing timbre. Then, Someone A by Yoon Sang begins to play delicately. Suddenly, we cut to Soobin who is now alone. The circular table has become bigger, putting a football field’s worth of distance between him and the others. Morse code beeps in the background spelling out “Save me” and “SOS”, while menacing synths intercept the heart sticken vocals of Yoon Sang. Soobin attempts to reach out to his friends, but comes to the realization that he is trapped in a glass box. He calls out desperately, hopelessly banging on the confines while tears stream down his face. Someone A continues to play over the silent cries of Soobin, the length of the moment becoming more and more excruciating as the song continues. Somberly, the trailer closes with a breathy voice pleading again, “Save me”.

This trailer establishes a few motifs of the EP. Firstly, the recurring image of darkness and stars is repeated in the music videos and lyrics, as well as the photobooks that come with the physical album (My favorite is the Starboard version!). It also alludes to a theme that would be present in the music itself: the loss of friends. At the surface, the theme may seem a bit broad, but as the release of Eternity coincided with the pandemic, it added another layer of meaning. While in lockdown, a generation that boasted an unprecedented level of connectivity had it all stripped away in a matter of two weeks. While coming to terms with true isolation, we also had to come to terms with internal battles like self doubt, impending chaos, self discovery, and trying to figure out who you are on your own. These struggles, or pillars of youth rather, are all explored in The Dream Chapter: Eternity with intensity and poise.

The opening track, Drama, is a deceptively upbeat and energetic song. It’s the perfect start to the emotional rollercoaster the EP takes us on. The production is reminiscent of an opening number to a musical: triumphant horns, rhythmic clapping, bright piano chords, tambourines and a steady drum… even the choreography is bouncy and conventionally boy group-ish. Yeonjun and Beomgyu emote with blazing charisma on stage, while Soobin and Kai jump around with expert fluidity. Taehyun blows you away with his melodic vibrato. All of these elements disguise the true sadness of the song’s lyrics. Drama references Someone A, the aforementioned song used in the concept trailer. In the lyrics, Yoon Sang compares his life to being on a lonely stage, in a play where he must play all the parts. There’s no dialogue or colorful lights, the lyrics say. He feels like an extra- merely a small part in the large drama that is life. TXT utilizes a similar metaphor, but in relation to a friendship. 

The first verse compares the attention and joy they receive from a friend to being the main character in a play. The first chorus says “This is my drama.” As the song progresses, the narrator realizes that the level of importance they place on the friendship isn’t reciprocated. This realization is devastating. The lyrics of the second verse roughly translate to, “I’m with you but my mind is strange. It’s like my body is in constant CG.” The lyrics in the second chorus then shift to “This is your drama… I’m none of your business.” The music video for the Japanese version of the song perfectly illustrates this. Beomgyu, who is the manifestation of the narrator in the lyrics, imagines himself at the center of a loving group of friends. He is showered in their love and affection in various dream sequences. In reality, he feels like the outsider, the “Extra #1”  in a play he’s not the star of. He conceals these feelings with a fake smile. This directly parallels the way the song’s bright sound conceals the true nature meaning. We’ve all felt like an outsider at some point, and the universality in TXT’s music is what continues to draw people in. 

We then transition into the lead single, Can’t You See Me? The mid tempo, rock inspired, glitchy track had mixed receptions at the time, but would ultimately be the precursor to the wildly successful The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE, that was dripping in rock tracks and radio hits. We open with a panning echo of the titular line, repeated like a plea. In the music video, the opening shot is a prophetic flipbook of Yeonjun’s belongings going up in flames. We’re thrown into the track with pensive guitar strikes and the anecdotal musings of Taehyun and Kai. The pre-chorus whisks you away with the gorgeous falsetto of Soobin, and a line from the trailer: “Save me”. It then catapults you back into the wrenching chorus. “Can’t you see me? Like on that magical day say, ‘Believe me’.” The melody is exclamatory, a loud cry, pulling at all of the right heartstrings as the collective voices of the group continue to blossom. 

The song’s lyrics portray a fading friendship as an incinerating heart. The narrator wishes, prays that it’s a bad dream, saying the only way to get rid of the heavy feeling is for the person to see them… to believe in them again. In the video we see a house the boys were once happy in blazing in the background. The orangey-red glow illuminates the members as they dance. The chorus blares again and the refrain echoes like a mantra. “Friends don’t understand me anymore,” is repeated over and over again. The menacing synths and jarring harmonies create a sense of unease, screeching notes and pitched down vocals adding to the darkness of the track. The intensity with which the song is performed mirrors that of the emotions it evokes. When we’re young, losing a friend can feel like the end of the world. You can place this feeling of wanting to go back, reminiscing and willing those memories find their way back to us, in every wavering tune. You can see it in Yeonjun’s furrowed brows. The song has empathy for this experience too. It doesn’t trivialize or belittle this experience. It’s part of what makes Can’t You See Me? so unique as a lead single.

Continuing with an impressive use of references, is the next song: Fairy of Shampoo. The original song is sung by a group called Light and Salt, but the lyrics come from the 1987 poem The Shampoo Fairy by Jang Jung- Il (장정일). The poem, and song, are about a man who falls in love with a girl who appears in an ad for shampoo. The narrator sees her in his dreams and fantasizes about what loving her would be like. The Light and Salt song is straight out of the nineties: lulling and hypnotic, organic and airy at the top, but grumbly at the bottom. The first line of the chorus translates into, “When I see her, I’m not lonely anymore. Again appears the recurring theme of the EP: battling loneliness while longing for love and companionship. TXT’s rendition maintains the staples of the original song, but adds their own twinkle to it. The reverb drenched guitar, crooning layered harmonies, and almost conversational saxophones make way for a visual experience. You can picture the alluring woman with soap in her hair jumping out of the screen and embracing you. Yeonjun adds a scat-esque rap to the second verse. “I feel like I’m talking to you,” he says in a jazzy tone. “ [It’s] a feeling that can’t be explained. I thought you only existed in a fairytale.”  Fairy of Shampoo is a shimmery homage to the original and a notable addition to the boys’ discography.

The second half of the EP continues to intertwine the main motifs in unexpected ways. Maze in the Mirror, a guitar driven song, features lyrics written by the members themselves. Co-produced by Beomgyu, the song delves into the fears of not knowing who you are via the metaphor of looking at yourself in a broken mirror- navigating it like a maze. The first verse simply features the strums of the guitar and delicate opening verse. “I still feel like I am too small to fit in such a huge space.” As the song builds, so do the layers. A second guitar melody, bass and more backing vocals are introduced one by one, the structure like taking a stroll on a rain misted day. The bridge, sung by duo Kai and Taehyun, says “I want to fly now, like Peter Pan who flies for eternity…I want to be a star.” There’s such vulnerability and honesty in these lyrics.  You might not think it from a group of nineteen and twenty year olds, but TXT is no stranger to subverting expectations. The maturity in being able to recognize these emotions and relay them in such an artistic way is what I admire most vehemently. Maze in the Mirror, particularly, has been a great comfort to me. I find myself gravitating towards it, like a solemn lullaby, to validate and assuage my feelings of self doubt.

Emotional attachment aside, a huge highlight of the entire project for me is the promoted b-side: Puma. In the lyrics, the narrator is a puma who is escaping from a zoo.  It maintains a project-defining darkness, and warns of the harsh realities of going out into the world. In the opening verse of the lyrics, the puma can hear their friends being taken away, squinting in the thick fog and darkness. They hear the bangs of guns and the hunters closing in on them. Then, the first chorus says, “But for some reason I’m happy. In this moment I feel freedom for the first time.Puma’s story features the dichotomy between feeling independent and untethered, and the realization that the world is unforgiving and cold. In the video, the set resembles a massive cave. We see the members in cages, chains, and even trapped in a ring of fire (No, seriously. Beomgyu was in a ring of fire. Like, a real ring of fire.). Yeonjun again elaborates on the theme of the song in my favorite rap of his, comparing questioning eyes and doubtful thoughts to gunshots and foes aiming at his throat. The delivery is passionate, and his unique tone contrasts against the other’s voices. Beomgyu and Soobin’s sweet tones pop in the pre-chorus, while Kai and Taehyun take the chorus with their beltier ones. Bright LEDs flicker over the members to reference the aiming of a scope, and their pupils narrow into glazed over feline eyes. The choreography is low to the ground and slinky, the five of them dancing around each with hardened cat like qualities. It’s gritty and edgy with the perfect amount of hip-hop influence. It’s unexpected for a group often thought to be a pop band at first glance. Puma is truly addictive and, anecdotally, is the music video that initially got me into TXT!

The end of the journey lands us at a lore heavy and experimental song that stitches together two completely different sounds. This track, Eternally, references the previous songs while also alluding to the next chapters of their discography. Accompanying this song is a colossal piece of media, a nearly 20 minute long short film, with beautifully shot scenes and animated sequences that make my film major heart sing. The song begins with a soft and elegant section that whips into a rougher spoken section. It’s shocking on first listen, but years later is a fan favorite. Genre mixing is nothing new, but the concept itself encapsulates the twists and turns that the overall EP takes us on. A line says, “My heart sank into a maze of memories… Save me,” referencing Maze in the Mirror and Can’t You See Me. Then the darker section says “Fire rain… a nightmarish dance,” in reference to Puma. The end is a cathartic explosion of falsettos and honey drenched harmonies, bidding us farewell with a teary smile.

Even having lived with this EP for two years, I still discovered so many new things about The Dream Chapter: Eternity. It represents a very specific time in my life, and so seeing how my own ruminations of the work have changed was like stepping into a time machine. TXT’S music’s ability to do this is why I love coming back to it again and again. The energy and effort that is consistently poured into their projects has been so fun to be a part of. The group bears so many weights- as figureheads for youth around the world, their identity as artists and entertainers, or even just as young adults making a mark on society- but manage to do so in an impressive and admirable way. Tomorrow X Together celebrates their third anniversary on March 4th, 2022. Their growth has been exponential, and it’s easy to see why. I had a great time taking a look at  moments that have impacted me so deeply, and for however long I’m on this journey (for an “eternity” or anything less than that), I’m happy to have been on it at all.

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