Music Review: Taemin is back with another sultry K-pop EP, his fourth mini album 'Guilty'

This cover image released by SM Entertainment shows "Guilty" by Taemin. (SM Entertainment via AP)

The prince of sultry K-pop is back! The gothic, fall season is here and the prolific Taemin returns with some appropriately atmospheric music on a new EP titled “Guilty." It is his first release since completing his mandatory military enlistment in the South Korean army in April 2023.

Taemin cut his teeth in the spotlight by starting out in boy band SHINee but has emerged as a strong solo artist in the last nine years, with four previously released full-length albums under his belt. “Guilty” marks his fourth mini album — and proves that it only takes Taemin six tracks to realize a robust comeback.

Dramatic, mysterious, sometimes unsettling but always dreamy, “Guilty” is an offer one can’t refuse.

It would be inaccurate to say he’s back and better than ever, because he was never not excellent. “Guilty” is Taemin just being just Taemin, surpassing himself not by being better but by being different. This EP is a pivot from the cool, synth-wave Taemin who explored themes of Stockholm syndrome on “Criminal” from his 2020 album “Never Gonna Dance Again,” or the cool R&B-meets-dance pop cool Taemin of his 2021 EP “Advice” to, well, a new kind of cool on “Guilty.”

From the theatricality of a 30-piece string ensemble on the title track, the record feels like a grand, triumphant return to music. And it certainly doesn't remain stagnant: dynamic synths and magnetic vocals — complete with spooky, ASMR-esque whispers — complete the song.

“The Rizzness,” a silly title playing with internet slang “rizz” meaning “charisma,” is seductive, pulsing, deep bass hip-hop. Taemin is not here to play nice. The song switches midway through, mutating from the musical incarnation of a thriller flick to a horror film with electric guitar tremolos dialed to 11.

Comparatively, “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” is a tamer pop track, a melancholic tune that twins with the dreamy “Not Over You” in the pantheon of heartbreak.

“Night Away” whisks the listener away on a hopeful daydream of romance with its soft guitars and Taemin’s gentle vocals. While “Blue," its opposite on the emotional spectrum, offers a farewell with its vintage drums and hopeful mood.

With “Guilty,” Taemin puts another notch on his great music belt.


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