Diving into MONSTA X’s third studio album: ‘Fatal Love’

MONSTA X delivers a solid album that explores new genres while retaining its unique style, but struggles to differentiate itself from previous works

Tyler Cho

South Korean boy group MONSTA X, signed under Starship Entertainment, is known for its bold style, with intense vocals and a powerful rap line that mainly incorporates a mix of hip-hop, trap and EDM genres. The group was formed through an elimination show called “No.Mercy” and debuted in 2015 with its album “Trespass,” but only gained significant popularity in 2017 with the release of its first full-length album, “The Clan Pt. 2.5: The Final Chapter.’ The title track, “Beautiful,” debuted at #4 on the Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales Chart.

After working with famous artists like Steve Aoki and French Montana and being featured as the first K-pop performance on the 2019 iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour, the group began receiving widespread international exposure, only to face controversy after lead vocalist and dancer Wonho faced allegations of drug usage and debt. Wonho was eventually departed from the group and MONSTA X continued with the six remaining members, with its February 2020 all-English album “All About Luv” debuting at #5 on the U.S. Billboard 200

Following the success of “All About Luv” and subsequent mini-album “Fantasia X,” expectations were high for its latest comeback — their third album, titled “Fatal Love,” which was released on Nov. 2. Stating that the American album was a much softer style than usual, the group wanted to expand on the tone established in “Fantasia X” and express their versatility with a more energetic album. Members Joohoney and I.M. took on a much larger role in behind-the-scenes work for the album, taking on lyric writing and producing for eight of the ten tracks in this collection of both vintage style and creative experimentation.

“Love Killa”

The album’s title track continues with a more aggressive theme, similar to the one they used in their 2018 title track “Shoot Out,” by portraying the members as predators hunting for the hearts of their prey. The song starts off with drawls from the two rappers of the group, I.M. and Joohoney, leading a thumping synthesized bass that works well with Joohoney’s simultaneous rapping, creating a strong hip-hop and funk vibe. Dropping the bass line for the pre-chorus helps emphasize the soft vocals from Shownu and Minhyuk and increases the tension in the buildup into a powerful chorus delivered by main vocalist Kihyun’s sharp voice. The ad-libs from the rappers and Hyungwon’s killer (excuse the pun) hook make Love Killa’s choruses one of my favorites from MONSTA X’s entire discography.

The music video is visually stunning, with the members alternating between two distinct personas — a clean-cut group of suit-clad businessmen in a professional setting and a gang of scruffy, greaser-inspired delinquents performing a robbery. There are many small details that help stress the dangerous, almost unstable quality in the lyrics, the most noticeable of which is the consistent use of red. Most of the delinquent scenes are backlit by red lighting, and though the professional setting starts off with a simple black and white motif, by the end of the video the red has worked its way into the business persona, spreading into the background shots, the members outfits and even some of the smaller decor in certain scenes.

I.M.’s more risque lyrics, which detail what the prey wants to do with the predators (“eat [them] like a main dish / It’s hot, it looks like it’s hot, hottish … / [they] want something more provocative hot (shhhh)”), were a surprise to many fans, as the Korean industry is generally more conservative when it comes to things like lyrics and dancing. But compared to the tone created from the rest of the lyrics, I.M.’s bars come across as quite tame, although they still contribute to the overall exaggerated theme. 

Although MONSTA X’s lyrics are generally more exaggerated in its title tracks through the romanization of violence from the song’s overly dramatic lyricism (“Pull the trigger ya, pull the trigger pull the trigger / We’re all like a psycho I’m going half-crazy”) makes it somewhat uncomfortable to listen to for those who understand the words. In addition, MONSTA X has used dangerous and chaotic themes before, and the motif of a tense, push-and-pull relationship of two lovers has been repeated in many of their previous title tracks, like “Follow” and “Alligator.” Seeing them experiment with new ideas in their lyricism would be a welcome change in the future.


The inclusion of “Gasoline” was a cause for celebration for MONSTA X fans, as the song was teased for in its previous mini-album, “Fantasia X,” though it didn’t appear on it. But it appears that it was worth the wait. The lyrics equate the burning longing for a lost love to a gasoline fire, filling the speaker with both a literal and symbolic thirst from the overwhelming heat. 

This theme is only pushed further by the heated ambiance supplied by the Latin pop-inspired groove, from the classic Latin percussion setting the pace in the background to the smooth bass line featured in the chorus. The more breathy singing style by the vocalists gives the song an almost smoky quality, further feeding into the motif of a burning flame. And the choice to work more heavily with autotune for the rap lines helped mellow out any rough aggressiveness, preventing the rappers from feeling out of place. Having experimented with Latin styles once before in its single “Magnetic,” and due to the inclusion of Andres Öberg, who had worked on Super Junior’s Latin pop sensation “Lo Siento,” on the composer list, overall expectations were high for this song. Although this song did not feature any Latin artists or incorporate Latin languages, it was nonetheless well-executed and showcased MONSTA X’s ability to handle diverse genres.


Out of all of the songs on the album, “BEASTMODE” was one that many fans were unsure of — with composition handled by Joohoney, who has worked in producing songs previously, and Eric Nam, a Korean-American singer whose pop and R&B-driven style contrasts dramatically with MONSTA X’s, it was unclear what the track would be like. But it appeared that Nam mostly deferred to the group’s 2015-era style of heavy, bass-driven hip-hop beats, resembling classic tracks like “Trespass” and “No Exit,” while still retaining its newer EDM vibe.

The song is focused around challenging one’s limits in a society that pulls others down to rise to the top, including lyrics such as “I know the world is going to test us anyway / Charge in like a bull in a china shop / This stage is too small, we movin’ the world.” Joohoney, with his characteristic swagger and intensity, serves as the song’s backbone, providing both impassioned rap lines and high-register vocals. Both he and I.M. used the booming bass and percussion to their advantage, really driving home the rebellious theme of the song through their charismatic rapping. 

Although the rappers were the main focus, leader and lead vocalist Shownu’s lines in the second verse are quite the nice touch, especially his haunting, eerie head voice when he sings, “Nothing, nobody can move / Can’t see the darkened future.” The overall dynamic vocals served as a welcome interlude in the pre-choruses, adding another layer of depth to the song without bringing down its intensity. 

This track is arguably the one that displayed MONSTA X’s colors best — a powerful showcase of their bread-and-butter skill in synthesizing unique harmonic vocals with fiery rapping over a heavy hip hop and EDM beat. Unfortunately, however, with its original style came the traditional imbalance in line distribution. Although this issue had improved in recent years, the distribution in “BEASTMODE” was woefully inadequate, meaning that Hyungwon only had one line to work with in the entire song.

“Sorry I’m Not Sorry”

“Sorry I’m Not Sorry” is the mellow track of the album — a bittersweet, soft-rock song that features all six members. At first listen, the song’s somber message is hidden behind its mellow tone, but upon deeper investigation, one can make out a tinge of regret drifting throughout the notes. The speaker narrates a date gone wrong, describing it as a depressing nightmare; the reasons behind the failure are left up to interpretation, but the speaker doesn’t believe that they are at fault for the events of the day. It’s clear that they want nothing to do with their partner, telling them “Thank you for the night, for a lovely night / I’ll never see you again, no / Sorry I’m not sorry / But, you’re never gonna see me again.”

Those who aren’t familiar with previous work by MONSTA X may be surprised to find that both of their rappers are also talented vocalists, which becomes apparent from the beginning of the song. Instrumentally it’s nothing fancy, using a simple kick-and-snare beat, keyboard, electric guitar and bass guitar, and lacks the dynamic progression that is so prevalent in most MONSTA X songs. But it is exactly for this reason that “Sorry I’m Not Sorry” has so much charm — it’s a simple, quality track with honeyed vocals, a refreshing break from the electronic beats and booming bass that characterizes the rest of the album.


Although “Fatal Love” has been well-received by fans, reaching #4 on the U.S. iTunes Sales Chart, one major issue stands out, one that was apparent in some of the group’s previous releases — a lack of versatility that makes the similarities between new songs and vintage ones painfully obvious. Though the members have started experimenting with more genres in recent years, like soft rock and Latin pop, it is still quite easy to notice similarities between songs on this album and older releases. With the exception of one or two songs, it is not challenging to find three to four examples of past songs that are stylistically very similar to this album’s tracklist by just surfing the group’s discography. And while MONSTA X does possess a distinct style from most other K-pop groups nowadays, this is more than just a matter of continuous style; listeners should not be able to predict a general pattern of what songs will sound like before even listening to an album. Such repetition in style often hides the growth in tone and musicality of the artist, so despite the fact that the group has come a long way since its debut days, much of the path to reach this point is lost.

That is not to say that all of MONSTA X’s songs have been cookie-cutter — fans fell in love with tracks like “Middle of the Night” and “From Zero” in large part because of their distinct compositions, so the group definitely has the ability to push their boundaries. But it would be nice to see them do so more often in the future, with a greater number of songs on each EP, and especially with title tracks.

To conclude, the group’s third album makes a strong case for the sheer musical talent the members possess. The high quality of the new release is undeniable; the classic charisma of the group is evident in every work, and each song delivers a new layer of depth to the album to explore. It is highly recommended that those intrigued by MONSTA X’s style explore the other six side tracks, and see for themselves what about its sound quality has captivated the hearts of listeners around the world.