First we need some background.
(“Jessica, are you ever going to be able to just review a Q-pop song without going into paragraphs of exposition?” Maybe. Someday. But not this day, and not this song.)
So Ninety One resulted in part from the survival show K-Top Idols, through which Yerbolat Bedelkhan discovered, recruited, and eventually contracted with AZ and ZaQ. And apparently the casting-through-survival-show strategy worked well enough that Boss Yerbolat tried it again a couple years later, under the title Project X. (Unlike K-Top Idols, you can find Project X episodes with English subtitles online, thanks to the good folks at Qpop Translations.) Out of that came a four-man group, DNA, one of whose members, one Aibek Zhanysbaev, was given the stage name Ne1tron, despite “Ne1tron” not being a good stage (let alone commando) name.
DNA made its official debut earlier this year, but its unofficial debut came performing on Ninety One’s 2091 tour last summer, and if you watch the behind-the-scenes footage you’ll catch a number of Bala cameos. Before DNA debuted Ne1tron was already established as its main lyricist, just like AZ and ZaQ took the role for Ninety One; he and Bala had both worked on Alba’s debut song. So by the time “JJBSQ” got released in March, it made perfect sense for Bala and Ne1tron to be songwriting bros.
So did the songwriting bros produce an actual good song? I have no idea! If you’re asking me, did I listen to “JJBSQ” a whole bunch of times, why yes, yes I did. Evaluating Ne1tron as a lyricist is difficult, given that he doesn’t resort to easy-to-be-pleased-by tricks such as making lots of multilingual puns. This translation points out the rhyme structure and suggests he’s mixing his imagery carefully. It helps, a lot, that Bala is playing things relatively straight: a lot of times he seems to be smirking through his lines, which can be part of the fun (see “E.Yeah,” and I’d also argue that “Lady” is a better song for Bala not sounding sincere), but my first reaction to “JJBSQ” was, oh, this is the kind of drama Bala can create when he actually wants to. It’s a melancholy, slightly ominous, convincingly romantic song.
But I needed the background so you could understand why I say I have no idea if this song is actually any good or not. What I mean is: I have no idea what I would’ve thought of it had I come to it in the absence of the background, if I weren’t already amusing myself with the narrative that Bala’s friendship with and/or ability to work professionally with Ne1tron acted as a pleasant relief from constantly having to work with, and then quarantine with, the other members of Ninety One. (If the negotiations with AZ that ended with his departure in August had been going on for a while, as Boss Yerbolat has suggested in interviews, then that might have made the already stressful lockdown period even less fun.) In fairness, I don’t love “Tumandy Qala” or any of the other songs off DNA’s first EP. So I’m not completely undiscerning. Just biased enough to put an asterisk on any recommendations of “JJBSQ.”