EQ has released an enormous amount of songs (by Q-pop standards). “Darumen” was one of the first, from back in 2018, and the only one so far that I’ve been able to talk myself into liking. Partly that was the circumstances of the group’s founding: if I’d had a say in the matter, I would have said I wanted more Black Dial, not the two rappers going off on their own, especially as there was no evidence that either of them could sing. (Flashing lights on that video link, by the way.)
(And for those of you thinking that Esko and Tiko—Esko is the one with the headband, Tiko is the breakdancer—maybe can sing, here’s what they sounded like when asked to perform “Darumen” live.)
I still haven’t come around on any of the songs off the EP they released earlier this year, and may never. But I finally got sold on “Darumen.” It helps that the song isn’t about any of the usual clichés. I’m not entirely sure what it is about, honestly—the official video has subtitles, which seem to suggest an excitement about something new happening, and everyone has to get ready, and the whole thing may just be a reflection of how thrilled Esko and Tiko were to be in charge of their own careers. That’s hard to resist.
But really, the version linked above is the most charming. Backup dancers having a good time does wonders for a song, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a backup dancer having as good a time as the woman in the maroon sweater seems to be in this video. She’s just infectious! Given how small the studio seems, and how many takes this presumably took, it’s impressive how much of a blast she conveys having. Her male counterpart keeps more of a poker face until the very end and then he, too, is grinning. This may be giving EQ (and their management) more credit than they deserve, but I’d like to think they at least didn’t get in the way of the dancers enjoying themselves. “Darumen” isn’t a great song by any means; the breakdown isn’t particularly interesting, among other things. But the positive associations at least give me a chance to like EQ, rather than merely abstractly hope their being able to establish their independence sets a good precedent for other Q-pop artists.
One last observation: this is… strangely affectionate, for a Q-pop video. The kind of ritualized, company-mandated skinship that happens a lot in K-pop is more or less nonexistent in Q-pop. Shipping does happen (Ninety One has been asked about the fanfic, by Kazakhstani interviewers) but as best I can tell it’s not an openly acknowledged marketing strategy, and I’d be shocked if Esko and Tiko are trying to make it one. But there’s more member-on-member touching here than in entire seasons of 91 Space. Which is—assuming I’m right, and they are indeed just being boisterous bros who climb onto each other’s backs on occasion, and not trying to manipulate anyone into thinking otherwise—also charming in its own way.