New and hot subunit alert! SHOWNU X HYUNGWON wrapped up MONSTA X’s busy summer 2023. Formed in 2015, MONSTA X has established themselves as a formidable beastly idol group with “Love Killa,” “Shoot Out,” and “BEASTMODE” under their belt. The two rappers of MONSTA X successfully kept Monbebe (fans of MONSTA X) and new listeners glued to their headphones since the beginning of this summer. In May of 2023, MONSTA X’s main rapper, Joohoney, debuted as a soloist with LIGHTS. A month after LIGHTS, maknae and rapper, I.M., returned as a soloist with a new EP, OVERDRIVE.  On July 23, SHOWNU X HYUNGWON debuted as a subunit duo with THE UNSEEN — a steamy, dripping-wet, five-track EP, just in time to quench the summer heat.

THE UNSEEN: Steamy, Sultry & Smooth

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment

The duo is known in the K-pop industry as emotive, smooth dancers with voices that are easy to the ears. Shownu entered the industry first as a backup dancer for Lee Hyori. Hyungwon, on the other hand, is a DJ (H.ONE) and MONSTA X’s prized composer and lyricist. As a subunit, without the powerful voice of main vocalist Kihyun, SHOWNU X HYUNGWON still manages to grip listeners in their own way. They expose a steamier and sultry side of MONSTA X that fans may not have seen or heard before.


The title track of THE UNSEEN, “Love Me a Little,” is a flirtatious pop song, decked out in electric guitars, deep percussions, and a cheeky bass. Penned by member Hyungwon, the words of the song cast a mirage of push-and-pull. The chorus, in particular, exudes a sultry charisma in the repetitive line that goes, “Du-du-du, du-du-du-du-du.” The subsequent tone changes to a more impassioned, desperate plea to their lover: “love me a little bit.” The song does not fall short of play on English words, as the protagonist confesses, “날 향해 조여 오는 needle and a threat.” These lyrics metaphorize the lover’s gaze as prickly. Hyungwon plays with the idiom, a needle and a thread, often used to describe someone finding harmony in a conflict. But by phonetically replacing “thread” with “threat,” the lyricist shifts the narrative: The needle is the threat, and there is no harmony to be found.

Reflecting the duo’s sharp business attire throughout their promotional photos, SHOWNU X HYUNGWON’s lyrics borrow elements of the finance and trade industry. Think “Wall Street-core.” In the bridge, the duo take turns repeating the phrase, “You got me every minute after hour.” After hour refers to the trading that takes place after the close of the business day. This allusion points to the things lovers do in the dark — things that they do not want others to see. In other words, unseen. With such seductive and illusive lyrics, SHOWNU X HYUNGWON kicked off their long-anticipated debut.

A Silhouette that Makes the Heaven Bloom

Love Therapy,” the second track of the EP, is founded on a bed of synth bass and minimal percussion. This simplistic formula of bare instrumentals affords room to center the duo’s vocals. Paying close attention, listeners can find playfulness in the lyrics of “Love Therapy.” The duo rhymes the Korean word 힘이 (“strength,” him-ee) with the English phrase “heal me,” as a juxtaposition of rough and soft edges in love. Embedded in the lyrics is a silhouette that can make the heaven bloom — inferring that love (romance) takes away any pain, like therapy.

The theme of therapy in this song is also largely plastered on the digital album cover of THE UNSEEN. As the duo lay the back of their heads against each other, both dressed in black turtlenecks, they form a united being. And if the lighting of the photo were to be adjusted dimmer, their silhouette as a whole becomes something we might see in a Rorschach test. This projective psychological test comprises a series of inkblots that the test subject is supposed to interpret. Similarly, “Love Therapy” is composed of layers — open to interpretation — that unravel with every listen, stripping away the fabrics that reveal the meaning of love.

Money, Fame & Empty Diamond Rings

Following “Love Therapy” is “Roll With Me,” a sassy, seductive, and prideful song — written, composed, and produced by Hyungwon. This song oozes with traces of SHOWNU X HYUNGWON’s confidence, from lyrics to the melody. In a slightly dark tone, the staccato piano on this track scatters throughout. Jumping right to the chorus in the opening, Shownu lends a confident voice to the protagonist: “I got everything, the money and the fame.” But the protagonist does not stop there. He laments that money and fame mean nothing to him, metaphorizing this loneliness as an “empty diamond ring.” In a state of feeling incomplete, the protagonist admits that despite having everything, he still needs his lover to “make [his] life complete.” At the end of each chorus, the protagonist repeats, “No, it don’t [sic] mean a thing, if you don’t roll with me.” Oozing with desperation born from loneliness, “Roll With Me” is a welcomed earworm that turns lust and loneliness into a work of art.

The Playful, Lust-Filled “Play Me”

The dark tones of THE UNSEEN slowly fades at the entrance of the fourth track. “Play Me” is noticeably brighter in melody and key than the preceding tracks, donning the cohesive, lustful lyrics that come straight from the bedroom. The protagonist directly tells his love interest that he wants her — that there’s a deepening thirst inside him that slowly chokes him. In the second verse, the protagonist reveals how his lover teases him with little drops of allure that he claims to be “Dangerous…” Even so, he still begs for more — until he admits, as translated by EnVi, “My love that’s played by your hands, I don’t hate it” (“너의 손에 놀아나는 my love, 싫지 않아”). He lets her play with his love in her hand, inferring that she has complete control over him. The latter of these lyrics reveals that he does not hate this feeling at all — and instead enjoys it. 

Just before the song reaches its climax, it slows down at the bridge. Here, the protagonist enters a monologue as the instruments strip away: “아마, I’m so stupid” (“Maybe, I’m so stupid”), followed by “너를 벗어나는 법은 몰라 / 그러니 계속, play me” (“Don’t know of a way to escape you, so go on and play me”). The remarkable mixing of their vocals in the bridge effectively mirages their voices as if the song is sung by one person. Just when it’s clear that Hyungwon is leading the vocals in the first line of the bridge, he switches to the background harmony in the second line, while Shownu smoothly transitions into the melody. As much as the song is about the protagonist being played by his lover, so too are the listeners with the seamless switcheroos.

I Really Wanna Dance with You

Rarely does consent serve as a foundational element in pop music or K-pop. SHOWNU X HYUNGWON exudes confidence and seduction in “Slow Dance” as the conclusion to THE UNSEEN. The protagonist asks his love interest, “허락해 줘 can I kiss you?” (“Please answer me, can I kiss you?”), reminding listeners that consent is appreciated and very sexy. At the burst of the chorus, he confidently declares his feelings to his lover: “I really wanna dance with you.” Disguising intimacy as a dance is nothing short of pure poetry. There is also a playfulness to “Slow Dance,” as a comedic sound — similar to that of Super Mario’s iconic coin-collecting ding — circulates throughout the song. This bright sound, paired with the seductive atmosphere of the lyrics, closes the chill, charismatic EP with a positively charged energy.

After Hour of SHOWNU X HYUNGWON’s Debut

Monbebe and new fans of MONSTA X have much more to look forward to in the future. The SHOWNU X HYUNGWON subunit is another achievement under the monster group’s belt. From velvety vocal-mixing to silky-smooth choreography, the newest duo on the K-pop block has secured a solid place on many listeners’ playlists. The two charming members of MONSTA X have been busy since their debut, crushing it on all K-pop music show stages and now traveling around the world to perform for their global fans to close out summer 2023.

Thirsty for more of the elusive SHOWNU X HYUNGWON? Check out EnVi’s breakdown of the duo’s fashion for their debut here.