written by: McRoth
Recently, Cube Entertainment found themselves caught in a little dilemma: either debut a new group while everybody is doing it, or hold off and prepare comebacks for later this season. Daringly, Cube has gone ahead and aimed to conquer both, debuting BTOB – their second boy band – and preparing 4Minute, Huh Gak, and A-Pink for full-fledged April comebacks, all of which are basically going to occur in a simultaneous clusterfuck. It’s like a family orgy, with a little BTOB christening on the side.
Enjoy that mental image.
In addition to the debut of BTOB, Cube also announced their new subsidiary, Cube DC.
Cube DC has set out to bring “customized artist management” in the long run by fragmenting the world market and utilizing individualized promotion strategies for the various markets of the world.
Their first artist, BTOB, will emphasize the emotional aspects of K-Pop through mesmerizing vocals, beautiful melodies, and lyrics, to establish a new “global standard” in the K-Pop market, and showcase their distinct appeal.
Sure, why not.
Cube is proving itself efficient in terms of musical marketing and development (i.e. Cube DC), and a lot of the company’s accolades come from the rigorous work they have put into molding 4minute (or just HyunA) and, arguably their biggest accomplishment, BEAST. To put it simply, with obvious comparisons and musical similarities aside, BTOB have a long-ass road ahead of them if they intend to follow in the footsteps of their seniors, especially if they want to make an impact like BEAST has.
BEAST have managed to leave their mark in the Korean music industry, not just for themselves but for the ever-growing Cube Entertainment brand. And now that Cube has found itself in a position where there’s an established standard within the label, where there’s a level of quality to be met, they’re kind of expected to deliver the goods. I mean, look at the response to A Pink. They’re not big by any means, but the genius musical direction Cube took with them has turned heads, mine included.
This year, however, Cube may have bitten off more than they can chew.
BTOB – Lee Changsub, Lim Hyun Sik, Lee Minhyuk, Jung Ilhoon, Peniel Shin, Seo Eunkwang, andYook Sungjae – is Cube’s second attempt at a boy band. While I don’t have much of an issue with BTOB itself, there is something rather sloppy about Cube’s entire presentation of the group thus far.
Looking at it from a music enthusiast’s point of view, when I think “new boy band”, especially one under the same camp as another, I’m looking for that company’s unique approach to differentiating it from an existing entity. For instance, take SM Entertainment. They’ve shelled out more boy bands than anybody, and yet each one is different in their own way; SHINee sounds nothing like Super Junior, yet there’s an instantaneous recognition of the SM brand in their work. That’s the kind of mentality I went into Cube’s announcement of BTOB. However, I didn’t quite get what I was looking for when they finally debuted.
BTOB’s debut mini album, “Born TO Beat“, was released last week. After days upon days of listening to it, I’m finding it difficult to give a fuck about it all. I’m not trying to sound brutal, but there’s something not quite clicking about BTOB, and most of my discomfort is rooted in Cube’s lack of execution rather than with BTOB themselves.
The mini album kicks off with “Born TO Beat“, the intro track. It’s a basic synth-pop mid-tempo, featuring pulsating synths, simple vocal processing (some auto-tuned rap and light layers), and nothing much more beyond that. Rather than functioning as something to entice you to sit down and listen to this mini album, it falls flatter than HyunA’s ass. In fact, now that I think about it, perhaps it does serve its purpose, because “Insane“, the lead single, quickly follows suit.
While “Insane” itself is not terrible, what I think could have amped it up a notch from just being one of BEAST’s throwaway B-side tracks is an interesting vocal performance. Something BTOB-ish. Unfortunately, BTOB come across incredibly dull for my taste. There’s nothing distinguishing about their recording, their voices, or in their delivery. Even worse is that there aren’t any stand out members in the group. Nothing (and nobody) is making me say “wow”, not even in a bad way, and I find that to be an unsettling way to respond to music.
“Imagine“, the third song on the mini album, does a slightly stronger job of capturing my attention. We’re also greeted by “beautiful melodies”, finally, as Cube DC promised. The whole somber, eerie production style that was present in the last two songs makes its third appearance in “Imagine”; except this time it functions as the sail to the tub rather than decorative draping on the side of the ship. “Imagine” is a slow-to-mid tempo track that sounds like the depressed sister of BEAST’s “The Fact“. It’s lifeless enough to make sense with the song, but lifeless all the same.
The only song that I found to be impressive and worth a full listen is “Monday To Sunday“. The lyrics are lulzy as hell, but there’s a delicate touch to it that makes it genuinely enjoyable. This is the one break in the entire mini album. The one moment when I can see BTOB building chasms between them and BEAST’s established boy band style. “Monday To Sunday” is cheesy in that K-pop sort of way, but at the same time the blend of the guitar riff and the uplifting synth arpeggiation sounds really nice on BTOB. I mean, they already have that “nice guy” look to them in their cover art, so I don’t know why they’re not committing to that more prominently in their music.
Overall, BTOB’s debut mini album was excruciatingly dull, almost deprived of all character, and entirely too derivative. Fans can argue that it’s disrespectful to compare BTOB to BEAST, but anybody with ears can hear that there’s a very clear crossover sound in this.
Which brings me to some unanswered questions:
1. Why wasn’t there enough effort placed on shaping BTOB’s sound and style to be uniquely BTOB’s?
2. Why is BTOB being presented in ways that we’ve already seen with BEAST?
3. Why oh why in God’s name do their songs sound like watered down versions of BEAST songs?
Cube played it way too safe with BTOB, and I don’t think that’s fair to the group. Regardless of how talented or untalented they may be, they at least deserved to be pointing in a direction that was all their own; a direction they could set sail toward and use to discover their own identity as a unit rather than sink into the shadows of one that is already in existence.
Nothing stands out about this music and nothing stands out about BTOB. I’m just hoping that Cube doesn’t continue to treat them like they’re a BEAST copy, because that’s just building them up for failure.