Buried Treasure: Cosmic Girls (WJSN) – I-Yah

Most of the time, a k-pop group’s title track is the best song on their album. But, sometimes b-sides deserve recognition too. In the singles-oriented world of k-pop, I wanted to spotlight some of these buried treasures and give them the props they deserve.

When I see the title “I-Yah,” I instantly think of Boyfriend’s Sweetune-produced anthem of the same name, and then of the first generation symphonic rap-rock hit by H.O.T. My mind certainly isn’t drawn to Infinite’s Back, but Cosmic Girls’ I-Yah comes across as the female equivalent of that 2014 classic. It lifts entire instrumental sequences from the song, and climbs to a similar kind of chill-inducing climax.

But this isn’t even the best part. I-Yah was partially composed and arranged by Kim Seung-soo, co-founder of my favorite production team Sweetune. Now, Back was infamously not a Sweetune production, but the fact that Seung-soo has clearly taken that track as inspiration just blows my nerdy producer-loving mind. It’s like things have come full circle, in some crazy (and probably meaningless) way.

All this behind-the-scenes talk isn’t to take anything away from the girls themselves. I-Yah is a sweeping track on its own, in part because of its stellar vocal arrangement. Cosmic Girls have one of the most distinguishable, layered sounds among this generation’s girl groups, and that’s put to riveting use here. The descending harmonies that buttress the chorus are pure bliss, adding contrast to a melody that just keeps ascending. This all climaxes in a perfectly placed power note that signals the final chorus. It’s thrilling stuff, and probably the best thing the group has recorded yet.

 Hooks 9
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 9

6 thoughts on “Buried Treasure: Cosmic Girls (WJSN) – I-Yah

  1. You can’t just mention the best kpop song in history (don’t @ me I know you worship The Chaser) like that!! I could write a few thousand words on why exactly Back is the best song ever but I’ll stick to the fact that the arrangement is pure genius – Back by Infinite has a lot of parts that are pure instrumental, and so when the vocals do come in, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Have you ever noticed that the chorus in back plays twice instead of three times, like most pop songs? This is the choice that makes the song- by doing this weird structural delay thing, the piano line functions as a pseudo-chorus and so when the main instrumental melody and the vocal chorus melody come together for the last 30 seconds or so, the result is absolutely showstopping, incomprehensibly good, and personally maybe my favorite thirty seconds of musical history.

    “I-Yah” does not follow the Back Structural Template and therefore is exempt from all comparisons in my book; after all in my opinion what makes Back so good is the structure (and the melody, and everything else about it). I actually really liked “I Yah” the first time I listened to it. It has the same sort of thing going on with soprano-range piano melody line over descending circle of fifths chords- obviously whoever wrote this was definitely influenced by the instrumental of Back and that part of the arrangement IS very similar. It just doesn’t have the same dynamic range, and doesn’t rip the right parts. Namely, Cosmic Girls never really stop singing, the chorus is really long, plays three times, Exy’s parts do the Sweetune thing where the rap is always over the main instrumental riff; there are a ton of melodic phrases while back is very economical with its phrasing, the vocals are front and center from the very beginning; it’s just not that comparable on (what I think are) the most important points.

    That’s not to say “I Yah” isn’t absolutely smashing, by the way. Back-style instrumentation can never really go wrong, and as you said that vocal harmony ornamentation sounds great.There ARE a whole lot of melodic phrases, but they function to create a layered effect that really works for me. The instrumentation is really dense 100% of the time without letting up which, while it does mean there isn’t much room for dynamic range and space, also means that there’s a really engaging and lush sonic background going on. There’s not huge rhythmic or textural variation (except in the bridge), but I appreciate how it drives forward instead of holding back- and it definitely means the the bridge-to-Exy-spoken-word bit makes an impact with the listener. It’s especially great how the bridge employs big synths without dropping to half time (for once). The longform chorus proves to be a huge strength at the end, when the second half kicks in and the wave of harmonies knocks the listener away. In short, all of the things that are different from Back are the reasons why “I Yah” is actually a really strong song. You know, Back in spirit but not in style.

    P.S. “I-Yah” by Boyfriend is an underrated masterpiece if I ever heard one. That song is absolutely great. Also I’m not ragging on you, I just love writing about how good a song Back is (I also saw a lot of people in the YouTube comments making the same comparison). I actually once played a piano arrangement of Back that was WAY too hard for my skill level/work ethic at the time (I wouldn’t spend any time actually learning it properly because I was impatient to get to the final product), and that’s how I came to appreciate its intricacies and general genius. Most solo piano arrangements of Back generally cut out all of the good bits, and when I finally found one that included all of the fun, I don’t think 10 fingers were enough to handle it! I actually have very bad ears for a musician (I can’t play a thing by ear, the best I can do is recognize intervals, certain progressions, all good enough to write comments on but I’m a much better theorist on paper, so having the notes in front of me gave me a whole new understanding of just how lit of a song it was. Of course, I could probably play it much better now (and I might switch up the arrangement a little and do it if I have time), but that was an important learning experience, and it definitely convinced me that kpop is basically as complex as most compositions even get, just with a little more structure and shine and eyeliner.

    TL;DR I am an ardent Back worshipper who knows maybe a little bit too much about it. Also I-Yah is really good song that takes inspiration from Back, but ends up being very different.

    P.P.S. Why is it that I can write 900 words about kpop on thebiaslist,but can’t finish my papers? The true question.

    P.P.S Maybe? Start my own blog. Sometimes I write more on your blog than you write on your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In all honesty, half of the reason I wrote this post was in anticipation of your comment!

      I knew you’d be into it, and that you’d have an interesting, musically-informed take to share. As usual, I love reading your thoughts.

      Liked by 3 people

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