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.
As usual, I prefer Monsta X’s new album to its title track. Alligator is fine, but ultimately feels like a retread of better material. We Are Here is more varied that that track might suggest. It’s not nearly as strong as last year’s Are You There, but its relentlessly uptempo b-sides keep the energy moving. Songs like Stealer, Give Me Dat and Rodeo do a good job twisting the Monsta X sound just enough to stand out, but it’s the buzzy Play It Cool that marks an evolution for the group.
Sometimes I feel like a wet blanket within K-pop fandom, because while everyone else seems excited about international collaborations from their favorite groups, I usually have the opposite reaction. I think this stems from my dissatisfaction with (and at this point, alienation from) the current state of Western pop music. Reading that Play It Cool was produced by popular US DJ Steve Aoki meant very little to me. But thankfully, the song itself is quite strong. It borrows liberally from the now-ubiquitous deep house trend, but is bolstered by an incredibly potent hook. The melody is more simplistic and repetitive than I usually like, but this single-mindedness actually works in its favor. It helps that the group’s performance is streamlined and smooth, sidestepping the usual bombast (ie: posturing) that can sometimes make their music feel cumbersome. Honestly, I wish this was the title track — if only to see how the general public would react.