The Most Daring Mainstream Idol Pop Song of 2019 (and no one’s talking about it!)

You thought Stray Kids’ Side Effects was a wild ride?

Well, you were right… and I dearly love that song. But, it’s got competition.

I’ve wanted to write about Hey! Say! JUMP’s「I」ever since it was released last October, but couldn’t figure out a way to do it that would actually attract readers! So, I decided to craft an overblown title and review a song in a totally new way – piece by piece.

I really do think that 「I」is the most daring idol track of 2019. I’m well aware that the world is filled with far more adventurous music, but I’m talking about mainstream, top tier idol pop – a genre not always known for its willingness to stretch boundaries. And really, Hey! Say! JUMP and their management company Johnny’s Entertainment are about as mainstream as J-pop gets.

Honestly, I’m not all that interested in purely experimental music. It’s just not for me. But, if you can defy expectations while maintaining a tight, catchy pop song, you’ve got my attention and admiration.

Another reason I wanted to write about 「I」so badly is that it challenges so many of my own musical biases. It’s often slow, ponderous and moody. It even has its trappy moments. Yet, I find the song to be a phenomenal work of daring arrangement and inventive structure. The first time I heard it, I didn’t really know where it was going. And after it was over, I still wasn’t quite sure what I had listened to. But, it was so consistently engaging that I had to come back for more.

「I」 reminds me a lot of my favorite experimental K-pop b-side – SHINee’s incredible One Minute Back. It plays with dynamics and vocal layering in a similar way, and is powerful because of its quiet moments, not in spite of them. And, it’s co-written by Andreas Oberg, a producer who’s done his fair share of work for K-pop artists (including SHINee!).

So, press play and join me for the journey. Let me know if you like this approach to song reviewing. It’s not something I’ll do often, but certain tracks really lend themselves to a deeper approach.

00:00-00:17 – On first glance, this seems to be the kind of dull, mid-tempo r&b filler that can be found on many male idol group albums. But, then comes that hint of crisp disco guitar, and expectations are heightened.

00:17-00:34 – A cool, thunderstorm-like effect takes us into an incredibly muted segment with a surprising wisp of vocal harmony.

00:34-00:50 – The tension begins to build as layered vocals fade in. The instrumental is little more than a synth pad and a few skittering trap beats. It’s an eerie silence. Are we building to something big?

00:50-00:54 – The bottom completely drops out and the instrumental feels like it’s being crushed into a ball. WTF.

00:54-01:12 – Everything slams back as we enter the chorus. The vocal arrangement here is satisfyingly weird – at once passionate and robotic, echoed by a tightly-layered response that feels otherworldly.

01:12-01:29 – A kaleidoscope of sound effects, clattering and crashing and culminating in a muted explosion, with more of those alien vocals thrown over the top. Somehow, it’s still tight and rhythmic.

01:29-02:00 – Into the second verse and pre-chorus now. Things are starting to come into focus.

02:00-02:19 – No freaky anti-drop before the second chorus, which makes the earlier one all the more beguiling. The synths here are so evocatively dramatic.

02:19-02:27 – Now, wait a second! There’s those disco guitars from the opening again! Ah, it all ties together. For a brief eight seconds, the song transforms to an upbeat, new wave funk workout, and I’m utterly charmed.

02:27-02:44 – Just like that, the oxygen gets sucked up again and we’re deposited into a minimalist musical wasteland. A lot of recent K-pop songs try to make this same move, but it doesn’t work because it feels disconnected. In this case, the track has set us up for disorientation, making the results feel satisfying rather than frustrating.

02:44-03:07 – Things start to pick up again, with a wholly new set of percussion that acts more like the standard EDM pre-chorus we’re all used to hearing in modern pop music. But here, you get a weird sense of both acceleration and deceleration as the intensity grows. It’s a neat trick.

03:07-03:11 – And there we are… sucked into a wormhole again.

03:11-END – A really dynamic final chorus, where the arrangement changes just enough to allow for a well-placed power vocal and an even better synth-line that adds yet another new texture to the track before the dust has settled and the experience has ended.

 Hooks 9
 Production 10
 Longevity 10
 Bias 9

10 thoughts on “The Most Daring Mainstream Idol Pop Song of 2019 (and no one’s talking about it!)

  1. Pre-Listen: Not expecting much, don’t know If it’ll be any good. Nick says its good, usually songs he says are good end up being great. Hopefully his rating is right, though I have to remember that he did give Side Effects an initial rating of 8.5 soo

    First Listen:???? What? I’m writing this comment upon first listen but what? I don’t even know what I even listened to but I want to listen to it again. That was so weird and it was so hard to predict. I love that. It kept me guessing and I really wasn’t sold at first. When listening to the intro I was confused as to why this song was so special. When the chorus came in I still wasn’t completely blown away, but started to find the groove at 2:00. I found the dance break to be extremely well done and that final chorus blew me away. Now for me personally, getting wow-ed is what I look for in a form of entertainment. I was wowed by Side Effects and it ended up being my favorite song of 2019. I wished I could get a song like that again, but I didn’t know where to look. Now this, this is great. Its been 20 minutes and my face is still frozen in place, mouth wide open, and eyes open wide. I’m just at a loss for words, not many tracks do that on the first listen. Gosh I can’t talk much more I’ll be listening to the album.

    Second Listening: Yeah, I’m sold on the chorus, and I don’t see a track like this leaving my playlists anytime soon.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You perfectly encapsulated my feelings the first time I heard this, and I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone!

      My first listen was in the car, and I nearly had to pull over. Haha

      Liked by 2 people

  2. But is there a pack of wolves in the video? Please tell me there is a pack of mystical disco alien wolves in the video.

    This song is like the contemporary jpop equivalent of the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”. Themes upon themes that start and stop and start again all packed into a mere 4 minutes. Yeah, its good.


  3. Another great recommendation that blew me over while listening. Added to my playlist. Just how do you manage to listen to so many songs and still do reviews in such a fresh way is always great to see. If it was me I would run out of words.. You’re crazy for music Nick and I hope it always remain that way.
    God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You had me at “One Minute Back” haha. One of my favorite songs ever.

    I’m obsessed with the zipper sound effect right before the last chorus in this song. What an experience.


  5. Interesting song. I thought the picture used was clickbait, since the last time you did this kind of article it’s for the absolute nugu “Demion”.

    The detailed review definitely made me listen to it closer. Though… probably fits something more experimental than your average pop songs to make another one.


  6. Well, I’m finally commenting! I’m several days late to this but I’m just catching up on releases, and part of my routine includes checking up on your blog posts to see what you thought too! I’m yet another reader who has been around for a while – in fact, I can remember finding you when I searched for a review for Ten’s “Dream In A Dream” when it first came out because I was intrigued by the instrumental heavy format and how it didn’t fit the typical pattern of what we’ve come to know as a kpop song formula. I wanted to see what someone else thought of it, and I discovered your blog! I don’t mean to go even more off topic, but it thrilled me to find someone with such similar tastes as mine, and even if we differed or my own personal bias got in the way, I always appreciated hearing a review from someone who would describe a song more than being just a bop or flop. I’m no music expert, and yet I love music. I love oogling over background vocals or a particular instrumental and how it makes me feel. But in my friend group of young adults, it can be kind of hard to have those conversations with people. It either bores them, embarrasses me of my seemingly strange obsession, or just shows me that not as many people talk about music super in depth like that. So let me just sum up this already way too long comment by thanking you for continuing to have these kinds of reviews!

    That being said, my actual point is… I love this format you’ve done of taking us through the song second by second! It helped me get an even more surreal experience out of this song and you helped me find the words to describe what was happening with this one (which is a LOT wow this is going to get a revisit). I would love to see you do this as an in depth review with songs you adore! One Minute Back, any favorite title or bside, I think it’s a great idea!


    • What a nice comment! Thanks, and welcome to the world of The Bias List comments section!

      I’ll tell you one thing for sure: there’s nothing strange about wanting to discuss music in depth. If that’s considered weird, then I’m the biggest weirdo on the planet!

      Point taken on the review format. It’s fun to do, but definitely doesn’t fit most songs. I’m sure I’ll revisit it sometime when I find the right track that warrants it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.