As part of my “Top 100 K-pop Songs of All-Time” countdown, I took the effort to dive deeply into my top ten picks and break them down moment by moment.
But, there are plenty of other songs that deserve this same treatment. So, The Bias List proudly presents an in-depth feature: “Breaking Down the K-pop Song.”
As part of this feature, I’ll be taking a close look at some of the songs that really resonate with me. They could be personal favorites, or simply tracks that are too interesting to ignore. This feature will include title tracks, b-sides… even J-pop.
**Although I have a musical ear, I’m not technically trained. As a result, these breakdowns will often describe things in a more abstract way rather than use a ton of technical jargon. But as always, my passion for this music will certainly shine through!
SHINee – One Minute Back
Released in 2013, One Minute Back (1분만) is the fourth track on SHINee’s fifth mini album Everybody. Though not actively promoted, the b-side has become a favorite of many fans. Musically, it’s one of the group’s most experimental works.
Put on your headphones and join me as I break down this song and explain why it’s so satisfying.
Music: Fredrik Häggstam, Sebastian Lundberg, Johan Gustafson, Andrew Jackson
Lyrics: Jeon Gan-di
00:00-00:15 – One Minute Back opens with a haunting synth, pulled downward to create an instant sense of tension. The sound of a car pulling up on a gravel road adds a sense of mysterious ambience. Something feels very wrong in SHINee World, and I’m eager to find out what that is.
The percussion begins to fill out the instrumental – a simple stomp. But, the drums have incredible texture – a sense of urgency that’s heightened by a panting vocal strung into a rhythmic pattern. Just as the skeleton of the song begins to come together, the arrangement changes and we’re left with an imposing drum line that echoes like a heart beat.
00:15-00:25 – The core rhythm returns, alongside Jonghyun’s vocals. As with everything he did, this simple melody line becomes infinitely more engaging by the way he pulls on each syllable. This portion of the verse climaxes in a frenzied burst of descending falsetto.
00:25-00:34 – Here we have an echo of what we just heard, but that ending flourish is more insistent this time, and joined by a more robust layer of vocals and a rubbery synth underline.
00:34-00:44 – The instrumental explodes here, as that tentative beat becomes a driving cavalcade of percussive elements. Taunting synth flourishes war with thundering drum fills and gritty bass. The melody becomes more frantic as well, as if the intentional calm of the verses has suddenly spun out of control.
Thematically, this struggle between time and tempo is right on the nose. You don’t have to understand the Korean lyrics to get a sense of what this song is about.
00:44-00:54 – The pre-chorus continues, though the melody pulls downward and a spoken-word backing vocal brings a cinematic quality to this blender of samples. Key’s off-kilter vocal competes with a confrontational synth. It sounds as if it’s sucking him – and all of SHINee – into some pop music wormhole. This is joined by the sound of a boxing ring bell because… you know… the more sound effects, the merrier.
00:54-01:05 – The percussion changes once again as we hit the chorus. This first part is incredibly rhythmic. SHINee deliver their lines as if they’re delivering punches. In fact, most of the chorus’s rhythmic force is driven by their performance. The stomping drums that underlined the verses are replaced by the occasional clap, and a jazzy synth line runs underneath to give this segment a real interesting blend of sounds and textures.
01:05-01:16 – The chorus becomes slightly more melodic here, but before we know it we’re back to that punchy phrasing. The entire thing climaxes in a brilliant wash of vocals, tumbling down in a cascade that perfectly encapsulates One Minute Back’s transitory nature.
01:16-01:25 – If you thought you were in for smooth sailing, SHINee have more surprises in store for you. One Minute Back strips itself down to a sinister, extended bass note, over which the guys offer a whisper that grows into a series of plaintive cries as that single drum comes in to threaten us with a few horror show thuds.
01:25-01:28 – SHINee’s disconnected notes forge together for a kaleidoscopic harmony. The guys go full Bohemian Rhapsody on us, and it’s a brilliant moment of clarity and release within an otherwise claustrophobic track.
01:28-01:40 – This leads directly into the second verse, but the real treat here is in the transition. A wave of electronics pull us back into the groove with panache, giving that first drum beat extra emphasis. For a moment, we threatened to float away from the confines of the track. But, it yanks us back with renewed vigor. One Minute Back isn’t done with us yet!
01:40-01:50 – Rather than end on the expected vocal flourish, the song veers into a surprising breakdown. This segment is unfathomly funky, as SHINee’s vocals form the basis for the percussion. Their descending line forges an exciting playground for Minho’s dynamic rap.
This is the brilliance of this track. It plays with tempo and energy so passionately, drawing back only to rush forward in bursts of thrilling adrenaline. It really keeps you on your toes, but never in a disjointed way.
01:50-02:09 – We’re back into the pre-chorus, and it really hasn’t changed from the first time we heard it. This is probably smart after all the craziness that preceded it. The segment remains as beguiling as ever, simultaneously building and releasing energy.
02:09-02:30 – Chorus number two.
Again, this is more of the same. Most second choruses tend to be direct repeats of the first, which is likely intentional. Above all else, they’re meant to stick in listeners’ heads, and that’s hard to do if you’re constantly messing with the arrangement.
02:30-02:47 – The percussion completely drops out here, and we’re left with chords and vocals. The melody here feels more obtuse than much of the song (and that’s saying something!). It’s not really building to anything, nor does it echo any refrain we’ve heard thus far. It’s an odd segment, but totally sold by SHINee’s impassioned performance and the clarity of the recording.
02:47-03:07 – But, that bridge’s purpose comes into focus as we hit the final chorus. It sets it up in a completely different way. Sometimes just rearranging the order of things causes segments to hit differently, and the chorus feels more explosive coming right after that vocal-heavy section. Some of the ad-libs bleed over as well, giving this repetition more heft than before.
03:07-03:28 – One Minute Back knows it has a good thing going, and repeats its chorus one last time. I love the spiraling percussion that kicks off this final repetition, and the vocal ad-libs are even more impassioned and affecting. The instrumental brings in a few extra swoops of synth and those jazzy undertones become slightly more prominent. It’s a rousing finale.
03:28-03:43 – But, the track ends on a more mysterious note. That sinister post-chorus breakdown is back, with the whispered vocals and uneasy notes. The percussion ticks away like a broken clock, and we’re left with a feeling of anxiety. I imagine that’s just what the song wanted.