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!
Golden Child – Eyes On You
Eyes On You (너) is a track from Golden Child’s 2018 mini album Wish. During an interview, rapper Jangjun described the song as a “new sensation,” and I think that’s very apt. I was already a huge fan of the group at this point, but Eyes On You solidified my impression that their discography would be every bit as inventive and powerful as agency seniors Infinite. It’s the kind of song I want the general public to hear, because I don’t think most casual fans would expect a group called Golden Child — with bubbly songs like Let Me, DamDaDi and It’s U — to pull off such a daring track.
This post is a tribute to their excellence, but also to the outstanding work of producer J.Yoon, who tragically passed away earlier this year. He was an incredible musician, gone too soon.
Eyes On You is one of the few songs the group has never performed live, but here’s an informal practice room video of main vocalists Joochan and Y jamming out to the track.
Put on your headphones and join me as I break down this song and explain why it’s so satisfying.
Lyrics: Sweetune, Jangjun, Tag
00:00-00:16 – I love when songs open with a bang, and Eyes On You punches you right in the gut with this abrasive synth hook. Its chopped sound acts as a percussive slab, previewing the song’s central melody in an off-kilter introduction that will instantly catch your ear.
Programmed drums enter to fill out the lower end of the soundscape before the instrumental pauses and we hit a brilliant rush of vocals. Y’s voice is as aggressive and charged as that synth, inviting the listener into the frenzied maelstrom that’s to come.
00:16-00:30 – Now that we’ve been teased, the full brunt of the production can let loose. The synth returns, accompanied by a breathless dance beat. An electric guitar solo adds fuel to the fire, exploding with intensity. We hear these sort of guitar breaks often in K-pop, but rarely during the introduction of a song!
Underneath, the guys’ vocals are chopped into a percussive gallop, as if they’ve been sucked into the hulking frame of the instrumental. It’s all brilliantly bonkers.
00:30-00:45 – This verse is odd in the best way. Each line runs into the next, with a mix of echoey held notes and staccato responses. All the while, the melody seesaws — descending, ascending and ultimately evaporating into a fizzy headrush of a high note. It keeps the listener off-balance, refusing to find one cohesive tone. This may sound like frustrating madness, but it works so well.
00:45-00:52 – The beat kicks back in, along with the guitar. The vocal becomes more powerful, bringing grit and focus to the verse.
00:52-00:59 – We’re back to those airy tones, as we take breezy footsteps down that descending melody. Of course, this is only set-up for a fantastic power note, which ends the first verse with an exclamatory burst of drama.
00:59-01:14 – You’d expect to drop into the chorus here, but we’ve got one more segment to go. This pre-chorus offers an unusual build. The vocal is more robotic in nature, delivering a melody that could be described as “halting.” The synths gather force, forging a glitchy electro soundscape that’s so textured it’s practically tactile. EDM effects swoop by underneath, signaling the beat drop that’s about to come.
01:14-01:28 – And here’s that bombastic melody from the introduction! It’s brought that raging guitar with it, alongside the incredible synth hook. This is fire and brimstone in a pop song, surging with energy and heat.
Although the melody is quite simple, it’s got a real unexpected quality to it. Those descending ad-libs after the first refrain are so strange and inventive. It sounds like the vocal is steadily losing power, which makes the second half the chorus slam in with even greater intensity.
If you were to take each element of this chorus apart, it doesn’t feels as if they’d fit back together. I mean, who puts an electric guitar solo in the chorus of their pop song? It’s amazing that none of this sounds the least bit jarring. But, that’s K-pop at its best: incorporating disparate elements into one cohesive whole.
01:28- 01:43 – After a brief spiral of synth, we propel into the rap verse. It’s a brilliant one, utilizing the song’s energy for an exciting flow that’s light on its feet and dripping with character.
Notice how Eyes On You loses absolutely no momentum here. In fact, I’d say it actually gains energy, as if charging up for another battle. The instrumental is intricate and lively, fusing hiccupping electronics onto the backbone of the track to craft an incredible sense of movement. The synth alone is so compelling. Add Jangjun and Tag’s voices and you’ve got a knockout double punch. I especially love how the production pulls back during the finale of Tag’s verse, creating the perfect transition into the next segment.
01:43-01:57 – This melody will sound familiar, as we heard it during verse one. It’s still disarmingly strange in the way it moves, dipping when you’d expect it to climb and bounding when you’d expect it to dive.
The instrumental carries over some of the elements from that rap verse, resulting in a complex arrangement. Long synth lines sputter into dead ends. Whistles make for unexpected flourishes. Lo-fi, music box tones battle it out with aggressive percussion.
And, it all climaxes in that clear, resounding power note once again.
01:57-02:01 – Instead of a second pre-chorus, the song is briefly upended by distorted electronics, as if the signal’s gone bad and the whole thing is about to collapse in on itself. Of course, this never happens because it’s time for…
02:01-02:15 – …the second chorus! Listen closely to the first half of this one, because it’s really something.
A wall of processed vocals rushes in alongside the chorus and sweeps through the track until we hit those descending ad-libs. This element is easy to miss, but adds an immensity to the refrain, coming in like a wall of sound.
02:15-02:34 – An off-kilter dance track deserves an equally inventive bridge, and we definitely get one here. The first part is relatively straightforward, as Jibeom’s calm vocal salves some of the bite from the track. This culminates in a heavenly blend of harmony, giving the melody a choir-like sheen.
Overlapping this bright burst of sound is a more menacing hook, numbed and repetitive.
All the while, guitar twists into an industrial moan as the synth climbs toward an unsettled peak. Things are building back up, but in a chaotic manner that keeps you wondering where Eyes On You is going.
02:34-03:05 – It turns out, we’re heading to that greatest of pop song inventions: the key change!
The chorus comes roaring back for one final blast, elevated by a brilliant key change that makes it sound euphoric and triumphant. That wall of sound backing vocal returns as well, higher and more excited than before. The guitar is as fiery as ever, bolstering the entire refrain with a cathartic energy.
In fact, the guitar largely takes over during Eyes On You’s finale, offering one more shot of rock and roll bombast. And before we know it, the song stutters to an end, wrapping up just as abruptly and confidently as it had started.