The last two weeks of March was a busy period of time in terms of K-pop. SHINee made their highly anticipated comeback, rookie group NU’EST continued their promotions, and veteran idols Shinhwa unleashed their comeback album followed by two successful comeback concerts. With all this activity going on, it was easy to miss out on the debut of Cube Entertainment‘s newest boy group: BtoB. I found their debut to be sadly lackluster and pedestrian, despite my enthusiasm about their sunbaes from Cube, Beast. Cube tends to be somewhat of a hit-or-miss company with debuts, however. Beast’s establishment as an adept idol group was only solidified last year after the release of their single, “Fiction.” 4Minute made a splash on the K-pop scene recently as well with “Volume Up,” but BtoB’s entrance was far from glamorous or memorable, much to fans’ disappointment.

Cube Entertainment announced their plans for a new boy group prior to BtoB’s debut in March 2012. The seven members are currently Seo Eun-kwang, Lee Min-hyuk, Lee Chang-sub, Lim Hyun-sik, Shin Dong-geun (or Peniel, take your pick), Jung Il-hoon, and Yook Sung-jae. There was a little confusion when Lee Min-woo was removed from the list of members, but Cube stated later that it was due to health reasons. He will be debuting in the future if his health improves, but there were still some fans who were extremely disappointed. On April 3rd, Cube dropped BtoB’s first mini-album, Born TO Beat. Featuring one dance track (not including the introduction) and two ballad-type tracks, Born TO Beat was supposed to appeal to fans of all types of K-pop. Let’s see if it lived up to all the hype it received.

Track 1: “Born TO Beat The intro track, so cleverly named, is full of synths at a quick tempo. The vocals are somewhat auto-tuned, so it’s very difficult to gauge the actual skill level of the boys from this one track. Well, it’s an intro after all–so no big deal. It’s not memorable and it doesn’t stand out, but since it only runs for a minute and twenty-five seconds complaining about it is a waste of breath.

Track 2: “Insane”  Oh, Cube. With the first real track that BtoB threw out, they immediately pegged themselves in the eyes of a lot of fans as Beast wannabes. And while it’s not their fault, the blame would be Cube’s for giving them a track that sounds suspiciously like a Beast reject, nothing about “Insane” stands out. The piano melody at the beginning is pretty, but overused. The orchestral effects were too reminiscent of “Fiction” to be impressive. Even the music video, which you can read about here, seemed like a signature Beast MV with its destroyed pianos and styling for the boys. The song itself is actually quite catchy, but a stronger vocal performance could have added a little more “oomph” to it. Sure, passionate expressions and dramatic hand gestures convey the feeling of desperation, sadness, and anger, but the vocals were definitely lacking. The mediocre vocals did not measure up to the strength of the track which caused it to be an easily forgotten song on the mini-album, despite it being their promotional single.

With that said, the boys are certainly nice to look at. I also really liked the heartfelt lyrics the group managed to convey through a faster dance track. The rap parts are also well-executed by their rapper, Jung Il-hoon, and the whole song has a nice flow to it even if it doesn’t stand out.

Track 3: “Imagine” The last two tracks on the mini-album are my favorites. The boys displayed more individuality in “Imagine,” which is a ballad about a guy’s dilemma between two girls — the one he’s with and the one he wants to be with. Eerie tones are used throughout the song to convey the feelings of confusion, but in the end “Imagine” just sounded like another reject song from Beast. The vocals stood out a little more in this one though, which I appreciated. The performance BtoB put on at their debut showcase of this song was actually quite impressive, taking into consideration that they were rookies and sang the whole song live (I’m looking at you, EXO).

Track 4: “Monday to Sunday— Most fans were ready to chart BtoB off as nothing special considering that all the previous tracks on Born TO Beat sounded suspiciously similar to tracks from Fiction and Fact. But for the last track, “Monday to Sunday,” Cube decided to throw a curveball at us. The first difference between this track and the rest of the tracks can be seen through the addition of Jörgen Elofsson to the list of composers. Elofsson is known for having composed tracks for pop artists all around the world, including Britney Spears, Shayne Ward, Kelly Clarkson, and even Super Junior and SNSD. He must have liked working with K-pop artists, or maybe they just paid him well, because Cube somehow managed to nab him as a composer for BtoB’s last track. I’m not the biggest fan of the lyrics and thought that the other two tracks were stronger in that sense, but the overall feel of the song definitely deviated from the trend that was “Insane” and “Imagine.” In “Monday to Sunday,” the boys established a unique sound for themselves instead of borrowing from their sunbaes. The guitar chords blended nicely with the boys’ voices and added a nice touch that made the song very catchy.

All in all, this mini-album didn’t really stand out or give BtoB a promising debut. It was difficult to ignore the similarities between their music and Beast’s, but the group is not to blame for that. Cube probably thought that they could achieve the same level of success with BtoB if they just gave them concepts that Beast had previously used. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing entertainment companies in South Korea don’t want to do, it’s ripping off their own groups. Just look at SM Entertainment — they have a huge number of groups and it’s easy to tell when listening to their music that they’re signed to SM, but each group has a unique element. Super Junior sounds nothing like SHINee, and f(x) and SNSD are on opposite ends of the K-pop spectrum. I don’t think that BtoB lacks talent at all; they just got the short end of the stick handed to them by Cube for their debut. Perhaps it was because Cube was focused on the comebacks of 4Minute and A Pink, but whatever their reason for the lack of attention on BtoB, it was unfair to the group that they didn’t receive their own direction to head in as artists. I’m willing to give BtoB another shot though with the release of their next mini-album/album, because after all, it took me two whole years to become a Beast fan.

Overall, I give the album a C. What are your thoughts on BtoB’s debut album? Did you spot the same problems with Born TO Beast as I did?

(officialbtob, Cube Entertainment [1], [2])