After BtoB‘s participation in Kingdom: Legendary War, in which they left a series of stunning performances befitting of such a veteran, they came back for the first time with 4U: Outside. With members Sungjae and Hyunsik still in the military, the four-member subunit — comprising leader Seo Eunkwang, Lee Changsub, Lee Minhyuk and Peniel — made a triumphant return.

The album starts off strong with “Dreamer”, a cheery and uplifting song encouraging listeners to pursue their dreams. The repeated refrains of “Do what you wanna do” and “feel your heartbeat” coupled with the catchy beats of the track create a lovely atmosphere, a soundscape where it feels as if all of our wildest dreams will really come true.

Eunkwang and Changsub’s rich adlibs greatly enhance the song and their vocal prowess is evident right from this opening track. The chorus singing effect in the bridge is also aptly applied, and “Dreamer” would certainly be a great song for fans to sing along to when physical concerts become possible again.

While the rap-heavy title track “Outsider” follows a formula that is not typically expected of BtoB, it is as addictive as “Dreamer”. The strong bass riffs kicking off the track cue listeners in to the fierce song awaiting, and it definitely does not disappoint. Changsub’s marvellous chest voice is on full display here, while Minhyuk and Peniel get to shine with their unique flows and rhythms. Minhyuk’s verse in particular, stands out because of the determination he carries even as he spits fire. Lyrically, it flows well from “Dreamer”, and challenges the normally negative connotation of the word “Outsider”.

Rather than staggering along with everyone else in the dreary rat race, BtoB make a strong statement about preferring to be outsiders who are free to pursue their dreams. The liberation that they sing about is something that many of us crave, although we do not all have the courage to step onto the path less taken.

An extra dimension of meaning is added when we consider how the lyrics to both songs were written by Minhyuk and Peniel themselves, this being an expression of their own bravery as they chased their dreams and stepped onto this path of becoming idols. Even after almost a decade of being active in the K-pop scene, BtoB reminds us that they are still chasing their dreams, and they will not stop.

With a slight shift towards a more melodic genre, “Traveller” carries on this theme about pursuing your dreams, and its heartfelt lyrics convey comfort in leaps and bounds. Sometimes, having determination is not enough, and when the trials of life threaten to overwhelm, the important reminders of this track are worth keeping in mind.

One step at a time, let’s go step by step
‘Cause if you don’t stop, it’s not over
It’s okay to go slowly and at your own pace
Don’t compare yourself to others, just take your time
It’s not a race, I have to go my own way, I know that

The light synth instrumentation is well-blended with the falsettos and harmonies’ of the vocalists, leaving enough space for their beautiful natural voices to shine. All of this is achieved while preserving the space-like vibes that are created with the complex mix of sounds used in this track, as if we were all on a journey to the moon.

Eunkwang’s voice is well-known but he really demonstrates his prowess here in the delicate way he uses his head voice. Rather than going overly breathy and risk sounding too weak for this empowering song, he delivers it with grace and just the right amount of engagement. The seamless way he switches resonance throughout his parts of the song is also noteworthy.

Moving beyond the theme of dreams, BtoB depicts the acute pain of losing a loved one in “Can’t breathe”. Despite its subject matter, it is still a very lively song in which raps remain prominent. The change in pace between the fast-paced, hard-hitting rap verses and the emotive pre-choruses feel a little jarring, but the choruses are intense, decked out with solid multi-part harmonies, powerful adlibs and a great underlying beat.

Such a track leverages on all the strengths of this all-rounded subunit, and is a sound that fits perfectly on this album even with its slight differences to BtoB’s sound as a full group. The bold mix of genres within each track is a mark of Minhyuk’s artistry, and his well-placed confidence in the abilities of his group members to pull the songs off.

We enter traditional ballad territory with “Waiting 4 U”, a song written and composed by Hyunsik. This track could be interpreted in many ways, whether romantically or as a song from BtoB to their fans, but the sense of longing is undeniable. Set apart from the first second of the song by its pure acoustic opening, it leads viewers into the quiet, contemplative mood that the song occupies.

A BtoB ballad can never be bad, especially when we get to hear rare vocal runs from our rappers and enjoy the powerful belting of the vocalists. The slight variations Eunkwang and Changsub make in their voices as they progress through the song really helps in building it towards an emotional climax, and allows the track to always feel alive.

Thus far, this album has just been such a solid work of art, built on the extensive experience BtoB has gathered in the past decade. They have become experts in their field, and the last track of the album, “Finale (Show and Prove)” reminds us of the fact that they should never be overlooked.

10 years and we still
Going strong (Oh yeah)
That it’s the beginning (Right now)
If you overlook us
Then you’re gonna miss out
You’ll regret it later (Uh)

This song was first released during their stint on Kingdom, when each group had to perform an original song to close off the competition. It was definitely one of the best among all of the releases, and its “The Greatest Showman” vibes rendered it perfect for such a grand stage. “Finale” is powerful, awe-inspiring and is an extremely fitting way to round off both their journey at Kingdom as well as 4U: Outside. BtoB definitely succeeded at reminding us why they are still relevant, and with their desire to continue pursuing their dreams, we can look forward to witnessing the fantastic journey that lies ahead of them.

(Youtube [1] [2]. Images via Cube Entertainment. Lyrics via Genius.)