Edited by Yoon
Translated by Cho EK
A sub-unit refers to a smaller group composed of members from one or more larger parent groups. This is oftentimes done to promote certain members with specific roles or to showcase a concept or style different from the group’s usual expertise. Sometimes, it is done to coordinate the schedule within a large group effectively when some members aren’t available at the time. Sub-units offer an exciting opportunity for fans to see a variety of performances done by different members of groups. Here are the five best K-pop sub-units and their songs that impressed us the most!
Orange Caramel – Catallena (2014)
After School’s sub-unit, Orange Caramel, has undoubtedly had the most successful go at bringing smaller groups to the K-pop scene so far. While the parent group showed challenging choreography based on the members’ solid dance skills, Orange Caramel stuck with their unique kitschy concept to approach the listeners. Their song was much loved for its easy melodies, catchy dance moves, and fantastic stage productions filled with cute and ingenious ideas. “Catallena,” a song inspired by Punjabi folk songs, quickly became a great success with its catchy choreography and addictive melodies. Although some reviews have said that it only focuses on pouring the shared formulaic elements of hit songs into one music, the track has effectively been made to deliver its unique charms to K-pop fans.
GD&TOP – GD&TOP (2011)
GD&TOP, a duo formed by BIGBANG’s G-Dragon and T.O.P., made headlines when they first announced their debut album. Since they were the first sub-unit of a massively popular group BIGBANG and a rare combination formed by two rappers with opposite styles, the group has received much attention for its unique approach and quality music. GD&TOP combined YG’s signature hip-hop beat with electronic sounds that were new to that decade’s mainstream and created a song that everyone could enjoy. For instance, “High High,” “Oh Yeah,” “Don’t Go Home,” “Baby Good Night” and “Knock Out” were equally loved and acknowledged by K-pop lovers. It’s a shame that they wrapped up the promotion after a few goes. If they ever get a chance, I hope to see them making a comeback with another album.
Trouble Maker – Now (2013)
Trouble Maker is a mixed-gender sub-unit composed of 4Minute’s HyunA and BEAST’s Hyunseung. The rare combination of a female and a male idol caught the attention even before the kick-off, and their debut song “Trouble Maker” was embroiled in a controversy for openly promoting explicit materials. However, their true appeal was not the sexual content. The title song “Now” of their second album depicts an anxious state of mind of a struggling couple, and the two showed an impressive performance in the music video that paid homage to Bonnie and Clyde. Their stage performance was excellent and the harmony between them was remarkable enough to blow away the audience.
Girls’ Generation-TTS – Twinkle (2012)
Girls’ Generation-TTS is composed of three singers from SNSD: Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun. They topped various music charts and programs right after their debut, and they made it into the Billboard 200 chart for the first time as a K-pop girl group. Although it was a small project group launched during their break, the sub-unit became huge following their main success with “The Boys.” The title song, “Twinkle,” of their debut album reminded us of the famous track “Lady Marmalade,” with its groovy rhythm and funky guitar riffs and synths sounds. Led by the talented vocalist Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun created a beautiful harmony as a team. Later on, they released Holler and Dear Santa and continued to show good quality pieces of music.
Super M – One (Monster & Infinity) (2020)
Super M is a large sub-unit ambitiously presented by SM Entertainment. It consists of 7 artists: Shinee’s Taemin, EXO’s Kai and Baekhyun, NCT 127’s Taeyong and Mark, and WayV’s Lucas and Ten. They clearly targeted the global market with members who can speak English or Chinese. Their debut album Super M and first full-length album Super One entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and achieved remarkable results.
Super M focused on delivering serious and powerful images than easy and popular images. Because they have many dancers in the sub-unit, they came up with intricate choreography that requires a lot of practice. Plus, the stage performance came out just incredible. The title song “One (Monster & Infinity)” of the first regular album Super One is a unique arrangement of their existing two songs: “Monster” and “Infinity.” The same attempt was made in Shinee’s “Sherlock (Clue+Note).” This was only possible because the agency is the most global K-Pop music company in the country and runs its own songwriting camp. Indeed, there were some rough and rocky parts, but those aspects were delivered with intense power.
Editor Yoon: I love music, especially K-POP, and I dream of becoming an A&R person, lyricist, artist, etc. I will cover various articles, including song reviews, artist reviews, and K-pop market analysis.
Translator Cho EK: I’m a big fan of Korean dramas and movies.