Welcome to WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.
This issue features analyses of tracks by The Rose, Zion. T, ONEUS, Cherry Bullet and Infinite by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.
The Rose, “Candy (so good),” Void (2018)
The Rose is an independent rock band which made its official debut under its former label, J&Star Company in 2017. Consisting of four members Woosung (vocals, guitar), Dojoon (vocals, keyboard), Jaehyung (bass), and Hajoon (drums), the band is known for its signature soft rock sound thanks to the lush, atmospheric production and charismatic delivery from its two vocalists.
Now there are songs that are unfairly short, and “Candy (so good)” is one of them. Composed, written, and arranged by all four members of the band, this serves as the opening track to the first mini album Void (2018). And it does a fine job of setting the tone for what comes next. The track starts with a swelling synth sound joined by the guitar and drums, pausing for a brief moment before the guitar returns with an addictive pulsating loop, which would serve as the motif for the rest of the song. A mesmerizing game of push and pull, the energy contrast between the restrained verses and the cathartic choruses brings pure aural bliss every time the refrain “You look so good” hits. Woosung’s gorgeous raspy voice and Dojoon’s warm, straightforward tone deliver a controlled yet satisfying vocal performance. Stopping at the 2:46 mark, the song is clever enough to get you hitting repeat – and while I would definitely enjoy an extended mix, some things are indeed better left short like this.
The Rose’s career in the past years has been rocky, with a lawsuit with its former company finally settled in June 2021, and three out of four members beginning their military service in 2020. The release of their latest single “Beauty and the Beast” on December 29, 2021 feels like we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, promising more great music from the band moving forward.
The Rose. “Candy (so good).” YouTube. 18 Apr 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhvEQZ6HB3g (5 Jan 2022).
Zion.T, “Snow (ft. Lee Moon Sae),” Non-Album Single, 2017
Arguably one of the most unique Korean hip-hop and R&B singers in the industry, Zion.T never fails to release music that targets nostalgic and sentimental emotions. The sunglasses-clad singer debuted in April 2011 under the Korean hip-hop label founded by Dynamic Duo and Go Kyung Min, Amoeba Culture, with the single, “Click Me” featuring Dok2. From then, he became known in the mainstream industry by collaborating with Korean hip-hop giants like Dok2, GRAY, Simon Dimonic, Crucial Star, and Primary and K-pop idol giants like G-Dragon. He is known for heartfelt and honest hits such as “Yanghwa BRDG” (2014), “No Makeup” (2015), and features on his many hip-hop friends’ songs such as “Nighty Night (잘 자)” (Crush, 2019) and Show Me the Money singles.
“Snow,” released as a single with the accompanying short film music video on December 4, 2017, is a perfect example of how Zion.T captures a season and all of the emotions that come with it. Written by Zion.T himself, the song was also composed by Zion.T alongside Korean hip-hop producer SLOM and jazz pianist Yun Seok Cheol and features the legendary Korean singer known as the “icon of Korean pop,” Lee Moon Sae, who started in the Korean pop industry in 1978. The ballad begins with a slow jazzy intro of a light piano and stringed instruments that causes one to think of slow dancing, fireplaces, and of course, snow in the background of a winter scene. Both Zion.T and Lee Moon Sae’s unique and soft vocals contribute to the romantic and also melancholic vibes of the passage of time as they repeat the question, “Will it snow?” over the gentle sweeping drumbeat. When the duo come to the end of the song, where the ballad slows down even more to their repetition of “it’s snowing,” one almost doesn’t want it to end. It is the type of song that’s smooth enough to play on repeat in hopes that the snow will come.
Zion.T. “눈(Snow) (ft. 이문세).” YouTube. 04 Dec 2017. https://youtu.be/fiGSDywrX1Y (5 Jan 2022).
ONEUS, “Intro: 창 (窓: Window) (Feat. Choi Ye Lim),” Blood Moon (2021)
Tan Puay Shuang
Released in 2021, the two-year-old boy group ONEUS’ 6th mini-album ‘Blood Moon’ revolves around the story of six immortal monsters (represented by the members: RAVN, Seoho, Leedo, Keonhee, Hwanwoong, and Xion) who wait for years and centuries in hopes of reuniting with their lover, once again bringing traditional flavours to the table for their fans and the general public to enjoy. However, this was not the boy group’s first attempt at incorporating traditional elements into their music. Previously in 2019, their third EP ‘Lit’ had also taken a much more light-hearted approach to this kind of fusion music, and had even performed a rearranged version of it on Mnet’s survival show Road to Kingdom.
‘Intro: 창 (窓: Window)’ was written by RBW Entertainment’s in-house composers: Lee Sang Ho, Yong Bae, and Lee Hoo Sang, as well as Marvel.J on the lyrics. This track stands out for the sole reason that they have gone an extra mile to feature professional traditional Korean singer Choi Ye Lim, who not only contributed her but also penned some of the lyrics in the song. The structure of this introduction track can be separated into several clear sections: the intro where Ye Lim narrates the story in the style of pansori storytelling, the verse which consists of Leedo and RAVN’s raps accompanied by a contrasting trap beat, and the pre-chorus that slowly introduces the marriage of both styles as it finally leads us into the hook of the song. A notable mention of this song is how the pre-chorus later makes its reappearance in the title track ‘Luna’, with some alterations to its structure. This helped reinforce the connection and coherence of the story that ONEUS intends to tell through ‘Blood Moon’, proving to the audience that, while there have been predecessors like VIXX who have pioneered and introduced the trend of traditional-pop fusion into the K-pop scene, ONEUS as a relatively new group definitely did not prove their production value to be inferior.
ONEUS. “ONEUS(원어스) ‘Intro : 창 (窓 : Window) (Feat. 최예림)’.” YouTube. 21 October 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSXIp1pBaj4 (3 January 2022).
Mnet K-POP. “Road to Kingdom [풀버전] ♬ 가자 (LIT) – 원어스 @2차 경연 200521 EP.4.” YouTube. 21 May 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jVBKcv5NzQ (3 January 2022).
Cherry Bullet, “Q&A,” Let’s Play Cherry Bullet (2019)
Since debuting in January 2019, FNC Entertainment girl-group Cherry Bullet has had issues that included losing three members from its original ten and a cultural appropriation controversy (Lullet Official, 2021; serinjimin, 2021). Before all that turmoil however was the untroubled and confident sound of their debut single “Q&A,” with lyrics by Han Seong Ho and Seo Yong Bae and music by Louise Frick Sveen and the JeL team of Alexander Karlsson and Alexej Viktorovitch, who also arranged the track. With this release, Mirae, Kokoro, and Linlin were still Cherry Bullet members alongside Haeyoon, Yuju, Bora, Jiwon, Remi, Chaerin, and May.
With the “Q&A” MV’s pixel-art video-game motif so closely aligned with the packaging and design of the Let’s Play Cherry Bullet single album, there was a clear sense that Cherry Bullet were here and they were pleased to meet you. The confidence the group exudes through the song has much to do with how upbeat it is. Its insistently melodic synth lines sound bright and catchy, but the most prominent sound of the song is its bouncy bassline. Mixed loud enough, it makes the song sound groovy and organic, even when a variety of video-game sound effects pop up like musical filigrees at various parts of the song. “Q&A”’s pleasant electropop sound is not groundbreaking, but for a debut single to sound as self-assured was a big deal.
The line distribution among ten members, for listeners paying close attention to such matters, is (unsurprisingly?) uneven, but the members who sing much of the lyrics carry the song well enough and during performances of the song, the members with fewer lines do give their all regardless. Also notable is how the song features no rap parts; the closest it gets are a couple of phrases chanted cheerleader-style. Alongside a “dadadadada” hook in the chorus, the result is a song lacking sharp edges, which makes it easier for it to fully commit to such unabashed fun.
FNCEnt. “Q&A.” YouTube. 21 January 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KdWuQyIEYk (08 January 2022).
Lullet Official [@LulletOfficial]. “History of Cherry Bullet’s mismanagement and why they need support now more than ever #ProtectCherryBullet.” Twitter. 10 April 2021. https://twitter.com/lulletofficial/status/1380737803806507008. (09 January 2022).
serinjimin. “Cherry Bullet: The Forgotten Girl Group.” allkpop. 13 August 2021. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2021/08/cherry-bullet-the-forgotten-girl-group. (09 January 2022).
INFINITE, “Paradise,” Paradise (2011)
Luisa do Amaral
INFINITE debuted in 2010, with the chanty Hitchhiker-produced “Come Back Again”, but it was only with the synth-pop legendary song “Be Mine”, the title track of their first full album Over the Top (2011), that the group got their first music show win, still at the beginning of their rise to one of the biggest and best-selling boy groups of their generation. This big moment was followed by a repackaged version of the album, titled Paradise (2011), promoted with the lead single of the same name. The song was one of many generation-defining INFINITE tracks by producer team Sweetune, also credited for “Be Mine”, the iconic “BTD (Before The Dawn)”, and “The Chaser”, which placed at #3 on Billboard’s Staff List of The 100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s.
Although “Paradise” isn’t one of the synth-pop tunes they’re best known for, the group’s ability to inject tracks with emotion and skillfully carry a powerful chorus is on full display. The track starts off with striking percussion and a mighty instrumental, led by strings and the lurking texture of the electric guitar adding heaviness and helping set the tone for a song which is about loss, and the desperation to try to stop the impending end of something. There’s a sense of urgency and defeat that is conveyed by the pungency of the melody and the percussion, but especially by the vocals – not just the outstanding individual performance of each member, but also the special effect of the layering of their seven voices, a prominent trademark across INFINITE’s tracks, about which K-pop blogger and music critic Nick James (2020) said: “I often classify Infinite as a group of eight voices – seven individual tones plus that unbeatable blend when they come together. Some have compared it to the Bee Gees, but it’s more robust here [in Paradise]”. The resulting chorus sounds both like the desired Heaven, and the actual living Hell of the parting, perfectly articulating and intensifying all parts of a song that succeeds in conveying every emotion it attempts.
INFINITE. “Paradise.” YouTube. 25 Sep 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sj0FvZGSzCo (4 Jan 2022)
James, Nick. “The 100 Best K-Pop Songs of All-Time: Number 10” The Bias List, 22 Jul. 2020, https://thebiaslist.com/2020/07/22/the-100-best-k-pop-songs-of-all-time-number-10/. Accessed 4 Jan. 2022.
Billboard Staff. “The 100 Greatest K-Pop Songs of the 2010s: Staff List” Billboard, 25 Nov. 2019, https://www.billboard.com/media/lists/best-k-pop-songs-2010s-top-100-8544710/ Accessed 4 Jan. 2022.
WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 1 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.