WWLT, Vol 2, No. 7

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 Xdinary Heroes, Xiumin, Park Hyo-shin, TVXQ!, Treasure, (G)I-DLE and Ryu Su-jeong by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

Xdinary Heroes, “Strawberry Cake,” Hello, world! (2022)

Nyke Parham

Despite the media’s over saturation with dance-oriented K-pop boy groups and girl groups, it is nice to know that there are still acts keeping bands alive in the K-pop mainstream music scene. Following in the footsteps of bands like FT Island, CNBLUE, and agency-mates, Day6, Xdinary Heroes is a six-member boy rock band signed to JYP Entertainment’s sub-label, Studio J. Although two members originally trained to be in a K-pop idol group, Gunil, Jun Han, Jungsu, Gaon, O.de, and Jooyeon debuted as a band on December 6th, 2021 with the alternative rock single, “Happy Death Day.” All members contribute to the lyrical composition, production, and arrangement of the band’s songs. They also send a message that “We are all heroes.”

“Strawberry Cake ” is a b-side track from their debut extended play, Hello, world! Written and composed by Song Heejin (soloist, top 3 of Superstar-K season 5, former member of GOOD DAY), mr. cho (aka 케빈오빠, production credits from Day6, GFRIEND, and TVXQ!), and members Gunil, Junsu, and Gaon, the track begins with faint singing over light electric guitar riffs. Almost immediately, the song breaks into a rhythmic drum and bass guitar duet that underlines the matching rhythmic vocals. Lyrically, the song sets up a story where the young and innocent believe lies they were told only to later become “haters” of that because they have realized the sweetness is fake. Just after the song gives a small, melodic respite, it builds up to a Queen-We-Will-Rock-You-type anthem chorus with the same rhythmic drum and bass from the beginning of the song. This is when the band invites all of those who feel similarly to join. This arrangement continues to the end, but not without another break in the song that gives space for the vocals to drive home the point that they refuse to be plain or ordinary, which they see as fake and hypocritical. After the “see ya later” to the haters, they end the song where it began—with their bass and drums, and their voices giving the last sounds we hear. They have the last word. 

Sources

JYP Entertainment. “Xdinary Heroes ‘Strawberry Cake’ M/V.” YouTube. 9 August 2022. https://youtu.be/atWpuwRcMoc (11 October 2022).

XIUMIN, “Brand New,” Brand New (2022)

Vitoria Ferreira Doretto

One of the vocalists on EXO and its sub-unit EXO-CBX, Xiumin waited ten years to debut as a soloist and gifted us with an album full of a 90s nostalgic color. Recently, I commented on Twitter that Brand New is an album that manages to show the smooth vocal timbre of Xiumin, and almost a month after its release, I am sure to state that he was capable of displaying a new side. It is a pleasant and brave solo debut. The album has five songs (“Brand New,” “Feedback,” “How we do” (feat. Mark (NCT)), “민들레 (Love letter)”, and “Serenity”), and its progression provides a good listening experience, balancing between the late 90s and early 00s sounds.

The title song, “Brand New,” was produced by Lee Soo Man, written by Kim Hye Jung, Domdada & Darius Logan, with lyrics by Kim Hye Jung and composition by Hye Jung Kim, Michael Jeffery Jiminez, Young Jin Yoo, and Domdada & Darius Logan. It has an old-school vibe, and Xiumin’s voice surprisingly fits well with it. It is not my favorite (hey, “Feedback,” I am talking about you), but it is catchy and fun, and its refrain, “Ayy, put your hands up, you must be gettin’ on your feet, you want some new place, new days, keep on bringin’ ’em, ayy, put your hands up, you must be gettin’ on your feet, ayy, put your hands up, hands up,” lingers for a long time – I find myself humming it all the time.

Sources

SMTOWN. “Brand New.” YouTube. 26 Sep. 2022. www.youtube.com/watch?v=pU8Gu5aOWZ0 (12 Oct. 2022).

Park Hyo-shin, “Wild Flower 야생화” (2014)

N Lina An

Park Hyo-shin debuted as a singer in 1999. Together with the likes of Shin Seung-hun (신승훈), Sung Si-kyung (성시경), Kim Bum-soo (김범수) to name a few, Park is known for singing ballads and OST dramas. He is also a musical theater actor. “Wild Flower” is a generic name for blooms that grow naturally in their environment. These flowers are resilient, as they are able to withstand any form of weather. A fan-page (parkhyoshinplanet) explains that “the song is an attempt to tell his story of hardship and pain. Park metaphorically refers to himself as a wild flower, expresses his willingness to bloom again through music.” Seoulbeats gives a clear description of who Park is as an artist and the success of Wild Flower at its time of release.

“Wild Flower” was written & produced by Park. He collaborated with Kim Ji-hyang on the lyrics and Jung Jae-il on the music composition and arrangement. “Wild Flower” was released after a 4-year hiatus as a single in 2014. It charted at #1 on all Korean digital music platforms. In 2016, it was included as a track on his 7th album titled I am A Dreamer. The song clocks in slightly above 5-minutes, a tad longer than the average pop-ballad song of 3-4 minutes. While the music video version showcases the rawness of just vocals and piano accompaniment, the studio version (available on Spotify) includes arrangement for strings and a full band accompaniment. This review is based on the studio version.

The song opens with a melodic flow by the cellos, which is  gradually handed over to the violins at the end of the introductory phrase. The stillness of the melodic range of the verse with just the low-tenor register of Park and piano accompaniment aurally illuminates the gentle breeze of winter. The rise of the melodic phrase is supported by the entrance of soft strings and brushes on the snare drum. A small swell in the chorus is felt as the violins respond to the vocals with a counter melody line. The acoustic and electric bass guitars adds a bit of boldness, but Park using his falsetto softly cushions the end of the first chorus. Verse 2 gives a more sentimental feel with the acoustic guitar coming to the forefront and the full band (electric bass, drums and piano) as supporting roles. The fill-ins of the drums, soaring countermelody lines of the violins, and abrupt rhythmic pauses at the end of phrases create musical anticipation leading up to the second chorus. The arrangement by Jung did not disappoint. Not only does the orchestration build up, but the ears are surprised by the modulation in the second chorus. The bridge section is harmonically sophisticated, coupled with vigorous rhythmic stop-times, giving much emotional turmoil or perhaps even powerful strength, painting the resilience of wildflowers. The final chorus not only features another key modulation, but also the highest note of the song heard in Park’s ad-lib of a long-note, sealing his status as a ballad powerhouse.

Source

Jellyfishenter. “박효신(Park Hyo Shin) – 야생화(Wild Flower) Special Video” YouTube. 28 March 2014.  https://youtu.be/OxgiiyLp5pk (24 May 2022).

Unknown. “Park Hyo Shin Finally Releases New Single ‘Wild Flower” PARK HYO SHIN’S PLANET. 29 March 2014. https://parkhyoshinplanet.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/park-hyo-shin-finally-releases-new-single-wild-flower/ (24 May 2022)

Andy. “Park Hyo-shin Blooms Again With “Wild Flower”. Seoulbeats. 11 April 2014. https://seoulbeats.com/2014/04/park-hyo-shin-blooms-wild-flower/ (24 May 2022)

TVXQ!White Lies 네 곁에 숨쉴 수 있다면 (If I Could Breathe Next to You)” (2006)

N Lina An

This song is the 6th track featured in Versions C and D of previously 5-member group TVXQ’s 3rd studio album release titled “O”-正.反.合.” The original line-up of the group comprised of U-Know Yunho, Hero Jaejoong, Micky Yoochun, Xiah Junsu and Max Changmin. Its music and lyrics were composed by Xiah Jun-su, who has since rebranded himself as solo artist, XIA. It is believed that the only time this song was performed live was at the Anyband Concert on November 27th, 2007. The lyrics of this song could be interpreted from 2 perspectives; lost love or a dying’s person’s hopes and wishes.

All members of this 2nd-generation vocal group had lead melody lines. There were hints of harmonizations between members Micky Yoochun and Xiah Junsu at the end of the 2nd verse, as well as harmonizations as a group heard in the 2nd pre-chorus. These highlighted the group’s strength as an acapella vocal group. The chord progressions were richly chromatic, which is different from the K-pop sounds of early millennium. The feature instrument in the music arrangements would be the piano and acoustic guitar, both having prominent counter melody lines that highlight an R&B-flavored sound. The added strings in the build-up of the bridge towards the last chorus brought out the pop ballad sounds akin to a K-drama OST. 

Sources

전먹고3. “동방신기(TVXQ!)-네 곁에 숨쉴 수 있다면 [Anyband Concert]” YouTube. 4 Sep 2014 https://youtu.be/GHjDCA8mXeY (30 November 2022).

maranatha_indah. 네 곁에 숨쉴 수 있다면 (Nae Gyeote Sumsiur Su Ittdamyeon)| White Lies | Dong Bang Shin Ki / Tohoshinki (DBSK/TVXQ). …A Wish Upon A Star ღ OneWorldOneDream…14 March 2010. https://bunnyandbear.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/네-곁에-숨쉴-수-있다면-white-lies-dong-bang-shin-ki-tohoshinki-dbsktvxq/ (30 November 20222)

TREASURE, “Hello,” THE SECOND STEP : CHAPTER TWO (2022)

Mathieu Berbiguier

TREASURE is a 10-member boy group that debuted under YG Entertainment in August 2020. It was formed through the survival show YG TREASURE BOX. Debuting at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic was not easy for them, but they are starting to gather a solid fan base. 2022 was incredibly successful for them. They released their first EP, The Second Step : Chapter One, with hit tracks such as “Jikjin (직진)’ or “DARARI,” a viral sensation on TikTok. Unfortunately, the joy of releasing The Second Step : Chapter Two was tarnished by the announcement of the departure of two members, Bang Yedam and Mashiho, who were already on an extended hiatus since May 2022. Current members are Choi Hyunsuk, Jihoon, Yoshi, Junkyu, Yoon Jaehyuk, Asahi, Doyoung, Haruto, Park Jeongwoo and So Junghwan.

“Hello” is the title track of TREASURE’s second EP. YG’s in-house producers produced this EDM track in collaboration with three members, Choi Hyunsuk, Yoshi, and Haruto. As soon as the song starts, Hyunsuk murmurs the intro on an enigmatic beat. If you are familiar with K-pop from the 2010s, you probably feel the same overwhelming, yet pleasing nostalgia when the BPM accelerates and the song moves to the pre-chorus part. The bass-heavy background melody reminds us of G-DRAGON’s “Crooked (삐딱하게)” while Junkyu’s powerful voice gives us a glance of iKON (w/ B.I.) feels. The refreshing interpretation of TREASURE members lends to an overall feel-good and energetic track. On the other hand, it also leaves the 2nd-gen stan with a twinge of nostalgia.

Source

TREASURE (트레져). “TREASURE – ‘Hello’ M/V.” YouTube. 4 October 2022. https://youtu.be/aPd9exmH17o  (29 November 2022).

(G)I-DLE, “Nxde,” I Love (2022)

Sabrina Alano

(G)I-DLE, whose current lineup includes members Soyeon, Minnie, Miyeon, Shuhua, and Yuqi, is one of the few active self-producing K-pop girl groups. Leader and main rapper Soyeon pitched a Marilyn Monroe-inspired concept to her company, Cube Entertainment—resulting in “Nxde”, the title track for (G)I-DLE’s October 2022 album I Love. The song’s lyrics are by Soyeon (소면), and it was composed and arranged by 소면, Pop Time, and Kako.

In the opening lines, Soyeon sings, “Why you think that ‘bout nude / ‘Cause your view’s so rude / Think outside the box / And you’ll like it.” She immediately confronts the audience to redefine their views of nudity. Singer Minnie starts the first verse in character as Yeppi Yeppi, whose name plays off the word for “pretty”. She establishes herself as “slightly dumb the way I talk, but I have sexy sexy figure”, and, in her costuming in the music video, recalls Marilyn Monroe in the film Gentleman Prefer Blondes. Before Minnie can continue much further, Yuqi interrupts with “Did you think I would just laugh as if…” with her deep staccato “퍽” cutting off Yeppi Yeppi’s affected “dumb” voice. Soyeon’s rap goes on to reframe Monroe’s image as a “twisted Lorelei” (Monroe’s character in the movie). She describes Monroe as a “bookworm obsessed with philosophy” and “self-made woman”, but her audience “boo[s] and shout[s] ‘You tricked me you’re a liar’”. Wearing in the video a conical bra evoking Madonna as well as Monroe, and then a contemporary tweed suit, Soyeon implies that regardless of time or place, any prominent woman who refuses to be reduced to a sexual object may be subjected to “booing and shouting”. The pre-chorus sung by Miyeon and Yuqi resolves to not care about public opinion: “Even if I look tacky or fall apart / Even if I’m not loved anymore.” Then Shuhua whispers the first line of the chorus, “Yes, I’m a nude”, in part defining “nude” to mean revealing one’s authentic self. 

Sampling from the opera Carmen and visually referencing Moulin Rouge and silent Hollywood films, (G)I-DLE performs seductive personas (“Put on my beautiful self, and dda-dda-lat-dda-ra”) for others’ entertainment. Soyeon’s rap in the second verse, however, calls out the audience’s prurient interest in nudity: “if you were expecting some rated R show / Oh I’m sorry, but that’s not what we’re showing.” Similarly, the vocals and lyrics of the song’s outro call back to Soyeon’s intro, adding, “My beautiful self / I’m born nude / You’ve got a dirty mind.” As Soyeon said during her presentation of the concept, she sought to “change perspectives” that conflate nudity with eroticism, as well as women’s sexuality with their objectification.  

During the bridge, Soyeon sings,“Now I draw a luxury nude,” emphasizing that she is an active creator, not an object herself. In the music video, the drawing of the “luxury nude” falls partially out of its frame and is half-shredded — alluding to Banksy’s 2006 painting Girl with Balloon, which self-shredded after its auction in 2018 as a critique of the art industry. Through this reference, “Nxde” pointedly denies the commodification of women’s bodies. Just as Banksy’s performance led to a dramatic increase in the artwork’s value, “Nxde” has been commercially and critically successful; (G)I-DLE’s provocations of the pop industry contribute to their success within it. 

Sources

(G)I-DLE (여자)아이들. “Nxde.” 17 October 2022. https://youtu.be/fCO7f0SmrDc. (22 November 2022). 

KOCOWA TV. “Watch Soyeon of (G)I-DLE in a Boardroom | Home Alone Ep 445.” 18 May 2022. https://youtu.be/uvLpTpTzqMs (22 November 2022). 

Ryu Su Jeong, “Pink Moon”, PINK MOON (2022)

Mai Pressley

Ryu Su Jeong is a former member of girl group Lovelyz of Woollim Entertainment. She debuted as a solo artist with mini album Tiger Eyes, later leaving Woollim in 2021 after the group went on indefinite hiatus. In September of 2022 she established an independent label, House of Dreams. “Pink Moon,” a single, is her first outing under the new label. Ryu has a number of writing credits to her name, and Pink Moon is written, composed and produced by the artist. 

The song begins with an almost cinematic swell that brings to mind the score of a film, before breaking into a mellow city pop beat. The song is dreamy and atmospheric, with moments of clever production such as panning that enables headphone wearers to feel as if they are surrounded by the song. Airy vocals fit the vibe of the song, but at times feel pitched in a way that does disservice to Ryu’s huskier voice, which is better utilized in her first solo album. Lyrics are somewhat bittersweet in nature, evoking a soft nostalgia along with the melody. While the song ultimately lacks a punch to make it more memorable, it stands out from the current industry sound, and is undoubtedly an earworm. It’s a promising debut for her new label, and a demonstration of her skills as a well-rounded artist. Certainly, Ryu Su Jeong is a name to keep an eye out for. 

Sources

Artist Rider. “류수정(Ryu Sujeong) ‘PINK MOON’ MV.” YouTube. 11 Nov. 2022. https://youtu.be/e3Tg0o2O4wg (26 Nov 2022).

Image by Nicky ❤️🌿🐞🌿❤️ from Pixabay

Creative Commons License
WWLT, Vol 2, No. 7 by KPopKollective is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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