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 VIBE, Monsta X, Ailee, SHINee, XG, and TWICE by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.
VIBE, “Hope 소망”, Afterglow (2002)
N Lina An
VIBE is a Korean R&B group who debuted in 2002. The duo of Yoon Min-soo and Ryu Jae-hyun was originally a trio. Rapper Yoo Sung-gyu departed after their second album, Do U Remember, in 2003. They signed with Yedang Entertainment when they first started, and have changed labels throughout their careers, settling in MAJOR9 since 2017. The duo released some popular hits including “That Man, That Woman” (그 남자 그 여자) in 2006, “Come Back to Me” (다시 와주라), and “Crazy” (미친거니), of which the latter 2 were released in 2010. The 2 songs were revived in the TV appearance of SBS singing program Fantastic Duo in 2016. The duo appeared in episodes 7-10 of the premier season.
“Hope,” or in Korean ‘so-mang’ 소망 was written by member Ryu Jae-hyun. The song is the 6th track from their debut album, Afterglow. The use of the Rhodes sound on a synth, together with sustaining strings fills up the sound space, giving a comforting ballad vibes of the late 90s/early millennium. The violins play counter melody in the second verse building momentum into the first chorus. In the verse leading into the second chorus, the soprano saxophone plays ad-libs adding on to the R&B flavors that the group identifies with. The lyrics tell the story of 2 lovers, one reassuring the love to the other with the words “don’t worry”, “trust me” and “only you” heard in the chorus. “Hope” is a typical pop song structure of verse-chorus, and bridge with an instrumental break with just the drum beats and vocals. This break allowed the vocal ad-libs to shine before the band returned for the final chorus run.
VIBE frequently collaborated with 4Men, releasing songs for Christmas in 2014, 2015 and 2017. “Hope 소망” was remade by 4Men, that was included as the 9th track of their 3rd studio album, Andante, in 2006. The remake has a lot more synthesized sounds and vocal runs in the second-half of the song, giving the song more soulful feelings. There were more harmonized vocal arrangements to showcase the colors of 4Men as a vocal quartet. Spoiler: A modulation was also included in the final chorus! “Hope 소망” seems to be a favorite with vocal groups as it was also covered, albeit briefly by TVXQ!, during their appearance at Super Junior’s KBS Kiss The Radio segment in 2006.
VIBE paused their activities in 2006 and 2010, but came back in 2013 with annual releases of both singles and studio albums until another halt in 2019. They recently released a single titled “Revibe Vol.7,” with the track “Lying (사랑하는 척)” featuring Korean pop soprano, Sohyang, in 2022.
Kpop Wiki “Vibe (Duo)” https://kpop.fandom.com/wiki/VIBE_(duo) (10 Feb 2023)
Ma1212ma3. “09 Wish 소망 4MEN” Youtube. 2009-02-24 https://youtu.be/x__xtcnEqpg (10 Feb 2023)
YouTube Music. “Hope”. Vibe. Afterglow. 2002. https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=F0JGGJU9QZA&feature=share // Released Date: 27 Feb 2002 (discogs) at https://www.discogs.com/release/15658595-Vibe-Afterglow (10 Feb 2023)
steeplermax. “061016 DBSK sing Wish (소망) in Kiss The Radio”. Youtube. 24 Aug 2010 https://youtu.be/BBIfce1Dd5g (10 Feb 2023)
Lyrics translation: iridescent via Guest Mardi09 at https://forums.soompi.com/topic/191018-req-4men-wish-s0mang-lyric-r0manji/ (10 Feb 2023)
Monsta X, “Beautiful Liar.” Reason (2023)
“Beautiful Liar” is the title track from Monsta X’s 12th EP Reason. Members Hyungwon, Joohoney, and I.M are credited with lyrics, along with Brother Su and Kim Eung-Ju. Ryan S. Jhun holds main composer credit among a team of eight, and he co-produced the song along with English duo Space Primates.
Since their debut with Starship Entertainment in 2015, Monsta X has been known for hard-hitting songs with powerful vocals and rap. Combining pulsing drumbeats and propulsive rock guitar, “Beautiful Liar” is exhilarating, yet during the first few listens, potentially confusing: where is the chorus of this song?
Conventional pop song structure typically consists of an intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, second verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, and outro. There is a certain safety in knowing what is coming. “Beautiful Liar”, however, withholds that feeling of safety by playing with our expectations. The song begins in a seemingly traditional manner, with I.M, Minhyuk, and Hyungwon establishing the central relationship in the intro and first verse: “We go around each other—it’s pretty dangerous.” Main vocalist Kihyun follows with a pre-chorus with electric guitar riffs building tension around a relationship that he knows is “toxic, but I like it.” Instead of releasing the tension with a drop chorus, Minhyuk returns to the line and melody from the intro: “Just like how your cold eyes play with me, I get attracted to that irrejectable beautiful lie.” What was the intro and first verse turns out to be the chorus and post-chorus of the song. The structure starts to mimic the vicious cycle of the relationship: recognition of the pain the relationship brings, followed by a desire to continue the “beautiful lie.”
Following a rap verse from I.M and Joohoney, Kihyun’s pre-chorus surfaces again. After the chant of “But I want it more,” however, the song skips the chorus and goes immediately into a second rap verse, with Joohoney rapping, “I’m in pain, still in pain. It doesn’t get better, this is a failed emotion.” At the end of the verse, I.M concludes, “Tell me you love me. It’s ok if it’s a lie. Or I might die right now.” The song continues to throw off our expectations by moving into Hyungwon’s post-chorus, which we soon realize is a refrain. By omitting the chorus and reframing other elements, the song makes us feel as unsettled as the speaker does.
After another round of pre-chorus and chorus, the song ends abruptly at the 3-minute mark with the line from the refrain, “I love your lie” — there’s no outro, no change, no resolution. However, we want to listen to the song again as soon as it is over. Like the toxic relationship it depicts, “Beautiful Liar” takes listeners on a journey that is exciting, disorienting, simultaneously satisfying and unsatisfying, and addictive.
StarshipTV. “MONSTA X 몬스타액스 ‘Beautiful Liar’ MV.” YouTube. 9 January 2023. https://youtu.be/2zXg8CbymYc. (1 February 2023).
Ailee, “Heaven,” Invitation (2012)
Vitoria F. Doretto
For the last couple of months, I have been obsessed with some videos of Dingo Music’s Killing Voice. One of my favorites is Ailee’s, along with those from IU, Taeyeong, and Winner, to mention a few. It led me to listen to Ailee’s old songs, and “Heaven,” her debut single, has been playing nonstop on my playlists. I still remember seeing the singer and composer for the first time in Brazil and being enchanted by her voice singing it (it was in 2013 at this event called 2K13FeelKorea, in São Paulo, to celebrate 50 years of Korean immigration in Brazil).
“Heaven” was recorded in two languages, Korean and Japanese – the latter, one year after the Korean release. The track is an R&B, soul, and dance number and was written and produced by Wheesung, with additional songwriting contributions from Iggy and Seo Yong-bae.
Ailee’s potent vocals and charisma (not only in this song) have me constantly returning to listen to Heaven and Invitation as well. And I decorated the lyrics to keep humming them in my mind. Its dreamy atmosphere is possibly the main point of the song and its music video, which also has a good plot. Along with Ailee’s whole discography, “Heaven” is a perfect song to listen to on a good day and hum while working.
1theK (원더케이). “Ailee(에일리) _ Heaven MV.” YouTube, 8 February 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9ro1KjkJMg (March 5, 2023)
딩고 뮤직 / dingo music.” 에일리(AILEE)의 킬링보이스를 라이브로! – Heaven, 보여줄게, 저녁하늘, U&I, Higher, 노래가 늘었어, 손대지마, 첫눈처럼 너에게 가겠다, If youㅣ딩고뮤직.” YouTube, 11 May 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GrKuaXBg4k (March 5, 2023)
SHINee, “Prism,” 1 of 1 (2016)
Leave it to SHINee and SM Entertainment (not making a comment on the current state of SM Entertainment) to have a comeback that is both full of nostalgia and forward trending. On October 5, 2016, following a slight delay in release due to Onew’s injury during the group’s 5th solo concert Shinee World V, SHINee’s 5th album, 1 of 1 released physically and digitally. The entire concept of this album from musical influence, music video filming techniques, to fashion aesthetics is classic 1980s-1990s, while also maintaining the dreamy sounds of SHINee’s previous album, Odd. SM Entertainment opened an Instagram account for SHINee, periodically posting the members’ and album’s concept photos to countdown the release. Also following the SM way, much of the album was composed during SM’s April 2016 songwriting camp. The album was met with global commercial success. This was also the last album to include all five members of SHINee – Onew, Jonghyun, Key, Minho, and Taemin – before Jognhyun’s passing at the end of 2017.
The greatness of this album is in its modernized retro vibes, a staple for SM. Although the track, “Prism,” does not have an accompanying music video, it is not difficult to enjoy the song without it. Jonghyun contributed to this track’s composition alongside Jamil ‘Digi’ Chammas (EXO, Doja Cat, Taemin, BoA) and Deez (TVXQ!, Red Velvet, Girls Generation, Wooyoung of 2PM, VIVIZ, Primary), and it was written by Kim Min Jeong. It begins with many adlibs over Onew’s clear vocals, accompanied by slow synthesizer chords in a tempo reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s 1997 hit “I Get Lonely.” Very quickly, the song introduces the other members’ vocals as each of them take a section of the verse as the track revs up. Unlike many of the others that lean toward 90s new jack swing, this song continues in the 90s theme with UK-influenced garage beats and a short section of just piano and vocals. It is definitely a different take on dance tracks.
Personally, what I love and enjoy about this song is SM’s dedication to harmonies. It is a vocal styling sound that I consistently hear from SM’s artists. “Prism” expertly captures the character of each member’s voice and melds them all together beautifully. The moments in the chorus that make space for a harmony only add to the prism and multicolored theme that is this song. “Prism” is another example of the quality of vocals, concepts, musical experimentation, choreography, and styling that has come to define K-pop since the early 2000s.
SHINee. “Prism.” YouTube. 19 November 2016. https://youtube.com/watch?v=_9m1JXM8rB8 (9 March 2023).
애치랑 짝궁이들. “SHINee (샤이니) – Prism (프리즘) 교차편집 (Stage Mix).” YouTube. 24 March 2021. https://youtube.com/watch?v=jSayeCYoyn8 (9 March 2023).
NUHITZRADIO. “Janet Jackson Ft Blackstreet I Get So Lonely Remix.” YouTube. 4 July 2011. https://youtube.com/watch?v=PuVJDua-044 (9 March 2023).
J.K. “SHINee Shares Info About Upcoming Track ‘Prism’.” Soompi.com. 5 September 2016. https://www.soompi.com/article/893807wpp/shinee-shares-info-upcoming-track-prism. (9 March 2023).
XG, “Left Right,” SHOOTING STAR (2023)
XG (Xtraordinary Girls) is a seven-member girl group consisting of Jurin, Chisa, Cocona, Hinata, Maya, Juria, and Harvey. They debuted in March 2022 with their first single, “Tippy Toes,” under Xgalx, a label of the Japanese entertainment conglomerate Avex. XG has been a hot debate in the never-ending debate about what K-pop is and what is not. They are a group based in South Korea with only Japanese members who sing “K-pop” songs in English. With a strong appeal among international fans, many of their songs have gone viral on TikTok, showcasing the malleability and complexity of defining K-pop.
“Left Right” is the side track from XG’s third single, “SHOOTING STAR,” which was released in January 2023. It was produced by a team of talented producers, including JAKOPS (also known as Simon from the second-generation group DMTN), Chancellor (a singer-songwriter signed under Kang Daniel’s label KONNECT Entertainment), Purple, and Knave. With a heavy bassline and a repetitive, catchy chorus, the song has an R’n’b touch that showcases XG’s versatility in their music production. XG’s delivery is confident and commanding, with clear and powerful vocals demonstrating their singing and rapping skills. With such stability, the members show us they have nothing to envy the other fourth-generation groups. The climax of the sound is reached with the bridge and Juria’s silky vocals singing, “This is the right time so come get it,” adding a touch of sensuality to the track.
“Left right” also has a music video that matches the futuristic concept of the single “SHOOTING STAR.” The video’s visual effects and sci-fi elements perfectly complement the song’s intense atmosphere, creating a captivating experience for viewers and listeners alike.
XG. “XG – LEFT RIGHT (Official Music Video)” YouTube. 13 February 2023. https://youtu.be/T6YVgEpRU6Q (9 March 2023).
TWICE, “ MOONLIGHT SUNRISE” , MOONLIGHT SUNRISE (2023)
Mai Anna Pressley
In January, JYP girl group Twice released “Moonlight Sunrise,” their second fully English single after 2021’s “The Feels.” Despite the continued push for K-pop to become more global, English track releases are always something of a risk – aside from the possible alienation of the domestic fanbase, groups typically face more critique over lyrical content from fans that are listening in their native, or adopted languages. At the same time, releasing tracks meant for promotion in overseas markets has also provided opportunities for groups to shine, as it’s understood that they have to be on their A game when losing the hometown advantage. For Twice, 2019 maxi single “Breakthrough,” which was released for the Japanese market, marked a shift in sound and concept for the group, paving the way for Korean releases like “I Can’t Stop Me,, which was the groups first venture into retro-synth, and perhaps a nod to the more traditional JYPE vibe. With the release of such tracks, Twice has been maturing their sound and image in a way that feels very organic – there seems to be a concerted effort to release music that feels appropriate to how they’ve developed over time since their debut without losing their identity as a group.
“Moonlight Sunrise” both continues down this path, yet also feels like somewhat of a regression of Twice’s musical growth. The song, produced by Earattack and Lee Woo-hyun, and co-written by Nina Ann Nelson and Kaedi Dalley of Citizen Queen, is an unquestionably catchy, fun and playfully sexy pop number, with a rare rap that actually integrates seamlessly into the song, and great vocals from leads Jihyo and Nayeon. However, the catchiness proves a double-edged sword, as the repetition, a key feature of most Twice title tracks, in the song (particularly the line “I guarantee I got you”, which opens the song and is repeated throughout the chorus) nearly borders on grating. The song is best listened to accompanied by the video, in which the group showcases their signature fun choreography, and more sophisticated, feminine styling that grounds the cuteness of the song. In fact, the video and messaging of the song – English-speaking fans commented on the suggestive nature of the lyrics, which portray the overt longing for the “sunrise” of the title, expressed by lyrics such as “Imma really need your touch if Imma make through the night” – may have been better served if the song had been slowed down and gone for a more true R&B style with pop elements. While this may or may not have been a missed opportunity to do so, I am eager to see the continued growth of the group and whether or not they will be able to cement a more mature image that will carry over into longevity as they age in an industry with a short shelf life for girl groups.
JYP Entertainment. “TWICE Pre-release english track “MOONLIGHT SUNRISE” M/V”. 20 January 2023. https://youtu.be/cKlEE_EYuNM. (05 February 2023).
Image by Jeon Sang-O from Pixabay
WWLT, Vol. 3, No. 1 by KpopKollective is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.