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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 3

Image by Mary Theresa McLean from Pixabay

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 Super Junior featuring Yunho and Yoochun (TVXQ!), NU’EST, VIXX, Jay Park, T.O.P (BigBang), Ahn Ye Eun and Hoppipolla by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

Super Junior (feat. U-Know Yunho and Micky Yoochun of TVXQ!), “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake” Sorry Sorry (2009)

N Lina An

TVXQ! and Super Junior are no strangers to Kpop. A more well-known collaboration between both groups was a joint CD single titled Show Me Your Love in 2005. They reunited again with a more mature sound by releasing the song 이별… 넌 쉽니 or its English title, Heartquake (lit. Saying Goodbye… Is It Easy For You).

Heartquake is the 8th track on Super Junior’s 3rd studio album Sorry Sorry released in 2009. This monster collaboration featured the rap-unit of TVXQ!, members U-Know Yunho and Micky Yoochun, together with the vocal unit of Super Junior, K.R.Y. (Kyuhyun, Ryeowook and Yesung). While the song Sorry Sorry catapulted Super Junior to greater heights, this collaboration saw TVXQ! members U-Know and Micky as featured guests, writing the rap parts for the verses and Super Junior’s vocalists Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, Yesung (K.R.Y) carrying the melody in the chorus and bridge.

The song opens rather cynically with the titular line “이별… 넌 쉽니” which is a colloquial way of saying “breaking up, it’s easy for you eh?” before going into the verse where the lyrics continue in the tone of hurt and abandonment. The last line of the first verse reads “연예인이 하는 사랑… 다 그런거지…” (t/n: Love of a celebrity… it’s always like this) could have hinted that the context of this song is about a relationship between a non-idol with an idol. The words of the rap verses were presented in the order of disbelief of the breakup, longing for the love to return, blame — in the last line that sings “모두 부수고 떠난 너” (t/n: You who destroyed everything and left) — and finally, acceptance that the love will not return. The chorus sings about how one carries on with life after heartbreak and despair, but the bridge questions why should this suffering be one-sided?

The song in a minor key indicates emotions of sadness and hurt; echoing its negative connotation in the lyrics. The use of synth and sampled beats gives the song an electronic vibe, while the strings and piano adds on an acoustic touch. These electro-acoustic sounds fill up the spaces, giving the song an eclectic mix of textures. There is a distinct repeated descending piano riff that is heard in the verse, and the vocals imitates this in the first phrase of the verses. The song modulates in the last chorus bringing the overall “pain” to its highest point where the rap and vocals overlap each other, creating a polyphonic texture before tapering off and a sudden drop of dynamics and texture all together at the end.

Sources

Super Junior. “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake” YouTube. 2 August 2019. https://youtu.be/k7QLEL-4Yjw (14 March 2022)

Gil Hye-sung. “Lee Yeon-hee and TVXQ are featured in Super Junior’s third album” . Moneytoday (in Korean). March 9, 2009. https://star.mt.co.kr/stview.php?no=2009030908325038262&type=1&outlink=1 (14 March 2022)

Lyric Translation. “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake”. AZLyrics. No publication date information. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/superjunior/heartquake.html (14 March 2022)

NU’EST, “Look (a starlight night)” CANVAS (2016)

Ngan Tran

Debuted in 2012 as Pledis Entertainment’s first boy group, NU’EST was considered a formidable rookie among their peers like EXO and B.A.P. In 2017, four members of the group, JR, Baekho, Minhyun, and Ren, appeared on season two of Mnet’s survival show Produce 101. (The last member, Aron, did not appear on the show). Produce 101 quite literally saved their career and brought their popularity to an explosive high. Their sonic identity post-Produce 101  is best characterized by a sophisticated maturity that just sounds effortlessly stylish, a continuation of where their 5th mini album CANVAS left off before the boys went on the show. It’s a coincidence that NU’EST’s narrative is much like a K-pop fairytale on its own. Their return to success is often compared to a modern day Cinderella story, and their 6th mini album in 2019 after reuniting as a quintet was even named Happily Ever After. But all things must come to an end, and the group effectively disbanded on their 10th anniversary with a compilation album. 

“Look (a starlight night)” is the last track in CANVAS. It is composed by Bumzu, Jun Byoung-sun, and Hong Young-in, with words by Bumzu, JR, and Baekho, and arrangement by Joseph Park. The song is an electronic dance number that oozes swagger with a dash of mystique allure. Allow me a second to explain these nondescript words. The verses are built on a pair of looping synths and pulsating drum beats that allow the vocals to be delivered with reassured confidence. The pre-chorus comes sweeping in with gorgeous synths and a soft piano sound before coming to an abrupt halt, and almost immediately the bombastic chorus yanks us right back to reality with an addictive melodic hook. Here is a good example of utilizing different vocal timbres to add flavor to a song: the interplay between Minhyun’s airy falsetto floating lazily on the dreamy soundscape and Baekho’s fiery, powerful belt in the chorus is simply mesmerizing. The rich harmonies are brought to the front of the mix, giving their vocals much needed weight instead of being drowned out by the instrumental. “Look (a starlight night)” is like the sonic equivalence of looking up to the night sky and mistaking the skyscraper lights for the stars – a fleeting urban fairytale.

Sources

NU’EST. “[Choreography Video] NU’EST 5th Mini Album CANVAS ‘Look(A Starlight Night)’.” YouTube. 17 November 2016. https://youtu.be/rKNL7eME7JY (15 March 2022)

VIXX, “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U)” Jekyll (2013)

Luisa do Amaral

VIXX debuted in May 2012 with a bright art pop visual concept and a catchy dance sound, with “Super Hero”, followed up by “Rock Your Body”. It wasn’t until their April 2013 comeback, with single album On and On, that they first showcased the dark, impactful image they became known for. The group presented a vampire concept, with heavy makeup, color lenses, and choreography inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Later that year, in May, when they released their first EP hyde, they carried on with that new bold image, borrowing from “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” for the title track of the same name. 

In that sense, “G.R.8.U”, lead single of the repackaged version of hyde, Jekyll (2013), was a contrast; the visual concept is sunny and bright, fitting for a fun summer track. The song is credited to hit producers Hyuk Shin and Ross Lara, who discussed the creative process in a video for Full Sail University in August, 2013. They wanted to bring together different elements of multiple genres, like disco house, with “groovy happy chords” and “dancey vibes” (2013). The big chorus layers anthemic hooks on top of a heart-fluttering melody that expresses the joys of being young and in love in the Summer. The buildup is aided by bass and electric guitars; according to Lara, the addition of acoustic elements to the electronic composition helped bring the music to life (2013). The lyrics are the real tick of the song; they were penned by Kim Eana, credited in numerous number-one songs on Korean charts, such as Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra” and IU’s “Good Day”. The opening scene of the music video for G.R.8.U is a TV showing scenes of the MV for their previous title track, “hyde”, whose lyrics are also credited to Kim. Even though their visual concepts differ widely, both songs share the same overarching theme, inspired by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – finding a different, unexpected side of oneself next to one’s significant other. While the former approaches it from a dark, crazy evil perspective, “G.R.8.U”’s endearingly explosive sound is perfect to sing about being crazy in love.

Sources

VIXX. “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U) Official Music Video.” YouTube. 31 Jul 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vIZT-aIUKc (15 Mar 2022)

Full Sail University. “Behind the Scenes of VIXX’s “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U)” with Hyuk Shin and Ross Lara.” YouTube. 1 Aug 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8_jERfgzGc (15 Mar 2022).

Jay Park, “GANADARA (Feat. IU),” GANADARA (2022)

Vitoria F. Doretto

Park Jaebeom (박재범), mostly known as Jay Park, is a Korean-American b-boy, dancer, rapper, producer, CEO, model, and actor. He debuted in 2008 as the leader of K-pop group 2PM (now a former member) and also participated in the Seattle b-boy team, Art of Movement.

The single “GANADARA” is his first release under MORE VISION, the record label he recently created. The title (가나다라) is the beginning of the Korean alphabet and a recurrent order of consonants used to teach kids —similarly to ABC in English or Portuguese. The lyrics address the difficulty in speaking Korean and how one uses body language to express their feelings – the Ga Na Da Ra Ma Ba Sa repeatedly in the chorus is easy-to-sing and portrays the desire to connect and communicate with someone effectively without the language barrier. It was written by HAON (김하온), Woogie, and Jay Park, composed by Jay and Woogie, and arranged by Slom & Woogie.

The track is a mix of R&B and Hip-hop with a subdued, mid-tempo beat and strummed guitar loop. It features singer-songwriter IU, the South Korean superstar and nation’s sweetheart whose impressive voice blends so well with Jay’s soothing vocals that is surprising. Overall the track is simple, and the chorus is catchy. The most astonishing is that its arrangement enables one to focus on their vocals.

The music video is refreshing and silly, with this awkward vibe in the background, which is a good point and signals the concept of More Vision (a nice place to work and all). In it, Jay is “starstruck by the songstress IU with her unmatched visuals, glimmering vocals, and an ability to leave you speechless,” as Agrawal (2022) points out.

Sources

JAY PARK. “박재범 (Jay Park) – ‘GANADARA (Feat. 아이유 IU)’ Official Music Video”. YouTube. 11 Mar 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFb1TftvdoM (16 Mar 2022)

Agrawal, Ayushi. “Jay Park and IU are reflections of their star lives in hilarious ‘GANADARA’ music video”. Pink Villa, 2022. https://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainment/jay-park-and-iu-are-reflections-their-star-lives-hilarious-ganadara-music-video-1044296 (16 Mar 2022)

T.O.P (of BIGBANG), “DOOM DADA,” (2013)

Mariam Elba

After a four year hiatus, YG Entertainment announced in February that BIGBANG would be making their long-awaited comeback in early April. This would be their first musical release after 2018’s Flower Road single and after a tumultuous scandal and criminal case involving a now-former member. 

This announcement came with a particular spotlight on BIGBANG member, T.O.P, (real name Choi Seung-hyun), as the agency also announced that he would be ending his contract with YG Entertainment after 16 year with the company. His last solo single, DOOM DADA, released in 2013 (only one of two singles he released as a soloist so far) was written by Choi himself, and co-composed and arranged with Choice37. The song is a fast-paced, hard-hitting rap song, the the sharpness of a diss track with lyrics like: I’m a 21st century, extraordinary Korean; A god-given rap Basquait with a mic; I’m warming up my mouth for the first time in a while, I’ll be done in just one song.”

The song is atypical within K-pop, as Choi himself described it as “experimental” at the time of release. Reviewer R. Jun wrote for Soompi, “The song has rough, yet abstract lyrics, and has a surrealistic feel.” Taylor Glasby of Dazed astutely observes, “The lyrical rhythms are both inviting and alienating, while the beats align to trap and M.I.A’s jagged tribalism. But go deeper and recognisable cadences reveal themselves…. it’s K-Pop but sly, frenetic and slippery.”

The music video is peppered with influences from Choi’s family background in the arts, with nods to the artist, Salvador Dali and themed based off of Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

While DOOM DADA was Choi’s last solo work released to the public, he spoke to the press for the first time since 2017 in an interview with Prestige Magazine in Hong Kong in which he hinted at more solo work to come.

Sources

BIGBANG. “T.O.P – DOOM DADA M/V.” YouTube.  15 November 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAoME_aMm1w&ab_channel=BIGBANG (accessed 20 March 2022).

Maisie Duff. “K-Pop Music Video Breakdown – T.O.P ‘Doom Dada.’”UNITEDKPOP. 17 November 2013. http://unitedkpop.com/2013/11/k-pop-music-video-breakdown-t-o-p-doom-dada/.  (accessed 20 March 2022). 

R. Jun. “T.O.P Hits 2 Million Views in 2 Days with “Doom Dada” MV.” Soompi. 18 November 2013. https://www.soompi.com/article/551465wpp/t-o-p-hits-2-million-views-in-2-days-with-doom-dada-mv. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Taylor Glasby. “Top ten K-Pop of 2013.” Dazed. 10 December 2013. https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/18097/1/top-ten-k-pop-of-2013. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Nathan Erickson. “T.O.P is Back – A Star Reborn.” Prestige. 9 March 2022. https://www.prestigeonline.com/hk/people-events/people/top-choi-seung-hyun-interview-march-2022. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Ahn Ye Eun, “CHANGGWI,” CHANGGWI (2021)

Tan Puay Shuang

When two founders of prestigious K-pop entertainment companies decided that Ahn Ye Eun’s  musical direction was not what they were looking for in the K-pop music they had in mind, It was Yoo Hee-yeol, the founder of Antenna Music, used his wild card to give her a chance to continue as a competing contestant in a survival show, citing that her “unique, never-seen-before style is what makes it all the more refreshing to see in the industry”. This is how the runner-up of K-pop Star 5 began her career in the Korean music industry. The soloist debuted in late 2016 with a self-titled album, and despite being a versatile artist who is backed up with a sea of knowledge as an alumnus of Dong-ah Institute of Media and Arts, Ahn Ye Eun is probably most well-known for her distinctive vocal timbre reminiscent of the various traditional chang singing styles – which almost never goes unnoticed as the artist herself often incorporates traditional flavors into her music. Previously, Ahn Ye Eun has garnered attention for writing and singing the soundtrack for the Korean TV series, Rebel: Thief who Stole the People, which featured songs that were previously performed on K-pop Star 5 like ‘Red Tie’ and ‘If Spring Comes’ as well as alternate renditions to the former songs and several new tracks. Ahn Ye Eun then continued to sing in a few more original soundtracks, including the well-received ‘Night Flower’, featured as the theme song of the Korean webtoon Painter of the Night.

After her first horror-themed single ‘Trumpet Creeper’ in 2020, Ahn Ye Eun continued her series with ‘CHANGGWI’ almost exactly a year later. As the title suggests, she sings from the perspectives of the changgwi – a Korean mythological creature that takes the form of the ghost of a young man who was eaten by a tiger in the tall mountains, and occasionally strikes a lyrical conversation with the ghost as the tiger itself. Hoping to find a sacrifice to aid him as he continues on his road to reincarnation, he lures a passer-by in the middle of a dark night into listening to his story as they approach his final demise. As usual, Ahn Ye Eun shows her dedication to storytelling through the way she crafts the lyrics and melody to this song. The use of Korean traditional instruments is not a surprise to her loyal listeners, but she has also brought attention to her lyrics that include difficult Korean and Sino-Korean words that are not commonly used in urban conversation. She also effectively demonstrated the musical concept of text painting by reflecting the playful tone of the changgwi in the second verse through her soft yet well-articulated lyrics inviting the passer-by to place his bets, and the deafening roars of a tiger in her well-grounded belts, especially on the very last note of the song. The engaging storytelling experience through Ahn Ye Eun’s memorable singing, combined with the repeated chanting in the background, never fails to keep the listeners of ‘CHANGGWI’ stuck in the never-ending cycle of listening to this song.

Sources

xxentertainment. “안예은(AHN YEEUN) HORROR SINGLE 창귀 CHANGGWI LYRIC VIDEO.” YouTube. 1 August 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UUDyQyuvwI (20 March 2022).

xxentertainment. “ ‘다들 책 펴’ 일타강사 안예은 선생님의 ‘창귀’ 가사 특강.”

YouTube. 2 August 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13-YRd7pOM0 (20 March 2022).

Hoppipolla, “Your Ocean (너의 바다),” And Then There Was Us (2021)

Nykeah Parham

In 2019, South Korea added another music show to their national repertoire by the name of Superband. This talent survival show produced by JTBC gathered indie musicians from street performers to classical musicians that would be placed in bands together by the judges (referred to as “Producers” in the show) that would compete against one another. Each stage performed by the competing bands were evaluated by the judges (Yoon Jong-shin, Yoon Sang, Kim Jong-wan of Nell, Joe Hahn of Linkin Park, and AKMU’s Lee Su-hyun) and the lowest ranking musicians from the losing bands would be eliminated. The band that emerged as the winner was the rock ballad Hoppipolla, consisting of vocalist and keyboardist frontman, I’ll, cellist, Hong Jin-ho, vocalist and guitarist, Ha Hyun-sang, and guitarist, Kim Young-so. Their name, which means “jumping into puddles” in Icelandic, displays their hopes that people around the world can immerse themselves in their music and find solace. They made their debut in November 2019 with the single album “About Time.”

“Your Ocean” is a rock ballad that correctly defines what Hoppipolla hopes to do with their music. The song begins quietly with Hyun-sang’s soft, almost breathy vocals over a solo piano that then builds with I’ll’s stronger singing and Jin-ho’s added cello. At the chorus’ beginning, the drums are added in to give the song a bit of bass and tempo alongside what sounds like an antique music box that figuratively plays on the listener’s heart strings and nostalgia. It sounds like deep love, but that of longing for a past memory—which is hinted at in the lyrics, “just like always, should we chat all night and fall asleep?”—or of childlike love. The chorus ends almost in silence again, like the ebbs and flows of the ocean. After the second verse and chorus, there is a guitar solo that then becomes a duet between the guitar and cello showing off the skills of the other members, and then leads into a crescendo of vocals, harmonies, and instruments. That is until I’ll completes the song with the same question and in a similar soft vocal of the beginning, “Shall we go to the ocean?”

Sources

호피폴라 Hoppipolla. “Hoppipolla – Your Ocean.” YouTube. 20 Jan 2021. https://youtu.be/2OPsHmrWQ7I (22 March 2022).

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 3 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.