Yes, I'm back! With the first actual, not-2011-related, post! Something I managed to whip up between all the whacked out critical papers and the mountain of Japanese verbs I've had to deal with over the past few weeks.
A note before we start. This was not originally written for Pop Reviews Now, so the tone of the piece is a lot more serious and there are a lot more examples.
Whatever you choose to think about DBSK, you simply cannot deny the fact that they are an extremely musical idol group. While other groups put a premium on performance, on looks, or on gags, DBSK are one of those who put a premium on the music, on their vocals, their material, and their identity as a musical group. In doing that, they have, whether subconsciously or not, created a “DBSK sound”, which is both consistent and dynamic, and which has ultimately cemented a place in K-Pop history for them. However, that sound took five members to build and deliver, and with the original five members parting their ways leaving only two to promote with the DBSK name, things are bound to change, right? Well, musically at least.
￼￼￼￼￼￼“Rising Sun” demands a whole range of vocals, from Yoochun and Yunho’s rapping, to Jaejoong
and Junsu’s strong, melodic verses and almost savage choruses, all the way to Changmin’s now- legendary scream and his and Yoochun’s Indian-inspired middle 8 turned dance and rap break, but in addition to the technique they have, the right parts were assigned to the right members, and the song managed to fit all of them, while bringing out what they did best.
“Kiss The Baby Sky” (Japan), which was the theme song for the Japanese TV program “Zoom In”, and both songs received A-side billing in Japan. The single which featured the two songs topped the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart and after less than a month was certified platinum for sales of over 100,000 copies. Jaejoong and Yoochun’s collaboration, both in production and delivery, “Colors ~Melody and Harmony~”, was the theme song for Hello Kitty’s 35th anniversary and topped the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart in 2009. The five of them also had a hand in album tracks such as “White Lie” (Junsu, Korea), “9095” (Jaejoong, Japan), “Don't Cry My Lover” (Jaejoong, Korea), “Love Bye Love” (Yoochun, Korea), “Evergreen” (Yoochun, with lyrics by Changmin, Korea). As well as lyrics like Changmin’s Korean version of “Love In the Ice” , Junsu’s “Picture of You” (Korea), and numerous rap parts by Yoochun and Yunho, among others.
To sum up the “DBSK sound”, their strong vocals allow them to one, experiment with sounds and styles, two, carry difficult melodies placed in three, elaborate and technically-demanding song structures, while four, fulfilling the demands of pop music, such as catchy hooks and five, constantly showing off their ability to sing in much higher ranges than what’s comfortable, and six, doing that while keeping in mind that there are four other talented singers in the group and thus delivering solid harmonies and a capella work. And lastly, they have the initiative to further that “DBSK sound” by doing it on their own and learning how to compose and write material by themselves, which will better reflect who they are, not only as vocalists and idols, but as musicians.
So, which of these characteristics were more evident in “Why? (Keep Your Head Down)” and “IN HEAVEN” than the others? That’s not to say that one song is completely devoid of a certain characteristic, but it’s just that it’s more evident in the other. However, before we get to the two songs, we have to remember that what was once done by five is now being done by groups of two and three, and so many things have changed in the individual members’ roles that do affect the delivery, and even the songs themselves.
They are literally jumping through hoops and fire with their voices on this track -- it’s an elaborate melody with a catchy hook, it requires a lot of energy and learned technique to pull off, but it’s still melodic and still requires actual singing.
While “Why? (Keep Your Head Down)” makes the vocals obey the song and really follow everything to the last detail, “IN HEAVEN” is much less structured and elaborate, it’s a simple verse- chorus-etc. template, and so the vocals carry the song. The song requires technique, but more of how to scream your head off without actually losing your head, about letting it go, but with control. And lastly, the songwriting angle. “IN HEAVEN” was written, composed and co-arranged by Jaejoong, who, along with Yoochun, was one of the more “published” composers during DBSK’s time as five.
But then again, another way to look at the divide is that circumstances have changed. Even if the two
groups’ roots lie with the five-member DBSK, and even if that’s all they knew prior to the split, as musicians it’s also inevitable to grow artistically. They’ve changed since their last Korean and even Japanese release as five, and so they would’ve moved forward as separate entities and add certain elements which the old DBSK would never have done. That’s completely valid too -- that was the past, this is the present. However, at the end of the day it’s really inevitable that JYJ and the two-piece DBSK take things from the “DBSK sound”, because that was their foundation, and maybe for Yunho and Changmin, that's what SME wants them to do. All their basic knowledge in singing, of performing, and of their artistry, all of that came from the training they received and their work in and out of the studio, on and off stage. DBSK taught them the rudiments, and although foundations are extremely important, so is growth.