[#10] XIA (Junsu) - "11am"

From: "Incredible"
Released: July
Territory: South Korea
Previous Best of Entries: 2010: [#39] "Intoxication" / 2011: [#10] "You Are So Beautiful" / 2012: [#7] "Lullaby"
Other notable song(s) from 2013: "Fantasy", "Rainy Eyes", "No Reason", "Incredible" (feat. Quincy)

This review is a product of The Second K-Pop Writers' Workshop -- it is a revised version of a review I published on this blog earlier this year.

There have been more that just a few instances over the past few months when I find myself forgetting why I like five-piece DBSK, together or any fraction or combination of, and why I continue to follow them. JYJ hasn't had new music out since "IN HEAVEN" in 2011, HoMin's "Time" was passable at best, "Tarantallegra" was a disappointment, and Jaejoong's disaster of a solo EP speaks for itself. But I now realize that my line of reasoning is completely off, and that maybe I had been forgetting the very reason that led me to liking Jaejoong, Yoochun, Junsu, Changmin and Yunho.

I like DBSK because even if you take away all the flash and all the stage tricks, at the end of the day they are genuinely talented singers and performers. Music comes first, because they are capable enough to put it first, whether as individuals or as a group. For DBSK there is a time for fun and games, but there is also a time to show their respect for music, the stage, and performance. Junsu's "11am" is the epitome of that, and it’s exactly the reminder I needed.

Sometimes the performances are what carry songs. But "11am" goes the extra mile and does it, no questions asked. This is the type of release that shows that a pop song, of all things, is more than capable of depth.

On the surface, "11am" is very unassuming. It's a simple melody with a single instrument accompanying it, but it carries with it the same dynamics, explosions and emotions, that more intense songs have. While in theory simpler songs are easy to carry, they epitomize the line “appearances can be deceiving.” No one really thinks about simple songs, so they just take what's there and end it at that, most of the time forgetting that to be simple does not mean to lack dimension. It therefore takes creativity and a certain kind of brevity to work with simplicity and bring it places, because it also means that every mistake potentially made is out in the open, more than it is on a song with layers upon layers of effects and instruments.

"11am" basks in simplicity -- it's a quiet song, yes, and there pauses at practically every line, but everything serves a purpose. What you get from the melody are bursts of these intense yet graceful melodic lines, and just enough time to take them all in, as well as let your mind build upon each of them. The one fault this kind of structure has is that it has weak recall. When I try and remember which part is which (the verses, the chorus, etc.) and try to put the song together in my mind, it's difficult. However that doesn’t, in any way, make this a forgettable song. For me at least, what I remember is the song as a whole. I remember Junsu's voice, how that melody is gripping to say the least, especially at the "explosion" towards the end, and that this is a beautiful song, plain and simple. And that kind of song has its merits too, because “11am” doesn’t give off the impression that it was just put together with no purpose or sense of musicality.

And finally, that piano line. Despite it being an addition to the melody, it is what gives the song its subdued quality, simply because it's the only accompaniment. On the other hand, it's secondary, yes, but it's firm and can stand alone perfectly fine, therefore preventing the song from falling apart. Quite literally, it supports the melody. There are big moments in the song that are the piano line's doing, and for the most part it steers the dynamics of the second part, giving off a sense of urgency. But there are also times when it pulls back and lets the melody explode into its gorgeous self.

The piano line and the melody meet because of the production. Most of the time, when given a song as simple as this, the default action is to pile on all these trinkets -- weird effects, maybe some bass, rapping even. But none of those are in "11am", because the producers chose to let the song bask in the simplicity. The song is confident enough that it can catch attention, that it can be correctly delivered from start to finish, so the production doesn't need to resort to extras to cover up whatever flaws it has. It’s strong enough to stand on its own, and it stays that way throughout.

These three elements bring us back to the point I took off from -- what sells this song is Junsu. Give this song to someone else, maybe even of equal vocal ability, and it would completely change the song, whether it be for the good or for the bad. Instead of running away in fear of that simple song, Junsu goes headfirst into "11am" -- and kills it. Absolutely slays it. Much like the elements themselves, actually. This is because as far as technical delivery goes, it's on-point -- every note hit, every breath measured. And because Junsu spends less time thinking about what note to hit, or if he can hit it, because there's less time spent teaching him what to sing, he spends most of the time thinking of how to sing the song. This is clear in both the mostly-a cappella version, and the "album" version with a full piano accompaniment. The proficiency in the delivery is good enough to equal the elements themselves, so much so that it actually seems like he’s comfortable enough to be playing with the song.

Many times, singers will try to emote this way or that way, they'll try to soften their delivery or attempt vibratos, but they're so caught up in the technique that they forget to sing. The softening turns into whispering, the vibratos turn into what seem like mistakes, and so no emotions come out of those attempts. When the techniques fail, so do the emotions. But that's not the case with Junsu. Technique is what translates the emotions, but without something to apply those emotions on to, i.e., a melody, both technique and emotions will be useless. Even when Junsu’s singing softly like he is in the beginning, he's still singing the actual notes. Because he does them right, they convey exactly what emotions they're supposed to convey. Those vibratos are goose bump-inducing to say the least, and he captures all the emotions the way they should be, technically and otherwise. The sweeping notes are even more goose bump-inducing, giving the notes dimension and the hook the intensity it requires.

As a whole, "11am" is a good song, and an even better package, not only because of the reasons above, but also because there are two levels to it. It’s a song that you can either enjoy for what it is, or take apart into tiny pieces, which is exactly what I’ve done here. It's reachable to the untrained ear, with that beautiful melody and the fantastic singing. You can listen to it as is, without thinking, and it will be its beautiful self and entertain you. But it is also complex in its simplicity -- the thought that went into it, the techniques used to deliver it -- that taking it apart is just as entertaining as sitting back and letting it wow you. I enjoy the song, I enjoy listening to it, but I also enjoy trying to figure out why I think that way. And that’s exactly the way I like my pop songs.

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