Solo Showdown: Secret's Hyosung and T-Ara's Jiyeon

Being a relatively small industry that's heavily dependent on trends, K-Pop is swimming "flavors of the month," sometimes even literally changing every month, but two of the fixations that arose quite a long time ago (i.e., when I was still super active as a writer) seem to still be put in practice -- idol group members going solo, and pitting two similar acts against each other.

Case in point: this month's "rivalry" between girl group members Hyosung and Jiyeon going solo with their respective three-track EPs. The comparisons are pretty striking -- both girl group solo projects, both with the "sexy" sound+look, and both pushed more as performers than voices. But what's great about this particular "rivalry" is that TS Entertainment and CCM approach seemingly identical qualities very differently.

Honestly, neither Hyosung nor Jiyeon are particularly outstanding vocalists. In their respective groups they've proved competence at most -- Jiyeon being one of the most stable vocalists T-Ara, in a group with no stand-out vocalists, and Hyosung being in between lead singer Jieun and the rest of Secret. The rivalry isn't so much as who did it better because they're pretty equal in terms of vocals, it's between who got the better material.

I cannot stress enough how important song choice is for an artist. My problem with a lot of mid-level K-Pop acts is that they don't seem very good singing their own material, but suddenly have gorgeous voices when they perform certain covers -- the choice of material for an act is so much more than pushing a look or a concept, it's emphasizing musical strengths and masking weak points. So in this showdown I'll be looking at how well the two lead singles fit Hyosung and Jiyeon's capabilities, and what they do to bring out the best in them.

My initial reaction to hearing news of Hyosung going solo was a bit iffy -- I find her vocals on Secret's releases mostly whiny. Hyosung has a very thin voice and only sounds passable within a very narrow range, so I wasn't expecting much from her. Add TS Entertainment's questionable A&R work on Secret to the mix, and things weren't looking up that well. Little did I know that TS would hit a home run with this release.

Technically speaking "Goodnight Kiss" also does all the right things for Hyosung, the perfect example of how much good composition can do wonders. While the song would sound so much better executed by a more capable vocalist, it works for Hyosung because of several good decisions. The melodic lines are choppy, but it comes off as both an aesthetic and a technical decision. The song is really meant to be sexy, so short melodic lines allow for an emphasis of the breathless kind of sexy. At the same time it's also a lot easier to sing short lines, and especially for Hyosung who sounds best when she pushes her natural voice to higher octaves (as opposed to switching to a falsetto because she practically disappears when that happens) it makes the pushing easier for her to execute for majority of the song. But what I appreciate even more is that the melodic lines are actually melodic -- they may be choppy, but Hyosung is still actually singing.

Pair that pleasant and well-structured melody with double-tracking that adds to the intensity of the song, pronounced but still subtle dynamics, and clean production that's gritty in all the right places -- and you have a strong solo single that brings out the best in Hyosung.

As a whole "Goodnight Kiss" was a surprisingly pleasant listen. It's the right balance between sexy and pop in that it sounds very slick and stylish but has enough body and dimension in the execution to give it that oomph. It's catchy, it's fun at times -- it's the approachable, marketable type of sexy. The choice of instruments and the "ooh oohs" give off a sort of flimsy Janet Jackson vibe, but I like how it was integrated well into the distinctly pop sound of the song so it doesn't come off as if they're trying too hard to copy Janet. Bottom line is, if this ever came up on shuffle in the near future I would keep listening.

Jiyeon, on the other hand, went for the more serious kind of sexy which I honestly don't like because it's very hard to keep this sound from becoming pretentious. That has been proven by countless female solo acts like Sunmi and now Jiyeon. I had high hopes for this single when I heard it was Double Sidekick-penned, but they fell flat when I actually heard "1 Minute 1 Second." And when I say "fell flat," I mean literally flat. Nothing in the song goes out of its way to really grab your attention because there are hardly any dynamics (no big explosions in the arrangement), and the instruments all seem like they're just coasting along -- the one element that's supposed to give the song some life is the melody, and that's where the problem begins.

Vocals-wise, all things considered I actually prefer Jiyeon's voice because it's not as whiny and it fits T-Ara songs well, but on "1 minute 1 second" she sounded just as shrill as Hyosung. The nature of the melody calls for a voice with more character because the vocals are what will carry the "subdued" instrumental and practically non-existent dynamics. This is better suited for someone like Gain who still has the breathless femininity but also has dimension to create dynamics, because with Jiyeon it's just flat. And this is even with the double-tracking for practically the entire song. In their attempt to pad Jiyeon's vocals with double-tracking and gritty production they end up taking all the life out of them, making Jiyeon sound worse than she actually is -- Hyosung's clean production did her vocals good because it made people focus more on the dynamics than the quality of her voice. It really doesn't matter that "1 Minute 1 Second" is much more melodic because the execution is what matters in the end and in this case, "Goodnight Kiss" was so much better-executed.

So to give a song like this to Jiyeon is the complete opposite of bringing out her strengths as an idol -- it's making her vulnerable. Would I listen to this again? Not really.


  1. Eunjung is the "standout vocal" of T-ARA, IMO. :)


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