[#2] 15& - "Shy Ma Boy"

From: "Sugar"
Released: May
Territory: South Korea
Previous Best of Entries: 2013: [#28] "Somebody"
Other notable song(s) from 2014: "Sugar", "Silly Boy", "Rain & Cry"

I adore Motown. I grew up with two types of music -- brave Jazz (none of the weak stuff people try to pass off for "jazz") and Motown -- and I also grew up with my dad explaining all the intricacies and even showing me how they're done properly. Which is why I'm really particular about my Motown because I know it well, but I guess I'm really particular about everything. So when K-Pop started drawing influences from Motown again (post-"Nobody") I was anxious in both good and bad ways -- the first few attempts were disappointing, and while they've gotten better over the years no one has really gotten it right.

Until 15&.

I was talking about "heat" yesterday (with f(x)'s "All Night"), and it's the same, if not better, on "Shy Ma Boy." The arrangement is sparse for the most part, and that's why you can hear each punch of the brass line, the sharpness of the snaps, the character of the raw-sounding piano line. The attention to detail in the arrangement is precisely why "Shy Ma Boy" trumps all the competition. In the chorus alone the brass goes from signaling the down beats in the first two lines, to gliding its way through the next, and then again mirroring the down beat. The instruments aren't just loops that come in and out or several chords that alternate, they have their own "melodic" lines so even if there's not a lot happening in terms of volume, there's a lot to listen to.

But the arrangement is just half of what makes "Shy Ma Boy" such an outstanding song -- the other half of course is Jimin and Yerin's vocals. Effortless. That's really the only way I can describe their execution of the melody. It's like they're saying, "you want Motown? Here, take it -- take it all." Like the dynamics in the arrangement, the vocals are equally varied not just in terms of timbre or pitch but in terms of vocal technique. And that's only possible because Jimin and Yerin can actually sing and actually have voices. The verses are subdued with short but intense vocal lines, then the song completely changes course at the bridge with more graceful, longer and sustained lines in a higher range, and the chorus high notes left and right, but with a sense of grace.

This is what happens when you don't have to compromise on anything -- when it's not about a song bringing out good parts and hiding flaws, or a great singer giving a boring song some character. What you get is a polished, effortlessly outstanding package that is an absolute joy to listen to over and over and over again.


  1. omg this was totally one of my most played jams of the year and I'm so excited to see it land at #2 on your list!

    I even included it in my K-Pop faves of 2014 playlist :D


  2. i'm not a motown person, but i agree, it's very well executed :)


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