I was excited for this collaboration for a number of reasons. The first being: I am a huge fan of Hyunseung’s voice, and have been a fan of it from even before he debuted with B2ST. My first exposure to Hyunseung was from an old Big Bang documentary, where we saw that he had actually trained for two years with the other five boys of Big Bang, but was cut from the group very shortly prior to their debut. And although I do believe that YG ultimately made the right decision in choosing Seungri as the fifth member over Hyunseung, watching Hyunseung get cut (twice) was nonetheless a heart wrenching experience that still stands in my memory to this day.
Perhaps it is out of the vestiges of my lingering affection for the pre-debut Hyunseung (strangely, the current Hyunseung doesn’t seem to captivate me the same way), but I always hoped that someday he would get a chance show everyone the great potential that I believed, and still want to believe, that he has. But has this potential fully matured and come into fruition yet? I’m not so sure about that. Although Hyunseung of B2ST now seems to be a much happier and more confident person than he was in the past (and for this, I am glad he is in B2ST now and not Big Bang), up until now I’ve always felt that there was still something a little lacking in his performance. It all stems back to the same problems he had during his Big Bang days — which was not a problem of his dance or vocal ability (both excellent), but rather a problem with not knowing how to utilize his facial expressions and body language to connect with the audience. To put it bluntly, while he has the talent, he lacks the charisma while performing on stage.I feel that HyunA, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. And let me first just get it out in the open that I actually like HyunA, because I think she is a great performer. The exact same things that bring down Hyunseung are actually what HyunA takes and works to the best of her advantage. The girl is not a good singer, not a good rapper, heck, not even a great dancer. But what she is good at is presenting herself. Admittedly, she sometimes comes off as a little too try-hard about being sexy (and it gets icky), but you can’t deny that there’s something very special and eye-catching about the girl when she is on stage.
So what do we get when we put take two attractive people with polar opposite strengths and weaknesses and mash them together to make an album?
Track 1: Trouble Maker
I feel like I would have enjoyed this song more had I not built up certain expectations from the teaser. The song that I had ideally pictured Trouble Maker to be was a smooth, jazzy, R&B number with just the right sprinkling of classiness and smolder.
I got all excited during the opening of the song because it actually sounded like the teaser, and then the unexpected funky disco sounds kicked in and I was so thrown off that I didn’t know what to think at first. However, after listening to it a few times more, I have come to appreciate the song for what it is. Definitely not the smooth and sensual title number that I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless. It’s a fun song to groove to, and different from the normal K-pop fare, which is a good thing. The whistling really added a nice touch to the song, and I give them props for being able to incorporate it in such a way that surprisingly did not get annoying. And hey, I liked the heavy breathing too.
It’s interesting because I feel that for HyunA’s material in particular, Cube has been trying to capture sounds and trends that are more American than Korean (and they do the opposite for G.na). They were the first in K-pop to experiment with dubstep in Bubble Pop, and although whistling isn’t by any means a new idea in anyone’s book, they were also the first in K-pop this year to incorporate whistling into a promotional track. Anyone who has been listening to the American radio lately has probably noticed that whistling has been making an odd but definite resurgence. Here’s just a sampling of some whistling hits from the past year: Moves Like Jagger (Maroon 5), I Wanna Go (Britney Spears), Lazy Song (Bruno Mars), It Girl (Jason Derulo), Good Life (OneRepublic), The Big Bang (Rock Mafia), Pumped Up Kicks (Foster The People), and I’m sure there are quite a few I have missed as well.
Although overall I think it’s a decent song, there were some elements that I felt did bring it down. I didn’t like the stuttering vowels during the “Tro-o-o-ou-ble trou-ble tro-trouble maker” line (just one of those pop trends that has been overdone to the point of annoying), and I didn’t like the fact that Hyunseung’s voice was autotuned in the chorus. Apart from that, I felt that Hyunseung’s voice pretty much carried the song. Although HyunA’s rap didn’t manage to ruin the song, it didn’t really manage to particularly add anything, either. If we were to be accurate about the crediting, the song should actually be Hyunseung FEATURING HyunA. Because I think even without her contribution to it, the song could have still stood on its own.
Track 2: The Words I Don’t Want To Hear
It’s a nice sounding ballad. Hyunseung sounded great (his voice was pretty much made for ballads), and it also felt kind of surreal to realize that HyunA actually seems to have a singing voice that doesn’t sound half bad, at least in recording. Ideally, I would have preferred a huskier or fuller girl voice to have been paired with Hyunseung’s, but I do think that HyunA actually did a decent job with this one. Not perfect — I would have liked to hear more emotion from her voice — but they did end up creating a nice harmony for this song.
I… am kind of doubtful she’d be able to pull this off for us live, though.
Technology is a powerful tool. Just sayin’. But it would also be awesome if she proved me wrong.
Track 3: Time (feat. Rado)
HyunA’s solo and it’s a ballad. While it’s not a disaster, it also falls kind of flat. Yes, she technically hits all the notes, but her vocal quality isn’t particularly well suited for ballads. It worked out okay in the previous song because Hyunseung sung most of it, and when they sang together, the depth of his voice kind of covered for the lack of emotion in hers. However, since Rado has a more waspy vocal quality than Hyunseung, when paired with HyunA everything just sounds kind of thin (for a lack of better description).
I was really hoping for HyunA to come out with a hot dance track for her solo track (because that is what she does best), but I guess Cube wanted to try something different this time around. Overall it was okay. Not too bad. But it could have been much better.
Track 4: Amurut/I Don’t Mind
Hyunseung’s solo. This is perhaps my favorite track on the album, but it’ll have to stand the test of time for me to really be sure. There’s this particular quality to Hyunseung’s voice that is kryptonite to me, but I don’t really know quite how to describe it. Gummy has stated before that Hyunseung has a smooth and charming kind of voice that girls especially like… I guess I’ll just leave it at that. Hyunseung’s voice has always sounded the best in R&B songs… and he’s also a pretty big fan of the genre itself (fun fact: he follows Omarion and Chris Brown on Twitter).
I do have one minor gripe about Amurut through, and it’s that I think it sounds just a tad bit generic. Just a tad. I keep feeling like there are bits and pieces that I have heard somewhere before… but I can’t quite place my finger on it.
Overall, I thought that Trouble Maker was a decent mini album. I’m glad that Hyunseung was able to showcase his voice, even if HyunA’s vocal presence was a bit like a fish out of water. On the flip side, if the MAMA showcase was an indication of anything, HyunA will probably be the one carrying them through their performances… because Hyunseung is kind of awkward on stage (unless it’s just pure choreography… and none of that strange lying on the floor crap).
In short, my theory is that this unit was designed to have Hyunseung take care of the vocals, while HyunA uses her charisma to draw in the public eye. I think it’s a smart move on Cube’s part because the two of them are able to showcase their own strengths, while simultaneously covering up for each other’s respective weaknesses.
Now, if only there was just a bit more chemistry…
My rating for the mini-album from a scale of 1 to 5 is a solid 4.