In the past year or so, the K-pop scene seems to have suddenly been hit with a wave of singing-related variety shows. It’s as if Korea finally picked up the fact that with the idol scene as big as theirs, it’s high time that Korean television producers catch up with the global popularity of programs like “[Name of Country] Idol” and “[Name of Country]’s Got Talent,” and start doing some singing shows of their own.

Out of all these singing programs, “Immortal Song 2” was the show that left the deepest impression on me. Maybe it was the fact that their starting lineup was so stellar that it was practically shimmering — Beast‘s Yoseob, Super Junior‘s Yesung, SISTAR‘s Hyorin, SHINee‘s Jonghyun, 2AM‘s Changmin, and IU — but apart from that, I found the show’s setup to be very unique and highly atypical from your regular elimination-round, text-in-your-vote shows.

Though the specific format of the program tends to vary with every episode, the main premise of the show serves to connect old “legendary” Korean singers and their music with the hip, happenin’ K-pop idols of today. Each episode generally features one legendary singer, and the idol contestants remake one of the singer’s songs for the competition. Of course, “Immortal Song” comes with its fair share of mandatory Korean variety show-style dramaticness — the way in which the winner of each round is picked was so nervewracking that it almost made me tear my hair out during the first episode. But apart from the occasional cheesy theatrics, there’s something really special about this show, something that extends beyond the mere scope of picking who’s the better singer of the lot. I really love how “Immortal Song” builds bridges between the old and the new, oftentimes in ways that are really heartwarming.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been keeping up with “Immortal Song” on a weekly basis (committing to an hour-long show on a weekly basis is practically marriage in my book, what with my short attention span and general lack of patience), only checking in every so often when one of the competing idols catches my eye.

SHINee’s Taemin was originally regarded as an odd choice for “Immortal Song” because he’s billed as SHINee’s main dancer, and while his singing chops have made an appearance in the past few years, it’s not as if Taemin’s wailed out enough high A’s or crazy ad-libs to be considered a “main vocalist” in SHINee, let alone the rest of the K-pop realm. But as Ree excellently pointed out in her article, published before Taemin’s first “Immortal Song” appearance, one of the main points of “Immortal Song” is also to give idol singers a chance to show off their vocal abilities. And honestly, just because Taemin debuted as a dancer and could barely squeak his way through SHINee’s debut as a puberty-struck teenager, who are we to say that, four years after his debut, Taemin can’t prove himself as a singer, too?

Taemin’s vocal skills have improved significantly since his debut, so I went into Taemin’s performances with high hopes. This past Saturday marked Taemin’s fifth performance thus far, and I figured that five performances isn’t too much to do a performance-by-performance recap. So here goes: a play-by-play of Taemin’s performances in “Immortal Song” so far.

JANUARY 28TH: “At Least Once” (orig. Song Chang-sik)

I’m really tempted to say that the reason why this performance worked out so well was because this song really suits Taemin’s voice. However, it seems to me that Taemin has one of those voices that could easily suit a variety of songs, which serves as both a strength and a weakness — the weakness being that Taemin doesn’t have to try very hard to get a song to sound good. There doesn’t have to be a ton of heart or emotion behind his singing for people to praise him because his singing is very technical and precise, and his voice sounds pleasant. I think it’s a lot more difficult for a singer with an unconventional voice (e.g. Jonghyun) to sell a song; since his voice might not suit the tast of everyone, he then has to work that much harder to find that “X-factor” that will set his performance a step higher than what’s considered to be technically precise or aurally pleasing in that traditional sense.

But that’s not to say that Taemin’s first week performance was bad. I liked listening to it, and it was with this performance that I began really appreciating the timbre of Taemin’s voice. But his greenness as a performer is still evident — it seems as if he doesn’t really know what to do with his limbs when he’s not dancing, and his constant staring at the teleprompter in front of him takes away from the wholeness of his performance.

FEBRUARY 11TH: “Goodbye City” (orig. Cho Young-nam)

And to remedy that, Taemin decides to…dance.

Taemin looked a lot more comfortable on stage with this performance, but this is probably due more in part to the fact that he was back in his element — dancing. He still looked somewhat unsteady when he was singing, but it was clear that his stage confidence and charisma was in full blast when he was dancing.

I’m not a big fan of this particular performance because I don’t think it was the right way to handle this song. Taemin’s performance was a little too poppy, a little too flashy — and one could argue that this is to be expected; we are talking about K-pop idols remaking oldies, after all — but the song itself was originally one of those plain, gentle songs with a simple melody, a song that didn’t need to be “spiced up” in order to be special. I think this performance could’ve been a lot more effective if Taemin stuck to the original spirit of the song, but at the same time, I’m also glad to see Taemin performing in a way that makes him comfortable.

FEBRUARY 18TH: “I Don’t Know” (orig. Uhm Jung-hwa)

This was the performance that sold me.

For the first time, you could really see Taemin sing not just from his lips, but from his eyes. And to be perfectly honest, Taemin was the last person from whom I’d ever expect to see any real “eye-emoting,” but it was there. Taemin carried this song very well in every technical aspect, but more importantly, he performed this song excellently. Eye contact, facial expression, and movement with the lyrics. Compared with his first performance on this show, this performance really shows a lot of growth within a very short period of time.

But admittedly, all throughout Taemin’s performance I was silently begging him, “Please don’t dance, please don’t dance” — and it’s not to say that I don’t like Taemin’s dancing or that a dance break would have been completely inappropriate in this song, but because it was a sign of reassurance that Taemin had the courage to completely depend on his singing ability for one performance instead of leaning back on the one thing he knows he can do well. This performance represented a lot of first steps for Taemin — and there’s still room for improvement — but nevertheless, he executed them well.

MARCH 3RD: “Terminal Mapo” (orig. Silver Bell Sisters)

I’m usually opposed to dancing on “Immortal Song,” regardless of who the performer in question is — mostly because in my mind, “Immortal Song” is a show strictly for showcasing vocals, rather than overall performance theatrics (because there’s more than enough room in the rest of K-pop for that). But there’s a big flaw in this argument, because, well, what are you going to do with all the songs that aren’t ballads? Stand there, walk around stage, bop around a little to the beat? Lame.

I’m glad that, with the exception of the dance break, the choreography for “Terminal Mapo” came across as more as “movement” rather than “dance,” which made the performance a lot more cohesive overall. Taemin moves ridiculously smoothly on stage — as is expected from a dancer, obviously, but with him being a ~K-pop idol~ and all, one becomes hard-pressed to really see him move apart from the popping and waves that he does in order to impress. I loved seeing Taemin move on stage for “Terminal Mapo,” and I think that that’s what really made this performance.

And of course, he sang the song well. Parts of it weren’t as technically precise as before, but I don’t think that that’s really all too important. Other contestants on this show have given performances that weren’t pitch perfect but were nonetheless stunning because there were other X-factors in there to push the performance to a higher level. With a performance that was as high-energy and lively as this one, it’s easy to overlook the little flaws in exchange for the bigger picture.

MARCH 17TH: “Wrongful Meeting” (orig. Kim Gun-mo)

Oh hey there, Amber. Fancy seeing you here.

I wasn’t a big fan of this performance. It was a high-energy show, no doubt, but I can’t help but feel that a lot of this energy was misplaced and that this performance could’ve been a lot more than just fast-paced dance breaks, flashing neon lights, and psychedelic background stage graphics. The original song was pretty high-energy to begin with, but I feel that the “modern spin” on this performance was perhaps a little too modern, a little too flashy — not because it took away from the authenticity of the original song, but because it just seemed a little overdone as a whole.

I love Amber and I think she’s a pretty good rapper, but it was clear that this rap didn’t fit her style at all, and she was trying so hard to cram her usual rapping style into the fast-paced verses of the song. I think that grabbing Eunhyuk, Key, or even Minho for the performance would’ve probably been better. But alas, they were all probably too busy flying to Thailand or kissing Dara or something to that effect.

What I did find impressive about this performance, however, was Taemin’s stamina. It was kind of amazing to see him come out of a super intense dance break and go straight into singing an equally intense verse with absolute precision. While it can be argued that Taemin’s singing in this performance wasn’t anything special, the fact that he was able to hold himself up after such a demanding performance really speaks to his technical skill, which, for someone of his age, is really quite impressive.

I really like “Immortal Song” because it’s one of the few, few remaining shows where idols don’t feel like they have to be idols all the time or “sell themselves.” It’s a real shame that a lot of an aspiring singer’s artistic flair is lost within idoldom, and a show like “Immortal Song” is a good venue for idols to get it back. But it all depends on how you make of it. Right now, it seems as if more and more idol stars on the show are playing it rather safe with their performances, which is something I really can’t stand because why would you do that when your entire career as an idol is all about playing it safe? I clearly remember the one episode when Jonghyun sang “A Million Roses” and actually went and consulted a bard in order to give the song the Celtic feel that he was going for. It was really inspiring to see Jonghyun work so closely with the bard to create a performance that was truly his own. To me, that’s what this show is all about — letting idols have a chance to let their artistry as musicians shine. It’s not a job requirement for all idols to be superb musicians, but from the way the idol scene looks, one could be easily deceived into thinking that all idols are just pop music puppets with no semblance of artistic talent whatsoever. But that’s not fair to the idol stars who really are in it for the music, and they should have a chance to shine.

As for Taemin, I’ve really enjoyed watching this kid grow into his skin these past two years. He’s technically a perfectly-legal adult, but there’s something about him that still seems a little naive and a little innocent, and it shows in his performing. Taemin’s involvement in “Immortal Song” — while intermittent and occasionally inconsistent — has probably done a world of good for him, as he’s finally getting a chance to explore himself as a singer, not just as a dancer. Maybe he’ll grow to be an extraordinarily strong and powerful singer with a mature stage presence and charisma, or maybe he’ll still remain the meek singer with the naturally beautiful voice. Honestly, I’d be overjoyed if I could see him smile throughout an entire performance. But for now, it’s best to let him grow at his own pace.