After watching the release of “Maxstep” by SM Entertainment’s new project Younique Unit, my friends and I started thinking about how much we miss SM’s last project group – SM the Ballad. The project ballad group debuted two years ago and featured a collection of four powerful vocalists – Kyuhyun from Super Junior, Jay from TRAX, Jonghyun from SHINee, and a trainee named Jino. After releasing their first mini album in November 2010, the group went on a hiatus, but with their two-year anniversary coming up, I thought I’d make a case for why SM the Ballad should make a much-needed comeback into the K-pop scene.
1. SM the Ballad had the perfect lineup. While SM has a lot of great vocalists to choose from, SM the Ballad just wouldn’t have worked with more piercing vocalists like Changmin and Ryeowook, or voices with a rougher texture like Yesung. Instead, it achieved the perfect balance through Kyuhyun and Jay’s deeper, richer voices complementing the powerhouse that is Jonghyun’s high belting and Jino’s smooth sound. It’s a combination that other major labels just couldn’t produce even if they tried. And though Jay is currently in the army, the other three have held down the fort without him in previous performances, and if absolutely necessary they could recruit someone from EXO (though the only person I could see fitting the mold would be Chen or Baekhyun, who might tip the balance of high voices to low voices).
2. We need more Jino. The fact that a mere trainee could hold his own with some of SM’s best vocalists is a testament to how much talent he already mastered and the potential he had to go even further, especially since he’s so young (92-liner). SM just can’t let a resource like that go to waste, and I am not about to have this kid become another Zhang Li-yin in terms of under promotion. If SM’s got him locked away because they’re preparing him for his own individual debut, they should at least have him comeback briefly with SM the Ballad so fans can remember who he is and actively look forward to his future releases. And I’m sure there will be a lot of new fans who will fall for his adorably youthful face and his camaraderie with the older members.
3. “Hot Times” was a masterpiece. I’m a sucker for Yoo Young-jin’s R&B formula, and though I recognize that can lead to many of my favorite songs sounding similar (“What Is Love” sounds like “Before U Go” sounds like “Sorry Sorry Answer”),” Hot Times” is on a completely different dimension. “Hot Times” is everything that is right with Yoo Young-jin’s R&B – the classic slow, baby-making beat, that funky/sultry organ sound, the way each voice performed his individual lines as well as the way they all blended together lead to a certain type of intensity that could only be carried out by the best vocalists in SM. And let’s not forget the well-placed and well-executed vocal runs, starting from the hints in the very beginning of the song to the downright explosive “Yeah”s in the middle and the series of runs at the end, culminating in Jonghyun’s high note. The combination is a sensory overload that “Sorry Sorry Answer” and “Before U Go” can’t quite achieve, and it’s more than enough to leave me in a puddle of goo every time I hear it.
4. They have the potential to have a legitimate musical future. This isn’t like the Younique dance unit, whose survival is contingent on Hyundai promotions and whose appeal relies mainly on the visuals and the fame of the members. After all, while Younique’s dancers are great to look at they don’t promise anything musically, except for maybe an excessive use of loud noises and dubstep. SM The Ballad has not only the star power of Younique but also a combination of good songs and raw vocal talent that gives them a chance at some actual longevity. Since they are legitimate singers, they have the ability to perform more rich/complex songs people would actually enjoy listening to even without knowing anyone who’s in the group, whereas I only put up with Maxstep just to watch my favorite stars get more screen time. SM the Ballad’s singing talent also gives them more versatility – they can afford to continually develop their sound and perhaps try out some different musical directions while still maintaining a certain level of quality, as can be seen through the more experimental track “Don’t Lie”. The only thing really keeping them back right now is Jay’s absence, which, as aforementioned is something that can be accommodated for.
5. SM’s music has been on the upswing this year. 2011 was not SM’s year when it came to their releases – albums like Pinocchio, Mr. Simple, and The Boys were underwhelming, if not downright messy. However, outside of Super Junior’s continuously underwhelming releases, 2012 has seen some definite improvement: SHINee came back with a powerful single, f(x)’s “Electric Shock” showed some great development from the mess that was “Pinocchio,” and BoA’s comeback saw a return to her original, more minimalistic roots that highlight her artistry best. EXO’s debut, while slightly all over the place, highlighted their potential to experiment with different sounds in the future, while DBSK’s comeback was a strong testament to their versatility and the confident execution that comes with being Gods of the East.
Overall, SM’s been having a pretty good season, and the perfect way to round it off would be to bring back SM the Ballad – because there is no better way to remind everyone of the full extent of SM Entertainment’s talent and artistry by reintroducing this perfect, star-studded vocal combination. And if they can somehow manage to top “Hot Times”, SM would be in my good books for life.
So there you have it – 5 reasons why we all need SM the Ballad to return to and stay in the K-pop scene. And to further prove my point, I will leave you with this great live performance of “Hot Times”. Happy listening!