Even the most die hard K-pop fans should be willing to admit: they don’t listen to K-pop for the stellar vocal performances. Everyone knows that autotune is one of the K-pop industry’s closest allies, and for the most part, they’re okay with that. The lipsyncing that effectively ended Ashlee Simpson’s career in the west is par for the course in K-popdom. Sure, people prefer their artists to really perform live, but if the dance moves are awesome enough, artists are forgiven for mediocre singing or not bothering to sing at all. Thus, it is a pleasure when an artist really does have a strong voice.
Veteran songstress Lyn falls into this category, and she made her comeback this year with two mini albums, 8th #1 ‘Breakable Heart’ and 8th #2 ‘I Like This Song.’ Both of the albums build on the talent that Lyn brings to the table: a sweet soprano that may not have Mariah Carey’s range but can certainly pull off a very similar style. She can really effectively do a ballad, and this becomes clear on the first and third tracks of the first half of 8th.
8th #1 opens with “Breakable Heart,” which manages to avoid tropes despite a rather suspect title. The listener might expect to hear a song about a heart broken by an ex lover, but in fact the narrative of the song is at least a bit more complicated, K-drama complicated. Lyn sings of a love doomed by the disapproval of family and friends, and BEAST’s Yong Jun-hyung steps in as the male voice to say he’s sorry for being such a coward.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsT5pAQ2-lk]
Lyn successfully captures the emotions of the experience, opening with high pitched but almost weepy notes, then moving into low-pitched and depressed sounds. Her voice wavers, but not because she can’t hold a note — it’s just that she wants us to know how much it hurts.
In theory, adding a male voice to this song could have been a good idea, but it doesn’t really work. Even though it seems like a functional requirement these days for K-pop songs to include a rap, production companies should consider something revolutionary and just not do it sometimes. In this case, the lyrics are OK, but the performance disrupts the ballad. It’s not clear whether this is Jun-hyung’s fault, but the writer is likely the guilty party.
While the second track of 8th #1 is kind of a throwaway both in sound and message, the third is beautifully performed. “Even I’ve Just Loved You” isn’t breaking new ground with its message of aging and regret of mistakes made in love, and it’s not even the first performance of the song, which was done by BeBe Mignon in 2010. But it’s one of the best executed ballads on a major label release in 2013.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cddR7Orl0Ng]
There is simply no contest between the fullness of Lyn’s voice and BeBe’s thinner, more ageyo-able vocals:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnP5C_TkDIQ]
However, the best was truly saved for last. While #1’s ballads are going to appeal to all of the heartbroken fans out there (and maybe the ones who like show tunes as well), where #1 is sad, #2 is incredibly fun. It opens with “I Like This Song,” with seemingly random people saying “I love this song” in multiple languages and with enthusiasm. The track opens musically with the chords similar to the start of Wagner’s “Bridal March,” and these repeat throughout the upbeat song that sounds like one woman’s wedding dedication to her life partner. For the most part, this piece’s execution doesn’t require much from Lyn in the way of vocals, but she manages to capture the right feeling, which matters a lot.
The music video is relatively low budget, but still fun to watch, a kind of mature expression of ageyo. It contrasts strongly against the highly stylized and choreographed music videos that have become the norm, featuring, for the most part, people who look like every day Koreans — people who clearly haven’t had plastic surgery but who capture a beautiful side of life that is easy to lose in the commercial mix. It’s a powerful representation of what love should be about, with an interlude in the middle with people shouting out “Saranghae!”[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YezeyTNHvd0]
The second and fourth tracks on #2 are Korean and English versions of “Song for Love.” A couple of things are intriguing about this. First of all, we’ve all been asking all summer why Ailee didn’t release an English version of “U&I” given that she’s a native English speaker, has the chops required to make it in the US, and it’s a hot song. So, it’s interesting to see another powerful singer beat her to the punch this summer. Secondly, although both tracks are strong showings, the English version is actually better performed. Perhaps it’s Lyn’s Korean accent rounding out her pronunciation of the lyrics, but in English, her voice has more dimension and fullness to it.
The song also ends Lyn’s 2013 outings on a very positive note:
We all need someone to tell us to never give up on hoping
We all need someone to tell us to get up again
No you were never the only one
Who felt that there was nowhere left to run
I wanna tell you right now Whenever you’re down
Let me sing a song for love
I wanna sing a song for love
Let it be a song for love