K-pop prefers its musicians to be large groups or solo artists. Up through 2012, the only duo with any serious popularity was Davichi, with the rare one-off projects like Trouble Maker occasionally spicing things up. In the last year, though, we’ve seen an explosion of both. Lip Service, Togeworl, 15&, Akdong Musician, Mad Clown and Soyou, Ga-in and Bumkey, the return of Trouble Maker, the list goes on and on and on. And a lot of these have shockingly become incredibly popular, as seen in Some’s dominating music show run. Even more shocking then that is that a lot of these duos and duets are good, because there are few types of song that are more difficult to write.
Songs sung by two people are much more difficult to write than songs for solo artists or groups. When there are only two people singing, each voice remains much more distinct, rather than blending together in a choral effect. Thus, the primary rule for a good duet is balance. There needs to be a balance of lines between both singers, and a balance of their skills. In theory, that sentiment applies to all songs with more than one singer, but with duets, it’s a lot more noticeable, and a lot more jarring. That said, when the balance is there, it can result in some great music.
Of course, balance is the only consideration for single gender duos like Davichi and Dynamic Duo. Even though there’s two singers, they can easily write their songs from one point of view, one persons’ story. With male-female duos, that’s not an option. Because of this, mixed-gender duos almost always sing their songs as conversations. And just like how two people talking aren’t necessarily having a conversation, two people singing does not make a duet. Thus, the secondary primary rule: connection.
The two parts of a duet need to sound like two halves of a whole, not just a song with two singers. A great example of this is Talk To Me by Togeworl. They blend seamlessly, both when singing together, and when trading lines in the verses. They sound like they are singing to each other specifically, creating a connection between the two of them through the song. Another great pair is Trouble Maker. They sold their unique connection so well that it’s impossible to imagine swapping either Hyuna or Hyunsung with any of their groupmates. It sounds like something minor, but the absence causes irreparable damage.
Hyorin and Mad Clown’s Without You is one such song. They both sound fantastic as individuals, but it gives off the overall feeling that the others’ presence is irrelevant. Seeing them live just makes it worse. They’re both so into their own performance that it doesn’t feel like a duet. It honestly looks more like the time slot got double-booked and neither was willing to leave. Compare this to Mad Clown and Soyou’s Stupid In Love. They blended together with ease, and would play off each other on stage. In terms of straight music quality, both duets are on the same level, but the isolation of “Without You” just drags it down, while the intimacy in Soyou and Mad Clowns performances brought “Stupid In Love” to a whole new level.
The third primary rule for a duet is to really utilize the fact that it’s a duet. There are things that can be done with two people that just cannot be done with one or three. “Talk to Me” would have worked just fine as a solo release, but doing it as a duet brought a sense of reality to the relationship portrayed because it showed both partners points of view. “Stupid In Love” as well as Ga-in and Bumkey‘s Fxxk U are given much greater depth and nuance by showcasing both sides of a destructive relationship. Even musically, there are a lot more options for a duet. 15&’s Somebody uses the contrast between Jimin‘s higher airy tone and Yerin‘s lower, more jazzy one to highlight both before bringing them together for the chorus to flaunt their powerful vocals. By singing togeher, they’ve done something they could never have done solo.
What do you think makes a good duet? Any duos or collabs that really stand out to you readers?
( Images via Starship Entertainment, CCM Media, Cube Entertainment, JYP Entertainment)