Since the disbandment of Wanna One, former member Ha Sungwoon has carved out a niche for himself as a singer-songwriter. He often starts in the template of the classic “guy with acoustic guitar” mold, but has proven capable of expanding on that mold. His previous releases have utilized rock, soul, and R&B, proving a wide variety of musical knowledge. However, one of the truest measures of musical skill is the ability to execute the basics well. His current release, “Can’t Live Without You”, is a prime example of such a talent.
“Can’t Live Without You” is a silly love song; something rather apropos with Valentine’s Day right around the corner. It is a ballad, but it manages to stand out on a key quality: warmth. Most ballads lean towards the melancholic, songs of regret and loss. “Can’t Live Without You” takes the opposite route, and frames the conceit that Ha Sungwoon needs his lover to live as a positive affirmation. He thinks about her constantly, wants to hear every detail of her day, and generally improves his life just by being there. It is a very domestic form of love, rooted not in drama or grand gestures, but that this person’s presence in your life makes you happier than if they were not there.
This lyrical warmth is matched by the instrumentals. Yes, it is primarily built on the guitar, but the acoustic has been swapped for an electric. This small change adds depth to the instrumentation, giving a bluesy touch that enhances the intimacy of the track. Toss in the jazz flourishes from the piano lines and “Can’t Live Without You” is cozy, evoking roaring fires and old-fashioned music. Add in Ha Sungwoon’s silken vocals, and you have a song that makes the audience feel content in the best way.
The MV fully embraces the vibe of the song. Truly, there is no better background for this song than a romantic getaway to a chic cabin in the woods. Moreover, the use of both black and white and color implies this is a place Ha Sungwoon and his lover have visited before. It holds sentimental value, and the idea of returning to a place that is significant in one’s relationship is almost always a winner. The entire MV of Ha Sungwoon surprising his girl with a romantic trip to the country, to somewhere special to them, complete with dinner, dessert, and decorations is a delightful fantasy.
Incidentally, that is also the major strike against “Can’t Live Without You”. There is a reason most love songs are written in the second person, and that is it allows the listener to feel the song is directed at them specifically. It is a trick as old as time and works wonderfully to deepen the listener’s connection to the song. However, it does not work well when transferred to a visual format.
Yes, “Can’t Live Without You” is shot as if the camera is Sungwoon’s girlfriend, to better allow the audience to indulge in the fantasy of dating him. There are two reasons this does not work. The first is that it is extremely clunky. All the shots are at a weird distance, having to treat the camera as a person results in odd, insincere faces because there is no partner or character to work off, and the deliberately blatant concealment of any personal identifiers just look strange on camera. It creates an MV that feels askew, as if you just need to shift it a bit and then it will be normal.
The other issue is that this framing always feels creepy and exploitative. Most teenage girls do fantasize about dating their celebrity crush, but leave it at that: a fantasy to occupy oneself when stuck in math class. Leaning so hard into that ideal feels like a gross attempt to more fully capture those romantic notions; as if someone actually believes that teenage girls are so lost in their hormones that they will absolutely think that this MV is what dating Ha Sungwoon is like and devote themselves to him even more. As a former teenage girl, I find this both insulting and unnerving.
“Can’t Live Without You” is a fantastic little love song. Intimate, affectionate, and loving, this is the Valentine’s song for people in long-term relationships. The MV, though, has a great concept but is let down by the execution. Just imply an off-screen love interest. The MV will be smoother and the taste of “manipulating the fans” will be completely removed.
(YouTube. Images via BPM Entertainment.)