Tuesday, January 14, 2014


This past Christmas marked the official date. My ultimate biases in the KPOP game -- Yunho, Jaejoong, Yoochun, Junsu and Changmin, better known as the collective TV5Q -- celebrated a decade in the music industry. Although the best f*ckin' five currently perform under two names (Yunho & Changmin as TVXQ!, Jaejoong, Yoochun & Junsu as JYJ), all five celebrated this incredible milestone. This is as good a time as any to look back at my favorite tracks from the collective Dong Bang Shin Ki catalog. Feel free to share your faves in the comments.


JYJ "EMPTY" (from The Beginning, 2010)
"Empty" will forever go down in history as the track that should have launched JYJ's separate catalog (yet, instead, we got "Ayyy Girl". So upsetting.). Produced by global heavyweight Rodney Jerkins, this robotic uptempo remains to be the shining diamond in the rough that was the The Beginning album. It also conjures goosebump-inducing images for me of attending their debut performance here in the United States. Not only was it my first live KPOP experience ever, it couldn't have been more emotional if it tried.

TVXQ! "BEFORE U GO" (from Keep Your Head Down - Repackage, 2011)
Written and produced by SM Entertainment's powerhouse Yoo Young-Jin (also responsible for many other songs on this list, as well as countless other KPOP faves), the release of this song as a single by the freshly minted "2VXQ" (or perhaps "Duo-Shinki" for its Japanese catalog counterpart) was a bold move. TVXQ! as a five-piece was infamous for their ability to perform ballads, lauded by critics, fans and non-fans alike for their five-part-harmony. It's unsurprising that Yunho and Changmin would return to the music scene with a aggressive uptempo ("Keep Your Head Down") considering the inner trio to their five-part sound had formed a new group. A lot of naysayers questioned TVXQ! in its new lineup and "Before U Go" shut those naysayers up. This is the kind of mature TVXQ! I was waiting for, okay?

(although, let's be honest -- the TVXQ! discography is so damn good, my mind could change at a moment's notice. So let's just say -- this is the best of the best at the moment.)

This gorgeous Japanese midtempo centers around a man lamenting falling in love with a woman who's already in love with someone else. Lyrically, it's very unique -- as it's lengthy title suggests, the pace of the lines of the songs fly by quickly. It's also commendable in that all five members have lengthy spotlights -- a detail about this group that I was initially impressed and engrossed by. It's not something to be scoffed at -- how many pop groups have you heard these days where all the members are capable lead vocalists?

#9. "O (JUNG.BAN.HAP)") (from O.Jung.Ban.Hap., 2006)
Jung.Ban.Hap. translates in Korean to be "Justice. Opposition. Resolution." A true embodiment of the SMP genre (SM Music Performance), a style heralded by SM Entertainment that is in dire need of a true revival (other examples would be "Rising Sun", which we'll get to in a second, and Super Junior's "Don't Don"). This style remains starkly unique in a scene like KPOP -- it features lyrically "heavy" or "intense" material and musical counterpart and vocal delivery that mimics the intensity of the song's meaning. For this reason, it stands apart in a world full of generic dance tunes and ballads. "O" speaks of global strife and a desire for world peace and happiness. The tempo also shifts back and forth and feels genuinely aggressive.

#8. "DARKNESS EYES" (from T, 2008)
More than just your typical album filler, this under-appreciated deep cut from the group's third Japanese album sounds a bit like a music box playing in the background whilst you're having a nightmare. The tempo spins and feels quite frenetic, despite the song arguably being characterized as a ballad.

#7. "WRONG NUMBER" (from Mirotic, 2007)
Were you expecting "Mirotic"? True, a like a good "under my skeen" reference and that music video was sex sex sex. However, in the grand scheme of Mirotic itself, an album that forever changed KPOP, "Wrong Number" has emerged as my favorite from the entire disc. Perhaps it's because the song itself sounds like it could have been a passable R&B jam released here in the States at that time (by an English speaking group, of course -- perhaps Day26). It also was the song that sealed off any questions that TVXQ! were adults now and were making no apologies about being so. How good did they look in this video? Oh, and Jaejoong raps.

#6. "MISS YOU" (from Five In The Black, 2007)
Weirdly released in tandem with "O" in Japan, "Miss You" is a breezy pop sleeper single that didn't get the respect it deserved. The sheer stickiness of the song comes from its robotic English refrain and its breezy, anthematic feel. What could have been a generic "let's-not-break-up/I-want-you-back" jam becomes so much more.

#5. "BOLERO" (from The Secret Code, 2009)
Ahh, so you like ballads sung by harmony groups? This song is the audio equivalent of a House of Cards being assembled slowly and carefully. As the song builds and progresses, the five member's vocals layer into a truly supreme whole. Each unique voice melts into the next, showing how in synch (REFERENCE!) and tight they really are. I'll be totally honest, listening to this brought me to tears a few times simply because it's so perfect.

#4. "SURVIVOR" (from The Secret Code, 2009)
The last "official" release from The Secret Code, arguably TVXQ!'s magnum opus both as a five and not, and it sure is a doozy. It's the perfect Japanese uptempo in my eyes -- attempted to be re-created with later singles like "I Don't Know" and "Android" with degrees of success.

#3. "RISING SUN" (from Rising Sun, 2005)
Key and tempo changes abound in this aggressive, manic, utterly bewildering jam. It's a real wonder how they ever managed to get through a live performance of this (with live vocals! ATTENTION, EXO!), especially considering how much all five really threw themselves into it -- a true embodiment of the SMP feel. This was our first real glance at an aggressive TVXQ!. Aside from "Tri-Angle", which had a bit of foreshadowing of the more intense TVXQ! jams to come, the group was basically known as a more cutesy Boyz II Men, releasing relatively innocuous harmony ballads like "Hug" and "Believe". "Rising Sun" was a critical statement -- that TVXQ! was more than just an idol boy band forced into one lane or genre. They were capable of quite literally anything.

#2. "WHATEVER THEY SAY" (a capella) (from Tri-Angle, 2004)
From these humble beginnings, our boys have risen so far. "Whatever They Say" was presented both as a ballad and as as an a capella piece, which to my knowledge is pretty much unheard of in the idol market in South Korea. If I had it my own way, all boy bands would be required to be able to perform some harmony piece sans accompaniment -- but if that was the case, we'd have a helluva lot less boy bands to spazz over, now wouldn't we. "Whatever They Say" set a benchmark very early in the group's careers -- a benchmark that many groups now would be wise to aspire toward.

#1. "LOVE IN THE ICE" (from T, 2008 & Mirotic, 2008; originally released in 2007)
True members of the Cassiopeia fandom probably were expecting this. This song, along with perhaps "Proud", are the cause of a serious percentage of our tears -- tears over the sheer beauty of live harmonic performance, tears over what was, tears over what is, and tears over would could have been. Not only is this song vocally well-delivered, the sheer power and passion behind the vocals (especially from the bridge to the end) are unparalleled.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for the list! Will now spend all day listening to everything. /ugly sobbing

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