This isn’t the easiest thing to say, considering that I entered the F.T. Island fandom during their Korean activities, but their work in Japan is now my favorite to listen to. I’m pretty excited that they’re still there, being creative, and releasing music that is insurmountably better than their work in K-pop (to me, anyway), and I have no shame saying it.
Recently, the crew released “Top Secret“, their latest Japanese single consisting of two B-side tracks and the single.
I’ve come to the point in my FTI appreciation where I’m generally at ease every time that F.T. Island releases music. I don’t exactly expect it to be epic, but I know it will be satisfying. I trust their taste and I trust their style, and that’s something that I can’t say of any other Korean idol group.
So does F.T. Island keep up this trend with the release of “Top Secret”?
Is grass green and the sky blue?
“Top Secret” is a bit different from the group’s past Japanese releases in that it’s not as gimmicky and not nearly as drenched in mainstream appeal as I remember their music being. Well, let me rephrase that: it leans less on F.T. Island’s pop side and rolls a little harder into their alternative rock one, which is a particular style that I had been missing in their music.
This entire package has an aggressive, almost eerie tone to it that brings the 90s and early 2000′s alternative rock to mind. It’s moody and harder-edged than I’ve heard from F.T. Island and I’m quite excited by this.
“Top Secret”, the song, is definitely more polished – it is a single – but on the whole I really enjoy how effortless it sounds. The guitar riff plays really well as the lead vocal (Lee Hongki) glides through the verses, who leaves bits of room for the guitar to shine when it wants to, and lets loose at the chorus. If there’s anything to nitpick, I’d say that the guitar gets a bit out of hand past the second verse, where it pretty much rails right over everything.
I find that the B-sides leave a little more to enjoy and provide a lot of interesting musical construction next to this. For a single, though, “Top Secret” is one of F.T. Island’s best so far and shows a style that I feel works for them right now.
Like I said, the B-side is where the money is on this single album. “Beloved” (listen here), composed by my beloved Jaejin, is a mellow mid-tempo track rife with swelling vocals and broad phrasing. Jaejin and Hongki have learned how to hand off verses to each other with ease, and they do a really well job of it here. On top of that, there’s a sense of fearlessness in the execution of this song. Jaejin and Hongki pour their heart and soul into every measure whilst guitarists Jonghun and Seunghyun attack every riff with an equal amount of invested aggression.
It’s dark and pressing, but it’s interesting to hear F.T. Island be this expressive without sounding angsty. It’s like a grown-up angst, so to speak, and it’s intriguing considering that they seem to be overtly moody in their recent K-pop music, like “Hello Hello” and “Severely“, where the explosion of feels is more forced than it is self detonated.
Is it that the Korean market tends to be a lot more calculating on how the audience should react to a song than just letting it happen naturally? Or is K-pop that manufactured to the point of being devoid of all emotional expression? Food for thought and probably another article, I suppose.
“Here“, the third song on this release, is a pleasant closing number that radiates. Just radiates. Never in my stay with F.T. Island have I been so moved by such a powerful song of theirs as this one, and I don’t even know what they’re singing (I should look into that).
Jaejin once said in an interview (that I’ve lost all details on except this one quote) that one day he’d like to be the lead vocalist of F.T. Island. This was during Hongki’s leave for his K-drama “You’re Beautiful” and Jaejin was front man of F.T. Triple, an F.T. Island sub-unit without Hongki and Seunghyun (who was busy filming some variety show). The idea must have sprouted as he began experimenting as a singer, and if the day ever came when Hongki departed and the group was still intact, I would be saddened first, but welcoming of the change as well. The vocal tradeoffs are so smooth these days that it’s almost like they’re easing us into what may very well become a reality in the group.
“Here” has more Jaejin in it than ever, and it’s interesting to listen to his transition from just a backup rapper (of all things) to an actual operational force as a vocal lead in this group. Jaejin’s voice (one of my favorites) and its colorful tone is captured and placed on soaring melodies that lift this song off its feet. It’s simple, soft, and breathtaking, and the beauty multiplies when Hongki and Jaejin sing in harmony. The chorus is beautiful and it reminds me of Hoobastank circa 2003.
Cue the lighters.
The soft vocal delivery on top of really swift melodies propel this single to beautiful and fresh thematic directions for F.T. Island. Where their Korean singles are drenched in redundant hooks and gimmicky nuances, “Top Secret” blossoms as an organic collective of raw rock anthems that are as sensational as they are emotionally engaging.
Jaejin is the star on this release, as he satisfies the palette with smooth, silky vocals, and the amazing Hongki, who’s not far away, provides potent energy when the songs asks for it.
All in all, this is one of my favorite F.T. Island single releases in a very long time, and it’s a milestone and testament in their career as pop-rockers. F.T. Island have done a graceful job of binding their talent with interesting musical templates. Most importantly, they’ve proved that they’ve grown out of the angsty moody phase of 2008 and into artists expressing themselves in strong, sophisticated ways.
I’ve said time and time again that I missed the old F.T. Island, but listening to this has opened my mind to who they once were and why I loved them, and what they’ve become today. My one wish now is for them to bring this classy style to Korea without compromising that raw realness of their work in Japan. If they can do that and not give in to the machine of mainstream appeal, they’ll be unstoppable.