Ballad Roundup: ‘Youth With You’, BOL4, BTOB’s Eunkwang, Jo Jung Suk, NCT 127

“Baby, this is what you came for…”

Or “Hojo Rattling On About YWY2 In The Guise Of A Column About Ballads”.

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Team B – “Miss You 3000”

For the last couple months I’ve been fairly captivated by Youth With You Season 2 (aka 青春有你2 aka Idol Producer 3 aka bootleg Produce 101 China Season 3), and while IATFB has talked briefly about how Dreamcatcher’s Handong was unceremoniously eliminated*, the rest of this season’s contestants have generated enough story and goodwill for me to stay entertained.

As someone who also watched the first seasons of Idol Producer and Produce 101 China, it’s wild to see just how much the talent and the music has progressed in only a couple years. Most of the performances in the group battle were interesting to watch, a higher hit-rate I’d say than the best seasons of the original Korean productions. The theme assessment round less so, but that’s for a different post.

Anyway, the incredibly popular 2019 rock ballad by 831 gets an idol-friendly rearrangement, upping the key and the BPM while overwriting some of the clunkier melodic moments in the original. Team B’s ‘revenge performance’ ended up being the best of the lot, nailing the emotional tone while also performing capably. Yu Zhang’s coffeehouse timbre fits the main vocal line well; Meddie Fu’s harmonizing allows the melody to shine even brighter. Xiaotang Zhao’s rap is the best of the four performances. Luna Qin is … fine. And NINEONE inhabits that space I keep talking about in this column, where the limits of a singer’s talent is pushed, reaching an emotional resonance that makes the performance memorable.

Already a well-known name is hip-hop circles, NINEONE’s career appears to be taking a huge left turn by participating on the show. She was scheduled to appear at the COVID-19 waylaid SXSW this year, which would’ve undoubtedly conflicted with filming of YWY2. So, considering the murky state the international music industry is in right now, her pivot to domestic mainstream fame is a smart one. But of course, YWY2 is an idol show, not a rap show. In order to last on the show she’s been taking vocalist roles even when rap positions are available (even then, she’s listed as the writer for many of the rap verses, even for other teams). Another smart move considering some of her other rap-only competitors were eliminated early for their inflexibility. Regardless if she makes it into the final group or not, I think she’s already primed for some mainstream fame.

*I’m sure after the Produce 101 China debacle of WJSN losing all its Chinese members for the foreseeable future (i.e. whoops we didn’t read the contract), any trainee with Korean representation who goes on these shows gets an ironclad clause in their agreement saying they aren’t going to win so they’re not tied up for five years in China. Basically, just let ’em on the show for the first couple rounds and send them on their way. Handong made it farther than Nature’s Aurora, both of whom were there to just kind of playing a “hey these are the Chinese trainees who debuted in Korea, look how much better the domestic ones are” role. None of the concepts/themes offered by the show really fit Handong’s style, and she was kind of doomed from the start.

BOL4 – “Hug”

What does BOL4 sound like without Ji Yoon? Pretty much the same to be honest.

This is not to say Ji Yoon isn’t a talented songwriter and musician, but the fact is that Vanilla Man has been arranging all their hits going back to “Galaxy,” “Hug” included. Thus, the pairing of Ahn Ji Young’s vocal with that pure, innocent vibe isn’t going anywhere.

Where does this song rank in their catalogue? Below “Some” and “Galaxy”, along with the 38279473 other songs they have that sound like this. In other words, another big hit!

BTOB’s Eunkwang – “Dear My Dear”

BTOB’s Eunkwang is out of the army, baybeeeee!

This song has some “Part Of Your World” from The Little Mermaid DNA in it. A nice little present for his fans, since the rest of the group is going to be in and out of the military before they have a proper group comeback. Pure boy has pure voice and it sounds very nice.

Jo Jung Suk – “Aloha”

Another success from the team behind the Reply series, Hospital Playlist has been kind of a slow burner drama, really finding its stride and its ratings as it slides into the final episodes. This OST track from the drama has been at the top of the digital charts for what seems like forever. Lead actor Jo Jung Suk has a long history of musical theater success alongside his drama work, so him taking a turn on the OST isn’t surprising. But “Aloha” is definitely his hugest hit as a singer.

OST tracks and dramas have interesting synergies for sure, sometimes a huge OST track can lift a floundering drama into the stratosphere, and sometimes being associated with a instant classic drama can propel a somewhat milquetoast track into public consciousness. Where does “Aloha” fit on this spectrum? Honestly probably more on the latter side than the former, as it has kind of a chintzy instrumental. I have no doubt that the quality of the drama is great (all word of mouth, I haven’t started watching myself (too many Chinese idol survival shows)), and Jo Jung Suk is a great entertainer so he can take all the awards if he wants and I’ll be very very happy about it.

NCT 127 – “Make Your Day”

I really really love NCT’s ballad work, as Doyoung and Taeil have incredible vocal color for the types of ballads I really love. As long as the composition gives them enough space to fly around and puts the climaxes in the right spot, I’m a sucker for pretty much anything they get to sing on. “Make Your Day” is a simple jazzy number with a little bit of sing and a ton of space, so I’m satisfied. The reverb is a bit excessive, but a solid ballad! Better than “No Longer“, not as good as Timeless.

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