I know, this is long overdue, but I was in the middle of finals. Okay, you caught me in a lie. It was one final, plus one rewrite of the most horrible essay I’ve ever written in my life. Yet, with the help of various drugs (thank you, dermatologist!), and S.M. The Ballad, I avoided stress acne, though I can’t say I avoided stress eating.
S.M. The Ballad is a genius move by S.M. Bringing together all the best singers from their company to sing love songs is any person’s (fangirl’s) dream. It’s like squishing Michael Buble (Super Junior’s Kyuhyun), Michael Jackson (SHINee’s Jonghyun), Justin Bieber (Jino, the maknae), and Freddie Mercury (TRAX’s Jay) together.
I was also impressed that S.M. avoided the usual corny synthesizers in ‘Hot Times’ like they use in ‘Miss You,’ making this an upbeat, jazzy, contemporary track that I could imagine Michael Buble singing. Whoever was in charge of mastering the track, thank goodness they allowed so many vocalizations, so we could hear the formidable talent of these four.
Individual critiques, starting in the order they stand in the first scene:
Jay: when I listen to TRAX songs, he has a curiously metallic voice, which is cold and smooth on the outside, but glowing hot on the inside. Weird analogy, but that’s the best way I can describe it. However, in ‘Hot Times,’ he changed to a more smooth voice, gritty on the low notes. Since he had to switch from rock to ballad type music, he probably had to alter his singing style a bit. Overall, though he is a good singer, his timbre (the tone of his voice) is not particularly unique. Jay grew up in California, so he’s a native speaker of English. What I find interesting is that Jay gets all of the spoken English parts, like the beginning, but then all the English singing parts go to Jonghyun, who still has a very Korean accent while singing English.
Jonghyun: he has this soft, breathy, rounded but sharp on the high notes, voice– this easily makes him the most recognizable voice on the single. Jonghyun gets to both end the song on his beautiful high note and climax on the song with his “yeah oh baby,” and he vocalizes like a boss, especially at the end (like at 3:20-3:29, 3:49, 3:44, 3:50-3:55, 4:02, 4:14-4:17, 4:20-4:29, 4:37-4:42). Every time I hear the last two vocalizations, I want to melt. His technical ability in reaching those high notes are staggering. S.M. knows that Jonghyun is boss at this type of vocalization and ballad, and so they used this ability wisely in ‘Hot Times.’
Kyuhyun: He uses a lot of vibrato, in which his voice is wavering, which may not actually bother a lot of people. He has a reedy voice, balanced by a breathy approach, so he comes out with a smoother voice, but somehow the vibrato gets through, especially on the low notes! For this type of song, I feel that a more smooth approach is needed. In the live performances, he is perhaps the best singer, and I think his experience really helps him along. I find his face rather stoic while performing; cute but stoic.
Jino: he has the second best timbre after Jonghyun. It’s sweet, lingering, and fragile, but still able to hold on and curl around the air. Also, the maknae evinces that want-to-please and trying-so-hard aura that makes him adorable in his little bow-tie. However, in the live performances, he can never quite duplicate his sweet and fragile voice in the recording; he ends up sounding more like Jay, smooth but gritty. Once he gets more experience singing, hopefully he will be able to concentrate on letting his true tone shine through.
What does all of this add to? ‘Hot Times With Hot Guys!’ Obviously.
Watching their live performances usually gives me two headaches (a) Kyuhyun’s vibrato (b) everyone being slightly off-key from time to time. I know that S.M. gives them singing lessons, but do they get music theory lessons? Besides practicing, knowing the theoretical foundations will make them stronger singers, better able to pinpoint their problems and control their voices. Speaking as a pianist, learning music theory has helped me understand the relationship between myself and the music much better and has made me into a better performer. Though I have horrible timbre, I will never be off-key (you see, I rock at Rock Band).
Another gripe: S.M. also needs to stop giving so much backing music to the live performances, because then it is always obvious when they’re off-key, because you have two different pitches, the actual recording and the live that are clashing in your ears.
I am looking forward to the continuation of this group, and possibly, a solo career for Jino. I am also looking forward to a song where Jonghyun dominates (cough major SHINee bias). Speaking of which, some fangirls have been saying they would rather Onew than Jonghyun in this group, and I don’t agree, because Onew’s voice is most like Jino’s. Onew is not the type of vocalizer that Jonghyun is; though Onew’s voice is smooth and pretty, it’s thin and it doesn’t fill the room and expand like Jonghyun’s. Jonghyun is the only one in S.M. The Ballad whose voice is like that, and without him, S.M. The Ballad wouldn’t be able to achieve the ear-gasms they incur now.
If you’re on Twitter, remember on Dec. 28, 2010, 9 AM KST, trend #1MonthSMTB — it will be a month since S.M. The Ballad debuted on Inkigayo :)