Apologies for taking this long to write this– let’s get to it.
1000 Years, Always By Your Side / 1000年、ずっとそばにいて…
Key: Key opens the song, with a slightly autotuned opening, using split headsets, that travels from left ear to right ear, giving it a sense of movement into the main verse of the song. I am not the biggest fan of this tactic because it made Key sound more raspy than usual, but it gave a nice contrast to Jonghyun’s smooth crooning. Key anchors the lower part of the chorus, which is ingenious on the part of the sound mixers, because at lower registers, he is less raspy and he actually sounds blendable with Onew and Jonghyun. Also, his Japanese pronunciation is the best out of the members, which probably was a deciding factor in making Key the anchor on the heavily accented lower register parts of the chorus.
Jonghyun: Curling, full of warmth. He nailed the feeling of this song. He dominates during the falsetto parts of the choruses. Good choice.
Minho: The black hole of this entire song. After Jonghyun’s beautiful emoting in the beginning, we get hit next by Minho straining his voice unnaturally. This dude. This dude’s singing coach. The producers for this track. You dudes. What are you thinking? Minho has been gifted with a rapping interlude, so it is unnecessary for him to take up singing lines. If he must have singing lines, put him in a range that is comfortable for him. In fact, his rapping interlude is more like a singing interlude, except it is in a range that is comfortable for him. He might have been able to nail the high notes in the recording studio, but the lives will be horrendous (see Minho, 2012 Sherlock performances where he has that one singing line. Which he was always off-key for, without fail). I am sure Minho will make a passable singer, if put in circumstances in which he will succeed. For goodness sakes, if he cannot sing in high registers, teach him harmony. Replicate Love Like Oxygen, where Taemin and Minho doubled up in singing. It was quite nice, actually, more so if they increased the balance in Minho’s favor. They even did this in the Japanese Love Like Oxygen, and it sounds great, whispery and Minho is not a frogman.
What I dislike most about Minho singing at a higher register is that I can feel he is holding back, he’s sitting there, calculating, “Am I on pitch? Is my timbre all right?” and I can feel that tension. The tone is so calculated that it sounds jarring, especially sandwiched between natural crooners Jonghyun and Onew. The tone is closed and frozen and not open. It is stiff. It is not free. It is constantly burdened.
Minho, Minho, Minho. I am not of the opinion that Minho is useless in SHINee, but certainly, the way they have been using Minho in SHINee, I wish they could have adopted Chen from EXO instead, or Jino from S.M. The Ballad. Key can take care of all the rapping (Key’s better at rapping, too).
Onew: His beautiful falsetto is everywhere. Hallelujah. Onew cracks his voice so much on variety shows, but we all know better– he is just doing that for comedic effect. He has great control over his falsetto. His voice is also more ‘delicate’ and melancholy than Jonghyun’s, which makes for a nice balance in this ballad. Giving his falsetto the bridge instead of Jonghyun was a good decision, as Jonghyun can wail and make his voice feel narrow while Onew still injects much airiness.
Taemin: This person is, for a lack of a better word, blossoming slowly. He still has some problems with straining like Minho, but it is gradually becoming more open and natural. Besides a few sparse singing lines here and there, I do not hear him in the chorus at all or in the auxiliary parts at all.
Music Video: Quite cute and quite predictable. The short lowdown: a man who died in a circus accident tarries in the living world as a ghost to support his family, while SHINee Shinigami Patrol wait for him to finally depart to heaven. While the story may not be very original, I will take any video with SHINee in a non-silly drama with beautiful sets and thoughtful cinematography.
Song: The mixing is phenomenal. The voices are clear-sounding, and listening to the chorus, it is quite evident they tried to accommodate everyone’s strengths: Key’s Japanese, Onew’s falsetto, and Jonghyun’s power. The song itself is nicely made, a fast-paced ballad with somewhat noisy but unassuming synths and a spare piano background (bringing to mind Dazzling Girl). The rapping interlude was not necessary, though it did set up anticipation to Onew’s much higher falsetto.
The World Where You Exist / 君がいる世界
Jonghyun: Jonghyun opens the song by doing a bit of effortless scatting. Jonghyun continues to glow and to emote with his wailing. Jonghyun starts the second verse, and the brief low notes he has are simply mouthwatering. You know what would be interesting? A Jonghyun and Minho harmony in the lower registers.
Onew: Onew starts the verse, which is just effortlessly easy. The chorus is dominated by Onew’s middle range.
Taemin: Taemin follows Onew in the first verse. Taemin sounds gorgeous, and he glows in the first line. Taemin sounds nice on the second verse as well, though it is not glowing and as smooth as his entrance in the first verse; a pity.
Minho: The black hole has returned! He even has differentiated lines in the chorus, “Kissing the sun” and “Kissing the moon.” His four lines in the second verse, please leave me at the gates of hell to die. Thank you very much.
Key: Nothing much to report for this song. Key rarely appears, even in the chorus. Though in the bridge, Key does his best to control his rasping to match with the other two anchors, Onew and Jonghyun. Duly appreciated.
Song: Along the same style of 1000 Years, this song also features a piano riff in the background. This song had no mandatory rapping interlude. Great. The synths are more ‘noisy’ than 1000 Years, and the chorus is going every which way, so I can understand why this was the lead single.
For this B-side Japanese release, SHINee earns a middling B on its report card. This release was certainly better than B-side promotions released in Korea, like Hello and Jo Jo (though it does have some competition with Romantic from AMIGO). Abetted with the wizardry of Japanese studios, 1000 Years tries its best to showcase the growing maturity of SHINee. Yet, we become aware of a disparity; as fast-growing Taemin, Onew, Jonghyun, and Key have been in their singing, Minho still has failed of his promise.
Dazzling Girl and 1000 Years have been solid, polished, but safe, forays into the Japanese market. More than anything else, these singles have merely set up the stage. Unreservedly, we hope for something much better in store for SHINee’s later Japanese releases.