As the K-pop market has become more flooded with acts, it’s not unusual to see days with multiple comebacks. Usually, these are a grab bag of varying quality, but every once in awhile you’ll get a day that unveils multiple classics at once.
This feature is dedicated to those epic days – days in which two or more singles earned a 9+ rating. They’re rare, but they’re worth celebrating!
Other Epic Days: June 22, 2015
2014 was a year of contrasts for B1A4. They opened the year with the downbeat, emotional Lonely, only to follow up with the ebullient Solo Day. Few songs capture the joy of summer better than this, as if every bit of its musical DNA is tethered to the season.
Solo Day opens with its whistled hook, which teases the song’s eventual chorus. Muffled guitar plays in the background, as if streaming out of an old car radio. From here, we move into a brilliant verse, which bounds forward with insistent percussion and the strum of acoustic guitar. This effortlessly segues into a peculiar little pre-chorus. It builds interest via an influx of electronic elements, a change in rhythm and a spiraling melody.
This is all in service to Solo Day’s immense chorus, which acts as both a celebratory chant and robust melody. It’s not often you hear such a bright break-up song, but Solo Day has a way of twisting expectations just enough to make it feel fresh. The fact that this is all tethered to such an optimistic arrangement makes the track really stand out. But, the element that makes Solo Day legendary is its gorgeous, layered climax. Songwriter (and B1A4 leader) Jinyoung loved tacking a melodic coda onto the end of his compositions, and it never felt forced. Solo Day could have easily gone the YG-esque hype route and simply chanted its way to a conclusion. Instead, the guys deliver a knockout refrain, blissful in its sweeping vocal blend.
During the first years of his solo career, SM Entertainment made a big deal of Henry’s proficiency with the violin. Yet, it was rarely fused into his actual music. 2013’s Trap was an excellent debut, but between the pounding piano loop and guest vocals from Kyuhyun and Taemin, it wasn’t exactly the most potent showcase of Henry’s artistry. However, when it came time to release Fantastic, the violin took center stage.
I feel like this track is often forgotten by K-pop fans, and that’s a shame. It really represents SM Entertainment at their maximalist best, unhindered by trends. Fantastic is simply a dynamite dance pop song, enhanced greatly by its inclusion of strings. This arrangement includes both the standard, canned samples you’d expect from a mainstream idol release and a more organic performance delivered by Henry himself. I love that these strings are omnipresent throughout, driving the structure of the verses and lending an immense level of drama. Yet, Fantastic doesn’t completely rely on the gimmick. Melodically, it’s strong enough to stand on its own feet.
While Fantastic’s chorus is instantly catchy and engaging, it’s preceded by an even more dynamic violin solo. This instrumental flourish takes place of a traditional pre-chorus, and changes structure depending on where we are in the song. This gives Fantastic a welcome sense of spontaneity that helps cultivate a playful sound in keeping with Henry’s mischievous charms as a performer. We simply don’t hear K-pop title tracks like this anymore, and that’s a shame.
I wrote about Girl’s Day’s Darling (달링) as the kick-off of my Summer of K-pop feature this year, but this is a chance to expand upon those thoughts. Girl’s Day are an interesting group in the sense that they’ve explored a vast range of musical genres within their discography. Darling is a bit of a red herring when placed alongside their other songs. Summer-themed tracks tend to stick out. It has a sense of novelty about it, but in the best way possible.
Opening with a carnival-barker introduction reminiscent of so many 90’s K-pop classics, Darling soon moves into its brassy – almost vaudevillian – instrumental. It’s an intensely joyful sound, nostalgic yet updated for the era it was released. It almost feels like a cut from a movie musical rather than a traditional K-pop title track, and Girl’s Day play up that theatricality. Their vocals become light and airy to the point of almost sounding cartoonish. Yet, there’s a refinement to the performance. Darling never devolves into the kind of chirpy, chanty girl group fare that has come to soundtrack most of 2020.
Much of the credit has to be given to producers Duble Sidekick, who know their way around a summer track. They work their magic on Darling in the same way they did with Sistar, BESTie, Apink and so many others. The song has such a refreshing energy. Never once does it feel jarring. It knows exactly what it wants to be and fully capitalizes on that appeal.