True rockers are a rarity in the kpop world. Some of that is due to the musical tastes that the genre caters to, but I think just as much comes from the culture itself. There’s an element of respect, particularly when it comes to age, that’s woven into every fabric of Korean life. That makes the persona of a rocker, which often hinges on a certain level of “disrespect” or subversion, a tricky balancing act.
Jung Joon Young has mastered the balance needed to make it work. He’s cocky without taking it over the line, and refreshingly offbeat. With such an entertaining persona, it’s easy to forget what a wonderful, powerful rock voice he has. I have a great deal of affection for him as a performer, but I’ve always wanted to like his actual music more than I do. To me, it’s seemed in the past that his solo songs haven’t gone far enough. The ballads needed to be grander, the uptempos more raucous.
Sympathy is certainly a ballad, and a grand one at that. This time around, Joon Young teams with veteran singer Suh Young Eun, who brings a haunting, emotive texture to the track. But right from the start, Joon Young’s deep vocals grab hold of the melody and don’t let go until the last note. It’s a commanding performance; one of his best. If I had one gripe, it’s that I wish the guitar came in right after the first repetition of the second chorus instead of after. It makes for an incredibly dramatic moment when the full instrumentation finally does crash in, but it feels just a few bars too late to have maximum effect. Other than that, it’s hard to fault this lighters-in-the-air stadium ballad.