Shinee‘s Taemin has long been one of k-pop’s most arresting performers, and Japan has taken note of that as well. Last summer, he launched his solo j-pop career with the captivating Sayonara Hitori, which was later remade into Korean single Goodbye. For his 2017 follow-up, he hasn’t strayed too far from that sound, taking things down a notch for the dramatic balladry of Flame Of Love.
Few k-pop acts record j-pop material that sounds as classically Japanese as Taemin’s singles. It would have been easy for him to go the popular EDM route or stick to the pop funk of his group’s successful Japanese output, but somehow this more artistic approach seems to fit his strengths as a performer. Flame Of Love rests on an ornately arranged mix of delicate guitar, resonant strings and water droplet sprinkles of synth. The instrumental has a fragility to it that allows Taemin’s vocals to take center stage. Throughout the years, he’s blossomed into an incredibly emotive vocalist, which compensates for what can come across as a lack of diversity in his tone. His performance here feels like a story unfolding measure by measure.
Though the chorus brings in a resounding crash of percussion, Flame Of Love never quite catches fire. If the song were a dance, it would be much closer to a ballet than a hard-hitting hip-hop routine. This makes for an engaging performance piece, even if it lacks the type of energy that defines Taemin’s best material. It’s a song to suit a certain mood, and will likely be appreciated differently depending on the listeners’ frame of mind and expectations. But then again, the most effective pieces of art never appeal to everyone at every time.