As lead vocalist for boy group g.o.d, Kim Tae Woo’s voice helped soundtrack a generation. But more often than not, members of first generation groups struggle to achieve any sort of musical notoriety so long after their brand was at its peak. This isn’t unique to k-pop, either. The music industry isn’t exactly kind to aging pop stars. Try something new and it feels like you’re desperate to fit in with younger trends. Go back to the sound that made you famous and you’re accused of spinning your wheels with rehash after diminished rehash.
When I think of brilliant comebacks from older musicians, I’m reminded of Cho Yong-Pil’s fantastic 2013 album Hello. Tae Woo doesn’t have the years (or influence) that Yong-Pil has, but Following (따라가) reminds me of a song that could’ve been part of that album. It doesn’t conform to any of this year’s trends, but doesn’t feel like a cut-and-paste job either. g.o.d occasionally ventured into this style of soaring, melodic pop, but were more often concerned with groove-driven soul or straight ahead ballads. Following‘s pop/rock arrangement feels much more broad in its intentions. What it lacks in edge, it makes up for with timeless melody and vocal heft.
Opening with a strum of acoustic guitar, the instrumental is quickly joined by the kind of chest-beating drums that propel a song into anthem territory. Tae Woo’s rich vocals are at their best during Following‘s extended power notes, but the breezy, summertime backing vocals are even more effective. As the chorus climaxes in a chanted refrain, the whole thing starts to feel a little adult contemporary, but in the fast-moving, trend-oriented world of k-pop that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, the fact that Following isn’t some drippy ballad should be enough to celebrate.