With so many dramas in need of sappy, soaring soundtracks, Korea has got to be one of the biggest music markets for ballads. With so many being pumped out every year, it becomes difficult to stand out. A dynamite ballad can be such a cathartic experience — especially when delivered by a robust, dependable voice. Super Junior’s Ryeowook certainly fits the bill, and it’s been great having him back with the group after his military discharge.
Ryeowook possesses an incredibly clear tone and effortless vocal control, and those qualities are easily the most notable thing about I’m Not Over You (너에게). The song itself remains hushed throughout the bulk of its running time, casting an emotive mood that’s anchored by one memorable melodic line. The rest of the track allows Ryeowook to unleash his vocals, which are at their best during You’s final third. He delivers some truly ear-catching falsetto right between the song’s two symphonic swells. If you’ve ever listened to a ballad of this style before, this kind of extended climax is expected. But, it pays off nonetheless.
The rest of I’m Not Over You feels almost too hesitant for its own good. Without much percussion until the second half, the track barely rises above a whisper. This is likely designed to build gradual tension, but it all comes across as too typical in an OST way. Ryeowook’s 2016 title track The Little Prince benefited from a more balanced structure that gave it a satisfying fullness. In contrast, I’m Not Over You feels a little lopsided.
Ryeowook has to be the most under-utilized voice in kpop to ever release solo work. You see a solo song by him, and you don’t even have to click to get a good idea of what it’s supposed to sound like, because these kinds of ballads are written to the strictest template possible with whole point being to “showcase the voice.” This kind of sucks, because it means that the songwriting becomes the least important element of the whole endeavor. As we can both tell, Ryeowook is a great singer! But the composition is kind of listless and is there to take up running time while the vocals carry everything which is…. not the way you want a good composition to go, ideally.
You can tell this is the case when:
(1) He sings climax notes generally reserved for the last chorus in the middle of the second verse,
(2) at 2:26, there’s a massive tone change for apparently no reason other than to extend the song for two more draggy minutes of showing off.
(3) the same thing happens AGAIN at 3:23 for seemingly the same reason – because really this makes no structural sense at all.
(4) during the instrumental break between 2:49 and 3:01 he’s still singing “climax-level” notes even though the rest of the instrumental telegraphs that this is supposed to be a dip in energy level. Really though, the cardinal sin of songs like this is:
(5) he just never stops singing, not even once, and there is about zero room for anything to breathe.
How would I have done this different? Well, a superficially similar song to “I’m Not Over You” is Taeyeon’s “Make Me Love You,” which also has the same phrase-as-chorus thing going on. Make Me Love You, while it does suffer pretty heavily from many of the same flaws as I’m Not Over You, works significantly better as a song. Taeyeon sings the melody straight w/zero embellishments at least through the second verse, which means that when the pre-climax-climax notes come in right before the second chorus, it at least makes sense from a structural standpoint. There’s also an instrumental-led section after the second chorus which – while they really should’ve written it so she doesn’t sing at all – gives the listener some breathing room before the vocal/instrumental layering assault of the bridge/last chorus sequence. I’m Not Over You does absolutely none of this, choosing to flip-flop in and out of its k-drama OST climaxes with little care as to how it actually sounds.
I realize this comes off screed-ish, but the reason I get so annoyed is because I stan Ryeowook’s voice really hard, and it’s sad that it gets wasted on non-songs like this! He deserves the best songs in SME’s catalogue, honestly, but he (and the rest of KRY, and most of the really good singers in SM’s lineup tbh) ends up getting saddled with really boring stuff. It’s not that Ryeowook’s voice isn’t astounding, because it seriously is, it’s that he shouldn’t be forced to carry an entire song on melismas and runs.
Subtlety is great! Don’t underestimate the power of a melody sung well with no real add-ons. As always, powerful vocals can make a good song better, but never a terrible song good.