Song Review: TST – Wake Up

Songs like Wake Up are easy to dismiss. They’re too catchy. They’re not self-serious enough. They have no redeeming artistic value. These are the kinds of criticisms that define what are considered “guilty pleasures” by many, and this outlook has been drilled subconsciously into my thinking as well. And yet, when I imagine the kind of pop song I want to hear — to fully enjoy, not just appreciate on a critical level — tracks like Wake Up are the first ones to come to mind.

TST has worked with producers Sweetune since their debut, and that’s always a recipe for a strong discography. Yet, it wasn’t until last November’s Paradise that this collaboration truly ignited. Beyond its obvious retro influences, Wake Up couldn’t be more different in tone. Yet, that trademark, melodic Sweetune touch elevates what might otherwise be a throwaway dance track. Honestly, I was sold from the very first moment, when upbeat rhythm guitar fuses with bright synths to forge an incredibly sunny instrumental.

Other than Paradise, I’ve never been a huge fan of TST’s vocals. They’re a little too sugary for me (and that’s saying something!). Wake Up might have become an all-time classic if performed with a more robust tone, and that realization dulled some of my enjoyment the first time through. But here’s where the importance of melody comes in. Sweetune are masters of the hook, filling their work with verses and pre-choruses that sound as strong as full-fledged choruses. This melodic approach is in full effect here. Wake Up’s pre-chorus is probably my favorite bit of pop melody so far this year, offering an off-kilter sense of build before the track launches into a more simplistic, chant-heavy hook. Through it all, the energy is ebullient and utterly refreshing. Screw self-seriousness and artistic value. Give me the unabashed sing-along jams any day.

 Hooks 9
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 9


13 thoughts on “Song Review: TST – Wake Up

  1. Thank you for that first paragraph!

    I’m about to get off-topic, but don’t worry I think my point is illustrative. My write-ups for Twice’s songs when I made my 2018 list could have gotten into the musical weeds, but I ended up just saying “I like Twice because they’re fun” for a reason! And that’s because I don’t see them as guilty pleasure. I don’t need to back up liking Twice with theory – not because Twice is so uncomplex that there’s no substance to talk about or because I don’t like talking about theory – but because I feel it’s not worth justifying Twice by “proving” that the music is “worth listening to.”

    Something that sort of bothers me about kpop fandom climate right now is the insistence that everything has to be deep, meaningful, or worth listening to on some level of artistry or talent. Honestly, as someone who used to scream about how great GD was because he wrote his own songs, I think it comes down to insecurity. Personally, I was so up in arms that everyone seemed to think kpop was stupid music for vapid tweens that I desperately wanted to prove otherwise, as was my 14 year old disdain for being perceived as juvenile. And while not all kpop fans are 14 yr old GD stan JYHB, many clearly think the same way. Music that’s worth listening to becomes characterized by phrases like “self-composed” or “commentary on social issues” or “commentary on mental health.” There is, of course, nothing wrong with music that wants to say something, and music is indeed a very powerful tool for creating change, but I feel like fans hide behind these things as a litmus test for music that’s “justifiable”. Stuff like Lovelyz singing about candy jelly love or Jimin shouting “hey!” 90 times in one AoA song doesn’t make this cut, and even worse, it epitomizes all of the criticisms from non-fans. It’s shallow, cutesy, manufactured, and it says nothing about the world, so it’s not “worth listening to.”

    I came to the realization that this mindset was wrong when I remembered I had a backlog of music theory knowledge that I somehow wasn’t applying to kpop. How could I miss this? I have no idea, but when I turned my ears “on” and did some proper listening, I realized that, ironically enough, the really really cutesy girl groups have the most musically involved songs. I am a firm believer in complex =/= good, but it certainly threw a wrench in the idea that cutesy ggs all made twee songs for idiots. I did some more listening, and I realized my music taste was based on “who writes their own songs” versus “who has music I like,” which well… that made me the shallow one!

    We get this idea that enjoying something because it’s enjoyable is wrong, or that music not making a specific statement on something “meaningful” is not artistically valuable or art to begin with. I disagree heavily. Songs as good as the ones from Twice or Gfriend or whoever are damn hard to write; songs like this one by TST have a lot going on to appreciate musically despite being sunny and upbeat. I became a huge fan of Kara and Infinite Sweetune because of their commitment to being extra af with the ‘80s AND metal AND classical influenced arrangements, but also because they write stunningly great, succinct melody. I was like “wow, these guys are amazing at every aspect; I can’t believe it.” It’s not easy to make good pop music, and it’s not “artistically useless” in any meaningful way. This TST song is aspirational to me; like that’s the kind of skill I want to have a musician and songwriter. I can’t write like Sweetune or JYP or Iggy/Youngbae, and I definitely can’t arrange like them! I’ve sat down and been like “write a catchy melody now!” but it’s really difficult to distill a beautiful melodically idea into a short, punchy statement. It’s honestly amazing when I hear it done well in pop music. Comparatively, I feel like composing in a “classical art music” style is so much easier because it allows for heavy development of ideas. It’s art worth admiring on its own merit as well as music worth enjoying because it’s fun. I don’t see those things as mutually exclusive, and theyshouldn’t be.

    So I genuinely appreciate you saying “I like it because it’s fun” and also “I like it because the melody is great, the synths are great.” They are; this is a really good song.

    And, at least for one person, it’s the kind of art I aspire to being able to make one day. I don’t actually know exactly what kind of music I’ll write in the future, and there’s a lot I want to do since I’m young and identity-less. But it’s definitely a big dream to have those Sweetune pop arrangement and riff-writing skills.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I only have a second to write this, so I can’t go in depth about it, but: I always love to read your takes on these things! I definitely agree with all your points, and you’ve very articulately explained what I’ve been trying to explain to my friends for ages. Sometimes you just like things because they’re good, and there’s no shame in that.


    • You just articulated how I feel perfectly! It’s music, it doesn’t have to be deep to be ‘good’. If it makes me feel something– happy, confident, relaxed…etc.– it’s done its job for me.


      • I’m so happy to see that this review has connected with many of you! As someone who often champions music that others consider a “guilty pleasure,” it’s something I feel very strongly about.

        But even with the strength of my convictions, I still struggle at times with the ratings and rankings I give. For example, my year-end top 50 singles list tends to be filled with much more lighthearted pop than other internet critics/reviewers, which probably doesn’t earn me much cred within the community. But, I think it’s always better to be authentic. You like what you like, and I just happen to like the fun stuff!


  2. This is such a fun song to listen to; like others have said, I don’t need it to be deep or meaningful or anything – especially because I do not understand Korean. There’s just something about Wake Up that makes me smile. Plus Ain is attractive – he reminds me of J-Hope circa 2015, which was when he was at his peak to me.


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  4. I love this song. It is such a classic upbeat boy band song, it could almost fit any era of boy band. If Neil Diamond was paired up with Stock Aitken Waterman to write and produce a k-pop song, this is what it w might sound like. If Mika wrote for the Monkees revival on MBC, this would be theme song he would write.
    So happy clappy, and joyous and spring-like – does it even hit a minor chord? The instruments come in right on cue, they drop away leaving only the bass line right on cue, the rap just lays right in there does its job and then goes away.

    Yes! A guilty pleasure! You me and three others, judging by the youtube views.


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