If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me go on about how I consider Infinite’s The Chaser to be the greatest K-pop song of all time. I’m not alone in this thinking, though newer K-pop fans might not even know that the track exists.
If this is you, go ahead and cleanse your ears before continuing:
Okay, now that we’ve got that out of our system, it’s time for me to wax poetic about The Chaser yet again. But, this time it’s going to be a little different. On a recent listen of the song, a specific question popped into my mind:
How would The Chaser sound if it had been written and recorded this year?
That sent my mind spinning, and made me realize that 2019-era K-pop could learn a lot from this hallowed track — particularly when it comes to newer boy group material. Almost all of the trendy hallmarks I complain about so often in my reviews could be fixed with a heaping dose of Chaser goodness.
Though I write about K-pop daily, I’m a teacher by trade. So, here’s today’s syllabus:
1. Shift dynamics without sacrificing energy.
K-pop songs are always up for a good shift in sound, but too many modern songs have become beholden to lethargic trap breakdowns to get the job done. So often these days, I’ll be happily bopping along to a high-energy dance track only to have the bottom fall out and the tempo pull back to half time. It’s a total buzz kill, and blunts any momentum the track might have been building.
The Chaser is an ever-shifting beast, but its energy never flags. Its second verse is a master class in how to pull off this arrangement with flare. We get a rap breakdown without sacrificing tempo, and then a brief lull that keeps the intensity charged even as the instrumental recedes. This makes the sonic sucker punch that follows all that much sweeter. Can you imagine how The Chaser would sound with a second-verse trap breakdown instead? I shudder to even think about it.
2. Momentum-building isn’t just for the pre-chorus.
As EDM has sunk its teeth into K-pop, the pre-chorus has become a vital part of most tracks. Many times, it’s beefier and more intense than the actual chorus (or instrumental drop) that follows. Many generic boy band tracks of this era follow a template similar to this:
Verse 1: Blah blah blah — slow, slow, slow — brooding, brooding, brooding
Pre-chorus: BUILD BUILD BUILD – Melody!
Chorus: Lurching EDM drop — sometimes with vocals
Post-chorus trap breakdown
Repeat, replay, etc, etc
The Chaser kicks off with a crackle of energy and only grows from there. The song doesn’t have any slow, needless pauses. It’s a sleek, single-minded beast. For a modern comparison, it’s like one looooong pre-chorus — building and building and then building some more. Isn’t that more exciting than EDM’s lockstep structure?
3. Chorus is still king.
Speaking of choruses, where have they all gone? They used to be the most important part of a pop song, but that’s not necessarily true anymore. And when they are present, they’re often more muted than the verses or pre-choruses that surround them. For a me, a chorus should be the biggest, loudest, most exciting moment in a good K-pop track. The Chaser’s chorus is pure bliss, fully melodic and arranged with incredible potency. The rest of the track has such high intensity that it would have been easy to pull back and offer something more restrained for its centerpiece. What a disaster that would have been!
4. Build to a climax.
If I were to map out many current K-pop tracks, they’d look something like this:
The Chaser is more like this:
The first one gives me whiplash. The second one sends my heart soaring.
5. Vocal layering is your friend, and so is a diverse palette of vocal timbres.
I love a good vocal arrangement. That’s one of the reasons why I’m such a huge fan of Sweetune’s work. Vocal layering and harmony hasn’t died completely, but many of the industry’s current trends (trap, tropical, etc) don’t exactly thrive on lush vocal arrangements.
Idol groups are known for having members with differing roles, but when it comes to newer debuts I hope that agencies aren’t forgetting about vocal blend. Not every Infinite member is the strongest of singers, but they have one of the most diverse sets of timbres in K-pop, resulting in a knockout blend when their voices are layered together. That’s one of the reasons why their work with Sweetune is so much more legendary than lesser groups’ Sweetune-produced material.
This blend is capitalized on during The Chaser’s goosebump-inducing chorus. There’s so much depth to the sound they’re able to produce, and we just don’t hear that very often anymore.
6. Build your performance around your song, not your song around your performance.
As razor-sharp choreography becomes more and more important, it sometimes feels like K-pop has to lurch from dance break to EDM drop to trap interval to give its performance-oriented members time to shine. This can result in a thrilling visual, but makes a song harder to enjoy on its own.
The Chaser has no such drops or breaks, yet does anyone doubt that Infinite can dance? Of course not. In fact, that’s always been one of their calling cards. The Chaser’s choreography is iconic, partially because it’s grafted so strongly to the song itself. The music never has to shift or pause to accommodate the dance. I imagine this makes the song much more punishing to perform, but that’s what makes it worth it!
7. And while you’re at it, prioritize song over genre.
Out of curiosity, I often check song descriptions on sites like Synnara or YesAsia prior to their release. Almost always, a new title track is described in words similar to this:
______ is a song of the tropical house genre, with blah blah blah blah…
______ is a future-r&b track with blah blah blah blah…
______ uses a blend of trap and EDM to blah blah blah blah…
We could do with less of the genre buzzwords and more meaningful descriptions. Instead of setting out to create a “tropical house” track or a “future bass” track, producers and agencies should just attempt to write a good track. If it happens to fall within a predefined genre, that’s okay — but it’s better if it remains its own thing.
I suppose you could classify The Chaser as “dance-pop” or “synth-pop,” but it doesn’t really follow any trends or feel beholden to any specific playbook. It felt different and fresh back in 2012, and feels even more so today.
8. When in doubt, throw in a last-minute key change.
Look, we all love a good key change. They’re not used nearly enough. The Chaser’s is legendary, and sets the song off on a high note. Of course, you can’t really use an effective key change if you don’t have an actual chorus to format it around, so it may be helpful to cycle back to lesson number three above.
That’s it! Class dismissed 🙂