We’ve been inundated with ballads lately, and they’re making me sleepy. Down-tempo December is nothing new, but K-pop seems especially subdued this winter. Even most of its holiday-themed tracks have been on the slower side. And really, there’s only so much that you can do with a standard Korean ballad. We know the template well. There are few surprises to be found.
Coming Home isn’t really surprising, but it’s buoyed by two important assets: the dream team vocal line-up of NCT’s Taeil, Doyoung, Jaehyun and Haechan, and the stirring composition of SM mastermind Yoo Young-Jin. This is a formidable collaboration. NCT has one of my favorite vocal lines currently working in K-pop, but they’re rarely utilized as part of the group’s hip-hop heavy title tracks. And Yoo Young-Jin? He’s basically the architect of SM’s core sound, with a sweet spot for soulful pop music like this. I could tell that he had a hand in Coming Home even before researching the song credits. There’s comfort in the steadiness of his hand.
Like Young-Jin’s old TVXQ ballads, Coming Home gives its performers room to stretch. What it lacks in dynamic melody it makes up for in sheer pizazz. The track hinges on its rhythmic beat and endless supply of strings, but it’s anchored by the vocalists. Right from the start, there’s not a note that can’t be stretched to chill-inducing levels. There’s a fluidity to the phrasing, which breaks Coming Home from its generic underpinnings. You never quite know where the guys are going next, and that natural flow proves captivating. The ever-changing NCT U units have been given much stronger songs in the past, but few have taken advantage of their skills as expertly as this.
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