Kim Jaejoong’s most recent Korean album was released around the time The Bias List was launched in early 2016. Since then, he’s enlisted, released Japanese music and been active on variety and in dramas. I can still remember when he made his solo debut back in 2013. I had only been a K-pop fan for a year or so at the time, and knew little of him beyond his involvement with TVXQ. That solo mini album, I, sold out in just a couple weeks – a huge deal at the time. Commercially and creatively, he seemed like a K-pop god.
That’s all still true, but Jaejoong’s long musical hiatus seems to have dulled the excitement around the release of Tender Love (여리디여린 사랑을). As K-pop’s international fan base has grown over the past few years, a newer generation of listeners have adopted their own K-pop gods. And unfortunately, a ballad like Tender Love is unlikely to convince them of just what a powerhouse Jaejoong can be. The song is an oddly hushed comeback, putting the spotlight on Jaejoong’s voice at the expense of musical imagination.
That will be enough for those who already adore his vocals. He’s in fine form here, offering an understated, but powerfully emotive performance. The instrumental echoes this, supplying a slow build toward a cathartic, electric guitar-powered climax. All of the expected OST ballad ingredients are here, and Jaejoong sells the drama. However, I long for a more idiosyncratic melody. I feel like I’ve heard this exact song a million times before, especially given Korea’s love for overwrought balladry. Jaejoong elevates it somewhat, but there’s only so much individuality that can be brought to the tried-and-true structure and arrangement.
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