You thought Stray Kids’ Side Effects was a wild ride?
Well, you were right… and I dearly love that song. But, it’s got competition.
I’ve wanted to write about Hey! Say! JUMP’s「I」ever since it was released last October, but couldn’t figure out a way to do it that would actually attract readers! So, I decided to craft an overblown title and review a song in a totally new way – piece by piece.
I really do think that 「I」is the most daring idol track of 2019. I’m well aware that the world is filled with far more adventurous music, but I’m talking about mainstream, top tier idol pop – a genre not always known for its willingness to stretch boundaries. And really, Hey! Say! JUMP and their management company Johnny’s Entertainment are about as mainstream as J-pop gets.
Honestly, I’m not all that interested in purely experimental music. It’s just not for me. But, if you can defy expectations while maintaining a tight, catchy pop song, you’ve got my attention and admiration.
Another reason I wanted to write about 「I」so badly is that it challenges so many of my own musical biases. It’s often slow, ponderous and moody. It even has its trappy moments. Yet, I find the song to be a phenomenal work of daring arrangement and inventive structure. The first time I heard it, I didn’t really know where it was going. And after it was over, I still wasn’t quite sure what I had listened to. But, it was so consistently engaging that I had to come back for more.
「I」 reminds me a lot of my favorite experimental K-pop b-side – SHINee’s incredible One Minute Back. It plays with dynamics and vocal layering in a similar way, and is powerful because of its quiet moments, not in spite of them. And, it’s co-written by Andreas Oberg, a producer who’s done his fair share of work for K-pop artists (including SHINee!).
So, press play and join me for the journey. Let me know if you like this approach to song reviewing. It’s not something I’ll do often, but certain tracks really lend themselves to a deeper approach.
00:00-00:17 – On first glance, this seems to be the kind of dull, mid-tempo r&b filler that can be found on many male idol group albums. But, then comes that hint of crisp disco guitar, and expectations are heightened.
00:17-00:34 – A cool, thunderstorm-like effect takes us into an incredibly muted segment with a surprising wisp of vocal harmony.
00:34-00:50 – The tension begins to build as layered vocals fade in. The instrumental is little more than a synth pad and a few skittering trap beats. It’s an eerie silence. Are we building to something big?
00:50-00:54 – The bottom completely drops out and the instrumental feels like it’s being crushed into a ball. WTF.
00:54-01:12 – Everything slams back as we enter the chorus. The vocal arrangement here is satisfyingly weird – at once passionate and robotic, echoed by a tightly-layered response that feels otherworldly.
01:12-01:29 – A kaleidoscope of sound effects, clattering and crashing and culminating in a muted explosion, with more of those alien vocals thrown over the top. Somehow, it’s still tight and rhythmic.
01:29-02:00 – Into the second verse and pre-chorus now. Things are starting to come into focus.
02:00-02:19 – No freaky anti-drop before the second chorus, which makes the earlier one all the more beguiling. The synths here are so evocatively dramatic.
02:19-02:27 – Now, wait a second! There’s those disco guitars from the opening again! Ah, it all ties together. For a brief eight seconds, the song transforms to an upbeat, new wave funk workout, and I’m utterly charmed.
02:27-02:44 – Just like that, the oxygen gets sucked up again and we’re deposited into a minimalist musical wasteland. A lot of recent K-pop songs try to make this same move, but it doesn’t work because it feels disconnected. In this case, the track has set us up for disorientation, making the results feel satisfying rather than frustrating.
02:44-03:07 – Things start to pick up again, with a wholly new set of percussion that acts more like the standard EDM pre-chorus we’re all used to hearing in modern pop music. But here, you get a weird sense of both acceleration and deceleration as the intensity grows. It’s a neat trick.
03:07-03:11 – And there we are… sucked into a wormhole again.
03:11-END – A really dynamic final chorus, where the arrangement changes just enough to allow for a well-placed power vocal and an even better synth-line that adds yet another new texture to the track before the dust has settled and the experience has ended.