Debut Re-Evaluation: TVXQ – Hug

TVXQ - HugK-Pop debuts can be tricky things. At times, they’re the best song a group delivers. Sometimes, they’re the only song a group delivers!

But, debuts can also be huge wtf moments in an artist’s career. In this feature, I’ll be looking back at debut songs through the prism of time, re-evaluating how well they hold up and how representative they are of an artist’s eventual singles run.

CD Debut Date: January 14, 2004


I’ve wanted to write about Hug for a long time, mostly because I find it a product of a bygone K-pop era. Nowadays, you’d never see a group debut with a song like this – especially one from a big agency. Yet, Hug’s simplicity and melodic power has made it an enduring classic.

This is not a flashy track. It doesn’t hinge on a bombastic performance. It doesn’t splice together multiple genres or weave in and out of breakdowns and beat drops. It simply finds a killer melody, puts it front and center, and lets the guys sing. I honestly don’t know if this would work in today’s market. Expectations have changed too much.

Hug is quite cheesy (most good pop is), and undeniably naïve when compared to the rest of TVXQ’s discography. Yet, it leverages those qualities to its benefit. The guys’ vocals are refreshing and beautiful, fusing together for shots of blissful harmony. The melody accommodates this robust performance style by offering a surplus of peaks. Unlike most pop songs, Hug doesn’t conform to a verse/chorus structure. Instead, the song takes one distinct segment and interpolates it in different ways. This gives the song incredible continuity but also allows for a sense of movement and growth as the key ascends. When we finally encounter a melodic switch-up during the bridge, the contrast feels even more potent.

Admittedly, Hug’s instrumental is pretty dated – even for 2004. But it’s also simple and straightforward, lending the track a timeless appeal. It doesn’t steal attention from the guys’ voice, which might be its greatest asset. When you’ve got a quintet of vocals as talented as TVXQ, why cover them up with claustrophobic production?

Does the song hold up?
Very much so, though I’d wonder if newer K-pop fans would feel the same…

Is the song stronger or weaker than most of the artist’s title tracks?
I’d say it’s on the “stronger” side, though not on par with the group’s absolute best work.

Does the song represent the artist’s music going forward?
It represents their first year or two, which was much more harmony and ballad driven. But, they’d never release a Korean title track like this again.

 Hooks 10
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 9
 RATING 9.25



30 thoughts on “Debut Re-Evaluation: TVXQ – Hug

  1. Seeing as I am a newer k-pop fan, I probably should answer the question even if I don’t think I’m that good of a barometer for newer tastes.

    I have way different tastes than Nick so this song doesn’t quite interest me. There are definitely parts that perk my ears like the funky transition from the first chorus, the bridge or the last outro part. I do think the melody is pretty good but not quite sticking with me, and the instrumentals are just a bit too cloying and bare for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen and heard this before, even though i’m a new fan myself. I like it quite a bit. it’s a little slight, but i really like the vocal harmonies, the random funk guitar in the middle, and the unapologetic sweetness. Also, for some reason Changmin really reminds me of WayV’s WinWin in these early days and vice versa. Ha! I just looked this up, and Kangta thinks so too.


  3. Ah, TVXQ “Hug”. This song gets covered by just about everyone. A quick youtube search returns formal and informal covers by SHINee, Jonghyun by himself, Vixx, TXT, Mamamoo’s MoonByul, 2AM, SNSD, Exo’s Chen, contestants on multiple shows, and right about here I stopped scrolling.

    The ultra-stylized dense harmony is reminiscent of Backstreet Boys “Shape of my Heart” and to a lesser extent NSync “This I Promise You” both from 2000, so mho I think SM lifted that harmony concept directly from there. Those albums sold some 25+ million between the two of them, so not a bad choice.

    TVXQ did release a Christmas album in late 2004 which also has similar styled softer songs – Magic Castle comes to mind. The others on that album are Christmas standards. TVXQ’s Magic Castle ‘ and yes it starts with Jesu Joy of Man’s desire with alt non-Jesus lyrics.
    Forestella’s cover of TVXQ’s Magic Castle ‘ Live live, like really live, listen to how live live mics should sound. Also the high double falsetto harmony at 4:56-5:06 just kills me, and Cho Mingyu’s note (in grey jacket) at 5:27 is just out of this world.

    Per Nick’s comment “I wonder if newer kpop fans …”: I may be a middle age kpop fan, but this one is not for me. Its of the style of songs popular in Korea that just don’t translate well to western taste. I think this style still exists in the Korean market, not by the idols but rather by the soloists and OST specialists. I have a small select list of artists who do this style who I don’t mind, but taken as a whole, it is songs like this that make me ponder again just why I am listening to popular music that is entirely in a foreign language that I do not understand.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I did not know this! Now I do!
        There is a certain quality of Korean music from that time that has a charm all its own. You can literally hear it in the style of orchestration and also recording quality which somehow sounds more like 1970’s US style. It is also in the vocal which has a certain unpolished charm to it, and in the songs themselves with unabashed sentimental fare. I usually feel like I am listening to the Korean equivalent of the Debby Boone Helen Reddy Anne Murray era. I love this stuff.
        (For the kids here: Debby Boone sang “You Light up my Life”, yes, songs like that.


  4. This was my first in time hearing this song…. Instant classic. I was so caught up in how good the melody was that I didn’t realize there were no verses. I thought “the chorus is great, but I can’t remember the verses at all”. Can’t remember singing that doesn’t exist. The instrumental reminds me of some of the slower songs by SNSD, particularly the earlier ones

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are songs without choruses here and there, its not common but not that rare. A simple google search will bring up other examples, but ones which come to my mind:
      “Octopus Garden” by the Beatles
      “Sound of Silence” by Simon + Garfunkel
      “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” – aka The Christmas Song


  5. I only listen to this to bask in the thick harmonies. The song structure isn’t something I’m quite used to. The tried and true method of verse, pre-chorus, chorus, the bridge is something I’ve heard a lot and so it was nice that this song takes one word and basically applies different fonts. Some may fear it may be too repetitive which is understandable as I also felt that was the case. But I’m a sucker for harmonies.

    I want to know more as to how and why Hug sounded dated even for 2004? I was too young back then to fully realize the music scene of that time, maybe the older people can enlighten me on this.


    • I think myma mentioned this as well, but the song has a strong 1999/2000 vibe about it. It wouldn’t feel out of place on any of those old Backstreet Boy/*NSYNC albums. So, it’s only dated by a couple of years, and that’s by no means a bad thing.

      By this time, most pop markets were more focused on a glossy hip-hop/r&b sound. Indie rock was starting to make a resurgence as well before exploding in popularity during the mid-00’s.

      Of course, Korea is its own market with its own taste, so none of this automatically overlaps.


    • Just to add to Nick’s point.
      Really, why do we all listen to music from a foreign country in a foreign language that we just don’t understand? I show my eonnie at least twice a year a round up what new in kpop, and at some point she always looks at me and asks me “Why?”. Drinks are usually involved too.

      Speaking broadly, I can think of two main reasons:
      1) To hear music we have never heard the style of before
      2) To hear music that we are nostalgic for that doesn’t exist anymore in our country

      As an example, Infinite and one of its lead vocalists Kim Sung Kyu.

      1) Infinite “Chaser” and such doesn’t (or didn’t) really sound like anything we can find in the US music scene. It’s was new, exciting, good stuff.

      2) Kim Sung Kyu in his solo work sounds just like late 90’s male solo or duo acts in the US, which some of us happen to love. They don’t make music like this in the US anymore, and here it is again and its done well and hurrah! Here is one fit of nostalgia from Savage Garden.

      On the other hand,

      1) I really don’t care for kpop that sounds like something I can turn on the radio and hear anytime.
      For example, Rose of Blackpink has been doing a lot of live performances lately of cpver songs. She does a really good job! But for my taste, I can turn on the radio and hear several solo ladies singing songs just like this in this way. I can go to the supermarket, to the gym, turn on American Idol or The Voice and hear this sound. Here is a live duet of Rose with Onew uploaded just yesterday which has >1.5m views already! Its sounds great! Oh but it sounds like a dozen other duets I could hear anywhere. I don’t need to seek out another kpop version of it.

      2) Kim Sung Kyu adds to a nostalgic sound and improves on it with his excellent vocals. For other lesser mimics, I just skip. So for example, for me, so many city pop 80’s style revivals sound inferior to old school R&B which I used to hear on the radio. It drives me to go back to those original songs, not to the new songs. Speaking of which, I recently came across this fit of nostalgia, just released in late June 2021: Boyz II Men with someone named Yun Min Soo. Who is this guy, this Yun Min Soo? This is awesome! He goes toe to toe with Boyz II Men!

      This is also why for some of us to hear US-radio friendly songs that sound just like a dozen other songs is just an automatic nope nope nope. Popularity in the US is a double edged sword.


  6. Haha yoon min su is the member of vibe which is legendary ballad&rnb duos since early 2000s.
    He is also the ceo of major9 entertainment, a home of amazing vocalist ben and kpop gg blingbling


  7. I came into Kpop with Wonder Girls “Nobody” so I missed “Hug” initially, discovering it just a few years ago. I love it though. The melody is right up my street. For whatever reason, I love melody lines that constantly step up and up (Girls’ Generation Kissing You was an early favorite for me).

    Mostly though I love the harmonies. It’s CRAZY to me that Kpop groups have a bajillion members and they typically sing one at a time. Kudos to TVXQ.


    • I thought everyone knew that TVXQ’s debut was December 26, 2003 at the Britney and BoA Showcase. How could you confuse the official release date of the Hug single as TVXQ’s debut date? You need to correct this wrong information.


      • …because that date is in reference to their first album/cd debut date, not their first performance. I amended it to make that more clear. No need to overreact…


        • So then you are telling me that the date of which Cassiopeia celebrates TVXQ’s debut is wrong. 🤔 Again, Hug was first released as a maxi single, which, while on a physical CD, is considered different from a CD. CD is used as a synonym for album, and Hug was on the album Tri-Angle.

          We are talking about the group that saved Kpop after the IMF financial crisis, so you would have nothing to review 2004 and later without TVXQ’s debut. SM does a great job of erasing that history because they want to forget the group debuted as a quintet. Other people should and need to get facts correct despite SM’s efforts.


          • So, as this site’s resident Cassie, I officially apologize to everyone. We and TVXQ have kind of been thrown around as of late, so we overreact.

            And now, to set the date sequence straight once and for all. On December 26, 2003. TVXQ first performed Hug’s debut stage. This is technically their official ‘debut’, as it is when the song was first promoted. This is why Cassie’s celebrate this day.

            The Music Video and the Maxi Single was released on January 14th, along with My Little Princess, which got its MV on the same day. This is when the song was first purchasable. Nick counts things by the MV release date, as well as purchase date, that is why he put it here.

            Finally, it was added to TVXQ’s debut album ‘Tri-Angle’ in October.

            ALEASH, you don’t really need to get too frustrated over it, it really won’t make people listen, it’ll only get people frustrated.


            • I have said nothing wrong here. Nick got this article wrong from the very beginning. What trust should I have in a guy who gets very basic Google-able information wrong?

              You do NOT speak for me or ANY other Cassie. I am insulted that you are speaking as such. Stop speaking for all Cassies. You do NOT represent all of us. Cassies have gotten pissed over facts being wrong before and other groups claiming the fan color red. If more Cassies knew about this site, they would have reacted the same why I did about the incorrect debut date. I have seen the incorrect debut date listed other places, and Cassies have been upset.

              It is no lie to say that TVXQ’s history is being forgotten. I will NEVER forget the “fans” that harassed me on multiple days in the 2019 anniversary hashtag on Twitter all because I called them out for their multiple tweets in the hashtag saying TVXQ are old irrelevant men who should disband. I haven’t forgotten that Changmin is being remembered only as Kingdom’s MC over TVXQ’s Max Changmin. I haven’t forgotten the vile things international Kpop fans have said about Yunho this year. You don’t seem to know what’s going on in the fandom.


              • Your issues with this situation are clearly larger than my little blog. I’ve explained myself already, and I’ve tried to be polite.

                Had you come about this in a less hostile manner, I might have been open to further editing this detail to accommodate a debut performance rather than an mv/cd debut (which would go against the way I quantify things here, btw). But, now you’ve pissed me off so things are staying the way they are. And now you’re disparaging other readers of this site. Seriously, reflect on how you’re coming across here.

                The funny thing is, this is a glowing review of the artists you purport to love. Most things I write about TVXQ are glowing. I adore their discography. I’ve watched the debut showcase you’re talking about. Fans attacking other fans is so distasteful.

                All further comments on this matter will be deleted unless we can have a respectful discourse.


                • As an actual Cassie (& not an ot5 with a stick up their *** like some people from Chicago in this thread) I think I speak for pretty much everyone when I say no one cares you picked/put down a different date than their debut. Keep on keeping on, your TVXQ reviews have always been top tier.


  8. So glad that you love TVXQ’s Hug. It is no secret to anyone who has read my writing that I am a massive Cassie, and Hug is still a favorite of mine, every moment calibrated to perfection. I’d argue that TVXQ in their early years perfected the NSYNC and Backstreet Boys sound, with songs like this and Purple Line. Probably my favorite song of this style, along with I Want it That Way.


  9. I love vocal harmonization so Hug is definitely my cup of tea. I remember how I used to memorize the lyrics in 3 different language (Korean, Japanese, and English)
    ♪ ♬ ヾ(´︶`♡)ノ ♬ ♪


  10. Ok this not true they did many ballad/ Acapella style besides the song Whatever they say. Probably one of my favorite songs from them.


  11. I just want say they did more ballads/ acapella. Its one of my favorite songs from them. It’s called Whatever They Say. Definitely need find this song.


  12. Can i cry? I miss tvxq playing on the tv in the morning or in the radio i would walk by the small shop near my apartments on my way to school amd would listen to this song play and sang along even tho I’d always get late to school i still got to listen to this song ahh memories…tvxq is lucky to have new fans and old fans and that they enjoy their music anyways hope we can get a comeback soon lol.


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