There’s a lot of nostalgia in the K-pop community for the original DBSK, but as someone who didn’t fully get into K-pop until the group split in half, I don’t share the same sentiment. I love DBSK, JYJ, and the two-member TVXQ all for different reasons, but TVXQ is easily my favourite.
With DBSK’s strongest vocalists JYJ gone, Changmin and Yunho were left with no choice but to relaunch themselves as a slick performance group, with the focus on their charisma and powerful choreography instead of their voices. It’s also blatantly clear that TVXQ’s overhaul was based on Yunho, the group’s leader, K-pop’s best dancer, and the most charismatic male idol since Rain.
With Yunho’s existing skillset as a blueprint and the beautiful and talented Changmin by his side, SM Entertainment was able to turn TVXQ 2.0 into pop music’s greatest performers and the biggest Korean act in Japan.
I’ve always felt that Changmin and Yunho are more like one person, two halves that fit together to form the perfect pop star, so it never really bothered me that Yunho didn’t get to go solo despite his massive potential.
Yunho, just one year shy of 30, finally enlisted for his mandatory military service this month, which left SM scrambling to rush out as much TVXQ content as possible to tide fans over until the duo returned. This was the catalyst for the long-overdue Yunho solo career, with an EP in Japan earlier this month (‘U Know Y‘) and a TVXQ album in Korea consisting of both group and solo tracks (‘Rise As God‘).
Yunho’s songs across both albums are range from good to incredible, and there’s no doubt in my mind that with proper live promotions he’d be delivering something akin to a Korean Michael Jackson (I say that sincerely).
Sadly that’s not going to happen, at least not for the next two years. Regardless, the sudden flood of solo Yunho music cemented something I’ve always known: Yunho’s the best male K-pop star since Rain, whether he’s alone on stage or sharing the spotlight with Max.
Instead of reviewing U Know Y and the near perfect Rise As God, I’ve selected some of the key Yunho cuts from both albums to highlight.
“Champagne” is the jewel of Yunho’s solo singles and one of the strongest K-pop disco tracks in forever (yes, even better than Stellar’s nu-disco jaunt “Vibrato”).
There’s a lot going on in “Champagne” but producers Ryan S. Jhun and August Rigo make it sound seamless. Yunho opens with deliciously nasally talk-rapping then flies into falsetto for the chorus, while the music changes from disco-tinged dance-pop to a twisted trap-like slow grind.
Like “Something” and “Spellbound,” “Champagne” has an MTV style dance-break on the bridge; snares and synths rain down as Yunho performs with a neon pink cane like some techno candy version of Singin’ In The Rain.
It’s one of the best music videos of the year, not to mention the best male solo single too.
Like most pop stars, Yunho’s idol is Michael Jackson, but unlike most pop stars, Yunho is one of the few that does the King any justice.
Most of the tracks from U Know Y are all clearly MJ-inspired, including lead single “Burning Down,” which is surprisingly one of Yunho’s weakers songs. It’s more filler than Thriller, so the main appeal is watching a dapper Yunho bust a move in the music video. The second he whips off his black leather belt and incorporates it into the choreography, you know you’re watching somebody who is an absolute master at their craft.
Tattoos & High Heels
It’s not hit material, but this is the song I would’ve liked to see as the lead single from U Know Y — if only just to see Yunho get his freak on for once.
“I ain’t gonna make love to you, unless you beg me to do so,” sings a breathy Yunho over a fat, funky bassline. “Tattoos and high heels, scandalous and dangerous / Tomorrow, we will be strangers.”
BRB, off to get a tattoo and a pair of heels.
Produced by LDN Noise, the team behind SHINee’s euphoric “View,” with help from MonoTree (Stellar’s “Vibrato” and stunning new TVXQ track “Dominus”), “Komplikated” is hands down the second best new Yunho track after “Champagne.”
“View” was a bright, feel-good foray into ’90s house music, but “Komplikated” sits on the other end of the spectrum: it’s chic and dark. Swathed in pulsating house beats, Yunho’s voice echoes like he’s singing from inside a black tunnel. By K-pop standards there isn’t much of a chorus, everything just kind of bleeds into the next thing, much like how one feels when lost on the dance floor at 2am.
I’m bummed that this is the last new TVXQ music I’ll have for two years or more, but on the bright side Rise As God is so strong that I’ll probably still have it on regular rotation by the time their next album drops. It’s just that good.