Once again, after another game-changing and universally praised album that seemed to save their status as KPop's cool kid girl group, the future of f(x) is murky after a recent temper tantrum by Amber on Instagram, complaining about what seemed to be her monolithic company, SM. The members solo projects and growth as musical artists has offered their fans hope for a promising follow up to 4 Walls. The latest glimpse of their enigmatic maknae only enhance that glimmer of hope.
Since their last album, Lion Heart, the members of KPop's most successful girl group, Girls' Generation, must have some time on their hands. As outlined by our piece on the Soshi Diaspora, there've been solo and collaborative efforts by Tiffany, Yoona, Hyoyeon, and Seohyun, but the most prolific of the octet by far is their "baby leader" and lead vocalist Taeyeon, who has already released two EPs since Lion Heart, and now her first full length LP My Voice.
The album has a number of highlights, and like most KPop solo artist releases, it's ballad-heavy, but a solid, mature collection, of which its lead track, "Fine" is emblematic.
Taeyeon has long been considered one of the best vocalists in KPop, along with Hyolin from Sistar, all three vocalists of Mamamoo, Solji of EXID, Luna of f(x), Raina of Afterschool and Orange Caramel, Park Jimin of 15&, and solo artists IU, Ailee, Lee Hi, and so on and so forth. I have to write as many as possible, lest i forget any rabid fan's bias. As the lead singer of the seminal SNSD, Taeyeon has shared the limelight and much of the vocal lines with her seven or eight members, but most of SNSD's most memorable vocal moments have come from their diminutive and cherubic leader. Her forceful commanding vocal presence over the top of the final chorus in the anthematic "Genie" is truly one of KPop's great moments.
Since Lion Heart, we've had plenty of opportunities to see how she handles a solo shot, and invariably, she's charted enormously well, while competing with the dozens of up-and-coming girl groups determined to replace her group as the "nation's girl group." While Girls' Generation isn't as much of an irresistible draw as say, the hot newbies like Twice, Blackpink, and even their hoobaenim Red Velvet, Taeyeon herself as had a string of well-received EP's and singles, chart positions floating in and around those newer powerhouse phenoms.
But unlike the competition, Taeyeon really does have the goods. But, one of her biggest strengths is how sneakily good she can be behind the mic. As the lead vocalist of East Asia's (and perhaps the world's) most popular girl group, Taeyeon really doesn't have anything to prove as a vocalist and she seems to know it. Unlike many popular singers, and almost all Western pop stars, who seem intent on wowing you with their vocal prowess from the first few lines of a song, Taeyeon has the gift of patience and restraint, building, trilling along with respect for the melody, almost plaintively rendering it, lulling you into the song itself, its structure and melody, then before you know it, she hits a note that blindsides you, then practically sculpts it with her expert vocal control, leaving you with goosebumps. A good example of this would be sentimental ballads "U R" or "Gemini" from I or the upbeat "Fashion" or "Good Thing" from Why.
She doesn't seem to need to knock your socks off from the first line and may actually be overlooked by a lot of KPop enthusiasts, especially with the first two releases that preceeded the album release, the seductive "I Got Love" and the quiet, beautifully understated "11:11".
That's not the case with "Fine" where she really lets it rip - early and often. The song might remind a lot of listeners of a country ballad, leading with a crisply strummed acoustic guitar, as Taeyeon starts off singing in a wistful relaxed style, demonstrating her subtlety, as the first verse builds and blossoms in the pre-chorus, she hits it hard, belting out an emotional, passionate chorus that leads to some of her most powerful vocal runs in her prolific career. The song itself is fairly straightforward, and unlike her first solo hit "I", not particularly inventive or hooky and it doesn't need to be. It is merely a backdrop for one of the most distinctive voices in the pop music planet.
"Fine" might not be the best track in the album, her first full LP as a solo artist, and worth a full listen. Along with the sexy "I Got Love," "Time Lapse" is a magnificent slow-building anthem. "Cover Up" is a perky uptempo pop number reminisicent of "Why." "Lonely Night" is a sparkling, jazzy mid-tempo number. Throughout the album, it's clear that Taeyeon is ready to mature as an artist and seems to be on a clear path to becoming one of the finest musical renderers of the Korean language.