DBSK, A History: The Tragedy of JYJ’s “In Heaven”

In Heaven_fancoverI’ve spent a lot of time on the Homin side things when it comes to discussing DBSK music, and even cried over the travesty that was Time. Now it’s time to talk about another disappointment in DBSK land from the opposite side of the aisle—In Heaven.

In Heaven is a different kind of disappointment from the frustration I got from Time. The latter was just pathetic and I have no pains in saying it was bad. In Heaven is a tragedy because it wasn’t like it had potential, and just never got there. In Heaven didn’t even have an inkling of a chance for a plethora of truly unfortunate reasons. I don’t know who to blame or whether to be disappointed in JYJ, because what ultimately came out was disastrous and not easily attributed to one issue. I can only feel sadness that JYJ vocal talent was subjected to this mess.

In Heaven starts out strong with the title track also named “In Heaven.” It’s arguably one of Jaejoong‘s best pieces ever if not the best, personal preference for “9095” aside. I think it would also be pretty safe to say that this song is also the best release (self-penned) that has come from JYJ so far. If I had one real technical complaint about the song, it would be the fact that it portrays itself as more grandiose and emotional than it actually is. The instrumental falls short of the vocals from Jaejoong and Junsu, and in fact, relies far too much on the theatrics of vocal embellishments (a problem that will be apparent everywhere in this album). If this were Carnatic music, it would work, but it is not. This is pop music, and the background is as important as the centerpiece. Vocals cannot stand on its own. On top of all that, Yoochun kind of does a bad job of holding up his end of the song, but I guess he has a hard job of standing out against two really great singers.

Even if we ignore these issues with “In Heaven,” the key problem that is while I know I’m supposed to feel something from the song, and JYJ is conveying that I’m supposed to feel something, I just don’t feel anything. I think it comes back to the idea that the music takes itself more seriously than it merits—as though we are supposed to embrace some sort of artistry that it doesn’t actually have. Lacking “artistry” doesn’t make a song bad, but when a song pretends to have it, it’s a bit off-putting.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3nCVLlhXmc]

I’m going to take a stab and say that the reason many songs in In Heaven come off as egregious in its self-appreciation is the immaturity of JYJ as song writers. They’re experimenting and learning the reins, and so it’s going to take sometime for them to have a sense of musical complexity beyond piano lines and vocal ad-libs. They’re so well trained as singers that the empty, straightforward compositions sound worse. In fact, there’s very little in their compositions that isn’t upfront, that what actually is subtle comes off as gimmicky.

It’s why I get so upset at the likes of Jaejoong’s compostions post-lawsuit (minus “In Heaven”); songs like “9095” struck the correct balance between the presence of vocals and the presence of instrumentals. The vocals in “9095” are far from the flashy stuff I’ve been listening to in In Heaven, but the song comes off as more artistic because the instrumental carries a lot of weight. Sure you can see the rough edges, but I’d hardly think its a bad thing in light of “9095”‘s experimentalism and Jaejoong’s novice composing. The issue is a matter of whether Jaejoong (and the others) improve as they go along. In Heaven doesn’t show improvement. It actually shows regression.

It seems that I’m fixated on Jaejoong, but considering that he had his hand all over In Heaven, it would be foolhardy to not talk about his compositions and his strengths and weaknesses as a composer. He admittedly has a lot of potential since he’s able to come up with all of those broad stroke pieces and maintain a consistent style. But for the negatives, well, I don’t think I need to summarize his weaknesses any more than I already have.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1Kb6ytVDao]

“In Heaven” was actually preceded by “Get Out,” arguably the best dance track on the album if only because “Mission” and “I.D.S.” are complete posers. Actually, I have to  say that “Get Out,” was a pretty good song, and I give Jaejoong and Yoochun credit where credit is due for writing something decent (as for the Engrish…). However, “Get Out” also is too dependent on the vocal talent of the singers. If anyone in K-pop but Jaejoong and Junsu were singing this song, it would be dead. DEAD. There’s not enough self-confidence and talented pop-oriented voices to go around.

“Fallen Leaves” is definitely a passable song. I’m not a OST person (I think I’ve said that like ten times already) and this song re-affirms that. More objectively, it’s pretty good (nice job Junsu!) though I think the next ballad, “소년의 편지 (Boy’s Letter)” surpasses “Fallen Leaves” quality-wise, though it gets REALLY LONG. It’s like they sang the song, and then thought that the song needed even more theatrics, and added more, and then more, and even then even more. I don’t mind theatrics, especially when they’re executed well (as in this song); but I thought that they went through three different bridges to get to the end, and it’s just too much. To be honest, I think this song is meant for performance as opposed to being in an album. I would bet that the live version would be amazing when listening to it in person.

As for the uptempos, I still hate “Mission” because it’s a feeble attempt at trying to sound like a western electronic song, and the same goes to “I.D.S.” and “Pierrot.” I have to admit however that I do like the instrumental loop in “Mission” because that is really catchy. As for the rest, not so much.

And the production quality is crap.

This brings me to point three of this excessively long piece of musical distress, the production on this album sound like someone made it with Garage Band. I take that back, someone could probably do better with Garage Band. There is too much awkward autotune, and zero balance between all the musical parts. The background vocals are terrible, and it’s upsetting that this kind of product came out of a group famous for a cappella. Okay, so I concede that the vocals themselves are good, and when they harmonize, they sound good. I’m just upset that the recording and processing quality was so bad.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvZMJxxdSzE]

“You’re” is the bad version of “소년의 편지 (Boy’s Letter).” You definitely get the same vibes from both songs, but the former spends too much time in generic, and kind of leaves a bad taste in the mouth when it ends. It also has that inexplicable rap that turns it into a mutation between a dime a dozen boy-band songs that try to be OST tracks and a dramatic ballad like “소년의 편지 (Boy’s Letter).” Le Sigh.

“Nine” probably has the most frustrating intros I have ever heard. BECAUSE IT’S OUT OF TUNE, YOOCHUN. JYJ, are you really being serious here? A perfectly decent song got ruined because Jaejoong decided that the only way to actually include Yoochun in a song was to make him sing in a register that he can’t reach. (Facepalming is very necessary here…and then you promptly realize how good Yunho actually was as a Baritone/Bass singer.) As basic as this song is, I actually like it. It’s an inoffensive song, and easy to find yourself singing to. I especially like the harmonies in “Nine.” They hit all the right feelings.

As for the last song “이름없는 노래 Part1 (Nameless Song Part1),” it’s better than what I thought a song of its nature could be. The rapping is passable, (2PM-esque) though I’m not going to waste my time calling Yoochun out on his incapacity to rap emotionally. He (and Yunho for that matter) are not meant to rap in the first place, and are not really pitted as rappers, not to mention that Yoochun isn’t bad enough to be upset about it. Junsu, on the other hand, sounds divine in the chorus section, and I am once again reminded why he’s one of the best singers in K-pop. As for Jaejoong, he can join Yoochun in the mediocre corner.

In Heaven_cover photo

I sound really negative throughout this “review” but I do still think that JYJ has potential. They obviously have good singers, and the music they write has hope. I’ve seen both good and terrible in this album, but fixating on the terrible is not going to negate the fact that there was some glimmers of ingenuity. JYJ has had ample time to start pulling together a better album, and I wish that it will be better than this one. That’s the least I can do for them.

It’s a shame to see such talent be wasted on underdeveloped self-compostions, though I don’t blame JYJ for trying. The members of JYJ want to be self-sufficient musicians, it’s easy to see, and I do admire them for that determination. As to whether they have enough practice to do that at the time of this album’s release is quite questionable. Sometimes you just have to accept that you don’t have the skills necessary at the moment to put out a work and expect a good response. JYJ seems to have not come to that conclusion as of yet.

What makes me hopeful for this upcoming album (whenever that may come out) is the signs of musical growth in Jaejoong’s I/Y mini and full album.  He has some pathetic numbers in there as well (“Kiss B” is an atrocity that will no longer be mentioned here,) though I think its clear he’s steadily improving. Jaejoong is starting to breathe some life into his works, and it’s great to see it.

I’m hanging on to faith in your talent JYJ,  don’t disappoint. In the meantime, I’ll keep listening to the fantastic The…

(CJES Entertainment, YouTube Uploaders)

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4 responses to “DBSK, A History: The Tragedy of JYJ’s “In Heaven”

  1. i do like in heaven. it’s just ’bout music taste,isn’t it?
    if this song is that bad, no way it’s on top of chart. even the album got sold in good number even without much promotion (i heard). well, it’s much different music compare to when they’re still in DBSk but i think it’s good song. oh btw i like 9095 to.

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  2. i disagreed with your time review but found this article spot on. i think jyj’s management as a whole is just exceedingly incompetent. there are tracks on this album that needed another run through the mill, and some that were incredibly sub-par. i know jaejoong and yoochun were the key composers in dbsk but they had guidance from people who have been in the business for decades… if you let them write songs without a proper screening process this album is what you get. they need better songwriters, better engineers and producers, better choreographers, and they need to show cjes the door.

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  3. i disagreed with your opinion .. honestly maybe u want to bash jyj right .. i don think that in heaven show their bad vocal .. i think ur ears is broken …

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re entitled to having your own opinion, but I’d respect a comment with explanations for that opinion far more than something that amounts to “JYJ is always perfect; therefore any negative opinion must be due to the incompetence of the reviewer.”

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