XX – Taeyang Rises & the Debut of Shinee
By May of 2008, I hadn’t heard much from Big Bang since the release of their “Hot Issue” album that had hits like “Last Farewell.” They were rarely seen on variety shows. With the exception of that Manwon Happiness that featured Seungri vs SNSD’s Yoona. So yeah…not much.
I had high hopes that Big Bang would rise up and dethrone DBSK. (see VII. Big Bang vs the Pretty Boys) but DBSK was still going strong in Japan, Shinhwa released their 9th album, Epik High dropped their timeless album “Pieces, Part One,” and Super Junior-M made an impact with their mandarin album “Me.”
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect or when. Back then, I hadn’t heard of websites like Allkpop where articles heralded the upcoming releases of your favorite artists. Back then, I relied on forums (that were clearly biased for SM Entertianment’s artists). This was back before agencies had their own Youtube page, as if they were watching and waiting to see if Youtube was just a fad like Myspace.
Then…all of the sudden, one of my favorite Youtube users uploaded this…
I couldn’t believe it. There were so many mixed emotions on a heightened scale that I was literally just awestruck for days. Straight-up fanboying. Essentially, YG Entertainment had released a solo mini-album for Taeyang called “Hot.” The released tracks were “Prayer”…and the highly successful track “Only Look At Me.”
One the one hand, I was super pissed about this. I feared that this would break up Big Bang as a group because it was showing favor and giving too much attention to a single member above the rest. This would be bad because there’s no way a solo artist would be able to take down DBSK. It just couldn’t happen.
On the other hand…if you are going to release an record singling out one member above the rest…THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT! YOU DO IT WELL!
When I first saw “Prayer,” I was like…who the eff is this? That’s Taeyang? The same guy with the mediocre vocals of “My Girl”? The same guy who was all shy and timid in that Big Bang documentary when they were trainees. The same guy who never had a girlfriend and wouldn’t know what to do if he approached a female? This guy?!
Shockingly impressive is the best way to describe it. It’s amazing how Taeyang was molded and evolved throughout the years to not only dance and perform at a higher level…but sing like the superstar he was destined to become.
Taeyang – “A Sinner”
You gotta give credit to YG in so many ways. Taeyang was polished as a complete package. Long gone were the days of braids and baggy clothes reminiscent of the early 2000s. Now, Taeyang became iconic for his oversize cap and faux-hawk that he’d carry and wear well for the next 7-8 years.
He’d consistently be considered as one of the best dancers in the industry, constantly compared to the likes of DBSK’s Yunho, Super Junior’s Eunhyuk, and even Bi (Rain). But I believe, what set Taeyang apart as a dancer was that he perfected the short-but-powerful technique, almost as if he’s krumping but it was controlled and premeditated.
And in Taeyang’s corner was a producer who knew well what it’s like to be in a group under YG’s label. Former 1TYM leader and reputed rapper, Teddy, already had experience as a producer by composing songs that appeared on some of YG’s early hits from YG Family albums as well as many tracks performed by Se7en. But with the release of Taeyang’s “Hot” mini-album…I think a lot of eyes were opened. Everyone had no choice but to recognize his talents because every track on this mini-album was amazing. It kept in the flavor YG was known for, the more hip-hop slant while providing a modern 2008-leaning synth.
It also introduced us to a gem of a producer named Kush who wrote, composed, and featured on the track “Make Love.”
Taeyang – “Make Love”
The impact of Taeyang’s “Hot” mini-album sent waves throughout the industry. No one need say anything, everyone knew. Shots were fired. A statement was made. Since when has a single member of an idol group or boyband released a solo project on their own, while the group was still together? Big Bang hadn’t disbanded. They were still a group. And yet, here we have Taeyang releasing tracks that were not only good commercially, but critically. He’d go on to win two trophies from the 6th Korean Music Awards for 2008 Best R&B song and best R&B album. This was a first for any boyband member.
So in the ongoing, unofficial war of Big Bang vs. DBSK, YG vs SM Entertainment…YG definitely won a significant battle. One had to ask, is there a member from DBSK who could do the same? Could Xiah or Yunho or Micky or Max or Hero release a solo project like this and receive such acclaim? Would SM Entertainment ever be so bold as to let them try it?
Honestly, I’ve pondered the notion. I think Xiah could stand a chance because of his one-of-a-kind vocals and the fact that his dancing ability was improving to the point where he could have given Yunho a run for his money. Check out this dance mix I found:
Like I said…I honestly believe Xiah could have done what Taeyang did. But the fact that Taeyang beat him to the punch and did it well, it’s something that can never be taken away. Thus, I think it’s fair to say…Taeyang owned May of 2008.
But if you think SM Entertainment was just going to take that lying down. You got another thing coming. Straight outta left field they debut a new boyband that’s unlike any other group they’ve ever done. For me, it just seemed kind of odd if I was a member of Super Junior. SM Entertainment already had DBSK as the reigning kings. Girls Generation was battling Wonder Girls for their thrones. Super Junior was still a hot contender but they hadn’t reached a level of prominence just yet. Now all the sudden, you’re debuting another boyband that’s doing music not typically associated with SM Entertainment.
When I first saw them, I already knew. This was SM Entertaiment’s answer to the rise of Big Bang. YG was known for its Hip Hop, R&B slant. But it’s not like YG owned the genre. Who’s to say SM couldn’t do what YG was doing and do it better. Challenge Accepted. And thus, we have Shinee.
Honestly…as much as I saw SM Entertainment as a rival to my favored YG…I couldn’t deny that Shinee had some talented dudes on their team. However, as with the way of SM (or the industry in general), instead of focusing on those super talented individuals, much of the focus at the time was given to the youngest member, Taemin, who was a superb dancer, don’t get me wrong. But really, what made Shinee a force to be reckoned with were the outstanding vocals of Jonghyun and Onew. They’re the first two singers, in their debut music video “Replay”.
When Shinee debuted, as expected, the ladies went crazy about them. And like I said, I couldn’t hate. Shinee had probably the best choreography I’ve ever seen from a kpop group’s debut. Notice, I said group. Not artists in general. Taeyang, Se7en, and Rain would still be in contention for that. But aside from Shinee, DBKS and Super Junior had stellar choreography.
And my beloved Big Bang, while awesome dancers…hahaha, even their fans, my fellow VIPS had to acknowledge that synchronized choreography wasn’t exactly their strong point at the time. T.O.P. was slower than the rest and the members in general didn’t seem to care if their dance was perfectly in sync. Thankfully, it worked for Big Bang. They had more than enough swagger and raw emotions conveyed through their performance to answer for their lack of synchronized dancing. The Japanese boygroup KAT-TUN is an example of a group it doesn’t work for. It just comes off as cringy unless you’re a hormone-raging teenage girl.
Anyways…“Replay” was one of the best debut songs I’d ever see from a Kpop group. But that’s usually a gift and a curse with new groups. If you drop fire with your first track, turning heads and making your stamp on the industry with a significant sound that made everyone fall for you in the first place…you gotta follow up with something better.
Sadly, their follow-up single, “Love Like Oxygen” just didn’t do it for me.
It was decent and I understand why other fans liked it. But part of me was hoping Shinee would give Big Bang a proper challenge. If you listened to “Replay,” you’d notice that the R&B vibe isn’t exactly a staple of SM Entertainment. I honestly thought that Shinee would be SM’s answer to the rising momentum of Big Bang. Instead, it seems Shinee would be their own thing. I wouldn’t even call them the successors of DBSK. I believe EXO would eventually have that honor. And that’s not to take away from Shinee at all. In fact, it just goes to show that SM Entertainment is capable of producing and promoting multiple superstar groups during the same era, a feat other labels would have some trouble with.