Hyo Sung, BESTie & the Hook in K-Pop

Hyo Sung
The hook is what makes a pop song so catchy, particularly K-pop songs. They are the part that we remember the most. They literally hook us into liking a song. They are the ‘gee gee gee gee’ or the ‘sorry sorry sorry.” Those are quite obvious examples of hooks though, but right now I want to look at how some artists use them in more interesting ways. For this we are going to look at two May releases, Jeon Hyo Sung’s ‘‘Into You’’ which has no hook at all and BESTie’s ‘‘Excuse Me’’ which delays its hook for a lot longer than usual.

The reason I’m returning to these two after two months is that I realized that they are two of the best songs of the summer yet have been kind of forgotten. And I never wrote about them when they came out, even though I loved them both.

On first listen, Hyo Sung’s second solo single ‘‘Into You’’ comes across as uneventful and dull. Compared to her first song ‘‘Goodnight Kiss’’ it seems lacking; this is probably why ‘‘Into You’’ didn’t sell as well as its predecessor either. This is because it forgoes a hook in favour of a more slick type of production. It’s a production that warrants many repeated listens before being fully appreciated. But why risk losing sales for something that could easily have been boring?

For me, it all comes together with the music video and live performance. The dreamy groove of the song and Hyo Sung’s breathy voice create an extremely sexual song. Coupling this with the video, we see something that is completely attuned to the sexy concept. Despite the fact that she denied it, Hyo Sung’s whole marketing efforts seem to focus on her body. So often sexy concepts are built only around visuals with the music taking a back seat. It comes across as pandering rather than a genuine attempt at being sexy.

 Also on KultScene: Fantasy Vs. Reality Performances To See At KCON NY 2015

Breaking up the flow of the song with a massive hook would have suggested something bigger than what the song is trying to do. The way it is now, Hyo Sung can perform without making too brash a change in her vocal or body movements (which are in fact the most important part of the performance,) that could disrupt the sexy energy. The transition from pre-chorus to chorus happens so seamlessly that it’s hardly noticeable. This especially makes it feel like something is missing on first listen. As it grows on you though, you realize that by not highlighting one specific part, Hyo Sung’s highlights the whole song.

Another reason it works is that each part of the song sounds quite similar. The sax and synth combo are retained for most of the song and really holds it together. By not creating any contrast between verses and pre-choruses, no big pay off is expected in the chorus. Clashing different tones usually ends up in something else coming out of it. That is something that K-pop does extremely well, but here it is not needed. The hook would usually be a synthesis of preceding tones. ‘‘Into You’’ does not do this though, which allows it to get away with not having a hook.

BESTie’s ‘Excuse Me’’ is a song that does this and does it extremely well.

 Also on KultScene: INFINITE’s ‘Reality’ Album Review

‘‘Excuse Me’’ starts off as a pretty fun track that’s refreshingly devoid of any electronic elements. After a while though, you begin to realize that a chorus has not yet happened and that this feels quite strange. The song cycles through a number of different parts including the standard verse, a chanting mid-verse(?) and two parts that could pass as pre-choruses. They feature blasting horns, powerful vocals and rapping. There seems to be so many disparate elements leading to nothing. That is until 1 minute and 10 seconds into the song, when the massive pay-off hook boldly announces itself. To compare that to other recent songs, Sistar’s ‘‘Shake It’’ takes 40 seconds to reach its hooks and even the totally weird ‘‘Ah Yeah’’ by EXID introduces its ‘Ah Yeah’ hook right at the beginning and reaches its chorus by 55 seconds. 20-40 seconds longer than usual may not seem that significant but this is pop music where time and attention is precious.

‘‘Excuse Me’’ grabs attention by its strange structure. Without noticing it, you begin to question the song. Stimulating thought is not something pop music usually likes to do. A listener is supposed to feel comfortable in the familiar patterns. Here, the pattern is thrown in our face as we wait and wait for that hook.

The main reason that this all works out though is because of just how good of a hook it is. This is thanks to U-Ji’s huge voice, which I think is one of the best in K-pop right now. Along with her vocals, the tempo ramps right up and the energy levels increase. It’s a catastrophically good chorus that turns a song on its head without a moment’s notice.

If BESTie had not delivered this and gone the Hyo Sung route of having no hook, ‘‘Excuse Me’’ would not have worked at all. The many juggling parts of this song had to create something bigger than themselves at some stage. Otherwise it would have been a mess. I know a lot of K-pop songs can sound mess but like this they always have something pulling them together. Like Girls’ Generation’s ‘oh oh way ohs..’ in ‘‘I Got A Boy’’ or like B.A.P’s choruses in ‘‘Hurricane’’ and ‘‘Badman’’. These binding factors allow groups to go really far leftfield with their songs. BESTie have shown that an audience can wait longer than usual for that satisfying hook kick.

The range of ways which K-pop can deliver new material seems infinite. Hyo Sung and BESTie have shown two interesting ways of changing up standard songs. By doing this they create not only something unique but songs that provokes a reaction.

What do you think of these two songs? Is there any other songs you think have interesting hooks? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.