Unappreciated Singers: Equality Of Line Distribution In K-pop Songs

bigbang line equality

BIGBANG finished off their “MADE” series two weeks ago with their latest singles, “Let’s Not Fall In Love” and “Zutter” (G-Dragon & T.O.P). As usual, they achieved international success in both album and digital sales. Amidst the rave reviews for the songs though, netizens and VIPs (BIGBANG fans) were quick to point out the inequality in the line distributions, especially for “Let’s Not Fall In Love”. This issue is not a new one in the world of K-pop or even for BIGBANG, but the fact that G-Dragon & T.O.P had a single of their own this time around highlighted how the other vocalists in the group (namely Daesung and Seungri) are seemingly unfairly treated.

The accusations are not unfounded, “Let’s Not Fall In Love” is indeed dominated by the other three members and Daesung and Seungri have a mere three lines each. They also seem to get the short end of the stick in their first single of 2015, “Bae Bae”, with their meagre number of lines. Why are the members constantly short changed in this manner? To say that their voices simply do not fit the mood and emotion of the songs seems a bit far-fetched to me, especially since this pattern can be seen in several of their releases. They certainly are not lacking in terms of their vocal ability either, as their successful solo debuts in both Japan and Korea can prove.

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You may wonder why line distribution is such a big deal to netizens and artists, but the number of lines a member gets is almost directly proportional to the amount of screentime he receives on music shows or television broadcast performances. With more lines he is able to showcase more of himself, which at times can be integral to an artist’s ego and individual growth. When a member gets more lines, he also has more pressure to perform well and up to standard, which will automatically result in him practicing more and consistently improving himself.

INFINITE’s L is the living example of that. Back in the “The Chaser” days, he used to get a mere two lines in the entire song and as a result his vocal abilities remained rather stagnant. In the past few years however, his parts in each release have gotten longer, and he was even given the opportunity to be a lead vocal for his subunit INFINITE F. His confidence in singing has obviously grown by leaps and bounds and his improvements can be seen and heard.

(Skip to 3:30 for his high note)

Equal line distribution maintains a balance between the members and their unique abilities in the song. In BIGBANG’s case especially, every member brings something different to every song that they sing. For example, T.O.P’s speciality is his deep voice, which makes him a very charismatic rapper and singer. Classic BIGBANG releases such as “Haru Haru” would definitely be very different without his low accompaniments and raps.

via youngbaebae on tumblr

However, members such as Seungri and Daesung also have their own charms which remain a big part to BIGBANG releases. Take for example BIGBANG’s “Loser”, which was released along with “Bae Bae” earlier this year. Seungri and T.O.P sang the chorus together, and his higher voice contrasted nicely with T.O.P’s voice, creating a perfect balance in the song. This balance was lost in “Let’s Not Fall In Love” however, where G-Dragon sang the chorus of the song. Although G-Dragon certainly has the vocal techniques to pull this off, he sang it in a rather low key and flat manner, causing the chorus to sound rather boring as compared to the rest of the song. T.O.P did the same thing in the later chorus as well, although Taeyang’s high notes and ad-libs were brought in towards the end. If Seungri had sung along with them, just like he did in “Loser”, I have no doubt that the resulting effect would be very different. Seungri’s voice may not be as polished or smooth as Taeyang’s and G-Dragon’s voices, but it is melodious and projects a certain calm that the other members don’t seem to possess. In his quiet ways, he is enhancing the songs through every part that he has.

Just like Seungri, Daesung’s voice is unique and instrumental to BIGBANG songs, even if he is often underappreciated. As a soloist, he is also very famous in Japan, so it’s a pity that he isn’t given more lines. His style of singing might not be popular in a mainstream sense, but there is no doubt that he sings with all of his heart. Every note is interjected with tons of emotion, and he sings with more feeling than anyone else in the group, no matter how small his part. “Loser” just wouldn’t be as melancholic and passionate without his heart-wrenching vocals, and Daesung makes up for the lack of emotion that is sometimes evident in the parts of his group mates (i.e T.O.P).

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Maybe it’s a YG Entertainment thing, but BIGBANG’s labelmates 2NE1 also face this problem. Despite the fact that there are only four members in the group, the lines of their songs have always been extremely skewed towards CL and Park Bom. Dara, on the other hand, never gets more than ten lines in a song and at times, and occasionally even gets only two lines. It is a well-known fact that Dara’s weak vocals do not match up to her groupmates, and even in her small number of lines her voice is almost always heavily edited. However, I still believe that Dara can bring something special to 2NE1’s songs, if her voice is used in the right way. Although her voice is soft, it is also sweet, and she can comfortably balance the rough and loud edges CL sometimes brings in her voice, adding more emotion and depth to the songs.

This skewed line distribution does not just affect the member with the least lines, it also places a heavy burden on the other members who are given more lines, especially in small groups like 2NE1. “If I Were You”, a track from 2NE1’s 2014 release, “Crush”, is a good example of this. CL ends off the ballad in a quiet and emotional way, and it sounds fine in the track, but not so in live performances. During 2NE1’s performance on “Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook,” CL was out of breath by the time she reached the end of the song, and understandably so, because she had to carry several high and long notes throughout the song. This unfortunately lessened the sadness and emotion of this piece. If Dara was the one singing this portion (she only got about one line in the whole song), CL wouldn’t have had to exert herself so much in the performance and Dara would have been able to nail it with her gentle vocals.

(Skip to 3:11 for the ending)

I’m not criticizing BIGBANG or YG for the unfair line distributions because many other K-pop groups also face these problems (especially big groups such as EXO and Girls’ Generation). However, I do believe that each member (this applies to every music group out there) has a special part to play, and if their talents are harnessed properly, the group will be able to create music like never before – music that can highlight every single member’s strengths.