Listen to the song here: http://www.xiami.com/song/detail/id/1769575084*
I have always been fascinated with classic instruments (string instruments such as violins and cellos especially), and the mix of orchestral and pop music is definitely one of my favorite music style of all time – “No More Pain” by Kat-tun, a Japanese boy band, is among these songs.
However, “No More Pain” isn’t just another orchestra+pop song that just uses the strings to add an extra effect. Instead, the orchestral part of the song plays a very important role building up the whole song, and the arrangement of the orchestra music is just as delicate as the arrangement of the pop part if not better. In other words, the classic music element in “No More Pain” is very well made.
The intro is pure orchestral with a rich melody. Starting with harp and piano with soft strings at the back, the intro first misleads the listeners to think that “Oh, this is a peaceful song” in the first few seconds; as the strings crescendos, cellos and brass-wind instruments come dominant with a melody in minor scale, the listeners experience the quick but not abrupt change of emotion from peaceful to somber. However, the continuous harp and piano shines “sunlight” through the “thick dark clouds” that the cellos create, adding the feeling of hope. Then the bell rings, drums start to beat – the emotion changes once again into a glorious, heavy, or even destined state; the chorus at the back creates a resonance and brings the glorious state higher, and the song thus steps into the first verse. Within this 50 seconds, the song has already played with the emotion and melody using plenty of layers and flows of the instruments, and these layers brush on one by one, building up the song’s overall (destined, powerful, and appealing) emotional state and music style . The intro is a bit long for a pop song, however, if we look into what the intro has done for the song, we should realize that it’s an extremely concentrated intro with solid development.
Throughout the song, the orchestral music stays for the whole song as major instrumental (besides the slight guitar and electrical sound effect that builds the tempo and blends the pop style in). The vocal melody, however, stays perfectly modern. Rapping, B-box, autotune, and conventional singing… All these pop elements are mixed into the vocal melody, creating a clashing yet great effect along with the orchestral instrumental.
So what’s with the “Kat-tun Style” that I mentioned in the title? Let me explain bit by bit: Usually idols and non-original singers just sing what’s given to them, however, Kat-tun likes playing with the songs, tuning them into what they are like. The original arrangement of the song is a lot simpler than what we are listening to right now – most of the vocal effects in this song are created by the Kat-tun members impromptu when recording the song. For example, the fancy rapping lyrics and tempo for the rapping are all writen by the rapper Koki Tanaka (田中 聖) while he’s waiting for his turn to record outside of the recording room, and he suggested to make a vocal shifting between left and right track at the beginning of the rapping; the harmony and the extra yelling are ideas of Tatsuya Ueda (上田竜也); Kamenashi Kazuya (亀梨和也) gave the idea of the autotune; Yuichi Nakamaru (中丸雄一) came up with the B-Box impromptu. This process of rearrangement at the stake has become the “Kat-tun Style” that the characterizes Kat-tun. And the finished work of “No More Pain” definitely shows the advantage of the “Kat-tun Style” – it makes the style of the song more significant, blending lots of pop elements into the orchestral instrumental.
You may think: these guys don’t sound really skilled in singing – they can’t get the emotion right, they sound flat, and their voices even sound like squeezing!
Yes, from the years that I listen to Japanese pop songs, I do find a trait that lots of Japanese singers – especially male singers – have: their voices don’t sound very clear or “tall”. Rather, they sound flat and they even come with awkward sliding in keys when reaching a high or low pitch: this characteristic would definitely be considered as a lack of singing skills in other places – even in nearby Asian countries. However, for some reason, these singers are never blamed in Japanese pop industry, and the disadvantage of the “singing skill” never stopped groups like Arashi (嵐), NewS and Kat-tun from winning the 1st place on Oricon, the most important music ranking chart, over and over. This situation is hard to explain (sorry I am not Japanese), and the only guess I can give is that the Japanese language itself makes the funky effect of the voices when someone sings. If you listen closely, you may figure out that these Japanese singers’ voices are not completely emotionless – in fact, they are pretty emotional in terms of tones, turns and forces. It’s just that it sounds so different from what we are used to that we don’t recognize the emotion. But do the voices really sound different and better to Japanese people? I have no idea. Therefore when I look into Japanese pop music, I tend to ignore the voices of the singers instead of delving deep into it like what I tend to do with Korean music (voices with emotion is the SOUL of Korean ballads!). Also, I think this should be something that new Jpop listeners should be aware of – it’s been a general characteristic for Japanese (male) singers, just relax, don’t freak out about it. 🙂
Overall, ignoring the vocal skills of the boys, “No More Pain” is an excellent work: the orchestral part is delicate, and the vocal melody and arrangement are still very modern, which prevent the song from becoming too gothic or alternative.
For lyrics and English translation, click here.
* Due to copyright, I can’t find videos on youtube or google that can be embedded (there are a few videos on Youtube, but they are usually deleted soon after uploaded). In order to give you the permanently available video, I choose to link an audio on a Chinese website (which isn’t supported by WorldPress), so sorry for the extra clicking and troublesome windows. 🙂 Also, I chose not to link the video because the MV has extra parts that actually ruins the orchestra sound effect in the intro. If you would like to see the MV, click here.