If you listen to Korean pop music often, you may find something interesting: So many boy groups sing songs in keys that are usually high for guys, and there are some times when the pitch flies all the way to a range where some girls even find it hard to reach. Here are some examples:
0330 by U-KISS
Hello by SHINee
이것만은 알고 가(Before U Go) by TVXQ
Mona Lisa by MBLAQ
And the recent release of Infinite’s new song Paradise is a perfect example:
Seems like there’s no place for basses and baritones in idol music world – basses and baritones all become rappers instead of main singers – take TOP from BigBang as an example: he’s good-looking, he sings well, but he just can’t be the main singer because he has a deep voice with relatively low voice range. So what’s with all those high keys and extremely high pitches? Do Asian boys just naturally have a higher range of voice? According to my observation on all kinds of Korean songs and other Asian country’s songs, that’s not the case – the reason is more commercial.
Let’s look at the market that boy group idols are aiming at. These idols try their best to maintain perfect hair, perfect smile, perfect skin, perfect body – in general, perfect appearance. These boy idols are aiming at pre-teenage, teenage and young adult girls! They try to appear as close to perfection as possible, behaving carefully to keep the “prince” image the industry labelled them. So when it comes music, of course these idols need to do something so that the fan girls can act in response when the fan girls are listening to them and therefore build up a “closer relationship” with them: Make the girls sing along with the song! Listening to a beautiful song keeps the song in a distant state of “art”, but singing with the song really brings the song alive to the listeners. To do this first they need a catchy melody, secondly easy lyrics, thirdly a steady tempo. But this is not enough – What if the girls feel like the key is too low? What if the key becomes awkward in such a way that singing neither original octave nor a octave above the original feels comfortable for the girls? Now you probably see my point. By building the whole song in a key range that’s comfortable for most of the girls, producers enable the song to be interactive. However, not every boy singer can sing in such a pitch – that’s why only those who can sing high become main vocals, and those who can’t, or don’t sound as good when singing high, have to step backwards and become second singers, rappers and else.
This step may sound very easy, but it is exactly this little simple, or even seemingly
unimportant, “trick” that pushes the Korean boy groups higher and higher: fans sing loudly with the boys at live, girls do covers of songs using original instrumentals without much trouble, and even those who originally don’t adore the boy idols can slowly get converted by the easy-to-sing songs in addition to these idols’ perfect image. As a result more and more albums, posters, photo albums are sold, and more and more people buy tickets to go to the idols’ concerts. In some way, the high keys and pitches attribute largely to the prosperity of Korean boy idol industry.
Of course, basses and baritones still make great artists by singing songs in low keys. These songs are not necessarily maturer, or less idolistic, but usually these songs don’t come in as “group songs”, instead they are promoted as work of individual singers, or solo songs by a certain member in the group.
The choice on pitches can’t be judged as “better” than one another, but certainly these high pitches characterize the Korean boy idol industry.