The Fangirl Adventure Log

[series] 116 Reasons to Love Byung Hee: #10 ~ Undercover Cover Lover

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When you wake one morning and realize all you want to do is sing, you hear music in everything. I have a feeling this is exactly what G.O felt when that realization hit. From that point on, he most likely became an ardent student of music. And although it was no doubt he was hearing his own compositions in his head and perhaps keeping a journal of poetry that would transform into lyrics, the first songs he sang were probably the songs of other artists. For G.O, I suspect the songs he sang in those early days were his guide and his lessons, and the artists themselves, his mentors and his teachers. It is no wonder then he would ultimately pay homage to them by covering those songs that guided him to become the incredible vocalist he is today. The beauty of his education, however, is that he did not limit himself to the songs of Korean artists. His deep respect for music (all music) and his choice to cover many songs that were sung in a language foreign to him (English) are valid and honorable reasons to continue to love this amazing man.

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What impresses me the most about G.O’s early music education are the mentors he chose as his guides when he ambitiously set out to make a career for himself as a musician. A young kid from Changwon hearing the beauty in melody, feeling the emotion in lyrics and then absorbing such to then interpret the likes of Eric Benét, Brian McKnight, Skylark, and legends such as The Carpenters and Stevie Wonder, surpasses a simple appreciation of music. It is the essence of an intelligence that he so quietly possesses and uses to show us that he is much more than your average vocalist.

From his early days with Tykeys up until January of this very year, G.O has covered many western R&B and pop songs, and has done so with expertise. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then G.O understood that concept well. However, because he feels music so deeply, he wasn’t just imitating the vocal owners of those songs. No, he was integrating his own musical DNA with the melodies and lyrics producing renditions that move far beyond mere imitation.

The Beginning

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I will never EVER tire of listening to Tykeys. The dynamic G.O had with both leader Baek Soo Kyung and rapper, Kim Hyun Jung was pure gold. But, having soulful R&B artist Lee Jung mentor and co-produce their first and only album Ty Project No. 1, proved to have a magic all of its own. One of G.O’s early covers was of the sweeping and gorgeous If I Ain’t Got You. Covering the likes of Alicia Keys is bold and courageous – but when you have the vocal power of G.O and Soo along with the musical talent of Lee Jung to back you, the outcome is nothing short of amazing.

Here, in a gritty self-cam, G.O, Soo and Lee Jung nearly blow the room apart with their rehearsal of the song prior to a live appearance. Sitting calmly, trying to contain the emotion, the powerhouse duo with their producer, pay homage to both the song, the artist and the entire R&B genre. It’s raw and perfect.

Bringing the song to the live stage was even better:

Eric Benét must have been on G.O’s music radar for a long time as for when choosing an artist to cover, G.O returned over and over to Benét and went on to cover Benét’s songs more than once. I think it is because Benét, much like G.O, fits into a music genre coined and known as neo soul. This is perhaps a distinct, clear and concise way to describe the type of vocalist G.O truly is.

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Neo Soul emerged in the late 1990s to describe a style of music that was born out of the smooth and sensual marriage of soul and contemporary R&B. There truly is no better way to describe what Lee Jung was creating with Tykeys in 2007 and G.O definitely found a home in that genre as if it were created, structured and molded just for him.

Here our neo soul machine covers Eric Benét’s The Last Time,

I think, however, the iconic Benét song that most every G.O fan (and perhaps non-fan alike) will forever connect him to is Hurricane. There must be something so special in this song be it the lyrics, melody, emotion, or perhaps story, that speaks so deeply to G.O ~ so deep that it is simply beyond the scope of anything we could even remotely begin to comprehend.

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In 2007, Tykeys debuted and with that a showcase to introduce the world to their brand of Korean neo soul. G.O (then Jang Goon) took center stage, alone, and blessed the audience with his passionate rendition of Benét’s gorgeous ballad of weathering the storms of life and love. If I were in the audience that evening, I would have discovered my bias at that very moment and most assuredly, I would have known I witnessed the birth of a star.

With artists such as Usher and Justin Timberlake inspiring an entire league of up and coming Korean artists, it was Ne-Yo who seemed to have capture G.O’s discerning ear. Covering Ne-Yo’s So Sick may appear on the surface to be mainstream and cliché. Not so with G.O I would think. The songs he consistently chose to cover from his Tykeys days through the present may have been blockbuster top ten songs in their own right, but they all still shared a common thread that seems to be a prerequisite for a song if it wants to agree with G.O’s musical palate: it needed structure, melody and emotion.

Inasmuch as the foregoing are all amazing examples of G.O’s incredible ability to take a song, recycle it and make it his own, it has to be his cover of Stevie Wonder’s Lately that completely spins me off my proverbial axis. I recall reading an early interview with G.O shortly after his debut with MBLAQ. He was asked, ‘what was the first album you bought on your own?’ He answered, ‘a Stevie Wonder album.’ There was no indication which album it was or at what age he made the purchase. The fact that it was a Stevie Wonder album, however, speaks volumes of the musical acuity he possessed from the start.

In this matter-of-fact recording studio performance, he just eases his way into Stevie’s song like he was the one who wrote it and recorded it in the first place.

The way he feels music . . . it is just too, well, I can’t describe it because the feeling cannot be described in mere words. In fact, it is probably much more than just feeling, it is a sensation.

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The Middle

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Imagine you have just debuted a second time with your second your group in a span of five years and then your mentor takes you to his fan meeting and puts you on his stage to sing a Western song in front of his fans. Yes, something like this may be daunting for the average every day debuting artist but for G.O it was a cakewalk. Perhaps it was because he went through the training mill twice, and had such an amazing god-given gift that it was so effortless for him to step onto Rain’s stage and perform. Covering Maroon 5’s This Love was his first cover with his new MBLAQ bandmates, Seung Ho and Thunder.

I have to believe that Rain had more than just a simple casual confidence in his newly debuted group to put them on his stage and have them sing a Western song in English. I am trying to scan my brain to remember if Rain himself ever stepped on stage and sang a song in English. Not sure if he has – but on November 6, 2009 (G.O’s 22nd birthday – or 23rd, if we are talking Korean birthday) his protégées did and did so effortlessly.

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Then, on December 9, 2009, MBLAQ appeared on the SBS music program, Live Session, and the trio of Seung Ho, G.O and Thunder returned to give us yet another taste of This Love. This time, it felt tighter and they appeared more relaxed in the song.

The 87-Line settles well into the pop jazz feel of this song easily. The fact that they added some rap into the mix gave the otherwise lithe and lively pop song some edge and street cred. G.O truly is a master at his craft. There is such a beauty (to me, anyway) in the way he seems to effortlessly drop his voice into any situation, alongside any other vocalist, and just have that voice bend and shape itself not only to the melody and lyrics of the song, but to the tone and timbre of the other voices that join him in the song. To me, this is a mark of a remarkably gifted artist who knows and trusts the very instrument of his own voice.

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As a newly debuted group, MBLAQ saw themselves visiting the many radio studios throughout Seoul trading barbs with the disc jockeys vying for time with Rain’s magnificent five.  On November 5, 2009, three weeks after their debut, MBLAQ visited the MBC Dream Radio studios and G.O paid his respects to Stevie Wonder by covering the gentle All In Love Is Fair.  Oh this man’s voice. I love the fact that G.O digs deep into his mentors’ song banks and finds those songs that speak to him personally. I love that he has such a strong penchant for the melodic, and often melancholic in music. Watching him sing these ballads is as equally profound as simply listening to him. As the music moves through him we can watch how the lyrics carve their way into his heart and soul and leave their mark. I love the way music moves through him.

When MBLAQ showed up on Maybee’s Volume Up on April 9, 2010, G.O pulled some Brian McKnight out of his cover repertoire and gave the audience a little more reason to sit up and listen. I mean what 23 year old Korean artist is going to walk into a Seoul radio station and sing Brian McKnight???!!

G.O, that’s who. Here, in an audio capture only, he sings McKnight’s soulful ballad, One Last Cry:

In-station radio appearances were commonplace for groups (and still are) and MBLAQ made the rounds voraciously. Where variety show appearances followed script and had a more regimented programming, radio station appearances/broadcast were a little more impromptu and relaxed. It was here where fans were able to see (and hear) the group natural and unscripted. And as for G.O, it gave him plenty of opportunity to showcase his vocal prowess as well as his eclectic repertoire of songs stored in his music bank.

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In what was clearly a sound check preceding a live performance (perhaps some time in early 2010), G.O tested the stage, the sound and the ambiance with the incredible and iconic Superstar. Personally, I never thought anyone could sing the song better than its originators, The Carpenters. In 1984, R&B artist, the late Luther Vandross, brought his own soulful flair to the song. Perhaps this was G.O’s first introduction to the melodic love song and it resonated. Sometimes I feel that this uncontrollable connect I have to this young man lies in the fact that although he was born in the late 1980’s, his musical soul lived decades before. Is it wrong for a fan to have a dream of abducting him only to spend a couple of hours in a norebang singing our way through various R&B selections from the 1970’s? Would that be a crime????!^^

As MBLAQ’s popularity continued to grow, so did their fandom. On the eve of the release of their first studio album, Blaq Style, they held their first fan meet. I suppose this was probably where the ‘solo stage’ was born for this is most likely where G.O brought Skylark’s Wildflower to A+ for the first time. There is just something about this song that I feel speaks to him so very much.

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A gentle and emotional ballad, Wildflower was written in 1972 and covered often following its original release. There was something soulful in it that R&B groups New Birth and The O’Jays recognized and covered it. And then, in the 1990’s,  it was covered by contemporary R&B group, Color Me Badd. I am not sure which rendition caught G.O’s attention, but the song made its mark on him and he, in turn, made his mark on us, when he covered it.

Although his journey to becoming a premier vocal artist may have been paved with bumps and curves, and at times sprinkled with setbacks and/or disappointment, the songs G.O carried deep inside him were perhaps his salvation or his impetus to keep moving forward. These songs were old friends. So it was no surprise to see him reprise some of those songs when he journeyed from Tykeys to MBLAQ. Here, along with his 87-Line brother, Seung Ho, he once again covers Stevie Wonder’s Lately in a 2010 MNET radio show performance and does so at his gentlest best. Oh my…..

In February 2011, the trio of Seung Ho, G.O and Thunder once again brought their energetic rendition of Maroon 5’s This Love to the MBC Icon stage complete with a live band and it lit the place up! It is amazing that in little over a year’s time, you can really sense the cohesiveness that was taking shape with the members of MBLAQ.

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Thinking back to the debut stage at Rain’s fan meeting and how these three covered this song and did it well, it is evident from this MBC performance that they were even more comfortable, not only with the song itself, but with each other.

The talent quotient of MBLAQ both collectively and individually is matched abundantly by their overwhelming charisma. I don’t even want to begin discussing how that charisma just oozes from G.O in this performance. I will just share some screen shots and then move on.^^

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I don’t think I am exaggerating in the least bit. ^.~

Also in February of 2011, G.O once again revisited Wildflower with this impromptu performance in the KBS Cool FM radio studios.

This song. This song. This song. This song. THIS MAN. If I am ever in the position to sit down and interview G.O, I am going to ask him about this song. I am so curious as to how he came to know about it and why it seems to resonant with him like it does. There is a depth and emotion he brings to his interpretation that is magical.

The same holds true for Hurricane.

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In a March 2012 appearance on MBC’s Icon program, G.O with Seung Ho accompanying him on the piano, poured his gentle and soulful heart into Eric Benét’s Hurricane once again. Here in just a mere 1:37 clip of the performance, it is evident that this song continued to ring every bit as powerful for G.O at that moment as it did back on that hazy Tykeys showcase stage in 2007. But here, we feel how much more the song has settled in. The rhapsodic melody colliding with the emotional lyrics that have churned inside of him for so long continued to ripen and mature. On the stage that evening, it simply exploded from him.

I have often felt (and I know I have said this before) that once a song becomes integrated with G.O’s DNA, he surrenders to its will. The story needs to be told. The song must be sung.

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During MBLAQ’s 2012 Asia tour, G.O pulled another Eric Benét hit from his cover treasure chest and gave fans his gentle rendition of Cracks of My Broken Heart. If G.O were ever to decide to record a CD of English covers, I am certain this one would make the track list.

G.O treats his voice as if it were a tangible musical instrument. What I mean is, you can pick up a guitar and strum it. You can press the keys of a piano or hit the skin of a drum. You can physically touch each one of these instruments and sound emerges. But with the voice it is different. The voice is a product of air flow and pressure. Air pressure causes the vocal chords to vibrate and sound is born. You cannot see it. You cannot touch it. But you certainly can feel it.

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G.O sings a song like a pianist plays a concerto. Every note has its place and meaning. Every crescendo and diminuendo necessary. This is perhaps why he often chooses to sing songs that are awash with melody and rich with texture. His voice touches each note with purpose and meaning.

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If by now you are not in complete agreement with me that G.O is incredibly musically diverse, this will surely convince you. Also, if you still hesitate at believing that he can sing just about anything placed before him, let’s take a moment to listen (and WATCH) him go all Ricky Martin style at Music Bank Chile with Livin’ La Vida Loca.

Sometimes, I just cannot with this man!!!! So much swag, right?!! When I hear G.O sing in a lower register like in the opening of Vida Loca, I really want to hear more. There is a simmering reverberation to his voice that purrs like an engine. It is velvety and rich.

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In June 2013, MBLAQ appeared on Mnet’s Beatles Code and G.O, quietly with sincere emotion, gifted the hosts and guests of the program that day with a taste of Superstar. Oh.The.Feels.

 

Inasmuch as G.O can choose to sing anything, I really appreciate that he seems to choose songs that hold meaning for him. Because if there is one thing I have learned watching G.O perform and listening to him sing, it is that he operates from a very honest and genuine place. I don’t think he would sing a song just for the sake of singing it. No, there has to be more to it. There must be. And he really proved that to me when he covered Javier Colon’s Song For Your Tears.

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Sometimes there are simply no words to describe the feeling of watching your favorite vocalist journey deep into the most fragile parts of his soul where he then renders himself vulnerable and helpless to the depth and power of a song. Watching G.O perform Song For Your Tears is one of those songs and it is both heart wrenching and magnificent to behold.

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If you ever wanted to listen (and watch) an artist completely surrender and lose himself to a song, this is the one. When G.O begins to sing the story of this song, you hear the sadness in it from the outset. As the song builds and grows, that sadness turns to agony until finally nothing is left, not even hope. This song rips me apart every single time I hear it. Remember earlier in this post I mentioned that it is difficult to describe the feeling or try to explain or understand the way G.O feels music because it is more than just feeling? THIS song is a perfect example of that which is unexplainable.

I suppose it was apropos that G.O chose this particular song for his solo stage for the Sensation tour because I would venture to say that after experiencing this performance up close and live, many in the audience were left a bit stunned and in awe at the raw power and sensation he saturated the stage with. I am confident those sensations were many and they lingered long after the final note was sung.

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Raw. Powerful. Sensational. And yet at the same time, remarkably tender. Yes, this is G.O.

The Now

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When MBLAQ stepped on the stage as a five member group in late November 2014, they performed two full hours of their biggest hits and fan favorites. There were no solo stages at either Curtain Call shows. Those two evenings were all about MBLAQ as a group. Still, it would have been interesting to see what song or songs G.O would have pulled from his music bank to share if there had been solo stages on those evenings.

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After the departure of Lee Joon and Cheondung from the group, it has now been well-reported that the three remaining members of MBLAQ were pretty much devastated. The thought of G.O stepping out into the public and onto a stage alone to perform during such a difficult time so very soon after that news broke would be very courageous. But that is exactly what he did when he appeared at the Big Happy concert in Gimhae on January 16, 2015.

It was his first stage of the new year and he would stand on it alone without his MBLAQ brothers.

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Although he may have been hurting at this time, he still managed to perform what has definitely become one of his quintessential and standard covers, Wildflower. And, he performed it beautifully.

When I look back at this performance now, however, after getting a little back history on the difficult time he, Seung Ho and Mir were having adjusting to the realization that they would continue on as a trio, I do sense a gentle nervousness to G.O as he took the stage. The way he often looked up into the ceiling above, his eyes almost pleading for guidance, strength and reassurance. No matter how difficult the times were for him at that moment, there were two things that were most assuredly evident: his never wavering professionalism and, his never faltering and beautiful voice.

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Final Thoughts

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Out of all the English songs G.O has covered, it is difficult for me to choose a favorite. Much like him, I do find myself returning over and over again to Wildflower and Hurricane.

Wildflower has a beauty and relevance that is timeless and is a ballad that was written from the true heart of a poet. In my opinion, it would take a poet of equal ilk and gentleness indeed to interpret the delicate symbolism of praising (and loving) a woman who has weathered hardship with the strength and fortitude like a flower growing in the wild.

Hurricane sits so perfectly in the neo soul zone of G.O’s heart. Soulful and emotional, it has all of the right elements for a vocalist of G.O’s caliber and like Wildflower, it is melodic and emotional. It invites our vocal poet to dig deep and unleash a fury, a storm of passion. Both songs in and of themselves are musically sound but also allow for artist interpretation and G.O always brings his very own style and grace to each.

I think I understand a little bit as to why these two particular songs might resonate with G.O so very much. In Wildflower for example, if he were to change it up and sing the song from a first person perspective, singing as if it were about himself, think about it for a second…..and read how the opening verse would then sound:

I’ve faced the hardest time you could imagine
And many times my eyes fought back the tears.
And when my youthful world was about to fall in
Each time my slender shoulders bore the weight of all my fears,
And a sorrow no one hears still rings in midnight silence, in my ears. . .

Ok, so granted we would definitely have to change that shoulder part to read “my broad shoulders. . .” because his shoulders are nowhere near slender. But I think you get my drift here.

Hurricane is even more powerful.

Standing here in disarray
A calm serenity
The winds of change can devastate
And it took this much for me

* * *

Sometimes what you fear the most is what you need
To find that road
Right around that curve a lesson learned
Now that I have the eyes to see 

A hurricane, a hurricane, yeah
Is sometimes the only way to wash away the pain
A hurricane, a hurricane, yeah
Is sometimes the only thing that brings you back again

I came across a post from the Tykeys fancafe wherein some happy news was being shared after some time: a solo album. In a message titled “JANGGOON 솔로앨범” on November 7, 2007, just one day after G.O’s 20th (or 21st) birthday, there was some very exciting information about that very solo album in the works, along with a reminder for everyone to please mind their health as the weather was turning cold.

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Oh….so….sweet!♥

Well, that solo album never happened. In fact, shortly after this, the proverbial rug was pulled out from under his feet when Ty Entertainment folded, Tykeys disbanded, and everything came to a screeching halt in way of his career. This amazing and talented man knows a few things about facing the hardest time you could imagine, and a lot about how the winds of change can devastate. He has been through it, and now more than once.

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G.O possesses a sincere and intelligent depth and understanding of music. Therefore, the songs he has covered (I believe) are meticulously chosen. Likewise, the songs he himself has composed are never thrown together without contemplation, sincerity and…..love. It is his absolute respect for music that is one of the many facets of what makes him so incredibly attractive to me. And his thoughtful choices of songs he has covered over the years are proof that his respect is exceptionally well-placed and comes  from the depths of his pure, honest and tender heart.

Yes, yet another reason to love this gifted music man.

[Image/Video credit: As tagged or property of their respective owners and used for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.]

 

Author: Michele

Travel junkie, veganista, and purveyor of random acts of kindness. I happen to really adore G.O of MBLAQ and his presence here is very strong. That about sums me up!

4 thoughts on “[series] 116 Reasons to Love Byung Hee: #10 ~ Undercover Cover Lover

  1. I’ve probably been following your blog for a year or more now… and felt I had to finally post a reply. I am a Cloud (Rain Fan) and Eel (Jang Keun Suk Fan)… and though I do love MBLAQ. (I am not officially A+).. Honestly, it is pretty much all about G.O. for me. LOL
    I am going to re-read your post and of course listen to the links provided. (Yes, Hurricane is my favorite English song that G.O. sings… though with Still With You he tends to grab onto your poor heart and give it a good strong squeeze. Quite frankly I like G.O.’s renditions better than Eric Benet’s!)
    But to answer your question…
    “I am trying to scan my brain to remember if Rain himself ever stepped on stage and sang a song in English.”
    Why yes, he did!
    And early in his career too. I can provide links.
    2002… “I believe I Can Fly”:

    And in 2003… “Nice and Slow”:

    Sweet little baby faced Rain. LOL Gets me in the heart like baby faced G.O.!
    When I watched MBLAQ in Hello Baby… I started to feel that G.O. was the heart of MBLAQ. And even though Seungho is technically the leader, I still feel that way. When Rain chose G.O. for MBLAQ… he chose well! What can I say… those 2 guys definitely know how to make the fangirl heart flutter! LOL

    Like

    • Ahhhhh yes! I completely forgot about “I Believe I Can Fly” but was not aware of “Nice and Slow”. And bad on me to leave out “Still With You” from Sesame Player!!!! Must edit to include!!! Thank you Nan!!

      I am deeply indebted to Rain. Deeply. He was my intro and guide to Korean music and I am so grateful. And I could never thank him enough for giving Byung Hee his second chance. If MBLAQ never happened for G.O I still would love to believe that he would have succeeded because his talent is so pure and natural. But I am so very happy that Rain chose him to settle into that main vocal spot for the group. My only regret was not finding him sooner.

      Thank you for stopping by, Nan, and for the info.^^~♡

      Like

      • Oops I forgot the song Rain sang in in English in “Let’s Go To School SangDoo.” Just Once!

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      • Ah yes…..I do recall him covering that James Ingram song!!^^ I suppose I should have rephrased or narrowed down my inquiry when mentioning Rain and English songs. I guess my real question should have been: I wonder if Rain was placed in a situation similar to what he placed Seung Ho, G.O and Thunder in, i.e. did JYP put Rain on a stage a couple of weeks after his debut to sing a song completely in English? I think it was really telling of Rain’s confidence in those three to pull it off effortlessly.^^

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