Duet. A performance by two people, especially singers. Two voices locked in perfect harmony, emotion and delivery. But, it is more than that. In a July 2012 interview with ABC News about sharing the stage with another vocalist in a duet, R&B singer Robin Thicke summed it up nicely when he said:
“It’s not about singing with perfect pitch or timing, it’s about feeling. All art is supposed to create feeling and if you sing with passion and you sing from your soul then people will feel it.”
People will feel it. I think he was talking about G.O, right? There is perhaps no truer way to describe the type of vocalist G.O set out to become and thus accomplished: A vocalist who sings with passion from the soul. Indeed. It may seem that all of the passion, emotion and feeling he brings to a song could not possibly be tempered (or matched) when partnered in a duet. I assure you, however, there is something special about the way G.O settles into a duet and lends his passion, emotion and feeling to the dynamic. For me, this is yet another reason to love this very talented man and his incredible artistry as a vocalist.
G.O knows a thing or two about working alongside another vocalist. We’ve see it during his time with Tykeys, and are still admiring it currently with MBLAQ. I suppose in many ways we can view his collaborations with rappers over the years as duets, especially those with Outsider, Nassun, Damiano and MBLAQ’s own, Mir. With rappers, however, G.O provides atmosphere. His lithe vocals often buffering the tough edge and urgency of a rap, softening it while still allowing it to stand on its own and come at you in all its often intense raptastic badassery. G.O’s voice provides the reprieve that cushions the rap with sweetness and romance.
Partnering with a vocalist in a pop song void of rap or a ballad is an entirely different situation. Finding the perfect singing partner in a duet, says Thicke, “comes down to how both singers respond to the song.” Each singer comes to the table with his or her own strengths and weaknesses as a vocalist. However, when singing together, the collaborative efforts of the two can figure out those strengths and weaknesses which allows each to balance and compensate. The dynamic also becomes an act of both selflessness and self-realization. Ultimately, a duet should have a seamless flow wherein the two voices come together, each matching the other in tone and timbre, blending into one.
With G.O, there is more. There is a particular attribute that G.O brings to a duet dynamic that (in my opinion) is a mainstay in performance after performance because it is intrinsic to who he is as both an artist and a man: G.O is the consummate gentleman.
You are probably wondering, where’s the connect, if at all? In my opinion, this is what makes G.O a stellar and amazing duet partner. Let’s look at some of those duets, and I think you will see that I may be on point.
In 2013 when G.O stepped out on to the stage to join Miss A’s Suzy at Music Bank Istanbul to sing the airy Dream High, you could hear the collective swoon of the audience when he walked onto the stage and started to sing. Yes, he does have that effect. There is something very gentle and sweet about this song and I liken it to Suzy’s soft and feminine vocals. I don’t find her to be the strongest of vocalists, yet what I do appreciate is the sweetness within which she delivers the song here in this Music Bank performance. It is honest and forthright. When G.O drops in to add his gentle vocals, this song about believing in yourself and having the courage to take flight and live your dreams becomes a tender anthem of encouragement to all who aspire to be more. G.O knows a little something about that I suspect.
When he looks out into the audience with that sweet smile letting the melodic notes of the song flow from him, I get a feeling of such warmth. G.O has a big, strong voice, this is true. But it is equally matched by his big, strong generous heart. What is so nice in this 1:30 clip of the theme song from the 2011 drama of the same name, is that he knows this is Suzy’s song, is familiar with Suzy’s voice, and as such, provides sotto voce to the composition.
Sotto voce, literally, “under voice,” is a term in music composition defined as lowering the volume of one’s voice for emphasis. When G.O and Suzy sing together towards the end of the song, G.O lowers not only his voice, but his octave and range. Perhaps not so much for emphasis, but certainly to cradle and protect Suzy’s delicate voice to the end.
This is what I meant about G.O being a gentleman.
In September 2011, a special stage performance on Inkigayo paired G.O with Hyorin, for the tender ballad, 그남자 그여자 [This Man This Woman]. G.O understands tenderness in music the way Van Gogh understood the soft shift of tender light and shade in a painting. The ebb and flow of crescendos in music. The delicate painted stars twinkling in the dark skies over a Paris cafe. Both men whispering their art to us ever so gently. Even when G.O unleashes the big note under Hyorin’s voice at the climatic point of the song, he delivers it with restraint and composure, and much like he demonstrated with Suzy in Dream High, allows his voice to serve as a foundation that both supports and cradles Hyorin’s voice to the close of the song. Pure magic.
I honestly believe with all that I am that this is G.O’s amazing gift as a duet partner. Here with Hyorin, he once again displays his gentlemanly ways on the stage while singing along side another vocalist in a duet. Even though I do not find Hyorin’s voice a perfect match opposite G.O’s, his strength and ability to adjust to the tone, quality, and volume of her voice throughout the song is a testament to his understanding of not only music, but to what being a singing partner is all about.
Oh my…his sweet and gentle glance of appreciation.~♥
G.O is perhaps one of the most selfless vocalists in Korean popular music today.
Kan Mi Youn
Give me a moment please to regain my composure because this one always seems to bring the flail. Flail, that is, with a side of ear-piercing squeal.
On August 6, 2011, the Immortal Song 2 stage was once again on fire. It was Original Idol night. G.O was paired with former Baby V.O.X queen, Kan Mi Youn, the group’s main vocal from 1997 through 2006. And oh my….the stage was set. A dimly lit Argentine dance hall perhaps. The opening strains of the song provided by an accordion very reminiscent of the instrumental piece Ojos Frios on MBLAQ’s latest release at that time, Mona Lisa, only here it was very tango, very aggressive and very sensual. When the lights come up after the intro, there he is. Yes, yes, YES!!! I know Mi Youn is also seated there, but frankly, I just don’t see her. I am too busy being dazzled by G.O in that gorgeous red jacket. Before I let the fangirl spazz get the better of me, let me point out what I enjoyed about this performance because even with a failed dance move, it was still exciting and hot!!
The opening had me intrigued. The dark stage. The accordion player in the spotlight. The sultry atmosphere. And then…BAM, the lights come up and both G.O and Mi Youn simultaneously rip into the song. Shooting glances of fire and intensity to the audience as they open. Oh my….G.O’s voice in this lower range is heaven. I simply adore how he once again has that controlled sotto voce while singing with Mi Youn as the song opens but then when he goes solo, his vocal volume increases and he unleashes passion and emotion that locks you in an embrace. An Argentine tango embrace; you know, the chest-to-chest, close and tight embrace. You can struggle to escape, even plead. He won’t let go.
I completely enjoy this performance. The song’s very tango-esque vibe spills over into the vocal presentation. G.O and Mi Youn start off together, looking at the audience, compelling you to choose a side: his or hers. Then, Mi Youn begins to state her creed aggressively. She’s convincing. But wait, G.O has something to say also. Can you hear the pleading in his voice urging you to consider his side? The push, the pull…the struggle. The perfect tango.
With a demanding yet gentlemanly, “Lady, come on,” G.O leads Mi Youn downstage where the story of the song begins to take further shape with energy and movement. Killer was a smash hit for Baby V.O.X in 1999 and came with searing vocals and memorable choreography, choreography that was incorporated into this performance. How I wish G.O and Mi Youn were able to pull off that intricate dance move during the mini dance break mid-song!!! I blame the shoes, indeed I do – it is much easier to grab a sneaker than a strappy sandal!
Nevertheless, as duets go, this was a win in my book (even though G.O did not gain a win that evening) because I felt he was well-matched with Mi Youn vocally. Two main vocals on the same stage. Like G.O, Mi Youn has strength and control in her voice. And G.O, as he is want to do, knows exactly how to weave his voice above, below, around and along side another such vocalist and does so with amazing vocal dexterity, poise and respect. His time spent opposite Baek Su Kyung (Tykeys) prepped him well for that. Very well indeed.
Jo Yeo Jung
The opening moments of G.O taking the stage and belting out the first few lines of 여행을떠나요 [Let’s Take A Trip] of Immortal Song 2’s Actor’s Special night in August 2011 rendered me momentarily speechless. The bluesy guitar. G.O dressed in white, his deep dark expressive eyes framed in those nerdy (but oh so sexy) frames! The way he saunters onto the stage. His voice. I am repeatedly smitten with this incandescent young man.
G.O’s duet partner that evening was award-winning actress of film and television fame, Jo Yeo Jung. Inasmuch as she has seen some time on the musical theater stage (in 2005) and recorded a couple of songs (one as part of her drama I Need Romance and another collaborative Christmas single), she is not a vocalist first and foremost. However, her verve and vivacious presence on the stage that evening with G.O was energetic and engaging. The bluesy retro rock ‘n roll, at-the-hop style song had the entire audience thoroughly entertained, bopping in their seats singing along. This was G.O’s stage for the evening, and Yeo Jung was there to add atmosphere and sass. This kind of reminded me of the type of number we could easily see in Grease. Kind of fitting since Jo Yeo Jung’s first musical theater experience was in fact Grease where she was cast in the role of the demure Sandy.
G.O never ever ceases to amaze me with the way in which he can comfortably drop into any genre of music and own it. I have lost count as to the number of times I have said this, but it bears repeating – the man simply allows music to consume him in the best way imaginable. So much so that when it invades his mind, body, heart and soul, it integrates itself to the point where he has no other option but to surrender to it. Music becomes him and he becomes music. It is that simple.
I think G.O settled nicely into the playfulness of this song showing hints of the likes of 모르겠어요 [I Don’t Know] and 알면서 그래 [I Think You Know], two very infectious and gregarious pop numbers on MBLAQ’s Mona Lisa which was released just one month prior to him bringing Let’s Take A Trip to the Immortal Song 2 stage. Our beautiful and often intense balladeer shows that he can easily adapt, settling into any genre of music with appreciation and ease.
I absolutely love the way G.O loves music and the way music (his guide, compass and heart) adores him in return.
Lim Jeong Hee
The July 9, 2011 Immortal Song 2 stage saw G.O joined by K-pop artist Lim Jeong Hee to sing the sweeping ballad, 사랑보다깊은상처 [A Deeper Wound Than Love]. The diminutive Jeong Hee is no vocal lightweight having debuted with JYP Entertainment in 2005 after building a strong fan base as a street performer prior to her debut. A Deeper Wound Than Love was a smash hit recorded in 1997 by rock ballad artist, Lim Jae Beum and duet partner, Lena Park, and has maintained its super hit status to this day. When I think about the dynamic of the Immortal Song show (a vocal competition show), it really did call upon the courage of the participants, like G.O, to compete singing legendary songs from legendary artists of Korean popular music. That had to be daunting. But then I pause to remind myself that housed in G.O’s broad chest is a heart that pumps a retro life source to his soul that then courses throughout his entire being. I would imagine he would get giddy over the thought of singing such songs. And although he clearly is a soulful R&B kind of guy, I think he would welcome a ballad from any genre and would approach it with humble reverence.
As G.O was the contestant, it was essentially his stage. Jeong Hee was there to assist him in trying to take home the trophy that evening. They did not prevail yet the performance was beautiful nonetheless. Remembering Robin Thicke’s words that a successful duet depends upon how the singers respond to the song, I believe both G.O and Jeong Hee wholly met that criteria as both vocalists fell deeply into the emotion, melody and story of the song.
The gorgeous orchestration surrounding their voices created a heartfelt and romantic atmosphere. But, it was in their voices though that I found perfection because to me, G.O and Jeong Hee have a similar quality in the tone of their voices. As a result, their voices blended effortlessly into one. One heart feeling the wound that is deeper than love itself.
Jeong Hee matched G.O note for note, gently adding to the emotion yet let him completely shine in this performance.
G.O’s work with J.ae ranks among my favorites. Fresh from his debut with MBLAQ, G.O took to the live acoustic stage on MNet’s A-Live with R&B artist J.ae for the tender and romantic ballad 끝을말할순없어도 [I Can’t Tell You This Is The End]. J.ae chose well when she chose G.O to partner with.
끝을말할순없어도 [I Can’t Tell You This Is The End] is heartbreaking, sad, yet romantic. It is a song about healing after a break up and it hits you right in the heart. Sometimes the only way I can surmise why G.O is so very adept at singing these particular kinds of ballads is that he has perhaps experienced and lived the moments playing out in the song.
Although a lot of time has passed by, I think I can look back
I always remember that I can’t go back
Everyday I draw you and then erase you again…
Both Ja.e and G.O sing this song with sadness, almost as if their voices themselves are crying. It is tender and moving. G.O is a master at transferring the emotion he houses in his heart (better yet, his entire body) to a song in such a way that each note is a tear he has most likely shed either for heartache, loss or disappointment he has experienced in his own life. He is at his tender best here in this April 2010 acoustic performance on MNet’s A-Live:
It is impossible to not feel something when these two sing this song. Ja.e renders her voice softly with fragile vulnerability, even as the song builds. To me, she sings as if she is the more wounded of the two in this broken relationship. Where her character almost seems tragically destroyed by the break up, G.O’s character courageously, with strength, works through it with resolve to heal and move on, but does it ever so tenderly. I adore the dynamic between their voices in this song. Their improvisations, timing, feeling and tone are all in sync. It is another reason these two work wonderful in a duet.
There is something about G.O singing with an older woman. A duet with an older female partner suits him. Inasmuch as he always seems at ease, confident and sure of himself when opposite a woman in a duet, I think when he is partnered opposite older women there is a quality of their experience they bring that he sincerely and willingly welcomes, pays heed to, and fully embraces. He aspires to join them on their playing field and, in doing so, settles into the partnership as their equal. (I really saw this during his musical theater work.) It allows him to take hold of the mature soul housed inside of him. THAT aspect about the quality of vocalist (and man) he is, is so incredibly attractive and probably why he appeals so very much to us more *cough* mature fans.
With the exception of Suzy and Hyorin, all of G.O’s duet partners have been older than him. J.ae is ten years older than he is, but theirs was definitely a collaboration of mutual respect and admiration as well as sweet vocal synergy as can be seen in this video chronicling the recording of 끝을말할순없어도 [I Can’t Tell You This Is The End]:
In December of that same year, Brown Eyed Girls’ vocalist JeA released her single 니가 따끔거려서 [Because You Sting] featuring our beautiful main vocal man. It was in a live televised performance of the song on January 23, 2011 that I first recognized how much of a gentleman G.O is as a duet partner. In the song, JeA brings volume when she cries, “Love hurts too much” and he gently pleads, “Please don’t hurt.” She laments further, “Even when I try not to breathe,” he pleads again, “try not to breathe.” Oh my.
G.O is vocally as strong (if not stronger) than JeA, but he completely lets her take lead and control in the performance. Yes, ever the gentleman. That sotto voce once again……sigh.
It is evident that both Ja.e and JeA possessed wonderful vocal chemistry with G.O. In my opinion, however, there has been only one female duet partner able to meet him head on in every aspect imaginable as a vocalist. Strength. Passion. Dedication. Soulfulness. Tone. Chemistry. The list can go on. That was Tykeys partner, Baek Su Kyung.
Baek Su Kyung
Yes, it is true that Tykeys was a trio. However, it does not detract from my belief that Baek Su Kyung was G.O’s finest duet partner, bar none. Of the 15 amazing songs that comprise Tykeys’ one and only released album, Ty Project No. 1, four were sung solely by G.O and Su. For this reason, I must include her as one of G.O’s premier duet partners, and a most worthy one at that.
Tykeys debuted in February 2007 and by the end of that same year their agency went bankrupt and the group disbanded. If my research serves me correctly, Baek Su Kyung, Kim Hyun Jung, and Jung Byung Hee were brought together sometime in 2004 and began their training prior to their 2007 debut and release of their only studio album, Ty Project No. 1. This album. I really cannot say enough about it. The 15 cut album is a brilliant collection of some of the smoothest and passionate neo soul I have ever heard and four of those songs could easily be singled out as duets featuring the amazing vocal work of G.O and Su.
I know he most probably has put these days well behind him. Still, I cannot let go of what he accomplished during his time with Tykeys. And I certainly cannot let go of the fact that his vocal duet work with Baek Su Kyung is extraordinary. Tykeys released two singles off of the album, both featuring all three members collectively. None of the four songs G.O and Su sang exclusively together on the album were released as singles, yet each would have done equally well as the two they did release (I’m Sorry and 연상연하 [Old and Young]). Of the four spectacular duets, I cannot even choose a favorite as each is perfect and special in its own way. As none of these were released, there were no MVs and only audio is available.
시간이라는 약 [About That Time]
Let’s start with the gentle 시간이라는 약 [About That Time]. My Korean tutor mentioned that the song is about time being medicine to heal a broken heart.
I find the voices of G.O and Su truly healing here. Subtle and sweet, they trade off so smoothly, overlapping and intertwining their respective improvisations around the other. Their voices are the warm embrace I fall into time and again when I listen to them sing.
And my god…I do love when they sing together.
Next is 아무말도 [Don’t Say A Word]. The syncopated beat opening this song reminds me somewhat of MBLAQ’s 우리사이from the Broken album. Since G.O has had such a hand in the production of the last few MBLAQ albums, I often wonder if he still carries a touch of those Tykeys genetics in him. When listening to Tykeys, it is more than evident that even at 19, G.O’s understanding of music stretched far beyond simply singing the lyrics of a song.
아무말도 ~ Don’t Say A Word
The soulful lamentations between two people who know that the power of words can render one weak with love and adoration, or destroy with jealousy and mistrust forms the basis of this slow groove. The breathy almost whispery verses build into a powerful chorus and bridge where both vocalists unleash their heartache and pleas.
What G.O and Su possess in abundance is the innate capacity to convey and interpret emotion so very well through song. Out of all the instruments either of them may play, it is their voices that they have mastered the best. Tykeys’ very well-produced album showcased that mastery very well.
한번만 [One More Time]
The third song from Ty Project No. 1 that I want to share is a song penned by G.O himself. To those of you who may have thought that he began his composing work with MBLAQ, it might come as a surprise that one of the songs on Tykeys’ album was in fact written by him. For me, it is more than a song. It is a poetic ballad dropped into the smoothest groove, written from a place of aching honesty.
I recall driving on the interstate in Maryland with my Korean tutor (Hyunah) one Sunday afternoon back in March as we were on our way from Chevy Chase to Annapolis. I was playing the Tykeys album during the drive. When 한번만 [One More Time – or as I understand it conveyed in this song, one more chance], played, she let out a gasp during one particular stanza in the song. Since I knew G.O wrote the song, I was anxious to know what he was singing. She was angry with him!!
The dialogue between the man and woman in this song amount to her pleas for one more chance to prove to him that he can forget his previous girlfriend and him telling her he cannot. Let me share with you the mark of an extreme bias. Hyunah was not happy with the fact that the man in the song could not let go of his past relationship. That he brought that baggage into the new one and then decided he was not able to move forward.
Me, on the other hand, saw his open honesty as noble, albeit harsh. He could not move past the love he had for his former girlfriend so he confronted the new woman with blatant honesty. Not ideal for the new woman of course, but you can see where my bias is clearly clouding my reason here. ^^ The sad part is that the new woman is in love and no matter how much she pleads, he doesn’t want to give the new relationship a chance. Ballsy of G.O to write his lead so bold, raw and honest. He was not going to have him mince words. You may think him callous and unfeeling (quite possibly even a douchebag). Perhaps. Although flawed, I have to give him credit for being open with his truth, even if it was painful. ><
말해버려 [Say Something]
Finally, it is the bluesy and gospel-inspired 말해버려 [Say Something]. This is one that I can never get enough of. From the opening piano and the glorious improvisations from both G.O and Su, to the climatic way G.O sings the ‘사랑해~~~~” in the line: ‘난 영원히 내 맘에 사랑해 내 눈에’ [You are forever in my heart, in my eyes, I love you…] to that luscious note he holds to close the song out, this one takes me to church with every listen.
I really have to give props to the engineering and production team on this album who took these two powerful voices and balanced them together with eloquent precision. The outcome is nothing short of miraculous.
Never were two people better matched to sing a duet than G.O and Baek Su Kyung. And there really is not much more for me to say about it. The proof is in the listen!^^ What they created in the short time together in Tykeys was magical.
Apart from his work with rappers, roles in musical theater, and MBLAQ, I have not come across many duet collaborations featuring G.O with one other male partner. Hopefully there are some G.O duet police out there who will bring me up to speed if I have missed some! If there are more, I am guessing all would pale in comparison to the duet he performed with Brown Eyed Soul vocalist, Jung Yup.
MNet’s A-Live broadcast on April 19, 2010 had G.O working double-time dueting with both Ja.e and Brown Eyed Soul’s Jung Yup. Softly, filled with heartbreak, G.O opens Jung Yup’s tender ballad, You Are My Lady, with:
Where are you?
The leaves have faded away already.
The day when you left,
that night had me shaking with fear…
And thus the aching begins. Pairing G.O with a brown-eyed girl or a brown-eyed soul seems to follow some cosmic recipe that creates vocal majesty and magic. You Are My Lady is from Jung Yup’s first full length solo album, Thinkin’ Back on Me which was released in November 2008. Haunting and melodic it is the precisely the kind of ballad G.O was created to sing and it is almost impossible to determine who is singing which part throughout the song as the voices on these men are so similar. Both have incredible range and can hold firm in falsetto.
I admit to having my G.O trigger songs. You know, those songs that bring tears no matter what the circumstance, place or mood. This is one of those songs. It does not matter how many times I hear it, the result is always the same: tears, lots and lots of tears.
If you allow it, G.O’s voice will burn deep into the most emotional part of you. That is exactly where he wants to be I suspect. He wants you to feel, even if it is painful.
As he and Jung Yup trade off verse by verse, each brings his own dimension of emotion to the sadness in the song. It is almost too much for me when G.O sings:
내손엔 니 손이 아닌데 이렇게
그게 참 가슴이 아파 니가 없는 게
내 품에 니 맘이 없는 게……..
[But now in my hand,
yours isn’t there.
It really hurts that you’re not there,
that you’re no longer in my heart…]
It is just so beautifully executed. Even Ja.e finds herself mesmerized as she watches G.O lose himself in the moment, submerged in this achingly beautiful song.
In my exploration of G.O’s works here as a duet partner, I have found that he successfully upheld my declaration about being a gentleman to his vocal partner. For him it seems there is reverence in a performance no matter what the song, the genre, or who the partner. Let’s face it, the stage is G.O’s church and temple; and the songs he sings are his prayers. Music, I suspect, will always be his sanctuary. When someone is invited into that sacred place to join him, it seems he meets and treats the guest with the equal reverence and respect he treats the song. At the same time, he has to quickly build trust so that the end result is not merely a good performance, or a victory as it were, but a piece of work filled with artistic integrity, emotion and above all, honesty.
Ultimately, when he steps on a stage whether it be alone, duet, musical theater performance, or with MBLAQ, G.O is never without his true partner, the song. It is to that partner he lovingly surrenders himself to time and time again, and does so without forethought, consequence or hesitation. It is a wonder to behold and a firm reason to love, love and completely adore Byung Hee.♥