Elris are a fledgling k-pop group signed to Hunus Entertainment. Their debut EP was published by LOEN Entertainment on 01/06/2017.
Although not qualified to critique the various dance videos which have been published on Youtube, I am able to address the track on the merits of its musical composition, which I thought was: fun, timbrally diverse, well-structured and harmonically varied.
Furthermore, I hope that my bar structure diagram and my interpretations of the harmonic-movement provide younger fans with a helpful starting point for learning the song for themselves and perhaps making their own cover versions in the future.
Although I aim to justify any opinions raised in this article, please respect that the views expressed are strictly my own and they are subjective. For more information, please click here
About the composer – “Monotree”:
Monotree are a South Korean production company founded in 2014 by Hyun Hwang, G-High and Lee Joo Hyoung, formerly producers at “Sweetune”. Monotree’s Wikipedia profile specifies that a further 6 producers joined the studio since 2014: Park Asher, Shin Agnes, DK Choo, Gdlo, Kim Yoo Seok and NOPARI. Monotree are credited for composing tracks for various artists, including: Girl’s Generation, EXO, April, Ladies’ Code, Red Velvet and Apink. Unfortunately, I’m not able to specify the individuals who worked on ‘We, First’ as this information was not clearly published by either Monotree or Hunus Entertainment Ltd on release.
**[UPDATE]** – Since publishing this article, I have been reliably informed that ‘We, First’ was composed and arranged by Monotree’s Chief Producer Hyun Hwang.
Song Structure and track info:
(fig. A – Bar/Timecode/Structural overview for ‘We, First’)
- Duration of published recording = 3:22 [source: itunes]
- Consists of 86 bars in 4/4 time signature
- Tempo – Approx metronome mark of crotchet = 104 (Allegretto)
- Key Signature: E Major with modulation to F Major
- Form: Intro, ABCABCCAA
(fig B – ‘We, First’ – introduction)
The introduction is one of three distinct passages that appear only once throughout in the whole track. The introduction features an octave-doubled synth line, which uses a syncopated rhythm to cut through the standard 4/4 time signature, the emerging vocal melody and backing choral ‘ooo’s and ‘ahh’s. The backing chords are ‘perceived’ but they appear to work extremely well when played with the other lines – the directional arrows indicate what is an obvious movement of the ‘bass line’ from D – B – E – A (the A being the 7th degree in a Bm7 chord in 3rd inversion) and would be appropriate to double down by an octave if playing the backing chords on a piano/keyboard.
The 2nd 4-bar repetition introduces a vocal melody and also varies the movement of the backing choral vocal line – the phonetic translation of the main vocal lyrics has been cited from AhnWarStyles’ blog, which serves as a useful tool for aiding non-Korean vocalists in learning song lyrics. Check it out here: https://koreanmyuzic.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/elris-we-first-easy-lyrics-eng.html
The tempo drops pace during the end of the 8th bar/2nd repeat, which I have indicated on fig. B with a fermata (pause mark). This pause is features some spoken lyrics “Elris? Here I Am” and is immediately followed by a return to tempo with a striking synth/bit-crushed fanfare, accompanied by arpeggiated IV-V (A Major – B Major) chording. This harmonic movement sets up a perfect cadence (a movement of chords which resolves in the home key) for the beginning of the first chorus and it helps to establish the home key of the track (E Major).
(fig C – backing chords for chorus 1, 2 & 3 )
As can be seen from the above fig C, there is a moderate amount of movement in the harmony of each chorus, with at least two notable chord changes in each bar. A catching feature of the recording is how the higher choral vocals in the 7th and 8th bars of this passage ascend in chromatic motion. Although this element is quite low in the overall mix, Monotree’s arrangement of the upper voices, albeit subtle, does provide some unexpected breadth of vocal register and is a treat for anyone listening with high quality headphones!
(fig D – harmonic reduction showing the chromaticism in the chorus backing)
I decided to carry out a simple reductive analysis of the bass line of the chorus (see fig D). The purpose of this reduction was to substantiate my previous claim that there is a moderate amount of harmonic movement occurring throughout the passage. Fig D indicates that there are 3-bracketed areas, which demonstrate clear chromatic traversal throughout the chorus. Although using chromaticism to prompt chord progression is by no means a revolutionary feat, I applaud Monotree for taking a risk with a debut group and breaking out of a more conservative and ‘static’ mould generally associated with mainstream pop composition.
The repetitions of the chorus are virtually identical throughout*, however they are followed by contrasting elements on each occasion: an instrumental section after the first chorus, a 1-bar drum fill after the second, a rap section and key modulation after the third chorus and an 8-bar vocal and instrumental outro after the fourth.
*This obviously differs on the 4th iteration of the chorus which has, by this point, modulated up a semi-tone from the key of E to F Major.
The Instrumental Section:
(fig E – rough breakdown of the instrumental section – bars 18–21)
The 4-bar instrumental passage first appears as a dedicated solo section after the first chorus. The music is repeated after the 3rd chorus as an accompaniment to the vocal rap section although it should be noted that the 2nd time bar during this latter repetition is contrasting to what is shown in fig E, as the later passage is intended to set up a modulation to F Major. The instrumental passage is repeated twice (8 bars) in the new key of F Major as a backing for the concluding vocal outro.
The instrumental passage is generally characterised by an upper-synth solo line which floats around the home key in an arpeggiated fashion during the first bar before adopting a more linear motion from the 2nd beat of the 2nd bar. A catchy feature of the first time bar is the inclusion of a syncopated synth bass line which is paired with an audible bit-crush effect, pedaled out on the last beat of the bar – the effect is timbral and provides enough of a contrast to justify repeating the passage a second time!
(fig F – a simplified transcription of melody and chordal backing for verse 1)
The texture of the music is at its thinnest during the two verses. Accordingly, this helps to accentuate the main vocal line and highlight the variation of sound between the different soloists. In terms of the harmony, both verses resolve on a IV-V7-I perfect cadence and this is preceded by a pleasant 4-chord traversal from ii-III7-vi-II7, alternating between major and minor chords in bar 5 and 6 of the verse (see fig F). Besides obvious vocal and lyrical differences, the two verses are virtually identical. However, they are both followed by contrasting bridge sections…
The Bridge Sections:
There are two contrasting 4-bar ‘Bridge’ sections noted on the structural diagram. Both bridges immediately follow a verse and act as a precursor to a new chorus. After the 2nd verse, the bridge section is prolonged to 8 bars by introducing the 2nd 4-bar bridge passage and then immediately reintroducing the original 4-bar bridge passage to set up the third chorus.
(fig G – outline of Bridge A – immediately following verse 1)
Although there is no drop in tempo during Bridge A, Monotree create an artificial sense of slowing in the first two bars by doubling the dotted quaver rhythms found in the vocals amongst the other backing instrumentals, as is illustrated in fig G. This is relevant as it is the first time since the introduction that the steady pace of the song has been disrupted (some 20 bars earlier)! The melody is clearly audible and with headphones, one can also pick out an over and underlying vocal backing from the other members. The effect of juxtaposing the melody and the backing vocals from the first two bars of the passage is that of movement in triads and is consequently one of the broadest passages of harmony throughout the entire song. Underlying all of the above is the synth bass line, which compliments the backing harmony by chromatically descending at the end of each bar.
(fig H – outline of Bridge B – immediately following verse 2)
Bridge B is a unique and contrasting 4-bar passage that only occurs once throughout the song. It features the reintroduction of a syncopated synth/key line, not too dissimilar (albeit rhythmically faster) than that used in the introduction. Although it is difficult to hear when listening to the complete mix, I believe after that the synth line does not syncopate on the 3rd beat of each bar. I found this particularly interesting because the vocal line conforms to the main beat during the first half of bars 1-3 but then syncopates for the 2nd half (from the 3rd beat). Blink and you miss it! What is the significance of this? It would seem that Monotree are evidently swapping the rhythmic roles between the vocals and the backing (for a very brief period) – the effect is merely a rhythmic exchange between the vocals and backing, however, it demonstrates a pleasing attention to detail by the composers.
Some may consider the 4-bar rap and modulation from 2:35-2:42 to be a bridge section. I have not labeled it as such in my analysis, mainly because the backing almost entirely mimics the instrumental interlude between the first chorus and first verse (bars 19-22). The only contrasting element between these two sections (besides the modulation at the end of the passage) is the addition of the rap vocals. Therefore, it seems more appropriate to consider this section as an evolution of the previous 4-bar instrumental passage after chorus 1.
I wouldn’t argue that ‘We, First’ is a revolutionary or ground-breaking composition in the 21st century. However, I don’t believe the song is trying to be those things and nor does it need to be:
My brief analysis indicates that there is enough harmonic, rhythmic, and structural variety to keep the audience listening (many times over) and furthermore, this evidently wasn’t a lazy “copy/paste” job by the composers at Monotree – I am satisfied that the song was diligently written with many repeating elements which include subtle changes in pitch, timbre or rhythm to add ‘variety’ whilst maintaining relative simplicity for the backing instrumentals (which would be of logistical convenience if the song was ever to be performed by a live band).
In defense of the EP, although I have not listened to ‘Searching for (ELRIS)’, ‘My Star’, ‘Miracle’ & ‘You and I’ in nearly the same level of detail as I have the title track, it is quite obvious that each track is stylistically contrasting. I have observed a general criticism that this ‘contrast’ results in a very conservative and ‘safe’ EP release, which tries to cater towards a broader spectrum of listeners without establishing a core identity/concept for the group. Whilst I am sympathetic to the argument that established k-pop acts generally adopt a focused narrative aimed towards a specific target audience, I would argue that in the case of a very young and fledgling group, it may not necessarily be clear to Hunus or LOEN Ent. what Elris’ focused audience actually is at such an early stage.
Their EP serves to assure that the group are flexible in to adapting to different styles and, as opposed to narrowing their horizons, presents potential for the Elris concept to develop… if it takes off. I hope it does.