Analysis and Review
This article provides a structural and harmonic analysis of ‘Oppa’ and discusses interesting aspects of Brother Su’s charming composition. ‘Oppa’ was performed by Yu Seung Woo & Sandeul and was released under the label Starship Entertainment on 06/07/2017.
Although I aim to justify any opinions raised in this article, please respect that the views expressed are subjective. For more information, please click here
About the performers:
Yu Seung Woo debuted as a singer/songwriter in 2012 with ‘Hello’, the title track of his first mini-album “The First Picnic”. He has featured in 11 singles as lead artist and currently holds 3 EPs to his name. He is currently signed with Starship Entertainment.
Sandeul debuted in 2011 as a singer for ‘B1A4’. Five years later, he launched his solo career with the EP “Stay As You Are” under WM Entertainment, which peaked at no.5 in Korea.
About the composer:
Brother Su (Kim Hyung Soo) is a singer/songwriter and producer. He made his debut in 2010 and signed as a produced with Starship Entertainment in 2015. Brother Su holds over 63 production credits since his debut in 2010, of which 5 have been associated with the acclaimed group ‘BTS’.
‘Oppa’ – Song Structure and track info:
(fig A – Bar/Time/Structural diagram for ‘Oppa’)
- Duration of song = 3:24 [source: iTunes]
- Consists of 92 Bars in 4/4 time signature
- Tempo – Approximate metronome mark of crotchet = 110 (allegro)
- Key Signature: Eb Major
- Form: AABCDAABCECC/outro
In its simplest form, ‘Oppa’ is made up of 4 (arguably 5) recurring musical phrases. These phrases are embellished throughout the song by: varying the instruments in the background, changing the texture of the underlying 4/4 beat and also by encouraging interaction between the vocals and instrumental line.
Brother Su’s ‘Oppa’ is defiant of stereotypical trends in k-pop composition: there are no prelude/introduction sections before the first verse and there is no key modulation. Furthermore, there is not a change of tempo or time signature throughout the song.
(fig B – Skeletal breakdown of the chord progression for Verse 1)
As I am not a guitarist, I have transcribed and rearranged all the guitar backing as if it were being played on a keyboard instrument. The benefit of notating the score in this manor (using two lines with treble and bass cleff) is that I can clearly and far more effectively isolate chord progressions and bass movement across two staffs (instrumental lines) than by just using one. It’s not a criticism at all, but rather a simple aid for providing an effective and informative analysis.
The song begins with a vocal upbeat, which leads the listener immediately towards the first full bar and the first verse. The home key of Eb major is instantly laid down by the backing on the first beat of bar 1 (as can be seen from fig B above) and if we are to disregard the embellishments and vocal upbeats on bars 2 and 4 for fig B, it becomes clear (despite the multiple chord changes in the backing) that the core vocal melody intentionally floats around the notes of the home key.
A sense of harmonic continuity in this passage is perceived (in part) due to the moving descending bass line, which (as the vocal phrases develop), moves in shorter intervals. This can be seen whist following the bass line in fig B, which moves in whole-tone steps in bar one and then in half-tone (semitone) steps in bar 2. Why is this significant? The overall effect of moving in semi-tones in bars 2 and 4 is that they contribute towards a dissonant/intense Fm(dim5) chord, which catalyses the vocals to come back in and start a new phrase and consequently bring out the calming Eb major home key it floats around once again. If, hypothetically speaking, Brother Su had opted to move the bass line in whole steps throughout bars 2 and 4, that ‘intense’ Fm(dim5) chord would have more likely become a subdued Bb major (dominant) chord and the sense of disruption and immediate resolution would have been lost.
(fig C – Skeletal breakdown of the chord progression for the bridge passages)
The purpose of any bridge section is to lead the music into a more seminal aspect of the song, usually the chorus. Brother Su’s bridge passage demonstrates a tasteful command of harmony. He introduces harmonic tension by noticeably shifting the backing chords from major to minor keys at the start of each vocal phrase (see bars 1-2 and 5-6 of fig C above) and sets up a IV – V imperfect cadence during bar 8, which can and will resolve the harmony back to the home key of Eb major in time for the chorus, during the beginning of the following bar.
(fig D – vocals, backing vocals and backing harmony during chorus 1 – bar 25)
The chorus is the first time Yu Seung Woo & Sandeul are noticeably heard singing together in harmony. The relationship between the two singers in this passage is interesting for several reasons. First of all, as can be seen in fig D above, the vocal lines interweave: the main vocal melody is higher in pitch in bars 1, 5 and 6, however in bar 2 the backing vocals can be heard rising above the melody and causing a clash against the C7backing chord beneath it. The vocal lines also sing in unison (together with the same notes) during 3-4 and 7-8, presumably not only to provide a strong ‘response’ to the calls of bars 1-2 and 5-6 but also to assist in resolving the phrase without creating any further tension in the harmony.
An interesting observation is that Brother Su also uses the chorus as a template for the outro, as is illustrated in fig E below. During this passage, Brother Su achieves variety by substituting the usual ‘unison’ vocal response of bars 3-4 of the passage with a brisk interjecting guitar solo which ends with a Bb harmonic, thus contributing towards an irresolute imperfect cadence and forcing the 4-bar passage to repeat one last time before the song can finish. Although we never hear a final Eb major chord, to confirm the song ending on a perfect cadence (concluding in the home key), the perfect cadence is still subtly implied on the merits of the melody and backing vocals moving back to Eb on the final quaver beat of the final bar.
(fig E – Chorus 4/Outro – interjecting guitar solo)
(fig F – Outline of the instrumental section bar 33-36)
The instrumental section (see fig F above) is characterised by a guitar solo, which slides about in octave intervals, backed up by the usual guitar backing chords and what I presume to be a background synth/electric hammond-style organ with added reverb. There are further instrumental interjections in the four-bar passage: chimes glissando between bars 2-3 and we also hear a bass glissando (downwards pitch slide) during the final crotchet beat of bar 4. Despite varied chording in the backing, the solo line floats around the home key of Eb major, mimicking the vocal effect discussed as a feature of the verses in fig B.
Vocal Bridge B:
(fig G – Vocal Bridge B – Melody, background clapping and skeletal annotation of chord progression)
The ‘Vocal Bridge B’ as illustrated in fig G is a very interesting section, which adopts the same progression as the chorus in the backing line but introduces a new and highly repetitive melody. The section also features offbeat clapping and sampled crowd talking/cheering. The melody predominantly features a traversal from Bb to C, to Eb and this brief ‘motif’ is repeated some 11 times in the passage (with the exception of one of those repeats ending on E natural as opposed to Eb).
Why is this repetition relevant? It demonstrates Brother Su’s technical ability as a composer in being able to write a repeating melodic line, which is, for the most part, impervious to a frequently changing background harmony. I label this technique in theory lessons as ‘adaptive’ harmony, whereby the background harmony changes and ‘adapts’ to either a repeating note or passage without altering that note (or passage) during its repetition. In essence, the effect is like reimagining an idea in a different context several times or providing a repeating line or note with a unique sense of character/perspective every time you hear it repeat.
‘Oppa’ provides a charming, yet subtle journey through pitch and time. You can enjoy the song for simply being a song or you can enjoy the song as a showcase for the composer’s abilities. The song is well structured and does not conform to the usual clichés commonly associated with k-pop composition. Despite the relaxed nature of the song, there is an impressive amount of harmonic movement taking place throughout the track and I was impressed by Brother Su’s ability to use harmony to manipulate the continuity of vocal phrases and to repeatedly reflect a repeating passage in a different light/perspective. The single is currently on sale on iTunes and is well worth the 99p asking price!