Analysis & Review: Lee Jin-Ah ‘Random’

Introduction:

This article provides a structural and musical analysis of ‘Random’. The song was co-written by Lee Jin-Ah & Simon Petrén and released on 20/07/17.

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DISCLAIMER(s):

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 Composers:

Lee Jin-Ah is a singer-songwriter and pianist. She came to recognition as the second runner-up of SBS’s K-pop Star Season 4 (2015) after being praised by guest panelist, Jason Mraz. ‘K-pop star’ actually went as far as altering the format of their show that year in order to offer the runners up a chance to choose the label they wanted to join. Lee Jin-Ah chose Antenna Music, was accepted and remains signed to the same label today. She released her first solo single ‘Appetizer’ in June 2016 and released her first solo mini-album on 20/07/2017, of which ‘Random’ is the title track.

Simon Petrén is a Swedish music producer, songwriter, mix and mastering engineer. He is perhaps best- known to western audiences for his work as the producer and mix/mastering engineer for the YouTube sensation ‘Dirty Loops’. He is credited as having produced Samsung’s ‘Over The Horizon’ ringtone, which was pre-installed on all Samsung Galaxy handsets in 2016. Petrén has also worked with a vast array of K-pop artists, including: Girl’s Generation, Red Velvet, Shinee & Pristin. Petrén is credited as the producer and mixing engineer of two other tracks on Lee Jin-Ah’s mini-album: ‘Stairs’ and ‘Bye bye bye’.

Song Structure and Track Info:

01 Random bar structure(fig A – Bar, Timecode & Structural Diagram for ‘Random’)

  • Duration of the song = 3:23.405s [source: Audacity, using m4a. file purchased from iTunes]
  • Consists of 83 bars, which switch between 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures
  • Tempo – 3/4: approximately crotchet = 172 (Presto)
  • Tempo – 4/4: approximately crotchet = 86 (Moderato)
  • Key Signature: C# Major in Waltz sections, F# Major in Verse and Chorus
  • Form: Intro(A), BCDBCDEADD(outro) – END

‘Random’ is a relatively complex ‘k-pop’ song with some surprising variations in: tempo, rhythm, time signature, vocal texture and instrumental passages. It is a diverse song, which can be interpreted in several different ways and has been, by far, the most challenging song to annotate on this website (to-date).

Please consider that the annotations below are not directly sourced from the composers but rather from my own ears after listening to the track extensively. Therefore the annotations are limited by my ability to hear and interpret what is playing on the track. I would not suggest that the annotations below are perceived as a rule but rather as a guide to help justify and explain interesting aspects of the song.

The Waltzes:

02 Waltz1a

(fig B – Annotation of ‘Vocal Waltz A’ – first 8 bars)

 The introduction features an isolated vocal passage where Lee Jin-Ah’s voice has been used to form the melodic line (see the top line of fig. B) and has also been sampled to form an accompaniment in the style of a waltz. Although the passage may perceived to be quite ‘light’ or ‘pleasant’ sounding, the composers kicked off the song with an immediate chromatic descent in the lower vocals (from F# in bars 1 and 2, to E# in bar 3, E-natural in bar 4 and D# in bar 5) and just when we think the harmony is going to resolve to C# major at the beginning of bar 7, the accompanying mid-vocals continue to move and are suggestive of a slightly contrasting A#-Minor by the time we reach bar 8. Fortunately, to avoid any complications, the notion of this minor chord is dispelled by the piano which returns us to the home key with a descending C# Major scale.

What is the effect of all this chromatic and harmonic movement? Prolongation. The composers are essentially using the above to create tension and make space for the passage to naturally progress and possibly resolve itself later on…

03 Waltz1b

(fig C – ‘Vocal Waltz A’ – final 8 bars)

 Despite the first 5 bars of the vocal line being identical between fig B and fig C above, the composers achieve ‘variety’ by introducing more instruments to the mix, thereby subtly altering the ‘timbre’ (or rather, the ‘quality’/characteristics of the sound being made). The harmony does not manage to resolve to the home key during the final 8 bars of Vocal Waltz A, instead resting upon the dominant (5th degree) chord which is G# Major. Although the tempo has ground to a halt by this point, the lack of harmonic resolution sets the song up nicely for the introduction of a new section.

To simplify the concept of music occasionally benefitting from harmonic resolution, imagine singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’ with an accompanying string quartet and unexpectedly finishing on the lyrics ‘like a diamond in the sky’… it would feel a little awkward! At that point, the music needs at least another passage to try and resolve itself.

10 Vocal waltz2

(fig D – Annotation of ‘Vocal Waltz B’)

 Although ‘Vocal Waltz B’ or ‘Vocal Waltz 2’ (as seen in fig D above) occurs at a much later stage of the song, I have opted to mention it here as the passage is virtually identical to the vocal line in fig C with the exception of the chords used in the final 2 bars.

Bracketed above are the notes C-natural and B# which are enharmonic equivalents (they are sonically speaking the exact same sounding pitch). I have labeled them differently in order to best correspond with the background harmony that they function as a part of in bars 7 and 8 of the passage. In other words, although sonically identical, it’s more logical to notate C-natural as part of what otherwise would make a great C(aug5) chord and similarly notate the following B# as part of the following G#7 (omit 5) chord.

The Instrumentals:

04 INSTr A

(fig E – Annotation of the ‘Instrumental A’ passage)

 During first listen, it is difficult to ascertain the underlying 4/4 beat due to the distracting nature of the erratic piano and bass doubling which occurs in fig E, above. The passage essentially consists of three brisk ‘phrases’ of which two noticeably progress by attaching a ‘tie’ to the last note of bars one and two (creating an artificial sense of ‘pausing’ whilst crossing a barline). The progression of the third phrase is less subtle visually with the right hand of the piano line playing a sustained F#m7 chord.

Although listeners may consider the note order above as ‘random’ and perhaps even improvised, the song actually features later interjections of the exact same passage, suggesting the erratic movement is intentional and quite rehearsed! As a side note, the annotation in fig E would also make a great practice exercise for anyone currently learning how to figure out intervals between notes in music theory(!)

09 Instrumental B

(fig F – Annotation of the ‘Instrumental B’ passage)

Although ‘Instrumental B’ takes place later in the song, it seemed logical to discuss it here as the passage, as annotated in fig F above. Instrumental B features the same piano and bass doubling we enjoyed during ‘Instrumental A’, however this new passage has 1 bar less and debatably features four separate musical phrases/interjections before the passage concludes. Background drums are not so pronounced during Instrumental B, instead, rhythmic embellishment is provided by the bass, which adopts a percussive string slapping technique in the highlighted areas above.

The Verses:

05 V1partA

(fig G – annotation of the opening 4 bars to ‘Verse 1’)

 Just over half a minute into the song, the first verse seems like the first place in ‘Random’ where there is a prolonged sense of ‘stability’. The strong and calm 4/4 pulse is much easier to perceive now that the first instrumental passage is over and we are firmly grounded in a new home key of F# Major. The bass line (as can be seen in fig G above) strongly backs up the new home key by dedicating the first 4 bars of the passage to playing the notes F#, G#, A# and B, or rather the first four notes in an F# Major scale. However, the interjection at the end of the 4th bar serves as a subtle reminder that we should perhaps not get ‘too comfortable’! Keeping with the theme of bringing out the home key, Lee Jin-Ah’s vocals during the second half of the first verse (see fig H below) also mimic that F#, G#, A# movement, although this time it is juxtaposed against a background chord in D#-minor (the relative minor key to F# Major).

06 V1partB

(fig H – annotation of the final 4 bars to ‘Verse 1’)

I have opted not to include an annotation of the second verse. This is justified on the basis that with the exception of small embellishments in the vocals and piano line, the two verses are otherwise very similar.

The Choruses:

07 Chorus1A

(fig I – Annotation of the vocals, piano and bass backing to the first chorus – first 4 bars)

As can be seen in figs I and J, the chorus is constructed of many frequently recurring motifs. Most commonly, the F# to A# movement in the main vocal melody, which represents the syllables for the word ‘Random’. Upon closer inspection, one will realise that the background chord progressions simply loop with occasional embellishment. Most interesting, perhaps, is the observation that the rhythm of the vocals and backing accompaniment are not aligned; the piano and bass adopt a rhythmic line that frequently syncopates against the underlying 4/4 pulse.

The progression of notes, or rather the intervals between the notes in the bass line, descending from B to A# to G# to F# (primary note, semi-tone down, tone down, tone down) are somewhat of a cliché in popular music. Whilst some popular artists mercilessly overuse the progression, I appreciate that there is enough variety going on in the background to prevent the listener from ever getting bored.

08 Chorus1B

(fig J – Annotation of the vocals and piano/bass backing to the first chorus – last 4 bars)

Chorus 3, as annotated in fig K below, features a very pleasant exchange between the vocal melody and the upper vocal backing line. I have highlighted the relatively seamless movement between the parts, although it is fairly easy to hear in the overall mix.

11 Chorus3vocals

(fig K – Annotation of the interweaving vocals at the beginning of chorus 3)

Furthermore, the composers have been brave enough to feature a virtuosic piano ‘solo’/interjection to add variety to the 4th chorus/outro, of which an extract of the section has been annotated in fig L below. Similar to vocals in chorus 3, the solo passage provides a seamless exchange between the piano and electric keyboard. It’s a brave addition to a song which is targeting the general popular market and it goes some way to showing Lee Jin-Ah’s prowess as an instrumentalist, as well as a singer.

12 Chorus 4 Piano solo

(fig L – Extract of the Piano/Keyboard solo at the opening of Chorus 4/Outro)

 Overall Impressions:

‘Random’ is an excellent collaborative project between Lee Jin-Ah and Simon Petrén. The title track contains a mixture of states: relaxing, intense, moderate and spontaneous, all condensed into a concise 3.5-minute package!

There are 7 aspects of the song which I found particularly enjoyable:

  • How the composers were not afraid to shift harmonically from the very first bar
  • How the composers achieved variety in repetition through the use of instrumentation, embellishment and alternative harmonies.
  • The inclusion of 3 dedicated instrumental sections (reassuring eager fans that the song is quite suitable for live performances)
  • The inclusion of a dedicated and technical piano solo as part of the outro
  • The way the composers managed to utilise a commonly regarded musical cliché, loop it in the chorus and make it interesting
  • The seamless interweaving between different vocal lines in the third chorus
  • The seamless interweaving between the interjecting piano and keyboard lines during the final chorus.

Despite multiple recurring elements throughout the song, the composers manage to tastefully (and skillfully) embellish such repetition. The song never seems to reach a point where a repeated element seems ‘stale’. Musically speaking, the song offers a lot of interesting elements. However, I wonder if too much stylistic diversity may be too overwhelming for less experienced listeners… If you’ve made it this far into the analysis, let me know what you think of the song in the comments!

This song was released a day after KARD’s much hyped debut mini-album release ‘Hola Hola’. I do wonder if the song would have benefitted from greater exposure if it was published during a quieter period, however, from what I have seen and read online the response so far seems very positive. Personally, I have greatly enjoyed the song for what it is and for the enormous challenge it represented as an annotation exercise! I thoroughly recommend the song and the mini-album and I believe they represent extremely good value for your money.

 

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