This article provides a musical analysis of the song ‘Love Whisper’, as performed by GFriend. Love Whisper was co-written by Iggy and Seo Youngbae (서영배) and was released on 01/08/17.
This k-pop song features several intentional references to Schumann’s ‘Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai’ from Opus. 48 “Dichterliebe” (composed in 1840).
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:
Iggy & Youngbae (sometimes called Iggy Youngbae) started working together in 2012 with Ailee’s ‘Heaven’. They have produced many hit songs for an array of prestigious artists, including: Astro, DIA, Park Boram, Kisum & Infinite.
In 2015, the duo produced GFriend’s debut ‘Glass Bead’ and have since gone on to compose all of the group’s following title singles.
Youngbae is currently listed as a signed producer for the ‘Rainbow Bridge World’ record label [source: http://www.rbbridge.com]
Song Structure and Track Info:
(fig A – Bar, Timecode and Structural Diagram for ‘Love Whisper’)
- Duration of the song = 3:31.974s [source: Audacity, using m4a. file purchased from iTunes]
- Consists of 96 bars in 4/4 time signatures
- Tempo – 4/4: approximately crotchet = 114 (Allegro)
- Key Signature: E Major (intro and verses), C# Minor (Bridge A) F# Major (Chorus A) D# Minor (Chorus B) F# Major (Instrumental) D# Minor (Bridge B) D# Minor (Electric Guitar Solo)
- Form: Intro, ABCDABCEFCD(end)
At first glance, ‘Love Whisper’ is a seemingly simple and coherent ‘k-pop’ song with an easy to follow pulse, a memorable melody and a common composition structure, as can be seen from fig A and the additional information, above.
Beneath the veil, however, lurks a hidden treasure trove of interesting harmonic progressions, an interchanging focus towards different backing instruments and perhaps most intriguingly, an intentional reference to a famous classical composition written 177 years ago.
GFriend’s 5th Mini-album “Parallel” comes complete with an instrumental only recording of ‘Love Whisper’ (with all the vocal lines removed). If you are interested in music theory or analysis, the mini-album is worth purchasing for this feature alone, as it provides the listener with an opportunity to isolate fine details, which are often difficult to hear in the complete vocal mix. The annotations below were written with reference to both versions of the original recording.
(fig B – Annotation of the introduction to ‘Love Whisper’ – first 4 bars)
The song actually opens with 2 seconds of sampled background noise (birdsong, wind etc.) before the formal pulse and bar structure kicks in. A notable feature of the song’s opening bars is the use of an echoing synth ‘whistling’, as can be seen in fig B above. This ‘whistle’ is too perfectly timed and too precisely pitched to be regarded as background noise. Furthermore, it serves to bring out the home key of the passage, E-Major. Some harmonic tension is introduced by the bass line in bar 4, which descends chromatically, prompting prolongation and paving the way for the inclusion of a clean synth solo on the upbeat to bar 5.
The first thing keen listeners will observe from bar 5 is the introduction of the electric drum-beat, which although was not notated in fig C below, possesses coincidental if not matching timbral qualities to the drum beat used in ‘Crush’ from ‘The Awakening EP’. The final bars of the introduction, as illustrated in fig C below, are mainly characterised by an exchange between a rising string passage and a descending synth passage in the third bar before rounding off the section and setting the song up for the first verse with a syncopated and repeated A(add2) chord
(fig C – Annotation of the introduction to ‘Love Whisper’ – final 4 bars)
(fig D – Skeletal Annotation (keys and voice) of the 1st verse to ‘Love Whisper’)
Love Whisper features two verses. In order to avoid repetition, I have only annotated the first verse. The second verse, is characteristically similar to the first verse, with only slight variations in the opening vocals.
Despite contending with various chord shifts, a notable aspect of the verse structure is the progressively descending bass line, which replicates the scale of E-Major, as illustrated by the arrowheads in fig D, above. The scale does not fully resolve, going as far as F# before what I personally perceived (upon multiple listens) to be a very slight incline of bpm by the producers. The reason for this potential (if correct) increase in tempo could be to add ‘gravitas’ to the tension generated by the F#-Minor chord at bar 7 of the passage – however, what overall effect this bears regarding the significance of the Korean lyrics being sung remains unknown… Sadly, I do not speak Korean.
(fig E – Annotation of the opening of ‘Bridge A’)
The song features two discernible ‘Bridge’ sections which I have labeled ‘A’ and ‘B’ respectively. If it was not already apparent, it should become obvious by the opening of ‘Bridge A’ that the composers clearly enjoy writing descending chromatic bass lines, as can be seen in the opening of fig E, above. The passage introduces several previously unheard elements to the song: curiously, the inclusion of sampled ‘drops’ of water at the end of the 1st and 3rd bars of the above passage (presumably a reference to ‘Rainfall’ in the vocal lyrics). Additionally, although the rhythm guitar can be heard during earlier passages in the song, the 4th bar of fig E represents the first audible clue that the electric guitar will be used for more than just strumming chords (but more on that later!).
The closing bars of ‘Bridge A’, as shown in fig F below are mainly characterised by a flowing string melody accompanied by thick, occasionally syncopated chords in the keyboard line. In a seeming ‘shock to the system’, the final bar of ‘Bridge A’ ditches any notion of syncopation and instead adopts rhythms consistent which each crotchet/quarter-note beat, seemingly providing some ‘order’ before progressing into the song’s chorus.
(fig F – Annotation of the closing bars of ‘Bridge A’)
(fig G – Annotation of the opening to ‘Chorus A’ – featuring highlighted reference of Schumann Op.48)
Stylistically, a listener would be forgiven for assuming that the ‘light’ and ‘upbeat’ Disney compositions of Alan Menken would have been a considerable influence on the chorus section of ‘Love Whisper’. However, some may be surprised to find the song was actually (in part) influenced by a chord progression famously observed in Robert Schumann’s 1840s composition ‘Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai’. I will look to discuss these references in greater detail later in the article.
For now, if you look closely at the opening vocals to the chorus, as illustrated in fig G, above, you may notice that the vocal line is effectively repeating and transposing its line (mostly) a whole step down during bars 3 and 4 of the passage. The vocal line is embellished with syncopated and constantly moving backing chords as well as an array of timbral variation, from brass sounds to strings, strummed rhythm guitar, bass and EDM.
The passage is an excellent demonstration of achieving variation in repetition and would serve as a useful potential exercise for any composition students. On a much smaller scale, this technique of repetition is also used during the 3rd and 4th bars of fig H in the synth and corresponding voice, keyboard and string lines.
(fig H – Annotation of the conclusion to ‘Chorus A’)
As can be seen from my structural diagram in fig A, I have divided the ‘Chorus’ into two sections, A and B, of which A is made up of 8 bars and the B section is made up of 6 bars and is thematically and harmonically contrasting to its predecessor. Chorus B, has been illustrated as fig I and J, below.
(fig I – Annotation of the opening 3 bars of ‘Chorus B’)
The opening of ‘Chorus B’ sees a juxtaposition of three elements in order to create tension, which is ultimately building towards the D# minor chord on the 4th bar of the passage (see bar 1 of fig J below): the coherent vocal melody, a responsive exchange between the descending clean synth solo line (see bar 1 of fig I) and repeated rising motion of the backing strings and finally an ascending bass line from B, to C#, C-double-sharp to an eventual D#.
Once we reach the mentioned D# minor chord (bar 1 of fig J), the rhythm of the recurring backing chords (mostly) shifts to the offbeat in order to provide further variety and ‘urgency’ in order to provoke a shift to a new section (in this case, the instrumental section).
(fig J – Annotation of the closing 3 bars of ‘Chorus B’)
The Instrumental Section:
(fig K – Annotation of 4-bar instrumental passage – post chorus)
The instrumental section, as illustrated in fig K above, is virtually identical during each repetition throughout the song. It is also used as the outro to the chart single (although the concluding audio on the MV is actually audio playback directly lifted from a recording of Schumann Op.48). The passage is characterised by harmonies which repeatedly shift in an endless loop of perfect 4ths (D#-G#-C#-F#.etc). Audibly, the instrumental section is again dominated by interjections from the clean solo synth and backing strings.
(fig L – Annotation of Bridge B)
Bridge B is considerably shorter than ‘Bridge A’ and is used as a precursor to the electric guitar solo. The first three bars of the vocal line, as illustrated in fig L, again make use of repetition with the variation in the passage coming from the chordal backing and rhythmic syncopation.
There is actually further reference to Schumann’s Op.48 during bars 3 and 4, with the chordal movement shifting from G#m (technically add2 if we include the vocal line) – to A# (mimicking the same progression as in Op.48, a minor third lower in pitch). The composers were considerate to include three beats of rest time in bar 4 of the above passage, during which the guitar line is virtually inaudible, so as to provide an opportunity in the situation of a live performance for the guitarist to operate the appropriate footswitch to set up an overdrive/distortion pedal for the following solo.
The Electric Guitar Solo:
(fig M – Annotation of the electric guitar solo passage)
The inclusion of a focused electric guitar solo (see fig M above) is not an unusual feature in GFriend songs. For instance, a recent example of prominent electric guitar use in a GFriend song is ‘Fingertip’. The solo itself is mostly regimented, there is some slight rhythmic syncopation but it is not trying to deviate too heavily from the heavy on-beat drum backing.
As we have witnessed in the vocal line of previous passages, the guitar is repeating itself over the first two bars whilst the backing provides harmonic variety and a descending chromatic bass. Nonetheless, an isolated instrumental solo section is a pleasant touch by the composers.
The Schumann Dichterliebe Reference:
At the end of the official MV for ‘Love Whisper’, the camera focuses upon a cassette player which is audibly playing the piano opening from Schumann’s Op.48 (The exact passage the MV quotes is shown in fig N below and is the introduction to a beautiful song called ‘Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai’). The passage below is characterised by a shift from the chord of B-Minor to C-Major (as can be seen during the opening bars of the passage). The chords are transitioned between on the quaver(8th note) upbeat by the descending notes of G#, F#, E# in the 2nd bar and D-C# in the 3rd bar.
We see reference of this progression and transition most particularly during the 2nd,3rd and 4th bars of Chorus A (see fig G), where a similar chord progression of G#-Minor to A#-Major (a 3rd down) occurs with a similar transition on (this time) the crotchet/quarter note upbeat of E, D# and C-double-sharp.
(fig N – excerpt of the opening to Schumann Op.48, ‘Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai’)
I am confused as to why the composers have referenced a 177-year old song in a contemporary ‘bubble-gum’ ‘K-pop’ single. The translation of the lyrics from the Schumann Op.48 are as follows:
“In beautiful May, when the buds sprang, love sprang up in my heart: In beautiful May, when the birds all sang, I told you my desire and longing”.
I have tried to find a translation of the Korean lyrics from ‘Love Whisper’ and although the song seems to revolve around the theme of telling a significant other about their apparently undisclosed love, the tenses used to describe this act are different between songs, with one suggesting the action has taken place, the other suggesting the action will take place. Furthermore, the Schumann references a specific time of year, May (Love Whisper was released in August 2017).
I have reached out to the composers for clarification of the reference and will update this article if I receive a response. For now, it will remain a mystery!
There are 7 elements to Iggy and Youngbae’s composition which I particularly enjoyed:
- A perceived reference from the setup of the EDM to past GFriend songs (particularly ‘Crush’)
- Use of the synth to mimic background bird song during the introductory passage
- The interchange and contrary motion during the previously mentioned exchanges between the strings and synth lines.
- The scalic and chromatic progression throughout the accompanying bass line.
- The composers’ ability to generate interesting variation in frequently repetitive passages
- The contrast provided to the song by the 4-bar isolated electric guitar solo
- The mystifying reference to a 177-years old composition from the other side of the world!
I have noticed a lot of unfavourable reaction to this song on various online forums. The majority of criticism has actually been directed towards a distaste for the ‘innocence’ aesthetic portrayed by the group, rather than the song’s musical construct. Personally, I think it would be unfair to echo such criticism in regards to the way ‘Love Whisper’ was musically composed. Musically, I feel that there is enough virtue in the composition of the title track to deem it an intricate progression from ‘The Awakening EP’, and I anticipate that the depth of my above analysis should support my opinion. However, I will reserve any further judgement until I have had the opportunity to listen to the album in full and, given how much I enjoyed ‘Love Whisper’ from a musical perspective, I can’t wait to hear the other tracks!