K-Pop debuts can be tricky things. At times, they’re the best song a group delivers. Sometimes, they’re the only song a group delivers!
But, debuts can also be huge wtf moments in an artist’s career. In this feature, I’ll be looking back at debut songs through the prism of time, re-evaluating how well they hold up and how representative they are of an artist’s eventual singles run.
CD Debut Date: January 14, 2004
I’ve wanted to write about Hug for a long time, mostly because I find it a product of a bygone K-pop era. Nowadays, you’d never see a group debut with a song like this – especially one from a big agency. Yet, Hug’s simplicity and melodic power has made it an enduring classic.
This is not a flashy track. It doesn’t hinge on a bombastic performance. It doesn’t splice together multiple genres or weave in and out of breakdowns and beat drops. It simply finds a killer melody, puts it front and center, and lets the guys sing. I honestly don’t know if this would work in today’s market. Expectations have changed too much.
Hug is quite cheesy (most good pop is), and undeniably naïve when compared to the rest of TVXQ’s discography. Yet, it leverages those qualities to its benefit. The guys’ vocals are refreshing and beautiful, fusing together for shots of blissful harmony. The melody accommodates this robust performance style by offering a surplus of peaks. Unlike most pop songs, Hug doesn’t conform to a verse/chorus structure. Instead, the song takes one distinct segment and interpolates it in different ways. This gives the song incredible continuity but also allows for a sense of movement and growth as the key ascends. When we finally encounter a melodic switch-up during the bridge, the contrast feels even more potent.
Admittedly, Hug’s instrumental is pretty dated – even for 2004. But it’s also simple and straightforward, lending the track a timeless appeal. It doesn’t steal attention from the guys’ voice, which might be its greatest asset. When you’ve got a quintet of vocals as talented as TVXQ, why cover them up with claustrophobic production?
Does the song hold up?
Very much so, though I’d wonder if newer K-pop fans would feel the same…
Is the song stronger or weaker than most of the artist’s title tracks?
I’d say it’s on the “stronger” side, though not on par with the group’s absolute best work.
Does the song represent the artist’s music going forward?
It represents their first year or two, which was much more harmony and ballad driven. But, they’d never release a Korean title track like this again.