Baritone Pop: Thoughts on BTS’ V in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert

Right on the center in NPR Music’s BTS: Tiny Desk Concert, V, a.k.a. Kim Taehyung shows everyone how he not only adjusts but exceeds expectations as a baritone-type singing pop songs that are mostly keyed in consideration for the tenors of the group.

Screengrabs from NPR’s BTS: Tiny Desk Concert

Note: This review uses timestamp links referencing from the Tiny Desk Concert YouTube video. The timestamps link to the exact moment where Taehyung sings the part. There are also links to the YouTube timestamp that uses words to give more focus on these parts.

Dynamite

In live performances, BTS uses the acoustic remix (which feels more like a true rendition of disco-funk compared to the original), and it allows BTS’ natural timbres to shine. In Tiny Desk, the live band renders an acid jazz-like arrangement. To be honest, the melodies and rap in Dynamite on this arrangement felt the most at-home.

Taehyung sings his verse at 1:01 in Dynamite with a strong articulation in American-English. Rounding a vowel (using rounder shape of the lips) makes it sound dark, while a forward placement of resonance makes it sound bright. In the first line, “bring a friend, join the crowd, whoever wanna come along”, Taehyung uses his mix. The vowels are darker here, the ȯ and ə lean on a darker colour. He then uses a bit of vocal fry with “word up” and transitions to a bright head-dominant mix. Taehyung emphasised a lot on how he delivers the vowels in “day or night, sky’s alight”, a lot of and ɑɪ vowels found in this line. Please also take note that this is in American-English and we know there are many ways to accent the words among other dialects. He wraps up this verse by descending on his chest voice with “dawn”. and it amplifies the dark quality of the ɔ vowel. It’s just really nice to hear Taehyung sound so clean, clear, and forward like this.

At 2:22 shows versatility and agility on how Taehyung moves between tones and range — chest mix “dynanananana” then belt “EH”, thin but not-breathy falsetto on “light it up”, then head-dominant mix with his twangy enunciation of “dynamite”.

Although his lines are limited, the true highlights for Taehyung’s singing are on the choruses due to how difficult they are to be sung. First, let’s discuss the mid-chorus at 1:41. The dynamics of how he sings this part is stunning and becomes even more impressive in the finale. The former, here in the second verse, is subtler with the phrasing, he starts on whisper tone on chest but quickly ascends the power and volume as with the pitch too, then decrescendos a bit on head voice.

In the latter, the last chorus at 3:07, is where he gives the fully amplified belt that makes this build-up worthy as the final act of vocalising. In all honesty, it all feels like a slow burn of a belt with how Taehyung builds the crescendo, takes his time to make the scale of the volume be very defined, present, and known. He even retains the volume and power even on falsetto when he has to deliver the punchiness of “light it up like dynamite” before another vocalising that also requires incredulous chest power and breath management with “Woah”.

Save Me

In this guitar-and-piano rendition of Save Me, Taehyung mostly sings on his mix for “그 손을 내밀어줘 save me, save me, I need your love before I fall, fall”. I will not further expand on this verse for there’s something else that’s caught our ears where Taehyung leaves a subtext of varying emotions through the sheer display of flexibility on his range.

A complementary and also contrasting union between instruments and Taehyung’s voice. Taehyung’s naturally thick tone fills in the gaps. The more minimalist soundscape during the refrain at 4:55 allows Taehyung to put a bit more emotion into his song as he starts on head voice, switches to falsetto to pave way for his powerful projection of volume, tone, and intensity on his mix. His voice truly is an instrument that defines more of the complex emotions found in the group’s songs.

Spring Day

If there’s any song that brings the most emotional singer out of Taehyung, one of those would be Spring Day. I mentioned this already on Twitter but it’s worth mentioning here too that in the older performances, especially back in 2017 (check: KBS Song Festival 2017, Golden Disk Awards 2018), Taehyung would opt to sing his lines with techniques that covered and darkened his tones. To me, Taehyung’s dark tones define the sound of Spring Day as it provides the contrast it needs to make Spring Day a passionate song. Although it must be said that lately, Taehyung’s been changing things up with Spring Day and experiments on his tone deliveries. I mentioned before that he sparingly uses the cry technique lately too in Spring Day, this technique more or less now being used as an embellishment than as a forefront singing technique on his phrasing.

Here are just some of my favourite screengrabs of him singing in Spring Day because this boy’s gorgeous face depicting emotions is so… ㅠㅠ

I love Taehyung’s voice with the piano. In the Tiny Desk concert, the arrangement seems to center around the piano and delicate guitar plucking with soft drums and cymbals. Everything just soft and atmospheric. The song’s made to sing softly and more leaning to brightness too, and Taehyung makes sure his tones will complement the instrumental. Through this awareness, Taehyung is still able to bring out the soul and depth of the emotions required for this arrangement.

On the refrain at 9:26, Taehyung starts phrasing on soft head voice and immediately moves to a chesty mix and covers the vowel of the first phrase. Again, he starts this softly. On the next line, he goes up on a head-dominant mix with amplified volume and some brightness. I did say he uses the cry technique sparingly and it shows in this line, he lets out that ‘cry’ quality on the word “ppalli/빨리”.

At 9:52 comes his first mid-chorus verse and here is a beautiful display of his fluency in dynamics and tone. He starts on a very intense, powerful chest-dominant mix and has that ‘cry’ quality present in the last syllable ‘na/나’ before he diminuendos to the next line, leaves the cadence of the second line “gidaryeoya/기다려야” very softly and gently. Taehyung powers it up again for the next line, 9:57, following the cry quality too and diminuendos again at the end. This is just so beautiful and poetic. Poetic, because of how Taehyung phrases this verse using vocal dynamics and tone qualities reminds me of an ABAB rhyme scheme in poetry. And then he continues the soft quality to a crescendo in both “neol boge dwelkka/널 보게 될까” and “mannage dwelkka/만나게 될까”.

I mentioned elsewhere too that Taehyung is a singer that is very hands-on with the instrumentality of his voice in context to the music piece. Taehyung doesn’t get to ad-lib often in their songs, but when he sees an opening that will fit his instrument, he will take the opportunity just like how he subtly embellishes in the second chorus at 11:53. He sings the entire line on the same pitch but latches on the last vowel and does a descending riff at the end to ornament the phrase. He really makes beautiful and clean ad-libs.

Then comes the anticipated bridge. One would understand why this part is saved for him, for it is in bridges where songwriters build the climax, and I love how it’s only the piano playing in the background.

Starting at 11:59, Taehyung utilises all of his three ranges (from chest, mix, falsetto then to his mix again). The presence of all these ranges completes the emotional complexity of Spring Day through Taehyung’s natural resonances per range. The bright, dark and neutral. But to be able to deliver such colors require mastery of his ranges and how he transitions between them.

Taehyung also uses vocal dynamics to further the subtext of emotions in the bridge. Soft chest that ascends and crescendos to his mix and diminuendos to the next line. He remains on his mix but the volume is more amplified now before he moves to a naturally thin and soft falsetto to pave way for his crescendo while sliding on a chest-dominant mix; the tone is dark here too with how the vowel ʊ is naturally dark, but we are given contrast at the end as it brightens up on the æ vowel. I really really can’t get over how it’s mostly just him in the piano, it sounds so gorgeous and elegant.

Taehyung also does his harmonies on head voice and falsetto. We start at 12:35 where Jungkook sings the melody and is succeeded by Taehyung’s soft falsetto that contrasts with Jungkook’s more charged delivery. And another harmony pending at 12:42. Jungkook sings the line and Taehyung echoes it on his mix but halfway ascends a pitch higher on his head voice.

It also bears repeating that BTS’ songs are mostly not produced with his natural vocal characteristics in consideration. It’s more than just about the high notes and pitch, but also about the timbre across his range.

From NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, we were able to witness Taehyung’s breath management and lung capacity at work, which enables him to flourish and be versatile on his phrasings and vocal dynamics; we heard his voice on his upper range: his head-dominant mix, head voice, and falsetto all stripped down from electronic tuning — how Taehyung has mastered resonance manipulation to blend in with the tenors; we heard how he can deliver emotions on any tone he’s in too regardless of what range he’s singing on.

It also goes to say how beautiful these live sets are and I hope there will be more like this where Taehyung, as well as other vocal line members, will be able to show off more of their vocals, unadorned by autotune and editing.

Watch BTS: Tiny Desk Concert:

professional nerd; BTS & V; a fan not a critic