Demigod 12 (the second book in the Tinkered Starsong series) is all about touring and shows and performing on different alien worlds throughout the galaxy.
We get to know several cantors and their voices much better in this book. So I thought I would use Demigod 12 to talk more about singers and writing them using Kpop vocal references.
Voices ALONE this has nothing to do with any other aspect of characterization.
Researching Singing for Gods
One of my best friends is a singer and I did go to an undergraduate university known for its musical college. By accident of having to support many of my friends’ concerts and operas, I got a decent (if sideways) musical education.
However, I myself am very much NOT a singer. I’m definitely more at the grace end of the spectrum… shall we say? So I did have to do some investigating to write these books.
Before we start – A Bit About BTOB
A lot of my references are going to be BTOB for reasons made obvious if you’ve watched them on Killing Voice. They are a Kpop group that focuses primarily on vocals (as opposed to production, performance, dance, or rap). For the purposes of this post you should probably know the following:
- They have (now) 2 rappers (standing at either end in the video below) and 4 vocals, but their main rapper, Minhyuk, also sings, composes, produces, and jumps over really tall things.
- The 4 BTOB vocals have different styles, training, and strengths but they almost always sing harmony. because this is key to cantor in the Tinkered Starsong books, that’s one reason BTOB gets highlighted in this post
- The 3 I’ll be talking about the most are pretty highly trained and 2 are legacy singers:
- Here’s a brief history of BTOB.
Here they are on Killing Voice:
L-R once video starts playing: Minhyuk (blue shirt & tie), Sungjae (navy collar), Eunkwang (dark blue sweater), Hyunsik (white shirt & tie), Changsib (orange collar), Peniel (grey sweater)
Watching how they take instruction from Hyunsik (who composes and arranges a large % of their stuff) versus Minhyuk (who does most of the rest) and how much vocal control the singers have in response to direction is fascinating. If you’re interested in vocal nuance, these studio videos give insight into applying the art of song.
Also, I really enjoyed this vocal coach on YouTube reacting to and describing BTOB’s singing. I love the way she talks about music, she’s a well-educated professional but also enthusiastic and articulate. From a writer perspective – she uses a ton of juicy vocabulary.
And now the bit you’re waiting for…
10 Major Vocal References for Cantor Characters
Please remember, in my books, these fictional characters aren’t precisely human:
- Missit has trained with Dyesi for all his adult life,
- Kagee is colony-evolved and bred,
- Phex is triggered by genetic manipulation.
So OBVIOUSLY this is just to give you an idea of their core human voices – so to speak.
(Or should I say: “so to sing?”)
Changsib (BTOB) & JinYoung (GOT7)
He has amazing breath control and can be both clear & full and light & airy while combing either technique with emotion & depth. He uses his voice for storytelling, there is a reason he often opens and/or closes BTOB’s songs. (Here’s a vocal coach reacting to the above video of Changsib singing with his vocal coach, it’s very meta.)
This is one aspect of the golden voice I describe with Missit: He brings out emotion in listeners. As a storyteller myself, this is a thing I gravitate to the most with singers.
The precision of Changsib’s control (elegant & restrained) and vocal flexibility moving into his higher rage is lovely on the ear. But his voice also has this tiny burr to it, a warm humming (like a cat’s purr) that makes it feel soft, even when he’s belting (not his strong suit).
He can clean that up, but he doesn’t usually bother.
His voice is gentle.
Here’s a good wet vocal of him doing some solo work.
All this makes Changsib particularly recognizable as a singer (even inside a vocal powerhouse group like BTOB), even if you’re not trained to hear it.
I bet if you just listen to BTOB songs (no video) he is the singer you’ll recognize first and easiest.
Phex, as the POV character (who has no vocal training/ability to talk about such things) notices this about Missit. That he has the voice most recognized in the galaxy for its character.
This is a key difference to Phex’s own voice which I describe as “almost too perfect.” Phex sees this as yet another factor that makes Missit far above him as a god.
All that said, for the honey warmth and golden-ness of Missit’s tone, I was actually thinking about Jinyoung from GOT7.
What to say about this man’s voice? Like Changsib he is a gorgeous vocal storyteller, his tone is warm & honey even when he goes into falsetto.
Listening to Jinyoung is like swimming in a mountain lake on a summer day, it’s that immersive. Ugh, I got poetical, sorry.
It’s rarely piercing, always natural, never too clean – just sweet and lovely.
I chose Letter because I think it showcases his voice best, here’s a live cut.
He doesn’t have the range or the training of Changsib, instead he relies more on natural talent, but oof, that talent.
Woosung (The Rose) & Hongki (F.T. Island)
I actually haven’t talked about Woosung much in this blog but he actually has one of my favorite voices in Kpop. His voice has a TON of personality.
There’s an intentional applied breathiness to the way he sings which I just find really enjoyable listening.
His voice is… well… very furry (I don’t quite know how else to describe it).
He’s not got a ton of power, but his voice is rich and magical with a shaky wobbly almost intentionally distorted vocal tone that sounds a little like he’s both singing & whispering & wiggling his throat skin with his fingers.
I know, that’s crass way of putting it, but how else do you describe his voice?
Another one informing Kagee’s tone is Hongki, the main singer of the rock band F.T. Island.
His voice has even more burr and gravel.
It’s great. Very rock.
I chose the video where he is singing a duet with N.Flying’s Hweseung who has a vast range (see the Phex section) because it’s live and wet and not been cleaned up by production. Both of these singers are rockers, mind you, but you can hear the burr in Hongki as opposed to Hweseung, who has a cleaner tone.
Hongki acts in Kdramas as well. You can hear the gravel in his voice when he talks in those roles.
It’s not accedent that the descritive words for these singers are all rock and geology and so are many of the visuals associated with Kagee, my beloved sharp-edged stoney grey alien boy.
Seungmin & Felix (Stray Kids)
I don’t describe Fortew singing often (for obvious reasons) and it’s hard to pull from Kpop for him because Kpop tends to lean toward higher ranges and falsettos in their male vocals.
So I ended up going 4th gen for him.
If you listen to Love Poem the voice that will likely cause shivers down your spine is Seungmin’s (in the tie and jacket on the right).
Seungmin is a warm throaty singer (even in falsetto, which he rarely does) with a weight to his voice and a light natural burr that is almost a vibrato. It makes him, for lack of a better term, a stylish singer.
He is not particularly strong and he doesn’t have a ton of range but that doesn’t stop his voice from being something rather special. It’s incredibly resonant and round. And because he sticks to his natural (speaking) range most of the time, it never loses any of its tonality so it will hit you right at the hairs at the back of the neck.
(Also, let’s be real here, who didn’t want Changsib & Seungmin to sing together? We never got to see it on Kingdom and I am still sad about that.)
I combo Seungmin with Felix because Felix can go so deep.
I imagine Fortew could do the same, as low cantor of such a famous group.
In case you care, Ateez’s Jungho, who is the singer in the white sweater on the far left in Love Poem above, has one of the biggest ranges (A2-D6) amongst male vocalists in Kpop right now (he can push it to 6). He is the 4th Gen singer to watch.
Hyunsik + Eunkwang (BTOB) in harmony together
It’s when these two harmonize together that I start to think of them as BTOB’s main vocals. Obviously BTOB doesn’t have strict vocal positions (any one of the 4 in their vocal line would be main vocal in any other group), but these two in harmony?
Like, outer space stellar.
They are both so well trained and flexible in mid to high range that they interweave with each other in a near operatic way. Here there are farting around with a guitar and not much else.
Why these two?
Eunkwang’s voice is so clear, sharp, and fixed toward the head (although he’s usually singing from his chest) while Hyunsik’s is slightly more buttery and resonant (like it’s coming from lower down) – they balance each other.
It’s fun and fascinating and often hard to distinguish them in harmony – like the two voices are actually becoming one.
Quasilun’s voice can be thought of as a constant harmonic combo of these two at all times.
(Pay attention to the very last song they do on Killing Voice together, It’s Okay. It’s the same one I linked above, but on Killing Voice you can see/hear them harmonizing that last high note together.)
Hyunsik (BTOB) & Hynn
Both Eunkwang and Hyunsik are extremely proficient and well trained but Hyunsik has this insane strength in his range. He can’t go as high as Changsib or Eunkwang, but he does go MUCH lower, and his natural speaking voice is a damn delight.
He’s also one of the cleanest most consistently powerful vocalists in Kpop. Which is to say his strength doesn’t waver within that amazing range.
Hyunsik is folk trained (originally) but his voice feels like rock to me and that’s where my ear likes to rest.
His voice is rounder, warmer, and more buttery than Phex’s would be. But Hyunsik is so good, this can make him difficult to pick out in a group, because he changes his tone exactly the right amount to match a song style.
This is the part of his talent that reminds me of Phex.
Unlike the previous singers I’ve talk about, Hyunsik’s voice has less personality to it within a group (not as little as Phex’s) but he’s just so professional on stage it’s almost too clean, and that is the quality I’m going for with Phex. And that range. Sheesh. It’s unfair.
Similarly N Flying’s Hweseung has a huge range and a very clean & precise way of singing.
Speaking of range.
Because Phex covers pretty much every octave (manufactured genetics will do that to a boy) I chose a female singer to represent for his upper levels. Honestly, I probably should have gone opera for Phex, but I wanted to stick with Kpop for this post, so it had to be Hynn.
Bad Love is my favorite song of hers and the composition is insane. You have to listen all the way to the end.
Argh. How can such a tiny person produce that much sound? Yes it gets a bit sharp and piercing but that’s the POINT. This song is meant to hurt the way the person who wrote it was obviously hurt. Also, remember Phex can cause serious damage with his voice.
Anyway, range is only really important under the construct of the Tinkered Starsong series with regards to Phex, for the other characters it’s not that big a deal (since they nest into their different pantheon roles).
But if you’re one of those obsessed with vocal range here’s an article on the subject of legacy Kpop male singers with wide ranges. Quite a few of these top my favorites lists.
Every YouTube mentioned in this post appears on my Tinkered Starsong Research Playlist.
You don’t have to take my word for it
- Here’s a vocal coach who does reaction videos and vocal analysis for Kpop singers and songs.
- Here’s a rap specialist who analyzes the rappers and rap tracks in Kpop.
- 10 Legendary K-pop Solo Tracks
My Favorite Top 10 Kpop Soloists
I get asked a lot,
“Yes but Miss Gail just who are your personal favorites?”
So these are Kpop singers who are either soloists, or members of groups who also have thriving solo careers. I picked simply based on my own playlist and how many songs of theirs I have, and how often I listen to them.
Some of these surprised me, actually.
- Woosung (The Rose)
- Taemin (Shinee)
- Leo (VIXX)
- Kang Daniel
- Henry (2nd gen soloist, once Super Junior-M, very under appreciated IMHO)
- Key (Shinee)
- Eric Nam
- Young K (Day6)
There are singers not in here whom I love as singers but just haven’t done much solo work (Kihyun of Monsta X springs to mind), or if they do, their taste isn’t to mine (so to speak).
- Over on A Word with Tom Merritt podcast we talk K-Pop and come over all giddy & excited. We get geeky regarding group building strategies where I go into the different positions (lyric, lazy, and hard rappers), belter vs crooner singers, and performers (trick, street, and trained dancers) as well as face, visual, leader and maknae. (I talk a lot about Bigbang’s Monster which I think is the perfect rep for Kpop’s beginnings).
Playlist for the Tinkered Starsong Trilogy:
- Tinkered Starsong YouTube Playlist: Because these books are all about music becoming visible I recommend the YouTube playlist.
Roughly, songs for each book as are follows:
- Divinity 36 = Sunshower to Guard You
- Demigod 12 = Move (TNX) to Love Yourself
- Dome 6= Favorite to Remember
- Spotify playlist: Kelly and I cobbled together one of these for you too. Not all the songs I select in these blog posts are available on Spotify and sometimes (certainly not the versions I like – live for example) but we did our best. It’s not in any particular order.
- History of Kpop playlist: Because obsession almost always takes the form of research with me (I am such a nerd) I also have a playlist that features/tracks the evolution of Kpop as a musical performance industry, from some early music videos and shows to more recent stuff. It also includes pivotal moments, covers, variety shows, lives and other kinds of performances. It’s on both:
- Research playlist: I also have a playlist of videos relating to all the research I did for these books, a few songs, some song analysis, behind the scenes stuff and talking heads on various themes tackled in these books. It’s not all Kpop, there’s a lot else going on with Phex’s journey.
In this post series:
Please don’t make the mistake of assuming these singers necessarily represent my personal preferences. I am a wonk over K-pop not a stan of any particular group, nor do I pick biases. I’ve chosen a lot of ballad singers primarily because these songs give them the option of showcasing voices best. There are certainly other Kpop vocalist who I love and might qualify for these parts and as inspiration.
Yours (destined to be humiliated by overzealous 4th gen stans),
BOOK DE JOUR!
Divinity 36: Tinkered Starsong Book 1
The aliens are coming for us and they want our voices.
New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger brings you a gloriously warm and unique scifi about the power of art, celebrity, and found family.
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