Like many things in life, I first learned of Leessang through the variety show Running Man, the best reality competition show to be put on God’s Green Earth. On the show, there was one guy who stood out for… not standing out at all. His first running gag was always being calm, and then it was his “plain face” which was easy to lose in a crowd. He never raised his voice much, yet he was somehow integral to the show’s success, as others like the irrepressible HaHa and the overly stern Jong Kook were able to play off of the calm guy, so that their personalities could shine without becoming grating on the audience. For that reason, I assumed that the average looking dude was an actor, kind of a Jason Bateman of Korea. A quick wiki search later, and… I found out that this dude named Gary is a rapper for a hip-hop due named Leessang? How could such an understated man be a rapper? After listening to their music (over and over again) it became obvious that Gary’s strengths on Running Man translated just as well to music. His partner in crime, Gil (also a variety show veteran in his own right on the great Infinite Challenge) sings with such a unique croak that matches well with Gary’s everyman approach to rapping. With a good ear for beats, the two consistently release great tracks that play to their respective strengths (Gil’s bombastic voice and Gary’s deadpan cadence). Their latest release, ‘Tears’ featuring Yoojin is more of the same, a stellar, introspective track about lost romance that is as reliably great as Running Man is funny.
The beat is a textbook example of how to craft a great sad hip-hop anthem. First, start with a very sparse piano beat and some high delicate vocals (Yoojin is great here). Secondly, bring in the booming bass drum and clap machine. The combination creates an atmosphere of heartbreak, as the thundering bass threatens lends a claustrophobic air, as if the walls are closing all around. Gary is as workmanlike as ever, but his slight breath restraint brings so much to the table, and helps create the aural illusion that he is holding back his own emotions which could burst through at any moment (the drums help with this illusion). Then Gil tears it up, like the song’s wild id to Gary’s composed ego, and the drums and clapping reach even greater heights until the song wins you over. It is a formula which Leessang has used before (‘The Girl Who Can’t Break Up, The Guy Who Can’t Leave’ being the most obvious example), but the duo are such experts at the romantic hip-hop ballad that it would have been more of a crime if they didn’t go back to that particular well.
The video is solid, but not as spectacular as the song. NS Yoon-G and Daniel of DMTN star as two people who break up. They’re sad, they hang their heads down in their respective apartments, drink and sleep. For such an obvious concept, the direction has to bring extra visual flair and ‘Tears’ succeeds at that for the most part. The use of split screen is smart, creating a space where the two share the screen, but still exist in separate worlds.
There’s some nice moments where the two seem to “interact” through past memories where the use of split screen really highlights the insurmountable barriers that couples face when they break up. Yellow lighting contrasts with blue lighting to accentuate the different universes that NS Yoon-G and Daniel occupy. There are no extras, even for outdoor scenes, which emphasize the characters’ loneliness, and longing for companionship with a person who is now inaccessible (The shot of NS Yoon-G on the higher plane with a ladder that is just out of reach of Daniel that is used on the cover is genius in that regard). It is not a video that will go viral, but it plays to it’s song’s strengths, adding to the overall product, rather than dominating it.
‘Tears’ is another worthy entry to the Leessang discography. Gil and Gary are as solid as ever, and Yoojin of Seeya brings just as much to the table. The video is well crafted and mature; a proper reflection of the artists responsible for ‘Tears’. Reliability is an underrated craft, but that is precisely what makes the veteran Leessang so good. Like their turns on variety shows, the two are consistently gold, and the Korean pop scene is made all the better for their presence.
Rating: 50 bottles of beer out of one break up. It’s good y’all.