It’s week two of an already eventful 2021 and right about now, something hopeful and calm might be great to take the perhaps slightly nervous edge off. Ballads can either be hugely successful in Korea, appealing to the general public at large. However, they also run the risk of being branded as “dull” by more invested idol fans.
Collaborations between artists tend to put these kinds of releases on more solid ground. Still, with relatively little fanfare, VIXX member Hyuk teamed up with singer-songwriter Jukjae to release Camellia (동백꽃) in December last year. Hyuk, who has been slowly taking steps into his own solo career over the past year, both sings and arranges on the release, confirming the talent that has been glimmering through in his past release. With VIXX likely on an indefinite hiatus and Hyuk still signed to Jellyfish Entertainment, we may also have more to see from him yet.
Camellia’s strengths as a song lie in both it’s simple, emotive style and the accompanying music video. Opening with simple plucked guitar, and filling out gently in the first verse, the song has an echoing, almost ethereal quality to it. The first chorus gives a sudden swell of sound with the addition of drums and bass. It’s slow and contemplative despite the swell, with the vocal line still guiding. Jukjae leads with his vocals taking the first verse and chorus, with Hyuk taking a turn at the second verse. This verse isn’t nearly so sparse as the second half hits, but it also feels sweeter – the addition of very quiet chimes helps with this, as well as complementing Hyuk’s smooth vocals.
The lead into the second chorus would have the listening thinking that an even fuller sound is coming. However, Camillia flips this on its head, instead cutting back to the guitar that opened the entire song. It’s a nice change of pace that allows the song to avoid stagnating or feeling too repetitive. And not too long after, we get the first instance of both singers vocals combined. There are no harmonies here, but there’s a lovely countermelody by Jukjae that really brings the music to life. Of course, with any ballad song, it’s main goal is to convey emotion. Here, it’s palpable, verging on overly sentimental at times but just holding back from going too far. Hyuk is proving to show a great deal of sensitivity on his vocal performances, and Jukjae has proven many a time that has voice can carry just the right emotion with little trouble. By the last moments of the song, it’s lingering melody is strong enough to likely be caught in your mind, and that’s always an impressive feat for a ballad. In the balancing act of matching up slow-paced pure feelings and having something genuinely memorable, Camillia lands in a safe, if sometimes slightly worn, middle ground.
Thankfully, the added emotional punch of the music video lifts the song above its middling heights. Focusing on an older man, we see glimpses of his life: his loving relationship with his partner, spending time with their daughter and all the simple beauties of their days together. There’s a bittersweet feeling underpinning every scene, a feeling of loss that the old man simply smiles through. By the end of the video, we see him holding flowers, on his way to somewhere unknown. The idea that perhaps he is heading to a grave, possibly that of his wife, makes the reveal of her sitting happily on the sofa all the more poignant. There’s a beauty in a happy ending of a life well-lived. Seeing them together, smiling and still by each others side, is enough to warm the heart of even the most cynical viewer. It’s a simple plot that is done well, matching the feeling of the song perfectly to make it more than the sum of its parts.
So many people often give ballads a skip due to the less exciting nature of their releases. However, there’s always something good to be found in their gooey centres. Whether you listen for the vocals or the soothing instrumental or watch to feel something, Camillia is a solid release that proves this style of song still has lasting power.