It seems that this (the 4th) generation’s batch of boy groups are more defined by their looks and dancing skills and not so much by their vocal strength. Whether that is true or not is still up for debate and so while the jury is still out on that one, let’s take a look at three still-active boy groups with vocal lines that has raised the standard of K-pop fans:

EXO’s Chen, Baekhyun, and  D.O

When you’re an idol group produced by SM Entertainment, the expectations of your vocal talents are quite high. After all, this is the entertainment company that has produced idols like KangTa, BoA, Changmin, Jaejoong (former TVXQ), and Hyesung (Shinhwa was formed in SM, after all). The company has earned a reputation through the years as the entertainment company that prioritizes vocals over everything, leaving the other companies to get their own specialties – JYP for performance and stage presence and YG for the “swag” and overall expensive aura. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the company’s representative third generation boy group is the renowned for its stellar vocals. For members like Kai and Sehun to be considered as having the weakest vocals in the group is quite fascinating, right? I mean, should the two have not debuted under SM, they could have easily been middling lead vocalists at the least, definitely not in the vocalists bottom rung!

Anyway, I digress because, come on, when you have vocal king Chen and two other main vocalists Baekhyun  and D.O, you naturally have to step back. Chen is, after all, considered not only one of the best vocalists of the third generation of idol groups but generally of K-pop. Chen basically doesn’t know what a bad pitch day is. He has the best vocal placement in the group and sings with the least tension in EXO. On the other hand, D.O is well-known not just among members of his group, but in the entire K-pop scene as being the most agile male vocalist. Meaning, listening to him is such a pleasure because he can quickly, easily, and smoothly move through his vocal registers. Finally, Baekhyun beats even the two when it comes to singing in the upper register, with that falsetto that seems so relaxed and effortless. The breath support Baekhyun has when he sings makes it sound like he doesn’t struggle when singing high notes, at all.    

Fortunately, for all of us, SM Entertainment has blessed our ears with solo releases from all three EXO main vocalists. Chen has released three EPs, all topping the Korean charts when they were released. Of course, when asked which Chen song is the best, aside from the pun of answering Best Luck, his contribution to the It’s Okay, That’s Love OST, many will definitely answer Beautiful Goodbye, his first single from his first EP April, and a Flower. For D.O, it’s Rose from his first EP Empathy, which has both Korean and English versions, although his Spanish track Si Fueras Mia, also from Empathy has people amazed at his impeccable Spanish singing, which a lot of Latinos think is native-speaker level (although die-hard EXOLs would be quick to point out EXO-K sang Sabor de Mi in a Musicbank in Mexico concert). As for Baekhyun, fans readily swoon to Candy, although we are still reeling from Dream, the perfect duet he had with Suzy in 2016.     

Super Junior’s KRY – Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, and Yesung 

Speaking of SM Entertainment vocalists, basically, Super Junior’s KRY walked so that Chen, Baekhyun, and D.O can run. This vocal line of Super Junior practically cemented SM Entertainment’s reputation as the company that harbors premium vocal talent. I mean, when you have your label (that houses some of the best voices in the industry) give you the stage name Yesung which is derived from the Korean phrase literally meaning vocal cords of an artist and can be translated as an “art-like voice,” that surely is some huge boost in confidence, yes? 

That of course, refers to Yesung, who was born Kim Jungwoon (he later had it legally changed to Kim Kanghoon). Yesung has one of the more unique voices in the group, but in the whole of K-pop, with what could only be described as a heady mix of deep, smoky, and airy tones that make it so distinct you can almost always pick out in any given Super Junior song. But then, Yesung does not hold the monopoly for that distinct voice as Ryeowook, the R in KRY is unmistakable in his high notes. Like his voice per se is already high-pitched, so there’s really zero effort when he does runs and ad libs. And the best thing about Ryeowook is that he doesn’t overdo his vocal runs and instead practices total control over his instrument. 

Finally, when it comes to Super Junior‘s maknae Kyuhyun, no other description can fit it better than smooth. He just sounds like butter when gliding into even the most powerful ballads but also amazingly great sounding when he has lines that require him to belt. Even Yesung and Ryeowook have said in interviews that singing a song in Kyu’s arrangement is so difficult his voice is so midrange that it can easily go high and low with so little effort while the two have to adjust their voices to reach a satisfying high for Yesung and a legit low register for Ryeowook. 

As for their signature songs, Yesung’s textured voice feels like an assuring but happy embrace in Pink Magic, which sounds a tad more upbeat than his usual ballads. The Little Prince, Ryeowook’s solo debut, provided him with the high concept he deserves, although those goosebump-inducing vocal runs in the live performances of Hiding Words (look for the Yoo Heeyeol’s Sketchbook performance) are also an absolute treat to the ears. Finally, Kyuhyun’s iconic At Gwanghwamun proves that his voice can also do power ballads, not just the regular OST-sounding tracks he has until that time been typecasted in.  

BtoB BLUE: Eunkwang, Hyunsik, Sungjae and Changsub

For obvious reasons, the vocal line of BtoB has to be on this list. After all, when things went almost nowhere for Cube’s then-upcoming group, they made singing vocal-heavy ballads and mid-tempo songs their bread and butter. At a time when EXO, BTS, WINNER, iKON, and GOT7 were all about singing upbeat dance tracks and songs that need that all-consuming “beat drop”, BtoB took things to a different direction and finally met success.  

While the group did find considerable success with the fast-paced Beep Beep more than a couple of years after their debut, Cube decided that BtoB still wasn’t at the level of success they expected them to be, at least not at the fast climb to success the company experienced with their representative group, Beast. So, they suddenly took things slow with more ballad-oriented tracks like The Winter’s Tale, It’s Okay, Way Back Home, Remember That, and Pray (I’ll Be Your Man), one after the other, all power ballads, and all finally putting BtoB in the single digits of K-pop charts. But then, not only did the group finally give them a niche they dominated (and still are dominating) for years, but these songs also shone a spotlight on the group’s very impressive vocal line. Not that Ilhoon, Minhyun, and Peniel didn’t carry their weight in the team; in fact, the strength of their rap members also further brought attention to how fantastic their vocalists are. Eunkwang, Hyunsik, Sungjae and Changsub bring four different vocal flavors and colors that has made BtoB a well-recognized vocal group in K-pop. 

As THE main vocalist among rather vocally accomplished members, Eunkwang stands amongst the strongest of the strongest main vocalists in K-pop. Despite being in the industry for already more than 10 years, including his trainee period (when we could only imagine was more tiring and challenging for him), he has been able to keep his voice quality in sterling condition. And with all those power ballads BtotB and BtoB BLUE (the vocal line sub-unit), the fact that he has continued sounding strong all these years is proof that Eunkwang has made it his business to take care of his voice. 

On the other hand, Changsub started off as someone with a wider range compared to Eunkwang, but seems to lack discipline and control that the former has. He tends to insert adlibs and vocal lines when they’re not absolutely necessary, not to mention he almost always sounds like he’s “winging” every performance as opposed to the group’s leader. The majority of the time, Changsub ends up sounding glorious, but there are other times when he really sounds all over the place. Well, he has been known to not constantly practice, and it shows with the cracks and strains (and at times, even screaming) in a number of live BtoB performances.   

But then, if we’re speaking of range, nothing can beat the group’s constant song composer, Hyunsik. He can match Eunkwang and Changsub when it comes to belting some lines, but there have been instances, more than a couple in fact, when he brings out that husky baritone that can make Melodies swoon at a drop of a note. Have a YouTube visit and look for the song Beautiful Pain where he starts off the song on a rather high pitch and repeats more or less the same lines but in a very low pitch towards the end of the song. Now tell me if those images and sounds won’t live rent-free in your brain for weeks, if not months! 

Last but not the least, we have our idol-actor Sungjae, who at one look, will almost always fool anyone into thinking he’s first and foremost an actor than a boy group member. But show them a live performance of Remember That, and those opening lines sung in our maknae‘s baritone will surely send ’em hearts melting.  At the start of the group, particularly on the days when they were still singing a lot of fast songs, Sungjae didn’t shine that much and only sounded more confident as they slowed down their repertoire. Maybe because he thought his deeper voice suited the ballads more? Maybe he had less confidence in his dancing skills? Maybe he got more confident as got more recognition as an actor? Whatever the reason may be, his overall sound and stage presence notably improved during BtoB’s ballad era.    

INFINITE also brought us Woohyun and Sunggyu; Pentagon has Hui, Junho, and Kino; and the SEVENTEEN vocal powerhouse duo of DK and Seungkwan can never be denied. But today’s list only allows for three and for sure, we’ll be shining a spotlight on other vocal lines in the future, so make sure to stay tuned for that.    

Featured Image: A Still of Chen from EXO Official Twitter account.