Who’d have thought a tone-deaf child would become a member of Korean boy band, earning millions from crooning ballads?

Credit: annyeongeurope.com

With his first solo studio album, Kim Jaejoong from TVXQ and then JYJ is doing a good job at making his name synonymous with Korean rock, UrbanWire reckons, going by his debut EP I/Mine out earlier this year. That gave a taste of things to come that’s realized by just released WWW, and from the looks of it, with he’s completely set to shed his boyband rep.

Although technically an album dedicated to post-breakup insecurity (as explained by the man himself in an interview with Daum Music), “Who, When, Whybarely sounds like the usual sappy, self-loathing crap that comes with relationship endings; that’s unless you actually understand Korean.

You seldom associate a Korean pop act (especially one previously from K-pop label giant SM Entertainment) with a heavy rock sound, but with the genres within this album gradually shifting from grunge-influenced tracks to slightly ditzy pop punk Jaejoong proves he’s not just another manufactured K-pop artiste.

Leading the 13-track album is “빛” (Light), which may remind his fans of the singer-songwriter’s first rock track, “Maze” released in 2008 for his former band TVXQ’s Japanese TRICK project. Though the lyrics showcase his poetic disposition, he’s kept the guitar heavy but drum and bass light, to ease us into more intense sounds further down.

His collaboration with rapper Yong Jun Hyung (from BEAST) resulted in “Don’t Walk Away”, the lone track on this album that could fit in Korean pop’s current idea of “rock” (read: F.T.Island’s I Hope). Korea’s resident bad boy Jun Hyung spiced up the painfully ordinary pop-ridden track with his signature lazy rap style, albeit for just about 10 seconds. If not for Jun Hyung’s aid, Jaejoong would probably be donning neon accessories and rainbow plaid shirts during the live performance for this song, just to match its feel.

The album takes a breather with “햇살 좋은” (Sunny Day), which features Lee Sang Gon of Noel. Too bad you’ve probably never heard of them since they’re an R&B group which started in 2002, way before the Korean wave. 1 of only 3 tracks not produced by Jaejoong in WWW, “Sunny Day”feels like the soundtrack to any typical Korean drama –  not exactly outstanding, but definitely more substantial than the other obligatory ballads in a typical Korean album.

Hints of 90s grunge can be found in the lead single, “Just Another Girl”, yet another number with lyrics crafted by the Gongju native. Within a day of its release, the song topped the rock charts on iTunes in 11 countries including Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and even Lithuania! A pretty impressive feat, we think, and signs that the Hallyu wave has swept to as far as an European country.

Saving the best for last, Jaejoong waited to the final lap of WWW to show what he’s really made of. If US post-hardcore/melodic hardcore band Sleeping With Sirens and Four Year Strong had married each other and translated their lyrics to Korean, “9+1#” would be the baby. Intense drums coupled with explosive guitar riffs, it’s one of those songs you’d happily get in the moshpit for and emerge with battle scars all over.

WWW is a well-crafted collection of raw emotions and easily one of the best K-pop offerings in 2013. It’s quite certain that Jaejoong has finally found his place in the K-pop industry with this album, leaving almost no trace of his past with his estranged boyband. See, Lee Soo Man, maybe it’s time to get over Yoo Young Jin and just let your artistes write their own stuff.

Artist: Kim Jaejoong
Album Title: WWW (Who When Why)
Rating: 3/5
Language: Korean
Genre: Rock
Record Label: A&G Modes
Release Date: Oct 29

Track list
1. Light
2. Don’t Walk Away (ft. Yong Jun-hyung of B2ST)
3. Just Another Girl
4. Butterfly
5. Rotten Love
6. Sunny Day (ft. Lee Sang-gon of Noel)
7. Let The Rhythm Flow
8. It Is
9. Now Is Good
10. 9+1#
11.  Luvholic (ft. Ha Dong-kyun)
12. Modern Beat
13. Paradise