Whew! There was a lot going on in the lyrics, but what about the music itself? The melody, instrumentation, genre, vocal assignments, etc. all of that gives MAMA the unique flare that caught the attention of so many in 2012. But where and how to begin? How about we start with instrumentation.
**Warning:This discussion is based on an aural analysis only. It would make this a whole lot easier if there was a full score of each song out there but…c’est la vie (And no a piano reduction is not the same. Call me a music snob. I don’t care soooooo…..)
With that said…..
From the sound of the lone church bell to the sampling of a setting of “Agnus Dei,” (although my ears could be tricking me and they are just singing vowels like choirs for films do) the initial opening of MAMA creates an ominous atmosphere, filling the listener with anticipation of what is to come. What follows are rich strings playing détaché syncopated block chords throughout the chant section. The beat drops, the strings rest, and we wait…Up, and there goes the guitar run ending in a pitch harmonic a.k.a. screech, signaling the entrance of the rest of the instruments and the beginning of the first verse. The same rhythms we heard in each instrument previously returns, layered coming together to create this pop rock song. There is a thick intensity felt within the separate rhythms in the strings and the Electro-percussive instruments. The violins break off into a new melodic phrase interchanging between détaché and legato. Then we get to the Vamp, which becomes noticeably more erratic in rhythm. All before we’ve had this steady, syncopated pattern but now that sense of security is gone. Thus enters the synthesizers and the percussion and electric guitar take the lead roles while the strings support them in the back. The synthesizers create this foreign, alienesque sound that reminds the listener from whence the group has come. But soon this gives way to the music we heard before bringing us back to that “safe” place. And how does the instrumentation for MAMA end? Just as it began, simply with the strings.
**Warning: This next section might seem a little scattered but there are two different versions. To be able to talk about vocal litigation and the effect it has on the melodic line of each I’ll have to jump back and forth a bit. Sorry, not sorry.
Ironically, even though they are asking questions throughout the song, the melodic line stays very declamatory. The authoritative tone, more prominent in the EXO-K version, whereas in the EXO-M’s version you hear an internal fury.
-Admin Pisces- Very true, Aqua. If I may point out an example within both versions of the lyrics that demonstrates this? Within the same line (possibly also due to translation) you are able to see this contrast:
마마! 이젠 내게 대답해줘
mama! ijen naege daedabhaejwo
Your majesty! Now answer me and tell me
Mama ke bu ke yi qing gao su
Mama can you please tell me
Even the subtle use of an exclamation point within the EXO-K version…
-Admin Aqua- Good example, Pisces. Also, notice the way the vocals are assigned. As with anything, repetition breeds familiarity. That being said, after listening to quite a few of their songs and watching performances, one will be able to recognize the various voices and attributes each of them has. For example, take note of where the “powerhouse” singers are placed within the song. Baekhyun, D.O., and Chen are constantly placed in areas of MAMA that showcases their full sounding, upper extension.Their belts are amazing! The softer voices, Suho, Luhan, and Lay sit firmly within these singers that book end the verses for each version. And where does that leave Kris, Chanyeol, Tao, Sehun, Xiumin, and Kai? With the half sung, half spoken sections, although Xiumin is also a part of the second group. As a debut song, MAMA strongly places each member within their “line roles.” The vocal pedagogue in me wants to go more in depth on each ones vocal abilities but I will save that for another time. *le sigh*
The melody calls for a fair amount of vocal flexibility. Repeated pitches, anticipations, appoggiaturas, other types of leaps, and let’s not forget the screamo section. So much packed into the melodic line of a 3:30-4:00 minute song. My inner pedagogue wants to come out again and wonders what type of training they did for the screamo section. Without using the appropriate technique it could cause damage. Maybe that’s why they’ve only done it in one song. And why in the EXO-K version only Kai does this section but in the EXO-M version Xiumin and Kris do it? Does it tie into my previous question? Was it a question of who could do it safely and who could not, or was it something else? We’ll never know. The addition of chant in the beginning, singing, rap-like section, and screamo creates a diverse melodic line.
And what about the types of harmonies used? Well, MAMA is written in D minor. It is full of chromaticism, this is particularly seen in when they are singing the section right before the first entrance of the chorus. At that point they are singing the following:
익명의 가면에 감췄던
igmyeongui gamyeone gamchwotdeon
The mask of anonymity hides
살의 가득한 질시
sarui gadeukhan jilsi
The jealous eye filled with murderous intent
끝을 봐도 배고픈 듯한
ggeuteul bwado baegopeun deuthan
Though they see the end, they’re still hungry
yin xing zai ni de mian ju bei
Invisible behind your mask
hou chong man xu duo de biao qing
your face is full of many expressions
dao zui hou que shi zhong ru yi
Being consistent until the end
Once again, I’d have so much more to say if I could get my hands on a full score of this song. *le sigh*
** Experience Otherworldly Aural Transfiguration **