KEY: BAD LOVE
Let me begin by saying every member of SHINee can sing. However, that never convinced me that every one of them was a singer. They all have the capacity for great vocal ability, but the singers were very clear from the start (leader Onew and our dearly departed Jonghyun). Taemin worked hard to get his voice to stand up against the two powerhouses (and still he nestles within a very specific wheelhouse that doesn't demand too much of him). Minho and Key, known more for their rap and dance contributions, have competent vocal ability that, again, with practice, help to balance the group's overall vocal foundation. So when I say this, understand that this is with a history of listening to a vocal group with two obvious vocals and three members with decent tone and range, but whose other talents outshine their voices.
Key can actually sing!
I never thought of him as the strongest singer. Never even associated the word "singer" with him because as far as I'm concerned his role vocally has always been as support (and he's got the strength and conviction in his voice to be one hell of a support, allowing the group's vocal dynamic to never crumble). But as a standalone, I wasn't convinced.
Until BAD LOVE.
The title track is proof enough of that. The man's higher register is like oxygen. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But the air he gets, the absolute breath control he shows when reaching for higher notes is really impressive. Even more impressive is what he does when he's up there. He very capably wraps his voice around notes and modulates his tone to ensure that those bent notes don't break. This shows technique, no doubt a product of being in a group known for their ability to deliver high-octane dance performances while still maintaining equally demanding vocals.
When in his falsetto, KEY's carriage is just as strong. He does opt for head voice when floating up to the peak of his register. This only shows foresight to know when he's pushing his range to its limit, adding more air to the notes to give him room to actually play with them (the aptly titled "Helium").
But it's when he sits solidly in his tenor that he makes the most of his vocal strengths. He does tend to get a nasally, but it doesn't detract from the fact that he's got a very solid foundation that allows him to inject real emotion and tenderness in his music ("Hate that").
Never to be neglected, you have to give kudos to the SM producers. They've found the perfect balance of music for KEY to really find his feet as a soloist. The music does move away from SHINee, a bit more than Taemin did with his first two efforts. That's not to say that it strays too far out of his range. But KEY most certainly has a pocket: bright synth-heavy pop. Music meant to complement his dynamic voice without overpowering it. The producers certainly earned their paychecks, doing a stellar job with vocal production as much as overall composition. While "BAD LOVE" showed glimpses of KEY's musical personality, track "Helium" is the epitome of the man. Attitude, sass and most notably a diversity in vocal stylings that's surprisingly wide and inventive. Even the pre-chorus, which is mostly spoken, has a melodic bounce (compliments of overdubbing with the synth and his own voice) that feels deceptively like singing.
BAD LOVE is a really surprising effort, at least for me. While he doesn't necessarily have the solid tone of Onew or Jonghyun, KEY is most certainly a vocalist in his own right. More than just a solid, unwavering support in the group, he is a commendable vocalist that has found his niche and nestled very nicely in it.