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Common App: "Lo-Fang"


Hyunnew Choi

Admitted: Princeton Early Action

“#88?” By Lo-Fang? I nervously opened the YouTube link.

My friend insisted I listen to the entire six-minute song — one of her favorites — and let her know what I thought. She even promised the singer was really, really attractive. I obliged. 

My back hunched over the laptop screen, I clicked the play button. I pushed aside the pile of textbooks by my computer and promised myself I’d just listen to the first minute.

But I couldn’t get past the first few seconds. I rewound to see if maybe I had misheard. The singer again reached the high dissonant interval, one that seems so unfitting for its context. My brows furrowed, but I continued listening. 30 seconds later, the sudden jump in chord progression threw me for a loop. The crinkles on my forehead relaxed only during the 20-second violin, piano duo leading up to the song’s bridge; the instruments’ tones blended immaculately, and the final cadence was magical.

Every so often, my school friends send me pop song videos on YouTube in vain effort to make my Spotify playlist include a little more of Justin Timberlake and a little less of Antonín Dvorak.

It’s no surprise that even the way I listen to the pop music directly reflects my daily endeavors in classical music. I inevitably fall into the habits that have been shaped by the countless chamber coachings and private lessons. During our orchestra rehearsals, my conductor frequently flails his arms in excitement as he explains that the subtlest changes in dissonance, chord progression, and instrumentation can carry the most significant messages the composers intended to convey.

So, when the six-minute song ended, I let my friend know my thoughts on all of the above for #88, only to be met with a response of utter confusion. Her brows furrowed in the same way mine had at the dissonant interval; how had I possibly listened to all six minutes without noticing the heartbreaking lyrics? The song’s genius flow? The rawness of Lo-Fang’s voice?

Puzzled, I opened the link and played the song again. I still heard the unusual interval, the jump in chord progression, and the well-blended duo. But to my friend’s request, I strained to listen for everything else — everything I had apparently failed to hear the first time through.

Soon, the strain was lost. I sunk down into my chair as Lo-Fang’s voice finally cut through the layers of harmony and occasional dissonance. The repeated bleak words, each sung with the most intimate care, at last spoke to me, as if they were painting the bluest of tears right before me. I absorbed the seamless transitions between parts of the song, each of which uniquely added to the sheer longing and despair of the voice.

The video then shifted to a close-up of Lo-Fang; my heart fluttered as I finally noticed his acclaimed good looks. His long, charismatic face filled the rectangular frame as he mouthed the words. In the midst of lyrics that carried such pain, he hopefully asked, “Can we all rush in [to the empty streets and] / Get me back into the trees?” I wondered what the trees held for him and began to fantasize alternative endings for his shattered romance. My mind wandered during the duo.

The essence of #88 lay not in the specific notes, key changes, and instruments, but rather in the most basic mediums: the lyrics and the voice, both of which were so clear and raw. Although my knowledge of the minute, technical details has undoubtedly deepened my understanding of both pop and classical music, somewhere along the way I had forgotten how to just get lost — to get lost in wonder of musical beauty and emotion, and escape into a fantastical world filled with unrequited love, daydreams, and innocence.

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