When they rounded a corner they arrived at a section of offices that were home to SM’s vocal coaches. Hidden away in a small corner office, Kim Jaejoong was hunched over and on the phone, his face contorted with anger and frustration. Chohee signaled the already deadly silent group to stay that way by placing her index finger to her lips and pointed for them to stay a few steps away from the section of offices. She picked up Yoochun’s little girl and whispered something in her ear, the little girl nodding to confirm she understood and beaming back at her.
Yun in her arms, Chohee tiptoed like the practiced prankster she was until she and the girl were standing behind Jaejoong. They stood there for a second, Yun holding in giggles amazingly well until Chohee nodded and she sang, or screamed, at the top of her tiny little lungs, “Oridago noriji marayo, sujuboso maldo mothago!*”
“What the hell,” Jaejoong exclaimed as the phone dropped from his hand and flew a few inches into the air. He turned to look at the two of them, even more angry and frustrated than before, but couldn’t help but smile as he laid eyes first on tiny Yun and then the beaming and equally giggly Chohee. “I’m kind of on the phone.”
“You’re on hold and you need to smile more,” Chohee replied without hesitation. “You’re starting to get wrinkles on your forehead,” she added, reaching her free hand out and poking him right between the eyebrows.
He was about to reply, but the person he was on the phone with picked back up, and he held up a finger. Chohee quietly returned to the other’s as Jaejoong shouted something about conference rooms and things not being fair and said, “He should be done soon enough. When he is, he’ll come out. I think I’ll take this one on a tour and then find something fun for us to do while you’re busy. Jaejoong Oppa has my cell number if you need to get a hold of us.”
“Well, okay then,” Yoochun agreed as Chohee and his daughter were halfway down the hall.
“You guys can come on in,” Jaejoong shouted from his office and the four of them entered, again fighting to remain at a distance from each other despite constrained quarters. Jaejoong fiddled with a few things on his desk and then looked around at the men now surrounding him, “Sorry I don’t have chairs for all of you. I’m having some issues with one of the managers right now, nothing for you to really worry about.”
“So, you can’t even get a conference room, but you want us to believe that you can get us a comeback or debut or whatever it is you say you can do?” Changmin asked, leaning against a cabinet.
“Yes,” Jaejoong replied simply.
“Why don’t you give us a rundown on what all of this is going to entail and then we can talk about it and decide where we’re going to go from here?” Yunho suggested to Jaejoong, placing his backpack on the ground and looking around at the other three. He looked around them, but not at them. He couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact with the men he had abandoned.
“And who put you in charge?” Changmin snapped, cocking his head in a most defiant manner.
“Lee Soo Man did,” Yunho replied, looking at the wall, rather than Changmin’s face.
Changmin scoffed, “That was almost five years ago. I think you lost that title.”
“Regardless of who is in charge,” Jaejoong interrupted, raising his voice in case Yunho was about to rebuttal, “what Yunho said is true. I need to tell you guys exactly what you’re about to sign up for before you make any long term commitments.”
“Sounds fair,” Junsu nodded, crossing his arms over his chest and shifting his weight from side to side.
The other three nodded and they turned their attention to Jaejoong, “Well, then. I printed these out for all of you,” he said handing them all white binders. “It’s got new contract information in it, as well as a time table for what we have to accomplish by when if we’re going to make this work.”
“Wait,” Yoochun said throwing up a hand, “You were serious when you said we only had a month? This says our first performance is on September 29th.”
“Do you even have a song picked out yet?” Junsu asked, looking up at Jaejoong.
“We haven’t trained in years,” Changmin added, his eyebrows furrowed.
Jaejoong raised a hand, “We can do this.”
“Junsu brought up a good point,” Yunho sat down on the corner of Jaejoong’s desk. “Do you even have a song yet?”
“I wanted to wait for you guys to pick one out,” Jaejoong replied, looking around at all of them. “Come on, it’s not that big of a deal. We can pick a few out today, you guys can take them home and look them over and then tomorrow we can come back and try some recording things.”
“So you can get a song and not a conference room?” Changmin tossed his notebook down on Jaejoong’s desk. “Really?”
Jaejoong glared at the youngest one, pulling open the top drawer of his desk, “Take your pick of these demos, Changmin.”
The four gathered around the drawer, a couple of them momentarily making physical contact on a couple occasions. The drawer was full of CDs and a few, God forbid, cassette tapes with random titles, numbers and letters scrawled on them.
Junsu was the first to dive in, picking up a few of them and sifting through them he read, “Million Men,” in English and giggled to himself. “What an odd name. Can we listen to this one?”
Jaejoong took it from him and popped it into his computer. A couple clicks later, a song was playing and they were all intently listening. After enjoying about thirty seconds of it Junsu had a smile on his face, “I like it.”
“It sounds like something that would have been a filler track on an album four years ago,” Yoochun argued, shaking his head. “It’s not fresh enough. It’s kinda boring.”
“And so it is,” Jaejoong said, waving the case at them. “The code is ‘B262004.’ The ‘B,’ means it was a filler track and the ‘2004,’ marks the year. The first two digits are just for cataloging purposes.”
“So we want to find something that says at least 2007, right?” Yunho asked, looking up at Jaejoong who just nodded in agreement. He continued sorting through a pile of CDs when he found one, “S132007, Harudal. What does the ‘S,’ mean?”
“Soundtrack,” Jaejoong told them. “It means that SM was given the song as a demo for a soundtrack. If it’s in this drawer, they didn’t use it.”
“I’m pretty sure Big Bang recorded that song,” Yoochun said. “I remember because I loved it.”
“Huh, then I guess that one is a no,” Jaejoong said, raising his eyebrows.
They spent the next hour looking through CDs. The song from 2007 was the most recent one they could find, but there were a few that stood out to them as possibilities. One was a dance song from 2005 called Rising Sun with the label ‘A,’ another was ballad labeled ‘B,’ from 2006 by the name of Remember. However, none of them felt very strongly about either of the songs. They were both too outdated.
Changmin sat down against the far wall, “I knew this wasn’t going to work out.”
“There are more songs in the archives,” Jaejoong insured him. “I’ll just have to go get some more of them and we’ll have to do this again.”
“Aren’t all those going to be older than these?” Yunho asked. Jaejoong confirmed with a nod.
“Listen,” Jaejoong placed his face in his hands and rubbed his face hard, “I’ll go talk with some of the composers and see if they have anything they might be able to give us. You guys wait here.”
He stood and walked swiftly down the hall and up the stairs to the fourth floor. He walked to the office furthest down the hall and knocked three times. There was a pause and then a girl opened the door, narrowing her eyes. “What do you want, Jaejoong?” she asked, holding the door open only enough for her eyes to be seen.
“I need a song, Sungmi,” he replied quickly.
“They told me you would be coming to see me,” she answered him, keeping the door unopened. “They said not to give you anything.”
“Come on, you’ve got to have something you’re not using or that you don’t need,” he begged, pressing his hands together in front of his face. “It would mean the world to me. Something, anything, just give me a song.”
She looked around the hallway for a second then opened the door, “Come on in.” Jaejoong happily accepted her invitation and walked into the cluttered and cramped room, full of computers, keyboards and a couple guitars. This was where Sungmi composed her music, in a little hole on the top floor of the SM Entertainment building, cut off from just about everyone else in the company. But she had single handedly composed some of the biggest hits the company had seen in years, most notably the debut single of SM’s newest group SHINee.
Sungmi sat down at her desk and started to fiddle with some things on the computer, her face just a few inches from the giant monitor. She scanned the screen as her index finger used the wheel on the mouse to scroll through a list. Biting her lip, she looked up at him and scrunched her eyes as if to get a better look at him, “Is this for you to sing?”
“No, it’s for a group,” he replied, a smile on his face growing with every passing moment.
“A group?” she asked, taken aback. “This isn’t for those fail trainees you’ve been working with, is it? Because I heard the lead vocal sing the other day and he can’t hit a high A flat to save his life. I don’t want them singing one of my songs, not yet.”
“No, it’s not for them,” he confirmed, laughing to himself about the fact that she too had noticed this inadequacy in his trainees.
She leaned back in her chair and looked at him, “Then who is it for?”
Jaejoong leaned against what he thought was a wall only to discover it was a wobbly bookshelf, “You remember Dong Bang Shin Ki?”
“What?” she laughed. “No, come one, who is it for? Are you here for Jongwoon? Because I told him that if he needed something I would give it to him, no worries. I was just kidding when I said I wouldn’t give him anything anymore.”
“No, I’m serious,” Jaejoong replied.
“You’re telling me you went out and found the four that went AWOL, convinced them to all come back and get along, then convinced SM to back this little project and got Siwon to drop everything with Super Junior to try and rehash a giant pile of fail?” she stared at him, her expression that of a mother who had just caught her child doing something horribly wrong.
“Yes,” Jaejoong just confirmed, “except for the Siwon part. And we’ll have to see about the whole getting along thing, but we’re going on without Siwon. It’s better that way.”
“This is why they told me not to entertain your insanity for the next month,” she replied, standing to her feet. “You, get out, now.”
“Sungmi, come on,” Jaejoong begged as the woman pulled at his arm to drag him out of the room. “You remember how talented they were! Just give me a chance. All I’m asking for is one song, and it doesn’t have to be one you’re particularly fond of! Just give us something.”
“Please,” he continued to fight her with ease, not budging an inch despite the fact that she was pulling with all her might.
“Sungmi, I need you!”
She stopped and looked at him, “If I give you a song, you better take it and make the most amazing studio recording ever, got that? And if it’s even half sucky, I will hunt you down and personally make sure you don’t see out of your left eye ever again, you got that?”
“Really?” Jaejoong asked, smiling again. “You’re going to give me one?”
“One,” she emphasized, returning to her computer and popping in a CD. With a few more clicks a track was burning and she handed him a few pages of sheet music. “It’s called Crazy Love and I’m very proud of it, but the company thinks it sucks. Prove them wrong, Jaejoong. I’m counting on you.”
As she handed him the CD he told her, “You won’t regret this.”
“Tell me one thing Jae,” she said, her voice soft and caring, much in the way it had been when they were young, hopeful trainees, “why exactly are you doing this?”
“I’ve got a lot to prove,” he looked down at the CD in his hands. “And I get this feeling that things weren’t supposed to go down the way they did. It doesn’t make sense that the company would have had so many misses in a row when there was so much talent, you know? I want to find where we went wrong and fix it.”
“Do you think you can?” she asked, hopefully, looking him straight in the eyes.
He smiled shyly and sighed, “I hope so.”
“I hope so too,” she whispered as he walked out the door, a hop in his step and a song in his hands.
When Jaejoong returned to his office he found the four men in opposite corners and Jung Jessica sitting in the middle rambling about something Jaejoong really didn’t want to know about. She looked up at him with a stern look on her face, “Is this the crazy thing I heard you were doing?”
“Uh, yeah,” he replied reluctantly.
She stood to her feet and walked up to him, “I think I approve.”
“What?” Jaejoong asked, looking at her.
“I missed the four of them,” she smiled. “You bring them back into my life for good, and I will forgive you for risking your career, you got that?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
All five of them watched as she walked away and when she was gone from ear shot they burst into laughter. “How is it that that girl still terrifies all of us?” Yunho asked, looking around at them with a smile on his face.
“I got us a song,” Jaejoong said, waving the CD at them.
They gathered around as he placed it in his computer and clicked a few times to get it to play. It wasn’t long before all of them had smiles on their faces, bobbing their heads to the jazzy beats and swaying with the sweet melody. Junsu grabbed the sheet music from Jaejoong and was singing by the second chorus, his voice flowing perfectly with it. Before the final chorus Yunho shouted, “One more time,” and all four of them jumped in somewhere.
There were smiles all around as the song came to a close. Jaejoong could tell that all their voices were a little rough; it had been a long time since they were used; but that would be easily fixed. What mattered was that they sounded good and despite their personal issues, they were coming together as a team for this song. That was as much encouragement he needed for the time being.
The second time around, they all seemed to pick up parts of the song they liked to make their own, Junsu again claiming the second verse. They spent the rest of the day assigning parts between the four of them, practicing and getting the hang of the song. Jaejoong coached them through it like the pro he was. By the end of the day, all of them were a little more comfortable around each other, although Jaejoong could tell there would be some emotional walls to break before the end of the month.
Before they knew it, it was nine o’clock and Chohee was walking in with a half asleep Yun in her arms. Yoochun dropped everything he was doing and walked over to them, taking the girl out of Chohee’s arms and bouncing her up and down a few times. “She had a very eventful day,” Chohee told him. “We watched Jaewon Oppa choreographing some stuff for SHINee. Then we ate lunch with Tiffany Unnie. After that we played a game of hide and seek and I got in trouble.”
“Thanks,” Yoochun said, kissing his little girl on the cheek. He turned to the others, “We should probably head out.”
“That’s fine. We got a lot done today,” Jaejoong smiled. “Work on this a little more at home and we’ll all get together again tomorrow and try and record something.”
The other three said their goodbyes as well, quickly leaving Chohee and Jaejoong alone in the office. “How did it go?” she asked as he sat back down in his seat.
He rubbed his temple and sighed, “I think it went pretty well.”
“And the song?” she asked, pointing to the computer screen.
“It’s going to take some work,” he admitted. “It still feels like something is missing.”
“Sing it for me,” she insisted, sitting down in the chair on the other side of the desk.
He laughed, “It won’t be the same. It’ll suck if it’s just me. This song is meant for a group to sing.”
“I don’t care. I wanna get a feel for it.”
“Fine,” he conceded, reaching out and pressing play on the computer. With the sheet music out in front of him he began singing, his voice like a breeze blowing through the upbeat melody of the song. Chohee closed her eyes as she listened to him sing, grinning as he sang through the bridge and into the chorus, a warmth growing in her chest as he flowed through the song.
When he finished she sat straight up and clapped her hands together, “That was amazing!”
“Thanks,” Jaejoong replied, turning his computer off and standing to his feet. “We should head out, early morning tomorrow.”
“Isn’t it going to be from now on?” she asked, her smile radiating pure joy. “We’ve a lot of work to do and not much time.”
“Get some rest, kid,” he said patting her on the head.
She knocked his hand away with a pout, “I’m not a kid. And I have someone I need to talk to real fast, so I’ll see you later.”
“Okay,” he waved to her and headed down to the parking garage. He was halfway to his car when he noticed an aimlessly wandering Yunho walking in circles, “What are you doing?”
“I’m, uh, waiting for something,” Yunho replied with a shrug.
Jaejoong looked at him, “You got a place to stay tonight? I know you’re place isn’t exactly close enough for a daily commute.” Yunho looked back for a second and then hung his head and shook it. “Come on,” Jaejoong waved to his car, “You can stay with me. I have room.” That was all the convincing Yunho took. When Jaejoong looked over to say something, Yunho was dead asleep. He couldn’t help but smile to himself.
*Line from Girls’ Generation’s song Girls’ Generation meaning, “Don't tease me because I'm young, I couldn’t say a word because I was too shy.”