Let’s be honest, SM Entertainment produced/backed dramas have not always had a good reputation among drama lovers. Ham acting, hackneyed plots and heavy product placement are just some of the criticisms that have been thrown at projects past.

Maybe it’s because of the nature of the plot (after all, how can a retelling of Hana Kimi really go wrong?), maybe it’s that product placement goes a long way in footing production bills (though it’s still odd everybody in the show has Vitamin Water as their beverage of choice), but “To The Beautiful You” has thankfully side-stepped most of the criticisms mentioned earlier to prove to be an enjoyable romp that exceeds (admittedly low) expectations, matrix camera excepted.

For all the things that this drama could be criticised for though, its music hardly places as one of them. After all, when the production company in question is also home to some rather capable (or recognisable) vocalists, it is not too much of stretch to have them belt a few tunes, and indirectly promote the drama.

With that, it’s worth taking a look at some of the tunes heard in the drama.

J-Min’s “Stand Up”

Two things stood out to me from this song: One, how did SM Entertainment manage to keep her such a huge secret, and two, this song is proof that SM can draw from other influences rather nicely. J-Min was primarily marketed as an artiste in Japan, and the song’s Japanese pop-rock influences and production style show it rather clearly. To cap it all off, the song’s popularity means that a Music Video has been made for it, featuring, scenes off the drama, and some rock-star styled posturing in a… forest!

SNSD Jessica’s and f(x) Krystal’s “Butterfly”

A lighter tune, “Butterfly”, is more suited to the nature of the drama and plays nicely off the sisterly pairing. While the song is a typical SM confection of pleasant sounds and lyrics, what is more impressive is how the two sisters work together musically to overcome their weaknesses and play to each other’s vocal strengths. Add to that a catchy, sing-along chorus, and this is one song that sticks in the head long after the episodes ends.

Sunny and f(x) Luna’s “It’s Me”

Where “Butterfly” might get the attention for the JungSis, “It’s Me” would have to be noted for its vocal surprises. While Luna’s vocal prowess cannot be denied, it has to be admitted that outside of this song, there have been occasions where she over-sung or struggled to reach high notes. It’s nice to hear her bring it down a notch and still hit the mark. As for Sunny, how pleasant it is to hear her sing in a vocal range that is completely her, but at the same time not sounding too forced. See SM, here’s what happens when your singers do what they do best, and operate slightly out of the box (literally and figuratively).

SNSD’s Tiffany and Super Junior Kyuhyun’s “To the Beautiful You”

Another song that suits the carefree vibe of the drama has got to be this simple pop-funk number. While the tune makes for a pleasant listen, the vocals definitely take centre-stage. Kyuhyun is definitely as good as vocalists get, but he tends to be really picky about his solo projects, and as such, largely ends up being pigeon-holed into the same few projects. Because of that, it’s great to see him loosen that collar a bit and do something more populist. As for Tiffany, it’s nice to hear hints of her past vocal richness and emotive singing.

While they do good work in the individual sections, what is probably more impressive is how they come together as a duet, and create brilliant musical chemistry. They have voices that match, they know it, and they play off each other well.

SHINee Onew’s “In Your Eyes”

And the vocal surprises continue. While Onew might be one of the more soft-spoken guys in SHINee, that certainly does not take away from his talent. In this case, it’s also the quiet ones that are worth looking out for. The depth to this voice, with some nice instrumental accompaniment, make for an emotive listen about loving someone forever. This makes for a template for any successful ballad, and to paraphrase another writer, very much hard to fault.

Super Junior-K.R.Y’s “Sky”

Coming off a few surprises, this song might seem more typical in terms of composition and quality. However with a smooth instrumental, paired with the better vocals from Super Junior, “Sky” has nice laidback vibes very suited for relaxed listening outside of the drama, and probably as the credits roll nearing the end of any episode.

SNSD Taeyeon’s “Closer”

While down-tempo OST songs definitely make for one of the things often allocated to Taeyeon, — much like enjoyable, comfort food — there’s nothing wrong with simple things done well. Quite as usual, Taeyeon rarely disappoints with her vocal control or range, making the whole song a refined affair where listening is concerned. While some may prefer a more charging OST — parts of this song do also sound awkwardly joined together — it’s still worth a listen for the SNSD leader. The live version would have to be the pick, for its remarkable consistency to the recorded version, and for proof of her vocal ability.

CSJH Dana’s  “Maybe We”

Seeing as it’s been some time since CSJH was active, at least where group/musical promotions in Korea are of concern, it’s interesting to see one of their members come out with some musical work. It’s certainly surprising that Dana should return with an upbeat, poppy number, as diva-esque material seems more tied to CSJH’s image. The upshot of having such good vocals is that Dana pulls it off just as well. As far as pleasant background tunes, or secondary OSTs go, this one is not too bad.

SHINee Taemin’s “U”

While this might have been one the last releases, it certainly cannot be called the least. Although Taemin has come to be known as the dancer in SHINee, his turn on Immortal Song 2 could have been called surprising, to understate things a little. The laid back melody does give him the fine opportunity of showing off his pop-oriented pipes, and probably highlight him as a reasonably stable soloist, away from the SHINee image.

To conclude, the major impression I’ve had towards the aforementioned releases would be that of surprise. Surprise at how much effort SM could put into a musical release that is not a major part of their business; surprise at how that many artistes jumped at the effort to showcase different sides to their abilities, and how many of them did so well outside the confines of the roles within their groups.

For all the reasons above, “To The Beautiful You” OST is worth a listen, for the average drama fan or otherwise.

So Seoulmates, what are your takes on this exclusively SM OST?

(SM Entertainment, AsyaDizi@youtube, Nhokshockqn2@youtube)