Time to deck the halls and break out your candy canes, the season of K-pop holiday releases is upon us! SM Entertainment is certainly making the most of the holiday season (and fans’ pocketbooks) this December. TaeTiSeo‘s holiday album Dear Santa is the first of three holiday releases the company plans to put out over the next couple weeks — the other two albums being Exo‘s Sing for You and the SM Town special album Winter Story.
I love Christmastime, as the festivities are only redeeming quality winter holds for me. K-pop Christmas releases, no matter how crappy, are always another star on top of my holiday tree. When it was revealed that the TaeTiSeo comeback would be a Christmas mini album — combining my favorite season with some of my favorite K-pop vocals — my inner Buddy the Elf could not be contained.
With their bright smiles, impressive vocals and overall cheery attitude, TaeTiSeo was the perfect choice to kick off the festivities with their single “Dear Santa.” The first MV Teaser — with the ladies clad in gorgeous red ball gowns propped around a single piano — promised an emotional, riff-filled ballad. The final product took fans by surprise when the ballad quickly transitioned into an upbeat holiday track, decked out with presents, fake snow and even a visit from Mr. Lion Heart himself. It may have been a little unanticipated, but it definitely wasn’t an unpleasant surprise.
“Dear Santa” stops off slow and angelic, with breathy high notes accompanying Seohyun‘s paino playing through the first verse. Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun haven’t had the best year, but they remain optimistic that Santa will be able to turn things around for them this Christmas season.
We can only be awed by their emotional vocals for so long before Tiffany shouts “let’s go” and — queue the jingle bells — it’s time to spread Christmas cheer. The slow-paced first verse drags on a little too long for the sudden change of mood to not be a little off-putting, but there’s not too much time to think about it because this is where the MV and track really get going.
The aesthetics and track only build momentum as TaeTiSeo are magically transported through a series of Christmas sets: they goof off around a Christmas tree in their PJ’s, pose with candy canes (don’t think I missed that product placement, SM), dance in fake snow and eventually gather outside a set of store fronts (yay capitalism!). I love that SM skipped out on dance sequences in favor of showing TaeTiSeo being silly together. These sequences fit the mood of Christmas better and everything is so wonderfully festive that I’m almost tempted to go outside and play in snow. Almost.
By the time “Dear Santa” reaches it’s climax, the mood has been lifted significantly from the somber tone of the introductory verse, Santa — and TaeTiSeo — really didn’t let us down. Everything is bright and happy leading up to Seohyun’s high note, and the glorious three-part harmony that acts as the finale to the track.
TaeTiSeo’s vocals pack a powerful punch, and “Dear Santa” is arranged in such a way that draws attention to their talent and vocal dynamics as a group. It might be my favorite TaeTiSeo track in terms of vocal execution: Tiffany is allowed her diva moments, Taeyeon hits those breathless high notes with ease and Seohyun reminds us that though she may be the maknae, her vocals are filled with a maturity and range that SNSD singles don’t often allow her to show off. Their voices, though different, play off and compliment each other so well, especially in the track’s final moments. My only wish is that there were more harmonies throughout the track because they nailed that last one so well.
There’s no mistaking the “All I Want for Christmas is You” vibes the track gives off. But given that the Mariah Carey classic was one of the few original pop songs to manage to make it’s way into the international Christmas lexicon, the inspiration is completely understandable: it’s extremely difficult to craft an original Christmas pop song when the holiday is surrounded by traditional melodies. “Dear Santa” pulls from a variety of other traditional Christmas tracks — the jingle bells, the chord progressions all remarkably familiar — allowing it to resonate well with audiences.
There’s a clever balance between familiarity and originality, with the member’s vocals adding the originality and dynamics that prevent the track from simply being a Western Christmas song knock-off. Add on to that the production quality, vocal layering and arrangement — especially the piano riffs — and TaeTiSeo have managed to release an impressive Christmas track that radiates all the right Christmas vibes for the holiday season.
Given the different nature of Christmas celebrations in South Korea compared to the West, companies rarely put out holiday tracks in an attempt to become the next big hit. K-pop Christmas tracks are more of a Season’s Greetings, a low-profit form of fanservice. When companies like SM put in the additional effort to release more than a single family release — like the amazing Winter: The Warmest Gift, or Exo’s Miracles in December — it’s much appreciated. It’s also clear that they’re targeting the international market with these special holiday releases. So really it’s no surprise that SM took the initiative to release an English version of “Dear Santa.”
“Dear Santa,” provided a K-pop first for me: I actually prefer the English version of the track. Beyond the fact that English is my native language, the English version feels more natural musically. Tiffany’s English encouragement’s don’t feel as out of place as they do in the Korean version; the trio’s phrasing and articulation is clear and crisp; the lyrics still make sense; and most importantly, the transition from ballad to uptempo somehow doesn’t feel as harsh.
Having been over a year since the unit’s last comeback, fans who were anxious for the unit’s return may have been a little disappointed to hear their comeback was a Christmas mini album as opposed to a regular release. Given Girls’ Generation’s — especially Taeyeon’s — busy schedule this year, it’s impressive than SM managed to squeeze their comeback into 2015 at all. Though it’s technically a Christmas mini album, I think Dear Santa will be more than enough to tide fans over until the group or unit’s eventual return in 2016. For those who long for the ballad vibes that the first MV teaser gave off, tracks like “Winter Story” and “Merry Christmas” should leave you more than satisfied. Or, if you prefer the upbeat Christmas vibes, “I Like the Way” and “First Snow” are the tracks for you.
I may be seeing everything through candy cane tinted glasses, but “Dear Santa” and it’s accompanying mini album are definitely two of the most memorable and pleasant K-pop Christmas releases in recent years.
MV and Song: 3/5
(YouTube, Images via SM Entertainment.)