Great music is often said to be a universal communicator — able to transmit emotions and messages effectively regardless of differences in language or culture. At some point in each of our lives, an aspect of a piece of music — whether it be the lyrics, melody, or beat — has attached itself to our emotions and some aspect of our life experience. Such songs evoke a powerful sense of emotional memory, even when listened to many years down the road.
What is one song in K-pop that has held personal significance to you at some point in your life, and why?
Fannie: One K-pop song that has my personal memories attached to it is 2NE1‘s “I Don’t Care.” A couple of years back when I was going through heartbreak, I relied heavily on this song to give me strength. Pretty much everything in the song was an echo of my own situation and my own feelings at the time, except that the girls of 2NE1 presented a much stronger attitude than what I would have been able to muster up my own. From the opening lyrics of “Hey playboy, it’s about time, and your time’s up. I had to do this one for my girls you know, sometimes you gotta act like you don’t care, that’s the only way you boys learn” to the echoes of “I don’t ca-a-a-a-a-are” in the chorus, the song lent me the emotional support, confidence, and bravado to help me get through the day.
Something that I really appreciated about the song was that it was presented as a message from girls, and for girls (nevermind that it was written by Teddy and Kush), which was a welcome relief from the general trend of girl group songs in K-pop being marketed directly — or indirectly — to appeal to men (they tend to oscillate between the “virgin” and “whore” archetypes, but if you really think about it there isn’t much of a difference between the two).
Justin: Like I described in a previous post, a song that I feel an emotional attachment to is G.O.D‘s “To My Mother.” I don’t exactly know all about lovey-dovey stuff, but I do know about love from parents. This song personally moves me because the relationship between the son and mother in the song is similar to me and my mother. When I was growing up, I bonded with my mother a lot since my father wasn’t around much because he worked a lot, and when I was in middle school he ended up working at a different state, so it was even harder to see him. With that being said, I think my relationship and experiences with my mother are similar to that of a lot of Korean sons: our mothers did mostly everything for us. Sometimes they felt awkward to blatantly say “I love you,” but it was apparent through their selfless actions. They would cook for us, give us money when needed, and pray for us quietly when we weren’t around. Sure they would nag you like hell, but it is out of love and concern. As a child I would take that for granted, but now as an adult, I cherish all those moments that I get to have with her.
Gaya: There are really only two things that come to mind: the playlist I listen to when I’m in bed at night, ready to fall asleep; and “Gee.” My sister only barely tolerates this song, but somehow we both find ourselves randomly singing it everywhere, together. It’s hilarious because neither of us know the lyrics that well, so we sing it quite softly, as though we’re embarrassed by the fact we’re singing a coma-inducing-cute song in a language neither of us understand (which we kind of are, to be honest…) but I enjoy those moments, because I don’t really get them that often. Not only is there a somewhat wide age gap between my sister and I, but we’re also complete opposites in everything; sometimes it works out fine (like sharing Skittles — she hates the black ones, I love them) but mostly it’s an EPIC clash of different tastes, particularly in music. My sister and I liking the same thing is something that doesn’t happen very often, so when it does happen, it’s something I cherish. “The Boys“, “Abracadabra” and “Mirotic” are also popular, but “Gee” was the first, and it’s still my favourite to mumble along to with my kid sis.
Amy: One of my favorite songs is Taeyang‘s “Sinner.” There’s no particular concrete event I associate with it, but Taeyang’s entire Hot mini-album reminds me of the summer it came out. I associate the entire mini with warm days and hazy afternoons, but “Sinner” stands out the most because it feels like a lazy summer song. The melody is so relaxing and comforting, yet carries a lot of attitude and sexiness as well.
Maddie: I concur, Amy. “Sinner” was one of my favorite tracks off of Taeyang’s Hot but the one that stood out most for me was “Make Love.” “Make Love” is a K-pop song that really held a lot of personal significance since it encompassed what I was going through during that time in my life. It was one of those songs that just fit perfectly with what I was experiencing and, yes, I was falling in love (if you need some clarity on the subject!) The lyrics were especially on point, so much so that I could overlook the cheesiness of “Forever you’re my girl/ Forever be my world”. The piano’s melody mixed with a simple and steady electronic beat. Taeyang’s vocal interpretation of the lullaby-like, lovey-dovey lyrics that expressed that kind of anxious yet thrilling feeling you get when you first start falling for someone. Gummy‘s sweet whispered chorus and Kush’s masculine and honest rap. All of this, kept “Make Love” on constant replay during that summer. I can’t listen to it without feeling nostalgia over a relationship that bloomed to wither in the sweetest and truest ways possible. I can honesty say I still smile a little whenever it happens to come up while my iPod is set on shuffle.
Nabeela: One of my favorite songs is 2PM‘s “10 Points out of 10.” It’s a song that reminds me of younger days, dancing through the chorus with my friends and throwing our hands in the air singing “10 Points out of 10” every time we had a good meal or saw a cute guy. It makes me nostalgic about how much K-pop has changed since then, as well as how much I have changed since that song came out. Oh, and it was the first time I stumbled across my eternal lover Jun.K, so that was pretty life changing too.
Johnelle: There are a few songs that when I first heard them they struck a chord and I got that tingling sensation going up my spine, like Big Bang‘s “Love Song,” because I knew they’d be a song I loved. What usually affects me more though, are live performances like when for the first and only time Lee Hyori and Daesung performed “How Did We Get” on Yoo Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook. It was so heart-warming as a fan to see them sing that beautiful duet after missing seeing them together every week after the end of Family Outing.
This will surprise most people that know me, but when this topic came up there was one song that quickly popped into my head — Dong Bang Shin Ki‘s “Love in the Ice.” It was right after the announcement of the split happened and it seemed as if it was the end of the K-pop world. I knew of DBSK, had seen a few MVs like “Mirotic” and heard some of their songs, but I wasn’t a fan. I wanted to know a little more about them since fans were so heart-broken over the split so I had been watching videos on YouTube and came across this live performance of “Love in the Ice” during their Five in the Black concert tour.
There was just something about this performance that literally made me go “Whoah…” jaw dropping and all and suddenly even though I wasn’t a fan of theirs–I got it. There was that tingling down my spine and I got a bit choked up and teary because I then realized what exactly the meaning of their break up was about. I lamented over what they had been and I had missed and what more they could have been. I still get chills when watching the video. This all happened not too long after I started being interested in Korean entertainment and it was definitely one of the turning points when I realized that I was invested in this crazy little thing called K-pop.
Alyssa: The song that has had the most impact is “Fan” by Epik High; it was one of the first songs that got me hooked on K-pop. When it came out I was just starting high school and everything seemed extreme in the romance department, but whenever I played it I knew that I wasn’t alone nor a pioneer in unrequited love. Even now the song still has some value, it reminds me that every now and then I should take a breather from media (i.e. idols, actors, etc.), because it will eventually lead to an obsession that will satisfy neither party.
Ree: At the moment the song I can recall feeling attached to was “I’m Really Hurt” by T-ara — and the reason is sort of embarrassing. You know how some people want to be K-pop stars? Well, I have never, ever, ever, felt that urge in my four-plus years of being a K-pop fan, except for when I heard that song. I felt this inexplicable desire to be the one on stage performing it; I wanted to be part of a girl band performing it. I don’t even know why. To this day, that’s the only song that’s ever made me feel that way, but yeah.
Dana: Ooh, good one, Ree. I also LOVE that song and have an interesting memory attached to it. My roommate bought it for my on iTunes as a bizarre way of apologizing for slamming my arm into a door (on purpose). I guess she thought that the sentiment of “I’m really hurt” corresponded nicely with how I was feeling at the time, which was… really, really hurt. We had a strange friendship.
Anywho, since I’ve been backed into a corner and made to select just one of the K-pop songs that has the deepest meaning for me, I’m going to go with “Genie” as sung by my homegurls SNSD. I know it’s not exactly the most profound song, and yes, the music video is kind of like soft-core pornography (I mean, let’s call a spade a spade here), but I do have a good reason. I began studying Korean in 2008, and I arrived in Korea to study under a Korean language program in June 2009. Three weeks after I arrived, SNSD came out with “Genie” and suddenly, they were everywhere. I was vaguely familiar with SNSD thanks to “Gee” fever, and so I was pleased to be at least kind of familiar with what everyone was talking about. More than that, though, SNSD’s “Genie” promotions provided me with a means by which I could both follow both Korean pop culture and practice my newly-acquired Korean skills. That was the summer that I fell in love with Korea, a love affair that I’ve managed to maintain even today (it is seriously my longest committed relationship, ever). Every time I hear “Genie,” it takes me back to that summer. It has been my ringtone ever since, and nostalgia prevents me from changing it. But really, how awesome is a ringtone that starts with a random person just saying, “DJ, put it back on”?
Gil: The one album that really got to me was Tablo‘s Fever’s End. I have always love Epik High and their work but this album was a very personal one and I could feel it. Knowing the hardship that Tablo went through makes the song have more of an impact, and its messages were thoughtful and beautiful. Tablo chose the right people to feature in his songs; Lee Sora made “Home” so beautiful with her gorgeous voice and her performance. And at the end of “Try,” you hear Tablo’s daughter saying “Appa” for the first time, and my heart broke because it was so beautifully put there. These are songs that I listen to when I’m feeling pensive and want to reflect on life; I save it for a rainy day when I curl up with a nice book and a hot cup of tea.
Patricia: While it doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of your typical K-popperific K-pop, there’s one song that will never fail to pull at my heartstrings: Insooni‘s “Goose’s Dream.” I hate that it’s been covered to death by K-pop idols and honestly, I cringed when it was effectively glamorized in Dream High. It makes me sad that the song has become so mainstream via K-pop idol exposure — not because I’m going all hipster here, but because there’s something about “Goose’s Dream” that speaks so deeply to Insooni’s personal story and struggles, and that’s something that shouldn’t be cheaply and thoughtlessly utilized just so an idol can make a better name for him or herself. As an artist, Insooni hasn’t publicly said much about the difficulties and prejudices she’s faced as a biracial singer in Korea, having been born to a Korean mother and an African-American father. But in a sense, this song serves as her testament, and that’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
But nonetheless, it’s easy to see why so many are drawn to this song: its message is so simple, so pure, and speaks so loudly to almost anyone who has ever dreamed of achieving something greater than themselves. In many ways, it’s a universal message that reaches to the soul of almost every human being, taking the inexpressible and turning it into something beautiful.