20140504_seoulbeats_BoysOverFlowersOSTAhem. . . ALMOOOOOST PAARRAAAADIIIIIISSE! Now that one of the worst soundtracks of all time is stuck in your brain, let’s talk about OSTs. The OST is a powerful marketing tool for dramas, as good music can take an average drama and make it dazzle. While the OSTs for music-centered dramas tend to vary wildly in order to show off the casts’ skills (and make more money), most OSTs have three main components The Heartbreak Ballad,  The Romantic Ballad, and That One Instrumental Sting, as well as bunch of filler music no one cares about. But why have these three elements become must-haves on an OST?

The Heartbreak Ballad

These are the cash cows of OSTs. The dramatic song of love and pain used to punctuate moments of emotional torture, cruel misunderstandings, and noble sacrifices. The Heartbreak Ballad is usually sung by an idol groups’ vocalist(s), a la Taeyeon, or a respected soloist like Gummy. Either way, the singer in question needs to be able to handle a difficult song, as most Heartbreak Ballads are vocal workouts, filled with belting, high notes, and lots of emotion. They’re not easy songs to sing, which no doubt contributes to their popularity among K-pop fans. Your bias singing on an OST is solid proof of their singing prowess. There’s usually no autotune, and holding a note for 12 seconds is something that cannot be faked.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzNfZ7hxkTw]

The Romantic Ballad


The most negotiable of all OST elements, the Romantic Ballad exists to provide the musical underscoring for the rare moments in which the shows’ OTP are actually happy. The Romantic Ballad is usually stuck playing second fiddle to the heartbreak ballad, as Korean dramas are not good with happy. Most romantic comedies aren’t good with happy, which means any other genre is just screwed. The Romantic Ballad is negotiable as it shares many characteristics with the Heartbreak Ballad. Both are song types designed to provide the proper emotional context while flaunting the singers vocal chops, with the lyrics serving as the only deviation. Melody Day’s Another Parting and Lyn’s My Destiny sound almost identical, except that the former is about a relationship that’s ended and the latter is about one that can still happen.

That One Instrumental Sting

Sometimes, though, a drama can’t use their dramatic ballads. Dialogue needs to be heard, neither fits the tone, or comprehension of the fact that hearing one song five times in an hour makes the audience want to set things on fire. Thus, we have the That One Instrumental Sting. Despite the standard soundtrack having at least half a dozen instrumentals, only one will end up being remembered, albeit remembered very, very well. How many people, when thinking about City Hunter, immediately have “Sad Run” burst into their minds? Show of hands says anyone who’s ever seen it. That One Instrumental Sting is useful because, unlike either the Heartbreak or Romantic Ballads, they can go in any scene. Political dealings, action sequences, or cooking; they all can be accompanied by the That One Instrumental Sting. And they are, which is why one instrumental ends up getting remembered.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evDbAajnosg]

These three elements have become ubiquitous because they cover the bases. There is no scenario where none of these elements will work for the music. Sure, many dramas have multiple OSTs– You Who Came From The Stars comes to mind– but having these basics present means that producers don’t have to worry about scoring scenes. And in the world of live-shooting, anything that doesn’t have to be worried over is good. The problem with every drama using these three elements is that these three elements are done to death.

The biggest victim of this are OST ballads, as nine out of ten sound alike. One or two sound beautiful, but after OST number five, they start to blur together. Of course, that is to be expected when talking about a genre defined by its vocal characteristics. The human voice can only get so high, and most of the instrumentals are kept to a minimum so as to emphasize the vocals. Lots of piano, lots of strings, maybe some guitar — there’s not a lot of room for variety. It’s the musical version of déjà vu.  Unless a singer has a truly unique voice,  it’s very hard for an OST to stand out from all the other OSTs.

OSTs are a part of dramas, and one that’s not going anywhere. If nothing else,  they ensure a steady supply of high-quality ballads.  Your thoughts on OSTs, readers?

(Youtube [1], [2] Images via YesAsia, MBC, Viewga Entertainment)