Taeyeon has long been recognised as a gifted singer. As the main vocalist and leader of Girls Generation, she showcased her light, airy tone and wide vocal range on ballads such as “Complete” and “Back Hug”. Alongside her success with Girls Generation, Taeyeon has contributed to a variety of drama and movie soundtracks, including “If” for the KBS2 drama Hong Gil Dong (2008) and “I Love You”, featured in the SBS drama Athena: Goddess of War (2010). Her ability to emotionally connect with each song and convey its poignancy earned her the title ‘OST Queen’ among South Korean audiences.
Although this meant that many of Taeyeon’s early performances stayed within the ballad archetype, the beginning of her solo career in 2015 gave her the opportunity to shape her own distinct sound. Her first mini album, I, stood out for its alt-rock style, while her second EP Why experimented with EDM. Taeyeon subsequently shifted towards a smooth, R&B influenced sound for her latest studio album Purpose, which reached number two on the US iTunes chart, and number one in 21 countries including Singapore, Mexico and Vietnam.
Throughout her career, Taeyeon has proven herself to be an artist who paints the story of each song in a kaleidoscope of colours, rendering each one unique. Taeyeon sings, and her audience is compelled to listen. While we’ve all heard her hit those high notes on title tracks like “Fine” and Girls Generation-TTS’ “Twinkle”, here are a handful of B-sides you might not yet know.
Taeyeon made her name as a ballad singer. Alongside the release of the MBC drama Beethoven Virus in 2008, she performed the song “Can You Hear Me”, which went on to win the Golden Disk Award for most popular song that year. The song is pure and simple – there’s nothing more than Taeyeon’s voice layered over a smooth, piano-led instrumental. This simplicity showcases her clear vocal timbre and the expressiveness of her interpretation. It’s a song that tells a story – of love and loss and longing – and Taeyeon conveys those feelings in every note. Just one year into her career, it’s a clear demonstration of her talent.
When Taeyeon released her first solo EP in 2015, she was ready to change things up. Title track “I” made great use of her vocal runs and airy tone to fit its fresh, pop-rock sound. Further down the tracklist, “Stress” took that experimental edge and turned it up a notch. From its breathless, beat-driven tempo to the brilliant use of English peppered throughout – the phrase “oh blah blah blah” has never sounded so sassy – this is Taeyeon truly owning a song. The story about being drawn in by a boy from the wrong side of the tracks might be familiar, but Taeyeon strikes a pitch-perfect balance between confusion and curiosity. That mischievous hook: “You’ve got me smoking cigarettes / I’m in stress baby” will be in your head for days.
Two years later, Taeyeon returned with her first full-length solo album, My Voice, a subtly smooth showcase of her sparkling soprano range. Despite the bittersweet longing of title track “Fine”, several brighter B-sides balanced out the album’s hopeful tone. “Cover Up”, which SM Entertainment released alongside a pastel pink lyric video as a gift for fans, is pop perfection. The up-tempo production and autotuned ad-libs risked creating an overly synthetic sound, but Taeyeon’s clear vocals shine through, making this sweet confession of a first crush pure sunshine.
“Feel So Fine” is an interesting inversion of the album’s lead track. Perhaps as a continuation of the same narrative, this song positions Taeyeon finding herself again after heartbreak:
My wings that have never flown properly
Spread them out like new
Fly again now
I’ve only dreamed of myself like this
I still can’t believe it
The spilling sunlight, the passing wind
Just realize I feel so fine
The metaphor of flight hints at a sense of self-discovery and growing confidence that not only fits the song itself, but also ties into the album overall. With the title My Voice, Taeyeon’s first LP is clearly her moment to spread her wings and show off her growth as a singer. “Feel So Fine” is a song that allows Taeyeon to reach for those high notes, positioning her as an artist at the peak of her vocal abilities, poised to fly to new heights.
This use of language to convey Taeyeon’s trajectory as an artist is continued in her second full-length album Purpose. Released last week, the title track “Spark” explores how music has shaped her identity and driven her determination to shine as a singer. Tucked away on the album’s tracklist, “Wine” uses this theme of growth to portray a relationship. Unlike the breakup ballads and cute confessions that saturate K-pop, this track is a slow burn, exploring how love deepens with time:
A strong scent that could get you drunk
Breathtakingly more beautiful
Many nights, with eyes that have become a bit deeper
You and I have spent more time
My vintage love
My vintage love
By comparing her feelings to the aging of a fine wine, this song sees Taeyeon honing in on a combined lyrical and sonic maturity. The production is sparse but still solid, its gentle piano and steady beat an elegant accompaniment to her performance. This is also a rare track that really lets Taeyeon’s lower range shine, particularly during the hook.
“City Love” is a song that shows Taeyeon finding her sweet spot. A slow jam with a lovely, lilting melody, this song sees Taeyeon enjoying a budding romance, and the small poignant moments of joy it brings. The song’s mix of percussive elements keeps it fresh without any need for a rise in tempo or pre-chorus drop. This is a smooth, jazzy track that demonstrates Taeyeon’s confidence. She might be fully capable of belting out those vocal runs – but that doesn’t mean she needs them to hold your attention. “City Love” is captivating in its relaxed simplicity.
With her latest album, Purpose, reaching both new chart heights and depths of lyrical maturity, Taeyeon solidifies her solo career at the top of her game. Her years of practice as a performer, whether traversing the ups and downs of a love story for an OST or performing the hook-driven songs that made Girls Generation a household name, have given her the ability to imbue every song with true emotional resonance. Taeyeon makes this all look easy – and that’s what makes her a star.