Originally set to be released March 9, the new single from Taeyeon, “Happy” had to be pushed back due to the tragic passing of her father. Two months later, the MV has been released, and it is very much a Taeyeon single. Smooth R&B with warm tones and Taeyeon’s calm and inviting voice; this is fanservice in the best way. However, it inadvertently raises the question of how outside events can cause art to resonate much more strongly than it would otherwise.
Described as being a gift to fans, “Happy” is a track that lives in the quiet moments of life. It is not a grandiose declaration of love, but a celebration of the little beats that make life bearable. The happiness Taeyeon speaks of is not the excitement of a new crush or the ecstasy of the honeymoon phase. Instead, she chooses to highlight the small happiness of just being with someone you love, and dwelling on that feeling rather than allowing it to pass you by. “Happy” gives a far more mature perspective on romance by idealizing a relationship that is stable and fulfilling. It might not be as interesting as a rollercoaster of on-again, off-again drama, but at a certain point, you just want someone to eat takeout, watch Netflix and be happy with, and that is what Taeyeon is extolling.
The production on “Happy” is quite good. The track pulls not just from R&B, but doo-wop, and thus uses more organic instrumentation. The bass drum is particularly noticeable; providing a strong backbone to the song while giving it some needed bounce. The whole track is bathed in warm tones that dull the impact of the percussion-heavy music and let it flow more melodically. Taeyeon herself coos across the track; the mix placing her at the perfect point to allow her voice to be noticeable while still melting into the instrumentation. The end result is that “Happy” is a delightfully soothing track that oozes across the ear like warm honey.
The MV takes its primary cues from the usage of doo-wop chords, and crafts a charmingly anachronistic aesthetic. Everything shown is dated but conflicting. There are a 50s phone, 60s fridge, 70s jeans, 80s music playing device and 90s fridge magnets in the first thirty seconds. This cultivation of vintage yet mismatched items creates an aura of timeless nostalgia; invoking the warm feelings of days gone by without any of the baggage that comes with tying it to any specific era. Taeyeon herself spends her time doing nothing in the most wonderful way. She reads, listens to music, chats with her beau, and daydreams, all the while clearly cherishing her current happiness. “Happy” is the embodiment of a lazy Sunday; not doing anything in particular, but ending with a feeling of hazy contentment.
The lighting and color palette enhance the haziness of it all. The colors used are greens, oranges, and whites, always paler colors placed under bright, diffused lights. As a result, “Happy” appears faded, not washed out. “Happy” looks the same way a favorite sweater or old photo album might appear– well-used because it is well-loved.
This is only heightened by Taeyeons’ daydream sequences. Here, the colors are bright and the lighting dramatic; a cinematic contrast to the domesticity shown otherwise. It is even edited to appear as if shot on old film. Yet, her daydreams retain the quiet happiness she longs for. Perhaps she’d rather be in a field of flowers wearing a gorgeous dress, but she still does not want to do anything more than merely be with the one she loves.
Six months ago, “Happy” would be classified as sweet and well-made, but not particularly impactful. Two months ago, that would probably still be true. But in May 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, “Happy” is the MV we need. As people the world over stay inside to flatten the curve of Covid-19, Taeyeon’s mundanity has shifted from sweet but simple to a reassurance that we can survive this. Taeyeon, in her house, being happy, is now this deeply moving message that even as we all start to crack a little under the strain of social distance, we can find those small joys and keep it together long enough to come out the other side.
Taeyeon’s phone calls and video chats become a sign of her determination to keep her relationship healthy while social distancing. Her perusal of old photos and love notes transform into a reassurance that her love is built on something real and not loneliness from isolation. The music and journals are coping mechanisms as people find themselves stuck at home nearly 24/7. And lord knows, we are all dreaming about being somewhere other than our homes right now. Within the context of the pandemic, “Happy” is a desperately needed reassurance.
The problem with art gaining meaning through projecting outside context onto it is that outside context does not usually last. When this nightmare ends, “Happy” will be nothing more than a sweet but unremarkable love song. For the moment, however, it is a balm that just might help make masking up, staying home, or washing our hands for the fourteenth time a little easier.
(Images via SM Entertainment, YouTube)