SM Station has gone through several seasons since its inception in 2016, which is when Seoulbeats last wrote about it. Recently, after almost a year of sporadic releases, Station has sprung back into full action with projects like SM Classics covers and Our Beloved BoA. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to take a look back at some of my top Station tracks, while also taking a look at how the project itself is holding up, and whether or not it continues to fulfil its original goals: to showcase SM’s artists and producers, and allow them to experiment with genres, as well as allow for collaborations with artists outside of SM.

Genre Experimentation

To begin with, Station has always been successful in giving artists opportunities to explore songs in new genres. Examples include Girls’ Generation’s Yuri and Seohyun teaming up for the catwalk-ready house track (and Pantene hair commercial) “Secret”, and Taeyong’s relaxed “Long Flight” — a far cry from NCT’s more powerful, bombastic songs.

In other cases, Station has allowed members to get their own material out there, as was the case with the aforementioned “Long Flight”, as well as with Amber’s self-written “Borders”.

The genre experimentation permitted by Station also allows individual group members to showcase their talents through solo or duet releases in ways which might not have been possible in their individual groups. For example, Yoona‘s “When the Wind Blows” is an acoustic guitar ballad which highlights the softness of her vocals.

Ten’s “Dream in a Dream” is another example, and one of Station’s biggest standouts. It is largely focused on the instrumentation — with a few repeated vocal sections coming in to act as breaks — rather than the other way around. This is therefore the perfect song for Ten, who is NCT’s main dancer, to put his skills on display. Not to mention the song is a beautiful, transcendent dance track backed by traditional instruments and sung entirely in English: a song which stands out not only in Station, but in SM artists’ overall discography.

Collaborations with Non-SM Artists

The project has also allowed SM artists to collaborate with non-SM artists, which has been one of the main highlights. Almost half of Station releases feature a collaboration with an artist outside of SM. My personal favourite is Suho and Jane Jang’s “Dinner”: an atmospheric track with a tinge of melancholy, perfect for late night listening and musing.

SM has also occasionally been able to rope in somewhat popular Western artists for collaborations, usually EDM producers. These songs include Rehab collaborating with Luna and Amber on “Wave”, or Alesso joining Chen on “Years”, and Raiden with Yuri on “Always Find You”. And then, of course, there is Wendy and John Legend‘s collaboration “Written in the Stars”: a true testament to just how far SM’s reach goes when it comes to finding collaboration artists, and a beautiful song to boot.

Solo/Subunit Exploration

Station also gives individual group members or subunits a chance to release a solo/subunit song without officially having a solo/subunit debut. Sunny of Girls’ Generation has previously expressed that she did not want to pursue a solo music career, but could release a track via Station. Her duet with Henry, the soft and sparkling “U & I”, suited her unique vocal colour perfectly.

Several artists have also released one or more Station songs before going on to an official solo debut — possibly allowing Station songs to act as a precursor to a debut to test the waters, although these Station songs can be released months or years away from the debut. To look at one example, Baekhyun’s collaboration with Loco in particular, “Young“, is good enough to be easily mistaken for his solo debut.

Subunit Station releases can give fans a chance to see a new side to particular group members and gives the group’s discography a new flair, especially if this subunit might otherwise not have happened outside of Station.

While “Secret” is one example of this, this list simply wouldn’t be complete without mentioning f(x) Luna and Amber’s “Lower”. This gem appeared out of nowhere after over a year of no new f(x) music, and is a subdued, sleek EDM track filled with references to “going lower”, the kind of sultry f(x) music we can now only dream of. As always, the pair’s voices complement each other perfectly, as does their dancing in the music video: Amber’s masculine style and Luna’s feminine one contrast throughout the MV, and then culminate in an excellently choreographed duet by its end.

Members from separate SM groups have also been able to form small subunits, giving fans the interactions between the groups which they crave, while also allowing members who work perfectly together, but otherwise rarely interact musically, to shine. The childish spirit present in Exo Xiumin‘s and NCT/SuperM Mark’s “Young and Free” is a perfect example of two artists collaborating to create a song unlike either of their groups’ usual fare.

Fresh B-Sides and Covers

Station has also given groups a chance to release songs that don’t quite make the cut for a full comeback for whatever reason, such as f(x)’s “All Mine”, a song which turned out to be the group’s final Korean release. The song is a more Western-style EDM track which had the potential to be an American promotional track, and is accompanied by an Amber-directed MV filled with f(x)’s charm.

This also includes covers such as Red Velvet’s “Rebirth”: a soft and sweet cover of Yoon Jong Shin’s original. Its music video is also one of my favorites in Station, which might be strange to hear considering the fact that it is one long, slow-motion take of Red Velvet falling in love with the boy who has just entered their classroom.

But that is exactly what makes it great: it probably took around five minutes to shoot, but still gave all of Red Velvet ample screentime. It also keeps you coming back so that you can watch each member’s reaction individually, while also trying to figure out whatever those girls are doing in the background. In other words, it’s an experimental MV perfect for Station.

The Future of SM Station

These are all ways that SM Station has found success, and recent seasons have seen it evolve even further. The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra collaborations and Our Beloved BoA are two projects which show Station being used in a new way once again, both of which focus on reimagining previously released SM songs: one by adapting them into classical music, another by allowing a range of artists from both within and outside of SM to each cover one of BoA’s songs.

The Orchestra collaborations are a side effect of the SM Classics label’s recent establishment, and are a hint at new things to come — whatever K-pop/classical music fusion SM is planning to bring out next. Their Disney-esque cover of Red Velvet’s “Red Flavor” was an excellent introduction to the project: a rendition of this summer classic with just as much bounce, energy, and… well, flavor.

BoA’s 20th anniversary project, aside from being an excellent way for younger K-pop artists all across the industry to pay tribute to their sunbae, is a perfect opportunity for BoA’s songs to be reimagined in all kinds of ways, as well as for newer K-pop fans to be exposed to her music. Gallant’s smooth RnB cover of “Only One” truly exemplifies this, and the fact that he is an international artist who rewrote the song into English also speaks to BoA’s legacy of transcending borders with her music.

It also opens the door to a whole new slew of possibilities, most importantly: are they going to do this again? Will this become the company tradition it has the potential to be? Will I find myself listening to a mini album of TVXQ covers in three years? (I definitely hope so.)

Despite all of Station’s strengths, one drawback is how temporary these releases and groups all are. Although that is the point of the project itself, it is worth considering whether or not many of these releases deserved to be more.

For example, prior to the release of “Lower”, many f(x) fans had long since been asking for SM to debut Luna and Amber as a subunit. As years passed with no new group releases, fans began to question why Luna and Amber — the members with by far the emptiest schedules — couldn’t come back as a duo, especially as the two of them would frequently perform as a pair at events.

The two did release several Station tracks: the aforementioned “Wave”, “Heartbeat”, and finally “Lower”. The fact that they were constantly releasing music as a pair through Station but had no official comeback was puzzling, and it was possible that SM felt that the pair were simply not a good enough investment for a full comeback.

However, these songs were hits amongst fans and were relatively successful, and making the pair an official unit with proper promotion on music shows and such would have garnered them even more fan support. Putting the word “comeback” to even a partial f(x) release would have also helped to make the release seem more official, which might have garnered them more support.

Similarly, fans of “Wow Thing” would have no doubt loved to see the makeshift group back again. Of course, matching up the members’ schedules is likely easier said than done, but I still wonder whether SM has considered it in the first place, rather than just seeing it as a one-off.

While there have been other “makeshift groups” made as part of Station, “Wow Thing”’s unit has been the most popular— not only because of the excellent song, but also because of the popularity of the idols involved. The song, unlike other Station releases, also had its own choreography, and a fairly high-budget MV (for Station), which no doubt contributed to this popularity.

“Dream K-pop collaboration” posts and videos abound all over the K-pop corners of social media, and collaborative performances, such as those featured in end-of-year festivals, are always anticipated by fans. With “Wow Thing”, SM showed that they have the resources to produce these kinds of dream collaborations. It is only natural, then, that with this little taste, fans would want more.

Even if “Wow Thing”’s unit ultimately does not make a return, SM, at the top of the industry, is in an excellent position where they have the ability to pull together some of the best talents in K-pop, and then use Station to combine their skills and create incredibly high-quality releases with considerable fan appeal. They have no doubt already realised this as they continue to bring in non-SM artists for other collaborative releases, but mini-groups like “Wow Thing” bring a special new chemistry to the table which separates them from other releases. Hopefully SM will try another collaboration like this in future Station seasons.

Ultimately, Station has been and is continuing to be a hit, and has been one of the company’s best ideas. It truly is SM at its best: interesting, experimental, and willing to take risks. The project continues to fulfil its initial goals of allowing artists and producers to shine in new ways, and is growing and evolving through the introduction of its new sub-projects. Although I wish some of its creations could become much more permanent, it is doing exactly what it was made to do, and I am looking forward to what SM has in mind for it next.

(YouTube: [1] [2]. Images via SM Entertainment)