Taeyeon has long been lauded for her vocal abilities, and for good reason. She has a remarkable instrument which can soar and whisper with equal impact.
However, to attribute Taeyeon’s success entirely to her singing is to miss the thought which has gone into constructing her acclaimed solo discography. Above all, Taeyeon is committed to versatility. She recognizes the power of her voice and seems to relish proving that it can shine in any context, from alternative rock, to acoustic balladry, to uplifting synth-pop.
The only downside of Taeyeon’s unpredictability is that it can sometimes lead to whiplash within her albums, as succeeding songs hop genres without warning. Besides that, her choice to constantly try new things has yielded great rewards. No matter your personal taste in music, there is likely a Taeyeon song out there that will suit you. Five years into her solo career and 13 year since she debuted with SNSD, Taeyeon remains as fresh and skillful as ever, in no small part thanks to her regular trips outside of her musical comfort zone.
One of the most fun side effects of Taeyeon’s risk-taking is that when she announces a new release, you never really know what you are going to get. Her newest album is no exception. What Do I Call You turns out to be an experiment in bare bones musicality. In each of the EP’s five tracks, the production, lyrics, and melodic content are characterized by their simplicity.
Due to this, What Do I Call You occasionally verges on a snooze-fest. However, Taeyeon interjects her soft album with enough wit, vulnerability, and vocal prowess to keep things engaging. Ultimately, the EP’s pared-down approach becomes an asset. It makes What Do I Call You a comforting listen that feels perfect for the end of a very tiring year.
Similar to the album as a whole, on first listen, “To the moon” seems pleasant but forgettable. Closer inspection reveals something more compelling. Taeyeon co-wrote the track and said in a recent interview that the song was about her dog. That’s completely adorable, although the lyrics illuminate more than just Taeyeon’s canine inspiration:
I’m helpless, my feet are heavy, I open that door to anywhere
Like yesterday, today, and tomorrow, like a repeated sigh
Round and round I’m bored, will you take me out?
Throw away thoughts, throw away, go away!
I like it anywhere, please take me with you
Taeyeon has been remarkably open about her struggles with depression and “To the moon” seems to be a window into that experience. Specifically, it focuses on how the joyful nature of a pet can provide a welcome escape from a mind full of dark thoughts. Despite its bouncy beat, “To the moon” proves to be more bittersweet than cheerful, and it’s a better song for it.
The lyrical content of “Playlist” is significantly less impactful. It contains a simple story of a blissful love told through flimsy musical metaphors. What makes “Playlist” worth a listen is the way it capitalizes on one of the best qualities of Taeyeon’s voice, its warmth.
Taeyeon has layers upon layers of depth to her singing, which is what gives her voice such a consistently lush quality, even when she is stretching her pipes to their highest range. Rather than have Taeyeon belt up into the sky, “Playlist” lets her sit at a comfortable place and croon honey-filled melodies. The result is a song that feels cozy like a warm winter’s evening curled up by a crackling fireplace. Coincidentally, that would probably be the ideal setting in which to enjoy “Playlist”.
Title track “What Do I Call You” strikes a different mood from the rest of the album. Taeyeon’s tone here is less peaceful and more sorrowfully frustrated as she tries to answer the song’s titular question:
What do I call you at a moment like this
Maybe just calling you by your name is the easiest
You used to be my lover
My honey, my daisy, my only
So what do I call you now
Again, the production is incredibly simplistic. For many of the album’s other songs, stripped-down instrumentation feels like the appropriate choice. That unfortunately isn’t the case here. “What Do I Call You” would have benefited from a more dynamic musical accompaniment in order to emphasize the mundane, but genuinely vexing nature of Taeyeon’s predicament.
“Galaxy” is What Do I Call You’s biggest disappointment. While the album’s other tracks find ways to enhance and subvert their simplicity, “Galaxy” falls short and ends up being just plain mediocre. Despite a pretty melody, its lyrical content is predictable and its acoustic production boring. Regrettably, “Galaxy” closes out the album, leaving listeners with a sub-par final impression.
On the flip side, “Wildfire” is the EP’s most triumphant track. A calmly pulsing electronic soundscape immediately sets it apart from the rest of What Do I Call You. There’s nothing terribly fancy about the song’s lyrical content, but it uses the metaphor of an unstoppable wildfire to describe a passionate love in evocative ways.
“Wildfire” also allows Taeyeon to briefly unleash her crystal clear high belt in its chorus. Taeyeon doesn’t need to sing loud to make an impact, as many of What Do I Call You’s other tracks prove. Still, it is always lovely to hear her flex her full glory, and her vocal punctuation suits the temperament and story of “Wildfire”. Taken as a whole, “Wildfire” is the best example of What Do I Call You’s unofficial mission statement: that when done right, straight-forward storytelling and simple production can be just as enjoyable as something more obviously flashy.
What Do I Call You is unlikely to go down in history as one of Taeyeon’s most remarkable releases. It is a bit too tame and has a couple too many shortcomings for that. Nonetheless, the album is a soft and sweet listening experience that shows that simplicity can coexist with memorability.
It also proves, once again, that Taeyeon is a true vocal chameleon. She has yet to face a challenge that she hasn’t been able to meet with confidence and competence. It’s impossible to predict where she’ll journey from here, and that’s a good thing. No matter what Taeyeon decides to tackle next, it is almost certain to be a treat for listeners.