Holidays aren’t always happy; the new year doesn’t always bring in good cheer. Gloomy days aren’t scheduled, and sometimes one just needs to eschew the pretense of joy and let the sadness take over. K-pop is so inundated by songs in major key, talking about falling in love and synthetic love affairs and other happy events. For this month’s Music and Lyrics, we take a look at some ballads that have depressing melodies for equally depressing lyrics.
We can’t talk ballads without mentioning IU. For the days when the clouds are metaphorically overhead, there’s one song that stands out. Written by Shinee‘s Jonghyun for her album, Modern Times (2013), “Bad Day” is one in heavy rotation. With a steady piano, IU plays into the fragility inherent in the composition. There is a chill that contrasts with IU’s gentle warmth as if life is fighting against the cold loneliness.
The wind is colder than yesterday so I snuggle deeper into my blankets
But the wind digs in and makes me cold in every nook and cranny
Outside the window, there are no signs of life, as if the lights have all turned off
As I look out, I let out a meaningless breath
My room is colder than the middle of winter, the air is cold even to the tips of my fingers
If spring never comes, would that be better?
The imagery plays into the emptiness that is sometimes equated to winter: the wind, the darkness, the hollowness. It begs the question, “Will the icicles in my room melt when a sunny, good day comes?,” which is often asked when one is in the middle of a spiral.
I’ve written about Jonghyun as a lyricist before (which is why Lee Hi‘s “Breathe” is not on this list), and he joins this collection. While his whole The Collection: Story Op.2 could all be included, instead I’ll concentrate on “Elevator.”
As the elevator doors close
I look so pitiful
But still, it’s the reason I blink and breathe and live
Is this right for me? Or am I being chased down?
The gentle melodies match the yearning in his voice, with lyrics that beg for people to “Say hello to the haggardly me.” There is a recognition of how we don’t know what the people we pass on the elevator may be going through, and asking for a kindness, even a simple hello, may mean so much.
Ha:tfelt is another that comes to mind. Her most recent album, NAME, is a personal go-to for its steady melodies. “Blue Bird” and “Solitude” have a certain ring to them that had them in the consideration, but instead, I selected “Sky Gray” for its moodiness.
Haven’t seen the sun so many days
Haven’t felt the light on my flesh
Though it gets a bit of red
It’s all gray on my mind
If I were to describe how it feels when I spiral into a gloom and doom, I only need to point to “Sky Gray.” And as the song ends with “If you care just a little, bring me home,” a sentiment that echoes and resonates. And yet, there is a soaring hope throughout the melody, which ensures that it isn’t a complete dreadful experience. It also, in a way, brings to mind of peaceful hope–even when one does not want it.
Gloominess, however, is not simply confined to one mood. There are multiple levels and layers, and a myriad of ways it may make itself known. Another soloist, Baek Yerin‘s album, Every letter I sent you., is a solid listen from start to finish when one finds oneself in a lethargic mood. Of this, “Rest” reminds us that one doesn’t need to always be moving and productive.
Waiting for the weekend comes feels like the time is frozen
Everybody’s asking if I got plans for the night
But sure, I know they don’t really wonder
And I’m sure I’ll be home alone
I’ma rent some classic movies on the way back home
Her full voice is filled with warmth as she croons about wanting to be free and how she just wants to rest. Oftentimes, a rest period is what one needs. In this world where productivity is the goal, burnout is an unwanted consequence. Ultimately, Baek Yerin reminds us that self-care in the form of rest is important.
Befittingly, there are a litany of choices from Taeyeon, which suits her soulful voice. Of the options, “Time Lapse” from 2017’s My Voice deserves a look. While it is a love song, there is a solemn vibe, almost as if one is listening to the clock tick. This sense of fragility, accompanied by the gentle caress of Taeyeon’s voice, is especially present in the chorus.
The seasons are still the same
Though many have passed
Now it’s time that I got used to being without you
And yet, it does not stay stagnant. Instead, the song continually drives itself forward. In steady movements, it builds into a crescendo that feels cathartic. It is, in a way, a gentle way to end a deep funk. It acknowledges one’s mood, the lyrics are heartfelt, yet the melody lifts to a hopeful end.
A trigger for sadness is not always there, and it sometimes feels like crap to be in a funk when the rest of the world is angry or happy or a mixture. But these are just some songs that are a reminder that it is okay to feel gloom, it is okay to allow the clouds to hand overhead, it is okay to rest. And hopefully, the sun will shine down and cast the gray away.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing distress, a list of helpline numbers from around the world can be found here.