There is a type of South Korean music that can best be described as warm hug, soft blanket, soothing cup of tea music. From K-pop legends like IU and Taeyeon, to indie favorites such as Jannabi and Bolbbalgan4, many South Korean music stars have made a name for themselves partially or entirely thanks to songs that are sweetly melodic and comforting.
It would be easy to criticize these tunes as boring or saccharine. Sometimes, they are. But many of South Korea’s softest songs are also truly excellent, fulfilling a unique emotional need in listeners, and providing straight-forward but fulfilling musical joy.
Park Bom’s “Do re mi fa sol” is an example of a comforting track that is simple yet totally compelling. One reason for the song’s impact is Bom’s always stunning vocals. Nearly every example of a successful gentle song includes the talents of a distinctive vocalist, their singing adding dimension to otherwise uncomplicated songwriting. But “Do re mi fa sol” is also enhanced by its melancholy but playful undertones, which are particularly well-illustrated in the track’s MV. True to its genre, the song is never overly complex. However it is also far from one-dimensional.
The musical landscape of “Do re mi fa sol” is filled with leisurely guitar, light touches of electronic production, and a strong but not overwhelming beat. Within this pleasant context, Bom sings about her longing for a straight-forward sort of love:
Love me a little softer, my lover
So don’t rush for the love
Play my heart so it’s easy for me to understand
Love me like Do re mi fa sol fa mi re do, yeah
Don’t like complicated things, just love me
Love me like Do re mi fa sol fa mi re do, yeah
The lyrics of “Do re mi fa sol”, which reference the traditional Do-Re-Mi tonal scale, simultaneously introduce the song’s witty and poignant sides. The overall story of the song has a strong melancholy twinge, with Bom softly requesting a bit more consideration from her beloved. On the other hand, the way the lyrics cheekily play with the Do-Re-Mi scale (which would usually be written and sung as “Do re mi fa sol la ti do” as opposed to the line repeated in the track’s refrain) shows that the song isn’t all resigned romantic gloom.
The MV contains similar contrasts in mood. Bom lounges in various cozy and aesthetically pleasing settings, an inscrutable half smile on her face. Throughout the MV, she watches couples that exemplify the sweet love she yearns for but doesn’t seem to be receiving. There is an elderly couple, a young pair of lovers, and an adorable duo of childhood sweethearts. Bom is only able to benevolently gaze on these happy people from afar, through a window, or by looking at projected photos and old-fashioned film rolls. Meanwhile, she remains companion-less in her gilded rooms.
While this narrative might seem downright dismal, the MV also includes more light-hearted visuals to leaven the emotional atmosphere. Occasionally, pretty frames are interjected with typed lyrics across them. One of the cuter sets sees Bom reclining on a pillow-stuffed bed. And a peacock just kind of randomly shows up.
This type of quirky imagery keeps “Do re mi fa sol” fun without eroding the impact of the song’s poignant elements. The track itself also consistently maintains balance by bouncing between its different moods. While the opening lyrics are full of sorrow, later lines see Bom opening up to the inevitability of complication in love. Changmo also stops by for a delightful verse in which he advocates for the importance of mischief in any good romance:
How can something as easy as Beyer be like love? (do re mi fa sol)
An emotion like this is a classic that needs practice
(mi ti la sol la ti la sol fa mi fa sol la do re fa sol mi fa)
The lyrical evolution of “Do re mi fa sol” falls so hard on the playful end of the song’s spectrum that it threatens to throw off the track’s subtle emotional composition. However, a clever musical choice swoops in to save the day. Just as listeners might be getting ready to categorize “Do re mi fa sol” as a relatively cheerful song, the track ends on an abrupt, trailed-off lyric. This lack of proper closure returns “Do re mi fa sol” to a comforting yet emotionally ambiguous place, which is the song’s sweet spot.
“Do re mi fa sol” is lovely, if not revolutionary. The release showcases clever lyrics, pleasant musicality, engaging imagery, and most of all, Bom’s stunningly emotive voice. By harnessing the combined power of these attributes, “Do re mi fa sol” is able to create a delicate and intriguing balance between seemingly incompatible moods.
The track is undeniably simple, but it consistently finds opportunities for understated yet gratifying tonal complexity. It is a prime example of a comforting song that doesn’t patronize its listeners. Instead, “Do re mi fa sol” invites you into its gentle and wise embrace, ready to provide bittersweet solace that is all the more meaningful for coming with a touch of wit and a pinch of woe.
(Alfred Music, Mental Floss, YouTube. Lyrics via Popgasa. Images via D-Nation Entertainment)