Taeyeon is undoubtedly one of K-pop’s biggest powerhouses. Since her debut as leader and main vocalist of Girls Generation in 2007, who would go on to become one of the biggest K-pop acts and earn the nickname nation’s girl group, Taeyeon earned praise for her incredible vocal abilities which she regularly proved on her heartfelt contributions to dramas and movies. Around eight years later, these ventures culminated in her highly anticipated solo debut with the extended play I in 2015. Needless to say, I was a huge success and laid the foundation for one of K-pop’s most versatile and satisfying solo careers.
Taeyeon’s wide range and light tone, paired with her ability to load her songs with sentiments and perfectly transport these to the listener, have regularly resulted in beautiful ballads. However, she has made sure to keep it versatile. Since 2015, she has experimented with different musical directions through the release of a whopping three studio albums and seven EPs creating the perfect song for each occasion. Are you feeling sad and emotional? Then My Voice might be the perfect album for you. Are you in a confident mood? Then give Why a listen.
Much can be said about Taeyeon’s music that always carries plenty of personality in it. Recurring motifs are the hardships of fame, goodbyes and longing, which predominantly come in ballad form. Today, in celebration of her third studio album INVU, let’s take a look at some of Taeyeon’s best b-side tracks that revolve around this motif.
As previously pointed out, I was a hugely successful debut. Taeyeon’s debut had been long-awaited, but much of the favorable outcome can be attributed to how good the album actually is as each song comes close to a masterpiece. Fans celebrated the opener and power ballad “U Are”, but the hidden jam is arguably “Gemini”, a mid-tempo R&B song with a light percussion. The beat perfectly underlines Taeyeon’s silky and warm vocals as she casually changes from lower notes to her falsetto. Contrary to expectation, “Gemini” is not about the sign, but about what a perfect match two people are for each other. However, in the end, they have to separate rendering this piece bittersweet.
Another masterpiece is the psychedelic “Time Lapse” on her first studio album My Voice. The lead vocalist of alternative rock band Nell, Kim Jong-wan penned and produced this song and the strong resemblance is instantly recognizable. Starting on a whimsical guitar note, the song develops into a multi-leveled rock beat. Taeyeon’s vocals are powerful, but are simultaneously being drowned by the music, creating a haunting effect. The pain of saying goodbye is reflected in the lyrics:
But when I try to forget
Tears well up
On top of these tears
You flow down and time stops
On “Circus”, the fifth track from her fifth EP Something New, Taeyeon temporarily comes to the conclusion that no matter how chaotic her life is, it is still beautiful and dazzling. The lyrics are accordingly loaded with metaphors that convey the impression of being in a circus including a cheering audience and a bright stage. The percussion is quite minimalistic as Taeyeon’s voice is accompanied by a piano and snapping fingers. Particularly, the post-chorus stands out for the perfect chemistry between vocals and beat.
The grand opening track “Here I am” from her second studio album Purpose is another piece that relies on minimalism. The verses are built on a sparse piano beat, building momentum towards a powerful and epic chorus, when Taeyeon comes crashing in with her magnificent vocals. The chorus is emphasized by the deep percussion before the beat confidently announces “here I am”. But while “Here I am” is a musical triumph, it is equally so in lyrical content. Taeyeon perfectly engulfs the emotions of being trapped and not being able to push forward during the magnificent bridge:
Everyday I am here, everynight here I am
my throat is so dry
Here I am
on the other side of the mirror I am facing
My feelings that I tried
Quietly raises its head
Calling out to you with a longing voice
Taeyeon glides from one high note to another creating a haunting and sorrowful effect before she closes the song with her warm voice. There is a notion of being lost, but in this last bit, her confidence and strength shine through.
On the whimsical ballad “Blue”, Taeyeon once again captures several sentiments and blends them into one sweet cocktail. Blue, the color she uses to describe her lover or friend, is the color of peace and serenity. Longing for someone is surely a sad thing, but if your memories are fond, then it is bittersweet. In that sense, Taeyeon’s memories of this person are good ones. There is not much happening here musically as the song gets by without percussion, but instead builds on a neat piano riff. Taeyeon employs soft vocal runs, which especially sound enchanting on the chorus.
All these tracks perfectly outline why Taeyeon belongs to the top tier of K-pop. While they bear musical similarities and revolve around the same topic, with each track, she is able to add a new perspective, deliver a different emotion and explore something new, giving the listener a new experience every time. Taeyeon’s genuine delivery comes from her experience. Not only as a veteran idol, but also as someone, who has been vocal about her depression, who has lost family and friends, she has seen both the good and bad sides of life. Hopefully, Taeyeon will continue to enchant listeners with her beautiful voice for a long time.