Like every K-pop fan worth her fan merch, I built a “Top K-pop Tracks of 2014” playlist. Consisting of forty tracks when I began in November, the playlist expanded to fifty like I knew it would by the next month.
Determining a cut-off was somewhat of a challenge; I mean, what if someone does a Beyonce and drops a surprise track at the end of the year that demands its place on the Top 50?
Rank also became a problem for me, because while there are songs that I know are good and need to be acknowledged, I didn’t really listen to these enough to warrant their ranks on the playlist, no matter how “important” a track it was to K-pop in 2014.
Sometimes I liked utter crap too, so I can’t really call this list a “Best Of.”
However, I do have my favorites. I have tracks that I kept on repeat play all throughout the year. I have tracks that I needed to download the MV’s of. I have tracks that defined what a terrible wonderful year for K-pop 2014 was, and how when I listen to them next year and in the years after that, will always remind me of these last twelve months.
In 2014, I upped my K-drama dosage, and some of the OST’s this year were stellar. The handful of K-dramas that I did commit to watching were fantastic – It’s Okay, That’s Love, Misaeng, and although I’m coming in very late to this party, My Love From Another Star. Most of these songs happen to be ballads, which have never really been my cup of tea, but there’s no denying that their inclusion in the stories they come from have enriched my enjoyment of the K-drama, and that when used to underscore pivotal moments in scenes (whether to signal the episode’s cliffhanger, or to cue the feels,) they have successfully embedded themselves in the part of my brain that regards these K-dramas as actual and fond In Real Life memories.
“Best Luck” from “It’s Okay, That’s Love” OST – Chen of EXO
I watched “It’s Okay, That’s Love” for EXO’s Do Kyungsoo (D.O) – it was after all, his big K-drama debut! IOTL was a romance and a family drama that had an excellent ensemble cast – Jo In-Sung, Gong Hyo-Jin, Sung Dong-Il, and Lee Kwang-Soo to name a few major cast members. A K-drama that treated neurosis, depression, anxiety, Tourette’s Syndrome and Schizophrenia like family members, IOTL was sensitive yet unflinching, protective of sure-ball K-drama tropes yet modern and forward-thinking.
IOTL had several musical motifs running through the series, and “Best Luck” was one of the first theme songs to appear on the soundtrack. The K-drama also had a Western OST. Released as a “Pop” soundtrack album to accompany the main OST which comprised of the original musical score and the show’s Korean tracks, the “Pop” OST contained some of the most brilliant and spot-on song choices to appear on contemporary television this year. Kudos to the show’s musical director – I will forever associate Family of the Year‘s “Hero” with a barefoot Do Kyungsoo and this career-making scene.
The title track by Davichi was nominated for the Best OST Award in several major award shows this year, including the 2014 Mnet Asian Music Awards, but it’s Chen’s “Best Luck” that I find myself learning the lyrics to and attempting to sing out loud. Maybe it’s because my bias for my EXO babies is showing, but I liked this track better than I did Davichi’s.
“Romang” (“Romantic Ideal”/”Dream”) from “Misaeng” OST – Rose Motel
Rose Motel make what I like to refer to as “tito music” – uncle music, middle-aged bloke music, music that for some reason is regarded as “real music” by the people who listen to this type of music and music that would normally fly over the heads of most people under the age of 30.
Securely on the other side of the K-pop spectrum, Rose Motel make their contribution to the world of K-drama with “Romang”, and oh man, what a contribution it is. Them’s fighting words, these Korean lyrics to what was originally, a Russian track. As one of the main theme songs of the wildly popular K-drama “Misaeng” (“An Incomplete Life”,) “Romang” is part ode to the salary man’s blues, and part character study of one of the most loved characters on the show.
Based on the massively successful manhwa of the same title, “Misaeng” is unlike any other K-drama produced today. I’d go so far as to say “Misaeng” is unlike any other T.V series produced today in terms of subject matter and treatment. Work comedies are no longer rare in Western T.V., but “Misaeng” probably has more in common with M*A*S*H than it does “The Office.” Eschewing melodrama for slice of life, “Misaeng” has charmed the viewership that belongs to the work force by being completely relatable. Only (maybe) the printer scene from “Office Space” is in the same orbit. An empathetic group of characters, on-point casting and pitch-perfect portrayals make me wish I worked with the guys from Sales Team 3, and had a boss like the sleep-deprived, red-rim eyed Mr. Oh (played by Lee Sung-min), to whom “Romang” owes its inclusion.
“Tomorrow” from “Misaeng” OST – Han Hee Jung
Another track off the “Misaeng” OST, this song is perfect for your commute from work. In the K-drama “Misaeng,” the employees of One International often take much-needed smoking/thinking/brooding/staring off into the horizon breaks in various open spaces around their building – the rooftop garden, the helipad, the outdoor lounge. Cue this track, along with some of newbie Jang Geu-rae (Im Si Wan)’s thoughts in voiceover form. Tomorrow’s another day, but this track empathizes with how tired and beat you are.
“My Destiny” from “My Love from Another Star” – Lyn
“My Love from Another Star” was a sure hit from the very beginning. It’s text book- good-looking couple (Kim Soo-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun) destined to be together but torn apart by fate. Familiar ingredients – reincarnation, historical drama, unrequited love, wicked relatives and sinister villains are made a little fresh by a sparkling script and post-modern jokes. Plus, Jun Ji-hyun is funny and likeable even though her character is supposed to be self-centered, rude, and kind of dumb.
The cherry that tops this K-drama perfection is the epic love theme, “My Destiny.” This track beat Davichi’s “It’s Okay, That’s Love” in the 2014 MAMA’s for Best OST, which surprised no one.
Except maybe me, because for once I totally agree that this song (a ballad!) is ace.
“Roommate” from “Roommate” OST – Lim Kim and Eddy Kim
Here’s the only OST track that doesn’t come from a K-drama! I loved the first season of the reality show, “Roommate.” Many find the second season superior to the first, but I feel an affinity towards the original cast comprised of musical theater actor Shin Sung-woo, 2NE1’s Park Bom, MMA fighter Song Ga-yeon, supermodel Lee So-ra, actress Hong Soo-hyun and of course, EXO’s Park Chanyeol. Season 1 took its time getting its sea legs – the first episodes were awkward and felt stretched. It seemed that none of the cast members were naturally gifted with reality/variety show skills, with the exception of comedian Jo Se-ho and the effortlessly entertaining Park Bom, but for those who became fans of the show that followed the housemates week to week found the natural awkwardness and mundane tension to be part of the show’s charm. Many viewers were put off by the show’s persistent focus on Se-ho, but the season really took a blow when Park Bom was made to leave the show in July because of a drug-related scandal.
Hong Soo-hyun was made to do a recording of the theme from “Roommate” for one of the episodes, and it was awful.
I like this track because it makes me think of how the cast that left genuinely liked the people they lived with for those weeks that they filmed the show.
Bonus Shortlist for OST
My EXO babies were super busy in 2014, and it wasn’t just Chen that released an OST track this year! D.O’s debut feature film, “Cart” was an official entry to the Toronto International Film Festival last September and he even contributed to the soundtrack!
“Scream”/”Crying Out” from “Cart” OST – Do Kyungsoo
It’s honestly not a song I put on repeat because of its heavy subject matter, but I’m still proud of D.O!
“Time Boils The Rain” from “Tiny Times 3” OST – Wu Yi Fan
Our man Wu Yi Fan (or, the Non-Artist Formerly Known as EXO’s Kris) had a monumental 2014. First he left his group at the height of their success to go solo, then started racking up movie projects, event appearances and solo recording gigs in China! Rumor had it that he was supposed to have been cast in the movie, “Tiny Times 3” which would have been a perfect fit; the movies are so his style – frothy fun and full of eye candy!
I never considered Wu Yi Fan a singer when he was with EXO, but this track suits his vocal range well, and he pulls it off without reaching too far. “Time Boils The Rain”, the “Tiny Times” theme song was previously sung by a female singer, but WYF’s version is quite refreshing, and adds a new dimension to the song’s feel and meaning. Good job, WYF! Good job. *inserts the clapping emoji*
“There Is A Place” from “Somewhere Only We Know” OST – Wu Yi Fan
And he scores another OST track! This time it’s for his own film, set for release on Valentine’s in 2015 – “Somewhere Only We Know,” plus it’s a track which he wrote and produced himself. Taking its cue from the perennial on-site wedding theme song of 2012, “A Thousand Years,” “There Is A Place” is a little more ambitious in terms of where WYF goes with his vocal range, but we forgive him because he’s just that good-looking.
“Our Tomorrow” from “Back To 20” OST – Lu Han
Another film that I’m psyched out of my mind to see next year is “Back To 20,” which stars former EXO member Lu Han. Lu Han filmed “Back To 20” in the middle of his EXO duties this year, but following WYF’s footsteps, bid the group goodbye in October to pursue a solo career. The film is the Chinese re-imagining of the Korean film “Miss Granny,” which in turn, is like “17 Again.” Lu Han was part of vocal line of EXO-M, so we knew he could sing, but this track gives his singing style the chance to shine without any support from the stronger singers in the group. “Our Tomorrow” does expose some of Lu Han’s limitations as lead vocalist, but it’s wonderful hearing his voice in a full track.
Ugh – so many ballads! These tracks have thrown me outside of my comfort zone, but they also prove that it’s possible for me to listen to (and enjoy) this type of music, if only in the context of a K-drama or a movie soundtrack!