I wrote a piece for Seoulist that recently got released on their website after Seoul had its first “real” snowfall. It’s a mix of ten songs in a number of genres, ranging from fun to thoughtful. The youtube link hosts the playlist that allows you to listen to all the songs in succession. Read on for the article:
The first snow, like many events and holidays in South Korea, possesses a romantic leaning. Aside from themes of innocence and purity, the first snow of the season especially signifies first love, pulling many into the realm of nostalgia, but can also simply denote the meeting of lovers.
Depending on which side of the K-drama coin you fall on, that kind of romantic takeover can either have you compulsively grabbing the next Korean hottie you meet to make a K-drama of your own, or hidey-holing in your one room, Armageddon-style, until the utter chaos of Valentine’s Part IV (a.k.a. Christmas) is officially over.
Whether you’re a starry-eyed newcomer to Seoul or a longtime scoffer whose eyes only see plastics and crazies, my hope is that you’ll get to indulge, even embrace, both sides of that diametric psyche, while learning a little more about K-pop in the process. Now turn down the lights, cozy up with your honey (or cry into your soju), and give this mix a whirl.
1. Hope by Yiruma (이루마)
To start us off is this instrumental piece by Yiruma, a Korean pianist and composer. Yiruma is well known for songs that have become themes to some of the biggest Korean dramas, and Kiss the Rainfrom his 2003 album is still one of the prettiest, most wistful melodies I’ve ever heard. “Hope” is from his 2008 album, P.N.O.N.I, and is a fitting sonic backdrop to the first snowfall, which seems to always pull you back to that first time you saw the world turn white.
2. Can I Love You (사랑해도 될까요) by Yurisangja (유리상자)
Beginning the vocal tracks is this guitar-tinged ballad from Yurisangja. A male duo formed in 1997, Yurisangja is known for their sweet songs and gentle vocals. This track was released in 2001 and is one of those classic confession songs about a man tentatively revealing his love.
3. Fate (인연) by Lee Seon Hee (이선희)
We go from old school to ancient in this song by Lee Seon Hee, former trot singer and mentor of popular singer Lee Seung Gi (이승기). And just to clarify, by ancient, I’m referring to the context of the song, not the singer. The theme song of 2005 runaway hit and historical film, The King and the Clown, “Fate” employs traditional Korean instruments and Lee Seon Hee’s clear vocals. Personally, I love how the track gracefully walks the line between joy and despair. Watch the subbed video with scenes from movie (very beginning is cut off).
4. First Snow, First Kiss (첫 눈 그리고 첫 키스) by Yoseob from B2ST (요섭, 비스트) & Drama of Dalmation (드라마, 달마시안)
Taking a step back (or should I saw forward?) from sounds of the past, we jump into a song that is thoroughly modern pop. In the spirit of innocent first love, “First Snow, First Kiss” fits all the criteria. It’s fluffy and light, and if you’ve been wondering what first snow is about, this song is here to tell you. Both of these boys are from groups who have released some fun songs, and together they make a pretty catchy mid-tempo track.
5. That Place from the Start (처음 그 자리에) by Lee Boram (이보람)
This song is also sweet and light, but takes a turn coming from the female perspective with Lee Boram, vocalist of female group Seeya. The charming opening chords and lilting beat might sound familiar to fans of the 2004 K-drama, Full House, which helped shoot Bi and Song Hye Kyo to the forefront of the Hallyu Wave.
6. Confession (고백) by Hot Potato (뜨거운 감자)
Back to confessions! But here’s the updated contemporary male, as voiced by indie band Hot Potato (Ithink the name sounds better in Korean… maybe). This song saw a lot of exposure last year after it was released in mid-2010. I’m guessing listeners were charmed by the conversational lyrics and the fun, offbeat arrangement.
7. Let It Snow by S.E.S
It wouldn’t be fair to make a K-pop playlist without giving a nod to the original pop players. S.E.S, a female trio under SM Entertainment, debuted in 1997 and was the first modern idol girl group in South Korea. Their success helped pave the way for other girl groups like Fin.K.L (which Lee Hyori was in), and every now and then Girls Generation/SNSD (소녀시대) will perform one of their songs in homage to their company seonbae’s (선배, or senior). SM has been releasing seasonal group compilations for a while, and “Let It Snow” is from the 2000 SM Town winter album. That’s just over ten years ago, but I can almost guarantee you that today’s idols were listening to this as they thought of falling in love around Christmastime. At least the older ones. Ten years is a long time in K-pop. (Wants the lyrics? Click here.)
8. Loved Even the Pain (그 아픔까지 사랑한거야) by Jo Sung Mo (조성모)
This song has seen so many remakes that I think it was originally performed by Jo Seong Hyun (조성현) in 1989. Since then, a number of male vocalists, from crooner Sung Si Kyung (성시경) to most recentlySuper Star K Season 3 contestant Min Hoon Gi (민훈기) have done their own covers. There’s something old-fashioned about the melody and the lyrics read like a love poem, so I don’t know if this song will ever be able to get away from sounding sentimental. But it’s a good kind of sentimental, if you’re in the mood for it, expressing that idealized unrequited love that Koreans do so well, and the titular line just makes it. I’ve chosen balladeer Jo Sung Mo’s 2000 version for his expressive vocals. (Translated lyrics here.)
9. Snow Flower (눈의꽃) by Park Hyo Shin (박효신)
Another song tied to a successful Korean drama, “Snow Flower” was the theme song of 2004’s I’m Sorry, I Love You (미안하다, 사랑한다). Okay, so that drama was incredibly sad, but the song is great, if bittersweet. Actually a remake of Japanese singer Mika Nakashima’s Yuki no Hana (雪の華, also meaning Snow Flower), it showcases Park Hyo Shin’s haunting vocals. Park is reputed as one of best singers in Korea, and I’d likely jump on that boat. Honestly, that man needs to get on Survival, I Am a Singer as soon as he’s released from the army.
10. Eve by Yiruma
Ending this list on a reflective note is this twinkly piece, also from Yiruma’s 2008 album. It can be heard as either dark or light, lonely or romantic, depending on your mood. But despite its slower tempo, it doesn’t sound like things coming to an end, only winding down. It carries a hint of something to come, which is a great way to approach the first snow, whether you’ve got someone to hold hands with or you’re still waiting for your magic moment.