I try not to write these when I’m feeling some type of way because ballads are emotional cheap-shots, and this is coming from someone who loves them dearly. But as the city I live in experiences its first real lockdown of the pandemic, and karaoke habits migrate from the lounges and parlors to online, some of these songs are just hitting differently these days.
Joanna Wang – “I Only Care About You“
Taiwanese-American singer Joanna Wang has been around for a hot minute, shifting back and forth between styles and languages since her debut way back in 2008. In 2019 she released an album of covers, Love Is Calling Me, which consequently won Best Mandarin Album at the 2020 Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammys).
“I Only Care About You” is a huge song from huge singer, Teresa Teng, the most heralded Taiwanese singer of all time. Funny enough, the Japanese version of the song came first, becoming a huge hit over there and then getting a Mandarin rewrite for domestic release afterwards. It’s been a karaoke classic all over Asia since its release.
Joanna’s take on it is a bold departure from the enka-pop original. Stripping it down to a horn section, strings, and ukulele, Joanna pushes her tender vocal to the front and loads the performance with ennui and desperation. While I’m usually pretty resistant to the cottage-core, faux lo-fi aesthetic, I can’t deny that the power of the melody itself shines brightly with this interpretation.
Kim Bum Soo – “Winter Of May”
I’ve been enjoying the drama Youth Of May recently, even though everything indicates we’re in for a rocky/depressing ending. Only fitting for a drama based on the Gwangju Uprising, I suppose. Also it’s weird that the romantic leads in the show were brother and sister in Sweet Home, but I let that go after a couple episodes.
The prevalent sadness paves the way for some ballad work, of course. Recently released is Kim Bum Soo’s folksy wailer “Winter Of May”. The minimal acoustic guitar accompaniment harkens back to the folk rock of 80s Korea, which of course is appropriate given the period of the show.
Red Velvet’s Joy – “Day By Day”
Strangely enough, this works in the way the “Milky Way“ cover didn’t. Rather than trying to reinvent a properly working wheel, SM Entertainment just cleans up the instrumental for 21st century palates, maintaining the groove that gives the original it’s character. Red Velvet Joy’s voice works well in the song’s range as well, so it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Hearing this remake might make you wanna go back to the original, but you’re not mad that the new version exists.
Gummy – “If You Return”
I’ll be honest, not my favorite Gummy track! It’s a legendary track for sure, but I’m wondering how much of that has to do with the bleak MV versus the song itself (not much, I’m projecting). Gummy has a great tone here, but it’s too much of a blunt force object here for me; I think she finds better range later on in her career.
LIGHTSUM’s Han Chowon & Kim Nayoung – OST Medley
Okay, I’m cheating here with this medley, but I don’t care because this is pleasant as hell. Also I’ve been rewatching Produce 48 for my podcast on the show so it’s good to see these two debut. Chowon in particular kept getting stuck with rap parts throughout Produce 48, and ended up getting rigged out of the final group for her effort. Also, a ballad cover video seems like a rarity when it comes to pre-debut videos? At least one with this sort of production quality.
Anyways all the songs here are bangers. Chowon does Lyn’s “Back In Time” particular justice. Nayoung does a great take on Gummy’s “You Are My Everything”. And both come together naturally for Red Velvet Joy’s take on “Introduce Me A Good Person,” which I’ve covered previously. Just a sweet, brisk little medley.
Wonstein – “Kangaroo”
Rules are being stretched all over the place. In the strictest sense I wouldn’t call this tune a ballad, more of an R&B slow-to-mid-tempo jam. Emotionally, it fits squarely into the same gaps so we can chat about it.
Rapper-singer-songwriter Wonstein is getting an increased rate of love these days due to his inclusion in the MSG Wannabe project. With that sort of wholesome image coming to the forefront I’m not surprised at his career pushing towards the singer/performance aspect of his career versus the Show Me The Money side. At least singles like “Kangaroo” are trying to capitalize on wholesome Wonstein.
Why “Kangaroo” is of particular excitement to me because of Fisherman’s involvement. Fisherman put out one of my favorite records last year, K-Pop or not, in “The Dragon Warrior”, and I’ve been in love with his jazzy, playful composition style ever since. “Kangaroo” isn’t quite as left-field, probably due to the influence of Zion.T to keep things firmly in a pop realm, but the sensuous texture is welcome and pushes the song into “warm blanket” mode. I’d crack a smile if I heard this at a coffee shop.