If you didn’t know, I am a Mexican-American who happens to be perpetually immersed in Korean pop culture. Over my years as a functioning individual in this thing called K-Pop fandom, I’ve come across all kinds of Korean music – music I can find all up in this site – and one particular style that has always intrigued me to hear in my K-Pop is music influenced by Latin and Spanish styles. It’s a cultural collision if I ever knew one, and one that is even more special to me since I am deeply attached to both.
I love listening to music in my mother-tongue as much as I do music in Korean, so when those two collide, there go my feels.
This year, I came across two performances and singles (found below) that piqued my Spanish ear and that had me thinking: you know what? I love listening to two very distinct cultural styles blend together in the name of music. It’s a reminder that while the globe is immense, it can quickly feel less so when there’s an effort to unite us through something that we all enjoy, no matter where we’re from. Music.
Thus, I have here for you a handful of songs that are very clearly influenced by Latin and Spanish styles sung by all my faves in K-Pop. From SHINee‘s Jonghyun to the man, Bobby Kim. Two of these, in fact, are actual Korean covers! Enjoy, and drop any others that I’ve missed in the comment section below.
Artist: SHINee’s Jonghyun
Song: “Y Si Fuera Ella (혜야)”
Album: ‘The SHINee World’
Released: August 28, 2008
I first stumbled upon this song a few years ago and was literally mouth gaping open when I heard it. Jonghyun, who I consider to be one of the most dramatic, yet passionate singers I’ve ever listened to and in resent memory in K-Pop, took on this classic love ballad by Alejandro Sanz (Spain) as his solo song on SHINee‘s first full album, ‘The SHINee World‘. Next to the original, there are clear distinctions in their delivery, power and intensity. But what ties these two versions as two amazing performances in their own right (and two of my favorites, ever) is their sheer emotional strength. Both singers are emotionally invested in their versions, and it shows in spades.
I honestly have nothing but respect for them as they take us along two very different stories. Even more so I think for Jonghyun, who had the courage to interpret such a powerful song at such a young age, maintain the beauty of the Spanish style, and still make it his own.
Song: “Besame Mucho”
Seen On: Immortal Song 2
Performed: April 14, 2012
There’s no arguement: Ailee is 2012′s most impressive solo rookie debut, and those who think otherwise are fools (just kidding! … kinda).
Being all about talent in K-Pop, obviously I fell head over heels for this girl, who not only debuted strong, but continued her onslaught as she joined a slew of other talents on the popular singing competition, ‘Immortal Song 2‘, where she tackled song after song, and slayed left and right like nobody’s business. One performance in particular that caught my attention was when she performed “Besame Mucho” on the April 14 episode of the show.
“Besame Mucho”, made obvious by its title, is reeling with Spanish influences, and Ailee did a fantastic job on this episode in showing her diversity as a singer, as well as her diversity as a person, as she danced around, invited great performers to carry the style, and even spoke a bit of Spanish before she hit the stage.
I just can’t with her sometimes.
Artist: Lena Park
Song: “I’m Sorry”
Released: June 19, 2012
Lena Park hadn’t released an album in three years, which is a lifetime in K-Pop years you know, but for those of us who were waiting, it was more than worth it when it arrived.
As the lead single of her June 2012 comeback album, ‘Parallax‘, “I’m Sorry” encompasses all that is Lena Park in one tight nit ballad. It’s beautifully composed, powerful and inspired. In fact, it’s more than inspired. This song is a cover of one of Mexican band Camila‘s greatest singles ever, “Mientes“. As you can guess by now, I pretty much died when I first listened to it, because I knew it sounded familiar. As soon as I recognized it, it made me love it ten times more. Not because it’s a cover of a song I like, but because Lena Park did such a magnificent job of interpreting it.
The arrangement is magical and it works so well for Lena’s voice. This album is definitely one of my favorites of 2012, and I highly recommend giving a listen, because you’ll fall deeply in love with it. Trust me on this one.
Artist: Bobby Kim
Song: “Like a Man”
Album: ‘Heart & Soul’
Released: April 26, 2010
Bobby Kim is one of Korea’s more classical artists. I grew to really appreciate his work back in 2010, when he released the full-length album ‘Heart & Soul‘, which is one of his albums with more of a particular style to it than some of his other work. This album was very guitar heavy and full of vivid Latin influences. One such song was the lead single, “Like a Man”, which he himself described to be heavily stylized after Latin music, and as you listen to it, you can definitely hear it.
Bobby Kim has a unique voice, so the way he arranged this song worked well with his vocal delivery.
Artist: Brown Eyed Girls’s Gain
Album: ‘Step 2/4’
Released: October 08, 2010
Brown Eyed Girls’s Ga-in was one of the first K-Pop idols who really plowed through with an EP that was entirely devoted to one particular style, i.e., Tango. Ga-in went hard with the Tango elements in ‘Step 2/4‘, and she really made it work.
One reason being that Ga-In’s thin voice suited the romantic style that was the driving force of the mini. For anyone who knows Brown Eyed Girls, you know that Ga-In does ‘seduction’ really well and it only intensifies the appeal of “Irreversible“, the lead single. It was sensual and maybe even too dramatic for its own good, but in the end, all the effort made for a really interesting pop inspired era for the singer.
While K-Pop is doing a brilliant job of clinging onto every mainstream trend in American pop and regurgitating it in probably better ways than we hear in the West, I think it’s even more fascinating when Korean artists take time to appreciate what other cultures (not just Latin and Spanish) have to offer in sound to inspire them in their own music.
If even in minor forms like the raeggeton break in 2NE1‘s “Clap Your Hands“, music of any kind feels twice as alive and inspired when it finds ways to blend flavors of all stretches in culture because it’s these reaching elements that hook on a far more personal level. And what’s better than listening to music that feels at home?