written by: lolpenny
The problem with ballads in K-pop as respect to an American audience is that ballads are necessarily predicated on listener’s personal relationships to the lyrics. Nobody is listening to weepy Taylor Swift songs because she’s a musical genius; we listen because she tells our stories. So in addition to the usual monotony that dooms balladry to irrelevance, k-pop ballads have to overcome the language barrier as well.
Fresh off the reality TV circuit, the adorable Baek Ah Yeon tries to do just that.
Step one in crafting an enjoyable, palatable ballad is the use of dynamics. In “Sad Song,” the drama of the soaring chorus is paired with the reticence of the whispered verses. This is a common formula in k-pop ballads and everyone from idol groups to famous balladeers to classical composers uses this technique because the constant tension and release is engaging.
Moving fluidly through genres is another way to dodge disinterest and apathy on a ballad album. Baek tackles this with “Love Love Love,” an acoustic guitar-heavy almost indie track and “Always,” a smooth, jazzy number that features rapper Jun K. While Baek Ah Yeon tended to get screechy hitting the high notes in “Sad Song” the chill vibes in both songs allow her better show off her killer vocals.
While “Sad Song” was chosen as the promotional single, I have to say that “You’re Leaving,” the slightly ironic album closer, is my favorite track. She comes full circle, back to a straight pop ballad with ticking clock bells and whistles but unlike “Sad Song” she isn’t straining to get to the notes. It makes for a much more pleasant delivery and even though I have no idea what she’s singing about, I’m crying.
Crafting a viable career post-reality singing competition is not easy and shows like American Idol or Superstar K have left far more failures than successes in their wake. Expectations are set impossibly high while public motivation to buy your records is extremely low.
And this might be a cliché critique, the album comes across a little one dimensional. The good news is that she can only get better as she gets older and gains experience. I mean, look at IU, who is arguably the queen of teen ballad idols. Comparing her debut song, “MIA” to her recent work is like listening to two different people. With this genre, age and experience adds exponentially to the levels of emotion and delivery, and put on the right path, Baek Ah Yeon could be the next Beak Ji Young. It’s an uphill battle but Baek Ah Yeon has the tools to make it work; name recognition, a major label backing her, and a solid first mini album.
| Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
|Love Love Love||
Points to stars conversion: [(3.5/5) x 5] + 0.25*
*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.