Music is the lifeblood of our team at K-Soul. Whether it’s on or off the site it’s something we are always, and I mean always, chatting about. And we strive to reflect on what we’ve listened to from each year. Now is no different; but we wanted to try something new for our 2019 recap and express something a little deeper than our lists of the past.
Without further ado, here are our love letters to the songs that made up our 2019:
Highway to Heaven – NCT 127
“Highway to Heaven” premiered at NCT 127’s first tour stop in America, their New Jersey show at Prudential Center. Anticipating fans were suddenly interrupted by the sight of a quiet, greyscale mountain range on the LED screens placed above the stage, the words “Highway to Heaven” superimposed in grand bold lettering in a way that reminded me of a familiar opening crawl, and the phrase “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…”
I remember going still in my seat, watching this never-before-seen music video with my eyes wide, completely captured by the latest addition to 127’s repertoire. “Highway to Heaven” is simple, from the music video, to its lyrics; melodically, the song does not attempt anything akin to the grandeur of “Superhuman,” their only title song of 2019, and yet something about its almost bare-boned, raw minimalism became so comforting to me after my very first listen. It stood out against the loud and experimental brilliance of their title tracks, and it was a gift to the fans present at that moment, an ounce of weight to add to the anticipation for their first release of that year.
2019 was an incredibly tumultuous year for me: I was met with countless opportunities that brought me closer than ever to the things I loved (highlights include meeting my favourite group at KCON NY, and the roller coaster that was K-Factor week), while also having to tackle some major lessons and lifestyle changes, the cherry on top being a geographical one that moved me halfway across the world.
“Highway to Heaven” is a song that I associate with one of the most positive moments of that year. The Origin Tour, and the events that accompanied it, were moments I shared with some incredibly precious friends, and became a mark of pride for me as a fan. I saw the group grow in places I never expected them to be, and while not everything about 127’s trajectory is something I discuss with great positivity, I was still happy to see them excel in the spaces they chose to occupy.
Emotional relationship with the group aside, “Highway to Heaven” resonates with such a strong sense of positivity that presents itself not through bombastic beats, but with serene melodies and familiar lyrics. Flawless performances from the group’s vocal ensemble, paired with Taeyong and Mark’s cheeky rap interlude, makes for easy listening that embodies the value of moving forwards in life with somebody that encourages and supports you.
The song is, in its entirety, a message that I’d like to carry with myself into the coming year, and eventually throughout life. A little dreamy, sprinkled with a lot of hope, warmth, and love all throughout, “Highway to Heaven” is a song that encouraged me to believe in the words “the only way is up.”
– Dhania Kamayana
Feel Special – Twice
I can’t really say that 2019 had one defining song for me. Whether it’s because there truly were no year-defining bops or whether it’s because my own relationship to K-pop shifted throughout the year, there was no one song that stuck with me throughout the year.
The song of 2019 for me, then, is a song I picked because it caught me by surprise: “Feel Special” by Twice. Though Twice has been the biggest post-Girls’ Generation girl group for several years now, I can’t say I’ve always been the biggest fan of the music they put out. Their singles are catchy and fun, but I would often find their b-sides missing the mark in either production quality or thematic complexity.
Feel Special was a release that reset all my expectations of Twice’s music. To quote something my fellow K-Soul writer Dhania told me as we were discussing the album, it was as if JYP was finally taking them seriously. The songs were varied and interesting on multiple levels, and the members themselves showed how they developed as artists, both in their vocal performance and in the fact that several members showed off their lyric-writing chops.
All of that impressed me, but that’s not really what made me choose “Feel Special” as my personal song of 2019. I came to appreciate the song when I decided to learn its choreography.
For some context, I’ve been taking K-pop dance classes on and off for about two years. During those years, I’ve learned very few girl group dances. There are several reasons for this, but at least one of them is that K-pop girl group choreographies tend to portray an image of femininity I’ve struggled to feel comfortable in.
So when I decided to learn the dance to “Feel Special,” it was something of a personal challenge. From the very first class I found myself having difficulties with the intro, and I felt disheartened. But over weeks of practice, both in class and on my own time, I began to feel more comfortable– confident, even.
I felt a growing appreciation for the choreography for “Feel Special,” and for the song itself. Listening to it over and over, I began to think more about how nice the lyrics are. The verses about feeling alone at times are all too relatable, but so too is the message that sometimes, all it takes is someone who cares to pull you out of that space.
At the end of it all, I was just as pleasantly surprised by my appreciation for the song as I was by how I managed to overcome my personal difficulties with the choreography to find myself really having fun with it. That’s why, among many great songs in 2019, “Feel Special” holds a special place for me
– Shelly Pires
僕のこと – Mrs. GREEN APPLE
It’s a little funny that my song of 2019 was one that I didn’t listen to all the way through until about mid-June– or rather, maybe couldn’t listen to is a better way to put it. I chose not to listen all because I didn’t want to melt into a puddle of my own tears.
There’s something about Mrs. GREEN APPLE. Since discovering them in 2018 I’ve found myself falling in love over and over again with their mastery of music. Their lead vocalist, Omori Motoki, has such a way with his lyrics and his voice is one that always tugs at my heartstrings, even during the most upbeat track.
“Boku no Koto” (English title “About Me”) was a song that I knew would render me to pieces when the teaser was released at the end of 2018. Being a ballad, with a powerful instrumental buildup and a vocal cry baked into the chorus, I was already done for before the song even fully existed. I like to say that most days I can push through– take on the feels and enjoy the ride. Circumstances around “Boku no Koto’s” release held me back for giving it a shot upon release and as the year went on and things seemed to get harder and harder I withdrew more and focused on their more uplifting songs like “Romanticism” and “Cheers.”
But, when I finally gave in, I found there was no more perfect a track in all their discography to help pull me through the rest of my year. I cried so much. I tried listening in public–at my office desk, on the train, walking around New York City–and I cried every time. It got easier, but even as I write this on what has to be at least my 40th playthrough of the song, I’m still teary. There are tissues on hand.
I realized, though, that that is part of this song’s magic for me. I cry because this is who I am– I am emotional, I am sensitive, I am someone who will sob in a crowd of people because a song hugs my heart too tightly and I don’t want it to let go. This is something about me (title pun, see what I did there). And that’s what this song is– it’s about someone. It’s the telling of inner thoughts, feelings, fears, and wishes that make us up.
I could write an essay just on the lyrics. There’s a beauty to them that is raw and poetic. In some ways, to me, they almost feel inaccessible as someone who isn’t the writer. And then there are the lines that ask “would others be like me?” and I realize that yes, I am, and I internalize the song’s message even more. There are more than enough lines that a younger version of myself would have made into an AIM status and there and many more that current me would consider having inked into her skin. (I already have one on my arm as a bookend to 2019.)
This is my thank you to Mrs. GREEN APPLE and “Boku no Koto.” Thank you for sharing a song that feels so personal and yet so universal. Thank you for making something that let me sit down with myself and understand myself more. And thank you for accompanying me through to the end of 2019.
– Samantha Lifson