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[Music and Dramas] How an OST can save a drama


Dong Yi

By @witheachnewmorning

Can I just say that this is a theme I really love? K-drama OSTs are such an essential part of my drama-watching experience, and often times my liking of a show is greatly affected by the choice of background music and OSTs it uses. The swelling violins, the heartbreaking sorrow behind a talented singer’s beautiful voice, the lyrics that just seem so apt for the story, a good OST truly enhances each moment in a drama, allowing it to shine (as you can probably already tell, I’m a real sucker for sad OSTs).

OSTs become especially important to me when I start losing interest in the main characters of the drama and their romance. This unfortunately happens pretty frequently to me, especially in longer dramas or those in which the relationship becomes overly draggy and loses its spark. One of my favorite examples would be the saguek Dong Yi, which I watched when I was about 11. It was a great drama, and while I felt the romance between Dong Yi and the king was adorable, I never rooted for it as strongly as I did for other drama couples (say, the pair from Queen In-hyun’s Man for instance).

That all changed in a particularly tragic episode, where Dong Yi, who had been attacked somewhere outside the palace, tried to call out to the king (who was seated in a palanquin) for help, but was unable to do so because she was too weak. He passed her by without even realizing she was there, and the full tragedy of the couple’s separation hit me the moment “Walk in a Dreamy Road” by Jang Nara started to play.


Dong Yi, “Walk in a Dreamy Road”

From then on, this OST was to me, the theme of this couple’s often bittersweet but eventually blissful romance. It underscored so many memorable moments in this drama that I was brought down memory lane every time I heard it, especially because of the traditional instruments and melodies used in it. Coincidentally, this was the beautiful song that prompted me to start playing Korean OSTs on the piano, and I haven’t stopped since.

There are also some OSTs that truly save otherwise shoddily written dramas, and these sometimes end up giving me hope that the drama would improve because evidently, the drama’s music directors knew what they were doing. The most recent example would have to be Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. I was as disappointed as anyone else about this adaptation, especially since I was a huge fan of the original Chinese series. What surprised me however, were the numerous wonderful OSTs that were created for it.


Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

Yes, there were A-list singers involved in it, and yes, there were many OSTs that did feel quite out of place in a period drama with their modern feel, but there were also beautifully heart-wrenching ones, with Jung Seung-hwan’s “Wind” and Im Sun-hye’s “I Will Be Back,” the latter of which soon became representative of the most tragic moments of the series (like Episode 11). Without these songs, the drama’s scenes would have been way less powerful, and they ultimately kept me watching the drama till the end because they helped engage my feelings.

The best thing about OSTs are that they serve a variety of different purposes (there’s the cute theme, the romantic theme, the sad theme, and so on), hence they are created in vastly different musical styles, with a wide variety of artists brought together each time. I especially enjoy this diversity because there are musical styles that are not often seen in modern K-pop anymore but can still be enjoyed occasionally in drama OSTs.


Memory

Finally, I love OSTs the most when the entire collection of them ties in so closely to the drama and its overall vibes or message, be it through the lyrics of each song or the type of emotion conveyed through the singers. It really takes a musical director with a clear vision in mind to be able to coordinate such a feat, and when that happens, it shows such unity in the direction and production of the drama that it deserves to be applauded. The best example that comes to mind would be the OST for the drama Memory.

While woefully underrated by many, this was one of my favorite dramas from 2016 because I absolutely loved the pensive tone and bittersweet realism. The soundtrack definitely played a huge part in creating this drama’s atmosphere, with meaningful songs written to reflect the main character’s (Lee Sung-min) regrets, his longing to hold on to his slowly receding memories, and most importantly, the comfort offered to him by his family members that they would never forget him, even if he eventually forgot about them. The OST, much like the drama, is both devastating and uplifting, but the well of emotions these songs open up in the hearts of viewers allows them to understand on a deeper level how the main character is feeling.

For me, OSTs are such an integral—and maybe even the best part—of K-dramas because of how much my viewing experience changes due to the music, whether it’s understanding characters or getting invested in a romance. So kudos to the music directors out there, y’all rock. <3


Memory, “If I Lived Again”

 
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Great post, the reason why some bad shows are still memorable for me is because they have good osts. I haven't even seen Memory but I love the osts specially the instrumentals. I hope we get to know more about these wonderful music directors through DB or any other platform because they are hardly ever mentioned somewhere in English credits.

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I honestly really disliked Scarlet Heart (didn't watch the Chinese adaptation) even though I still watched the entire show in rapt attention... ? And even though I didn't like it, the entire OST remains on replay in my playlist. The songs were fantastic!

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same with you
i didn't follow scarlet heart,,but when lee hi is participated in its OST ,,i started to watch it even though it didn't last long,

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Other dramas that were saved by OST: Uncontrollably Fond and Love Rain.

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Love Rain quite boring for me but its setting of place and ost were taken beautifully. Both male and female were beautiful too.

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Agree, the plot dragged so much but the cinematography and music were on point.

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UF had a fantastic soundtrack!

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True, I remember the UF scoring contributing greatly to the deluge of tears at the ending. I'm a newcomer in the Kdrama scene and don't really know much about K-pop. I'm absolutely clueless about the lyrics, but as they say music is universal. The OST helps fill the gap of subpa subs.

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Love Rain is my favorite OST ever! I have both cds and hunted down a lot of the other songs they used in the drama. The playlist I made for it is in constant rotation.

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Yes, sometimes the ost just save the drama itself. Just like back then in Style where I really bored yet the ost keep me back again to watch KimHyeSoo anyway.
Though I love KongHyoJin and JoInSung in It's Okay,That's Love but I didn't really enjoy that drama because it's just not my cup of tea. But once again, for me the ost just way too emotional more than the story.

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The soundtrack to Dong Yi is lovely.

One thing that makes me sad is that sometimes it's hard to find OST tracks from outside Korea. (Or maybe inside, too?) Some of the nicest instrumental tracks just don't get included on iTunes (I'm looking at you, Goblin!). Sometimes I can find sheet music for them, and sometimes I can't. But yes, my OST sheet music collection has really grown since I started watching dramas, too!

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Where can I find the sheet music?

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I normally like find YouTube videos of piano covers and sometimes they have links! or if there are really no sheets I just try to figure out the notes/chords from their tutorials/covers (0.5x speed is rly useful here)

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Thanks very much!

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YES i love that drama's instrumental too.

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I haven't even seen Dong Yi, yet I instantly fell in love with “Walk in a Dreamy Road” the moment I heard it (accidentally discovered it while looking for some other ost)
That song is GORGEOUS!! I luff it!!!

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For me it's BOF, I hated the drama but the ost remains to be one of my favourites along with secret garden.

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Almost Paradiseeeeee...

Maybe it's true hatred is form of affection as well. lol

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And that I'll be waiting for you song everytime Jandi cries
and Because I'm stupid everytime Jihoo pines for Jandi

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"Because I'm Stupid" clearly meant for them because literally they are stupid too. lol.

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I bet nobody can "read" Almost paradiseeeeee without singing it LOL

I remember I loved some songs from its OST, Because I'm stupid and Stand by me were my fav...

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Jisun's "What Should I Do" traumatized me as a kid I think (lol). It sounded too heartbreaking for my poor innocent heart, and so naturally it's one of my all-time fav Kthemes ?

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That song (and the bang bang boom song, whatever it's called) led me down a black hole where I bought the entire OST AND all these bonus LPs that were on iTunes. Blew way too much money it, but no regrets

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I'm not that negative to BOF, save Jang-di and family. And I so love all the songs. I memorized the lyrics real hard, so I can sing along whenever I rewatched the drama or played the CD.

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T-Max - Fight the bad feeling is love <3

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Hear, hear! Music directors hardly get any credit. I have been trying to find out who was REBEL's music director, to no avail. I might have to learn Korean just to read the end credits.

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Man, that is so true, the only that saved Level 7 Civil Servant is the music, I love the music there despite it being such a terrible drama...
Its like an injustice to the music to be a part of the drama.

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Yes, I watched that for Joo Won really. I also remembered that the plot was pretty weak, but music was good. Two of them were really cute and really made me got through with the show.

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i gave rebel a 9/10 just for the music. the ost itself was amazing but the way they used it was also really well done. i can't wait to see ahn yeeun rule sageuk osts

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Scarlet heart had the most amazing ost, undoubtedly. I loved the story though, till ep 12 I think until everyone kept dying and of course we didn't get any closer on the OTP.. sigh.

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closure* :S

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"There are also some OSTs that truly save otherwise shoddily written dramas, and these sometimes end up giving me hope that the drama would improve because evidently, the drama’s music directors knew what they were doing. "

Love this! Been there.
Great essay!

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When I was a teenager, I liked bright pop song, the one that I could use to dance alone in my room. But in my early-twenties, I like to hear ballad song more, and k-drama (especially sageuk) has tons of excellent sad heartwrenching song

Rebel OST remains on top of my most favorite of all time, and I don't know when I'll get another perfect OST

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Thank you, @witheachnewmorning, for your lovely and thoughtful article on Kdrama OSTs. I've not gotten around to seeing DONG YI, but you've put it on my radar with your comments on the music.

And thanks for your pointer to MEMORY with Lee Sung-min, who is one of my favorite actors (MISAENG, THE KING2HEARTS). “If I Lived Again” is wonderful. I didn't look up the lyrics, but the feelings... The combination of an evocative score and LSM might be too much to bear for someone with kin with Alzheimer's and dementia. But it might also be just the ticket for triggering a good cry. Sometimes cartharsis is just what the doctor ordered, and for me, music steeped in han is the sure-fire way to achieve it. Slip in a plaintive hageum, and I'm a goner.

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I watched Memory @pakalanapikake last year after losing both my parents to dementia and working at a Memory care place. Believe me, this was very authentic and gut-wrenching. But overall it was REALLY REALLY profoundly good. I recommend it highly. Also, I'm so sorry you are also going through the grief of losing someone you love this way. It's never easy is it? Sending much love.

The thing we've learned about the mind is the one memory people with dementia keeps is music. I think this is why music is so important to many of us.

Beautifully written post @witheachnewmorning! I couldn't have written it better myself. My phone is full to the brim with TONS of music that I listen to all the time! Thank you for writing with such heart and love!

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I'm a sucker of a good scoremelodrama and sageuk ost

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Thanks for mentioning "Dong Yi" and "Scarlet Heart".

Jang Nara's "Walk in a Dreamy Road" is also one of my faves too. Always brought me back to the reunion scene between Dong Yi and Sukjong outside of the palace, after she went missing for months.

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Great post! One of the reasons why I still cannot get over Scarlet Heart is because of the OSTs. Every time I listen to the songs, the flashback of the scenes comes to my mind and my heart hurts a little. It's agonizing but it's addictive.

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The OSTs were the only ones I loved about Ruler: Master of the Mask and The Best Thing. Both started out really well and then everything went downhill when the second half of the drama rolled. Thank goodness they managed to choose good songs.

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"I especially enjoy this diversity because there are musical styles that are not often seen in modern K-pop anymore but can still be enjoyed occasionally in drama OSTs."

? Awesome post. A lot of the times I find myself in awe at the rate this industry can just produce a complete and original soundtrack for every new drama, and not just end up churning out repetitive sounds/melodies. Of course not all OSTs stand out, but I feel most of them really do capture the show's essence, enhance it, and even be that sole bright spot in this case.
Cheese in the trap, for one, is a drama that wouldn't hold such a dear place in my heart and memory if it weren't for the OST, which...of course (because anything involving Tearliner is ❤️).

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"The best thing about OSTs are that they serve a variety of different purposes (there’s the cute theme, the romantic theme, the sad theme, and so on), hence they are created in vastly different musical styles, with a wide variety of artists brought together each time. I especially enjoy this diversity because there are musical styles that are not often seen in modern K-pop anymore but can still be enjoyed occasionally in drama OSTs"

This exactly! I've been enjoying OSTs more than KPOP songs. And it's because of this. Great post! ????

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Yeah, I am not a Kpop person so almost all of the Kmusic I buy is either drama OSTs or music introduced through dramas (like If Only by Loveholic in Plus Nine Boys or What about my age? in...er, every drama ever haha)

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Same here rachela. Like i have the playlist in spotify with 600+ songs already. Luckily they are there 😆😊😀

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One of my all time favorite OSTs is Remember by Dear Cloud, the main OST for I Remember You.
The lyrics and the singer's voice gave me goosebumps every time it came on, couldn't help crying.

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I can think of many dramas which have beautiful OST's but the one that truly brings tears to my eyes is the piano version of Reason from autumn in my heart ? I get goosebumps every time I listen to it

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I haven't watched dong yi but I certainly got goosebumps from your description of that scene. I can see how the OST must have been important to that very scene. Indeed music surveyors are truly the best. It's unfortunate that they don't seem to get too much credit for it. When I think about all those scenes from even American dramas like originals, vampire diaries, one tree hill...etc where the various songs made all the scenes so much better and speak volumes than the script even did.
It'll be nice if there is ever a drama centred on a music director like another oh hae young was on the sound director. It really made me appreciate all the sounds in every drama and movie after that and even pay particular notice to them all

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I really loved Chicago Typewriter's OST ! Beautiful drama with an amazing soundtrack !

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wow i watched dong yi when i was only 10 (a year younger) too! At that point in time ( dong yi was my first ever kdrama) i thought that the whole story was really good and strong but now like after 6 years snd looking back i have to agree dong yi's relationship with the king was cute but not as powerful or as connecting for me as compared to other relationships in other dramas that i have watched over the years. BUT YES WALK IN A DREAMY ROAD IS STILL ONE OF MY TOP OSTs TODAY!! It has a traditional yet modern vibe to it and it just worked really well with the storyline :)

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I just went and bought that Scarlet Heart song because of this post. Now I'm sitting crying in my room lol.... I had so many issues with that show I couldn't even pay attention to the OST! Thanks for the re-introduction.

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When I saw you wrote about Dong Yi, couldnt help myself but leaving a comment here. I have fair shares of favourite OSTs, but Jang Nara's Walk In A Dream Road remains in the top spot. I love that drama, have been rewatching the drama many times and still cannot get over it, and still having the same feeling everytime I listen to the song, especially when the camera shows Dong Yi and the King long for each other, but they have to sacrifice their feelings. How can I not feel sad?
OST is important, it captures and heighten the emotions for viewers, which makes viewing experiences enjoyable. Glad that throughout my dramas watching, I come across many beautiful songs, and that includes instrumental musics. One of my favourite is Cinderella's Sister Minor Waltz. It is a very beautiful piece, and I recommend this music for those that is currently searching for one heartbreaking and heart-tugging instrumental music.
Music directors, singers, and everyone, you guys rocks!

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It's not a fail drama but Iris OST Don't Forget by Baek Ji Young is gold

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Memory is one of the best dramas

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My favorite OST's are from Jealousy Incarnate and Chicago Typewriter. Then I found out that these dramas have the same music director so I was really impressed. She also worked on some of the dramas mentioned on this post like Memory and Queen In-Hyun's man so if she worked on a drama, as expected it will have an amazing OST.

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Of all the airing dramas right now, the OSTs for Bad thief, Good thief are really hitting a note.. the lyrics fit into the story and are telling the story in their own way as well. Part 1, 2 and 3 have been released. great songs. Also Live up to your name OST part 2 is really good (feels like a heartbeat beating)

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