[Music and Dramas] Musical cues give us clues to character and plot
by Guest Beanie
I agree with Gene Kelly when he stated that music and musical numbers should push the story forward and should say something about the characters. OSTs and musical performances grab my heart most when they not only elevate the emotion in the scene, but they also tell me more about the characters than any dialogue could ever do.
Who would Ha Do-sung be without his “This Is the Moment” performance in What’s Up? How would we know the depth of Lee Min-suk’s feelings for Jung Soo-young in High School King of Savvy without Seo In-guk’s “Finding Myself” playing in the background? Would Healer and Chae Young-shin’s kisses have had such an emotional impact without the gentle crescendo of Ben’s “You”?
High School King of Savvy, “Finding Myself”
When I first started watching K-dramas, it would drive me half-crazy that subbers would never translate the song playing in the background. I could tell from the placement of the song or the emotion of the singer’s voice that the lyrics had a direct relation to what was happening in the scene, but I didn’t know what the connection was exactly without knowing Korean. So I was immensely grateful when subbers started to translate the songs. It was then that I felt the OST could step out from the background and contribute to the story, to the acting, and to the scene as a whole.
I love that K-dramas fully utilize their soundtracks. There is power behind developing unique songs for every show. Artists are able to create lyrics and concepts to directly correlate with the story. And when done right, you remember the emotional impact—like the way Ben’s “You” slowly crescendos before Healer and Young-shin kiss. The song is an emotional summary of their romance: They could not be in each other’s presence, but they loved each other regardless. When they are finally both in the same place at the same time, the song is a testament to how much they endured until they got to this moment.
When done poorly, an OST can take you out of the moment too—you want to mute the sound before you hear “Almost Paradise” one more time. Granted, based on the lyrics alone, you could argue that the song is just as relevant as “You,” but lyrics are not everything. “You” was so emotionally tied to what I saw on the screen that I never got sick of the song. In contrast, “Almost Paradise” was used so superfluously that after the tenth time, what emotional impact it may have had at the beginning was completely lost halfway through the show.
The songs in the background are not the only songs that get to me. I love musical dramas that utilize their framing to stage performances that push the characters further along and drive their character development. We’ve seen that framework used effectively in a number of ways, like following a ragtag band of lost boys (Shut Up: Flower Boy Band), a group of musical theater majors trying to figure out what their future holds (What’s Up), or a bratty high school girl learning how to empathize with those around her and finding her dream (Dream High).
What’s Up, “This Is the Moment”
My favorite of these is Daesung’s wonderful performance of “This Is the Moment” at the beginning of What’s Up. The performance is not just about his amazing voice. In fact, he can barely eke out the words at the beginning. It’s not until he truly loses himself in the song that he’s able to shed his insecurities and go all out. We immediately know that he lacks confidence, and we’re made to wonder why with such an amazing voice, and we realize that finding the confidence to sing must be this character’s journey, all because of a 2-minute performance.
For me, music plays an important part in telling the story in a different way than how visuals and dialogue tell it. When done right, the songs and performances compliment the plot movement and tell us something new about the characters, and the emotional impact stays with us. When done wrong… well, we quickly move on before we get the song stuck in our heads.
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- [Music and Dramas] Remixing the past and finding clarity through fusion sageuk OSTs
- [Music and Dramas] The joy (and efficiency) of dramatic musical cues
- [Theme of the Month] Our relationship to music and dramas
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- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
Tags: Theme of the Month