[2021 Year in Review] OST songs that slapped in 2021
I’ve never really considered myself a music buff, and when a song starts playing on the radio, I’m the last person you want around when you need help identifying the title or artist. But while I was isolated from the rest of the world during the pandemic, I started collecting physical copies of my favorite K-drama OSTs. I’m a sentimental person, and I wanted to have a tangible item that would allow me to feel as though I owned a part of my favorite K-drama series.
Inadvertently, because of my new collection, I’ve grown to appreciate a good K-drama soundtrack, and when I hear a particularly catchy song, I make an effort to look it up and add it to my playlist. With everyone on social media sharing their Spotify Top Songs lately, it only seemed appropriate that I revisit my year of drama watching by identifying the songs that made me stop and listen.
“Okay Dokey” by Mino & Zico
Although it isn’t technically on the official soundtrack, I’m making an exception because “Okay Dokey” is catchy as hell, a reoccurring staple of my cardio and weightlifting playlists, and the scene in which it made it’s True Beauty cameo is likely to go down in K-drama history as one of the most iconic scenes ever. Seriously, who is going to forget Seo-joon dancing in his leopard print boxers? RAWR! And just as I still can’t get over the second-hand embarrassment I felt when he realized he had an audience, I can’t move past the rosy cuteness of this drama and — as someone who had bad acne growing up — the relatability of Joo-kyung. Sometimes you just need a cute rom-com to get you past the grind of the work day, and when 2021 got me believing I was a haggard old lady, I turned to this drama when I wanted to feel youthful and carefree. And now, at the end of the year, I listen to “Okay Dokey” whenever I want to feel like a badass at the gym, and if I find myself instinctively performing Seo-joon’s dance, I can only hope that no one’s watching.
“Bong Hwan A” – Norazo
I’m not sure I’ve ever been addicted to an OST song that was so literal and tailor made for a drama before, but “Bong Hwan A” embodies the playful absurdity of Mr. Queen in all the best ways possible. Not only do the lyrics summarize Jang Bong-hwan’s plight as a modern man transplanted into the body of a historical queen, but the accompanying melody is a nice crossover between the traditional and modern. The writers placed our Mr. Queen into some amusing situations and surrounded her with an equally hilarious cast of characters, but Shin Hye-sun stole the show with her physical comedy, selling the story with her mannerisms and facial expressions. Even when she was just lounging around and having an internal monologue with herself, her posture clearly personified a man in the wrong body and time. Whenever “Bong Hwan A” pops up on my playlist, I can’t help but think of the drama that had me anticipating each new episode with the same level of impatience as Bong-hwan waiting for it to rain so that he can return to the present.
“We Are” – Lee Seung Yoon
Not gonna lie, I stuck with Law School mostly for Joon-hwi and Kang Sol A, hoping that there would be a slow-burn romance between the two, but every time I hear “We Are,” I remember that this drama was also gritty, suspenseful, and had an interesting ensemble cast. The lyrics, although overly simple, place a heavy emphasis on the plural pronoun “we” and reminds us of one of the drama’s main messages: We are not alone. The characters start out as academic adversaries, competing for the highest grades, but as the show progresses, they realize the importance of teamwork, forming a study group and trying to solve their professor’s murder. Although it didn’t quite deliver on the romance, it had some interesting twists and characters that kept me coming back each week for more.
“Model Taxi” – Kim Sung-Youl
The only song on this playlist without any lyrics, “Model Taxi” may seem like an odd choice, especially since it is not my most played song from the OST. No, “Silence” (YB), “All Day” (Cha Ji Yeon), and “Run Away” (Simon Dominic) have higher play counts and are some of the best OST songs to come out this year. So why didn’t I pick one of them? Because “Model Taxi” was the song that sold me on Taxi Driver as a drama to watch in 2021. Opening with a catchy synthesizer solo, “Model Taxi” embodies the 1980s and mirrors the very retro vibe of Taxi Driver, which seamlessly blends outdated cassette players and 8-bit video games into a world of vigilante justice. Lyricless music scores are often tuned out, but “Model Taxi” grabs your attention as it sets the mood for the upcoming action. You hear it, and you immediately know the crew is in the process of plotting to take down a bad guy like they’re old school action heroes. Conversely, this song also has a high chillax factor, and it’s very easy to imagine I’m sitting in the back seat of Do-ki’s taxi and telling him my life story as the neon cityscape of Seoul passes by.
“Up” – Ha Jin
“Up” starts off fast and continues to build up to an extremely catchy chorus, and Inspector Koo repeatedly uses this particular song during scenes with a similar vibe, beginning it during escalating events and dropping the chorus when the action peaks. We first hear this song, for example, when K begins her preparations to set her victim’s hideout on fire. As she walks away and the building explodes behind her, the song hits the chorus, which appropriately begins with “Through the fire / Threw me to the flame.” Although the lyrics were a bit too literal at that moment, this particular scene and soundtrack combo set the stage — pun intended — for Inspector Koo. For the most part, the drama delivered on it’s promise of an epic cat-and-mouse game, and I enjoyed watching — and recapping — the quirky cast of strong female characters as they used their smarts to outwit each other, only occasionally duking it out with fisticuffs and hair pulling.
“Breaking Down” – Ailee
Doom at Your Service
Every year there is a romantic fantasy drama that produces an iconic power ballad, and Doom at Your Service was that drama for 2021. Truthfully, “Breaking Down” outshines the drama, and without its inclusion, there are a lot of scenes that wouldn’t have hit as hard without the strong vocals driving home the emotional conflict. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh on Doom at Your Service, which has an arguably better ending than some of its genre predecessors (::cough:: Goblin ::cough::), but “Breaking Down” definitely delivers all the right notes, while the drama lost some of its momentum in the middle. Even so, it’s hard to disassociate the song from the drama because the combination of the melancholic lyrics and the uplifting melody mirrors the plight of a woman who has been bestowed a death sentence and has chosen to give fate a big ol’ middle finger and die on her own terms.
“Adrenaline” (Italian ver.) – Aalia
If you’ve watched Vincenzo, then you undoubtedly remember when our titular character rides up on a white steed, looking like an absolute snack and planning to honey pot Min-sung. I certainly swooned during his slow motion arrival, as he seductively removed his gloves and descended from his horse, but this scene would not be the same without the tantalizing Italian “Adrenaline” accompanying it. Ok, who am I kidding? Song Joong-ki could have ridden up to the tune of “Baby Shark” and we’d have offered to remove his gloves for him with our teeth, but for the sake of this playlist, we’re going to at least attribute some of his sex appeal to the soundtrack choice. “Adrenaline” is like the embodiment of Jessica Rabbit’s hips, swaying hypnotically to the drum solo, but there’s also an undercurrent of violence to the lyrics. The singer is pushing someone away, telling them not to get too close or she will burn them, which is exactly what Vincenzo does to the people around him, both figuratively and literally. It’s duality is what makes it such a great addition to the Vincenzo soundtrack. So while one of the most memorable uses of this song was during a moment of comedic seduction, it’s also effective at times of violence and darkness. Just as the drama made us all conflicted about finding sexiness in Vincenzo and Joon-woo’s violence — Or was that just me? — “Adrenaline” pulls us in despite it cautioning us to stay back.
“My Day” – Taemin
Simple and sweet, “My Day” captures the wholesomeness of Navillera, which was, in my opinion, one of the best dramas to come out of 2021. The message of the song and drama is inspirational, reminding us that it’s never too late for us to follow our dreams. However, the message wasn’t preachy, like a real-life grandpa telling anyone who will listen at the family holiday dinner that he overcame hardships by walking in the snow uphill both ways to get to school. Instead, the unlikely bromance between an octogenarian and a twenty-something ballet dancer showed — rather than told — that the road to achieving your dreams may be full of potholes that you have to steer around, but it’s better to bounce over the obstacles than live with regrets.
“Run to You” – LUCY
Run On was one of those dramas that I loved while watching it, but for some reason I kind of forgot about it after I was done. And that’s a shame because it was truly a gem. Much like the drama, “Run to You” starts off slow and builds, and when it hits the chorus it’s like a sprint. The song’s narrator is (metaphorically) running to his love, and I can’t help but think of the scene in Run On when Sun-kyum (literally) ran to meet up with Mi-joo and claimed it was his fastest time. Their relationship was refreshing because he was, more often than not, socially clueless, and for once we saw the woman being the pacesetter for the relationship. She also called him out on his shit, put up boundaries when needed, and communicated when she needed space to think. As much as I love Dramaland and all its tropes and clichés, I will gladly ditch the noble idiots and leads with poor communication (s)kills, and sprint towards seeing more characters who act like adults in relationships.
“To Find Myself” – Lim Dan Woo
Fun slice-of-life youth dramas need equally upbeat and inspirational music, and “To Find Myself” is a sweet inclusion on the Racket Boys OST. Although the lyrics read as more of a love song, the bouncy beat makes me sentimental for summer break, scraped knees, and climbing trees. I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy Racket Boys, as I was slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to relate to the young cast, but I had to give it a shot because the screenwriter co-wrote one of my all time favorites, Prison Playbook. And I’m glad I did! More than just an underdog sports drama, Racket Boys is about finding happiness in friendship, community, and the simple things that bring you joy.
“It’s My Life” – Mido and Falasol
Hospital Playlist 2
Hospital Playlist is my all-time favorite drama, and even though I am extremely biased, I think most people would agree that the series has one of the best soundtracks in Korean drama history. As an American, though, one aspect of the series has been lost on me: the nostalgia factor. Unlike its Korean audience, I don’t have childhood memories tied to the songs that our beloved 99 Crew covers in their basement studio. Not until Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” that is. I was in middle school when “It’s My Life” was released, and the boy I had a crush on was a huge fan of the song. I purchased my very first Now That’s What I Call Music compilation album — Yes, I still have it — just so I could bond with my crush over a shared interest, but the song quickly became “mine” as I played it on repeat in order to tune out the other kids on the school bus. I can’t say that I miss middle school, the school bus, or the boy I had a crush on, who later got a girl pregnant in the ninth grade — Bullet dodged! — but I do still love me some Bon Jovi.
So when our 99 Crew appeared on screen, decked out from head to toe in black leather, and I heard the familiar opening notes of “It’s My Life” play out on Seok-hyung’s keyboard, I was immediately transported back to that school bus. I finally felt the same nostalgia the Korean audience felt each week when they heard cover songs from their youth. So, for me, Mido and Falasol’s cover of “It’s My Life” was my favorite song and drama moment of 2021. Plus…you know…I got to see Yoo Yeon-sook in leather and cut off sleeves. My music preferences may still be the same as when I was in middle school, but at least my taste in men has improved! 😉
So, Beanies, what’s on your playlists?
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