[2022 Year in Review] My 2022 K-drama/song association playlist
If you’re like me, you may often find that certain songs remind you of certain K-dramas or characters — and vice versa. Sometimes I do this consciously for the fun of making connections, but a lot of the time it just sort of happens. All of a sudden, a particular song and a particular show are forever linked in my head, for better or for worse.
So for my 2022 Year in Review post, I decided to lean into that urge and share my K-drama/song associations for the year.
Bad and Crazy: “Hyde” — VIXX
Did I intentionally choose a VIXX song for Bad and Crazy largely because Hak-yeon’s character was one of my favorite things about this show? …Maybe. But also, this song practically chose itself. The insistence of No, that wasn’t me who did those things! and There’s a crazy person inside of me! could easily be paraphrased quotes from Soo-yeol about his alter ego, K.
However, unlike Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Dr. Jekyll, who created his alter ego as a vehicle through which to carry out his secret vices and murderous desires, Soo-yeol did basically the opposite. K played the role of protector and moral compass — even if he did so through often violent means, allowing Soo-yeol to cast off societal limitations and pleasantries in favor of pursuing justice.
But another of my favorite things about Bad and Crazy was how Soo-yeol’s relationship with K — and thereby himself — changed over time. He grew from needing someone stronger to save him into being that someone for himself and others. And he grew from denying an essential part of himself (insisting, like the lyrics of “Hyde,” that he “just [couldn’t] control” it) into embracing and defending his whole person.
Twenty Five Twenty One: “You Were Beautiful” — DAY6
There’s not much I can say about the ending of Twenty Five Twenty One that hasn’t already been said, whether positive, negative, or somewhere in between. But, though certain aspects of said ending disappointed me, my feelings toward the drama as a whole are still very fond. Which is why “You Were Beautiful” felt like the perfect song to express not only Yi-jin and Hee-do’s breakup, but also my relationship with Twenty Five Twenty One.
The lyrics of this song acknowledge that a breakup has occurred and there’s no getting back together — but the sadness and pain of how it all ended don’t negate how beautiful and precious the relationship was while it lasted. Likewise, regardless of how I feel about the conclusion of Twenty Five Twenty One, that’s not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the show. Instead, I remember all the tears I shed over the characters’ individual and collective struggles to find their way in a world that seemed stacked against them. I remember how Hee-do and Yi-jin found each other when they needed to, and the reminder that what we need in one season of life isn’t always what we need for the rest of it. And I remember Hee-do and Yoo-rim’s complicated journey to lifelong friendship, and how theirs was probably my favorite relationship in the entire show.
Ultimately, Twenty Five Twenty One’s characters had to learn what to hold on to in life and what to let go of — and when to do each — and so I choose to hold onto the best the show had to offer (which was a lot!) and let go of the parts that didn’t quite measure up to the rest. It’s over now, but for what it was and while it lasted, it sure was beautiful.
Crazy Love: “Murder on the Dance Floor” — Ailee
Was there a major character in Crazy Love who didn’t at some point look at another character and say or think some variation of “Look at what you made me do”? From Shin-ah’s increasingly absurd revenge plots (ALL of the onions, hole-punched suits, fiancée lie, etc., etc.) to Soo-young’s jealous scheming, most of the characters’ first instinct was to point the finger at someone else instead of taking responsibility for their own words and actions. Only when they started to acknowledge their complicity and understand other people’s hurt could they start to make amends and break the cycle of revenge.
At the same time, like the lyrics of “Murder on the Dance Floor” suggest of its object, Crazy Love had a way of making its characters engineer their own downfall. Every lie they spun, every trap they laid only served to dig them deeper into their own hole. And Crazy Love also made it crazy fun to watch them realize they’d done this to themselves… and double down on it anyway. Yes, they’d made their bed and yes, they were going to lie in it — but in a way that was both wildly entertaining and, ultimately, surprisingly optimistic.
Showtime Begins!: “Hero” — LUCY
I know. At first glance, a song like “Hero” — that specifically talks about not having any kind of superpowers — might not seem like the best fit for a show about a man who in fact does have superhuman abilities. Hear me out.
The Cha-woong we meet at the beginning of Showtime Begins! is one who does everything he can to avoid the responsibility that comes with his abilities. Like many a reluctant K-drama hero, he just wants to make enough money to ship himself off to a private island and live the rest of his life alone and unbothered. Enter his leading lady, some character-building life lessons, and reawakened memories of his past life, and everything starts to change. He starts to want to be a “hero” — to protect and impress the people he loves and to do the right thing when it matters, even if that doesn’t always come easy to him.
Additionally, this song makes me think of Cha-woong’s relationship with his ghost friends. On his own, he’s not an awe-inspiring magician (though he does have a few great sleight-of-hand tricks up his sleeve!). But with their help and support, he’s able to dazzle the world and even bring villains to justice. And honestly, lyrics and analysis aside, LUCY has a way of infusing their music with a very magical kind of happiness and imagination — and Showtime Begins! gave me a lot of those same feelings, too.
Alchemy of Souls: “Sharp Objects” — Sorn
If this song doesn’t perfectly describe our lead couple Mu-deok and Wook, I don’t know what does. From Mu-deok’s teaching method of shoving her apprentice out of the proverbial nest and hoping he’d fly to their falling in love despite knowing it would likely end in blood and tears, these two spent more time in physical and emotional danger than out of it — often on purpose. But, like watching someone juggle swords, they kept me on the edge of my seat hoping against hope they’d find a way to avoid getting skewered (and we all know how well that worked out…).
At the same time, “Sharp Objects” expresses my relationship with Alchemy of Souls itself. It’s scary to fall so in love with a show when a second season without the lead actress is announced before the first is even finished, and I understand why some viewers decided to wait until it’s all over before diving in. But even if it ends terribly and I hate it, at this point I’ve got to see it through to the end!
But there’s another “sharp object” of sorts that Alchemy has handed me, this time in the form of a character that caught me completely by surprise. Namely, Seo Yul. You see, I’m basically immune to Second Lead Syndrome. I have little patience for love triangles, and more often than not end up feeling more annoyance than sympathy for the second lead by the end of it all. Not so with Yul. While I’m thoroughly invested in and rooting for our lead couple, for once I found myself just as invested in Yul’s unrequited love and heartbreak. So congrats (and thanks? I guess?), Alchemy, you gave me probably the closest thing to SLS I’ve ever had!
Wild Boar Hunting: “Paranoia” — Kang Daniel
It’s hard to nail down exactly what made Wild Boar Hunting so captivating, but captivating it was. Characters whose choices made them hard to root for nevertheless had me watching with bated breath to find out what would happen to them in the end. Whether it was the combination of stellar acting and production quality or the very human temptation to cover up one’s mistakes with more bad decisions, something about this show got under my skin.
When I think about ways to describe Wild Boar Hunting, there are a few words or phrases that come to mind. Dark, tragic, haunting, nightmarish, the point of no return, and of course: paranoia. Like the monsters, demons, and nightmares described in the song “Paranoia,” the biggest threats in Wild Boar Hunting weren’t visible until the characters chose to act on their own interpretations of what they saw and heard. In other words, they took problems that largely existed inside their own heads and dragged them out into the real world, making things so much worse for everyone in the process.
Blind: “Cyberpunk” — ATEEZ
The song “Cyberpunk” paints a picture of a world ruled by lies: on the surface, all is well — no one is ever sad, everyone is safe — but that “perfect” society is created by suppressing the reality of human emotions and experiences. It’s not unlike the way both powerful and ordinary people in Blind shut their eyes to the atrocities being committed against vulnerable children so they could carry on with their own lives and careers. Blinded by fear, hunger for power, or just indifference toward anything that didn’t directly affect them, most of the people in Blind refused to confront injustice until fresh murders dragged it out of the shadows and into their midst. Even then, many chose to just look the other way yet again.
And, like the people described in “Cyberpunk,” those characters in Blind who were lied to and manipulated needed to have their eyes opened to the ugly, painful truth before they could start truly living. Unfortunately, some characters chose to do the eye-opening in a way that only perpetuated the cycle of atrocities, lies, and manipulation, hurting even more innocent people in the process.
In “Cyberpunk,” society “protects” its citizens by outlawing all forms of emotion to supposedly eradicate pain. Certain characters in Blind try to ease their own pain by forcing others to suffer as they did. But neither approach actually works. Instead, Blind suggests that what we really need is more people like Eun-ki, who can help us face and work through our pain (and other emotions) to undergo the slow, difficult work of actual healing — on an individual and societal level.
Seasons of Blossom: “I Would” — DAY6
If I were to sum up Seasons of Blossom in a single word, it would be “regret.” More specifically, the regret of leaving something important, even lifesaving, unsaid. Even Bo-mi, whose white lies snowballed out of her control, got into that mess because she was afraid to say how she really felt in the first place.
And that’s what “I Would” is all about, too. It’s about looking back and wondering, “Why was it so hard to just say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘Thank you’? If only I could go back and make myself say what I should have said, I’d do it.” But, as the characters in Seasons of Blossom learn, those kinds of thoughts can only carry us so far before they become a prison, keeping us trapped in the ever-elusive might-have-beens instead of allowing us to step forward into what can be.
Revenge of Others: “Scream” — Dreamcatcher
Revenge of Others was a weird show, and there were times when I wasn’t even sure if I liked it — but I just couldn’t stop watching! Some of that was the power of Seo Ji-hoon (okay, a lot of it was the power of Seo Ji-hoon), but some of it was that I just had to find out where the next twist or turn would take us. Because Revenge of Others likes to takes violent (in more than one sense of the word) twists and turns.
That’s why I had to choose “Scream,” a song that takes quite the turn itself: from “Please, I don’t want to scream” to “I just wanna make you scream.” Which also happens to be the exact line of thought many of the characters in this show follow. The question, of course, then became whether they would lose themselves along the way and become the very thing they were fighting against, or whether they’d stop themselves in time. Or, you know, whether Revenge of Others would land on a completely unexpected conclusion in much the same way that it used a terminal illness to turn its high school protagonist into a vigilante-for-hire who crushes bullies’ feet with a hammer.
Reborn Rich: “Thank U” — U-Know Yunho
This one was unique in that both the song itself and the accompanying music video factored into the selection. Both Reborn Rich and the “Thank U” music video feature a protagonist who comes back from an attempted murder stronger than before and ready to play a potentially deadly game to enact revenge.
Likewise, the song’s three lessons make an interesting parallel to Hyun-woo’s three rules for success (pre-murder-attempt). But while Hyun-woo’s rules were all about keeping his head down and staying in the Soonyang family’s good graces, the song’s lessons are more about trusting yourself and not letting others’ opinions hold you back from being who you are. Which, admittedly, is a lot easier to do when you’re reincarnated as a future-knowing member of a mega-rich and powerful family than when you’re a peon just trying to survive one day at a time.
And just as “Thank U” expresses ironic gratitude for hateful criticism, Do-joon (Hyun-woo post-reincarnation) finds ways to use the Soonyang family’s horrible actions to his own advantage and to their demise. However, “Thank U” also acknowledges how lonely it can be to close oneself off from the world for one’s own protection. And that’s exactly what Do-joon’s complex, compelling relationship with Chairman Jin showcases.
[BONUS] Soundtrack #1: “My House” — 2PM
Confession time: I wasn’t originally going to include Soundtrack #1 on this list, because I really don’t have a lot to say about it. It was an easy, comfortable watch, but in hindsight rather forgettable. But it felt remiss to make a playlist for the year and not at least mention the show that was specifically about a songwriter.
As for the song, “My House” seemed fitting, because the first nudge for Sun-woo and Eun-soo to finally confront their feelings for each other was one staying at the other’s house. It’s as simple as that, but hey, sometimes one simple choice is enough to change everything.
How about you, Beanies? Are there any songs you associate with the K-dramas you’ve watched this year?
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