Love her or hate her, Taeyeon is undeniably a major force in the K-pop industry. Her album is charting well, and she got both an all-kill and a certified all-kill only a few days after the release – after the major changes to the chart, no less. Her new album shows her at her best and proves her versatility. “Fine” is another strong addition to her already impressive discography and helps solidify who she is as an artist.
My reviews for solos are a little different. If you want to know what I look at, click here.
*WARNING! This review assumes the reader has either listened to the music and/or watched the music video.*
Music: Michael Woods, Kevin White, Andrew Bazzi, Shaylen Carroll, MZMC, Rice n’Peas
Taeyeon has tried several different genres since she officially debuted as a soloist. Her voice is versatile enough that she could pretty much sing anything she wants to. But I personally think that “Fine,” a classic pop ballad, is the kind of song that suits her best. The structure is very simple, and the instrumentals are fairly low-key. It’s not a song with a lot of bells and whistles, mostly acoustic guitar with some percussion in the chorus. The simplicity of the song allows her voice to shine, both at times where she belts out high notes and moments that are more delicate.
I’m actually not a huge fan of ballads. (This spans all kinds of music, just not K-pop) They usually just don’t captivate my attention. I’ve slowly been learning to appreciate them over time, and part of that is because of Taeyeon. Her voice sounds so pretty and clean, but it carries so much emotion. The reason that “Fine” is so good is because of the heart and soul that she pours into it. K-pop in general has a very processed sound, but with Taeyeon I can sense what she took from herself and put into the song. It makes it much more interesting and appealing.
Lyrics: Jin Ri
“Fine” is about a woman who has had a break-up. The details are slightly vague, but it seems like it was supposed to be amicable – or at the very least not overly dramatic. It also seems like a certain amount of time has passed, because she sings “One day, one month, one year later / I said I would smile and it would be a memory.” Yet she finds it difficult to move on. Those unresolved feelings remain, and there’s no indication of when they will go away. This idea is the core of the song, which we can hear in the chorus:
Not for me, I don’t think it will be easy
You still fill my day to day
Not yet, I repeat it like a fool
I can’t swallow the words in my mouth / It’s not fine
“Fine” depicts the sentiments and internal struggles of moving on from a break-up so perfectly. The lyrics are very simplistic and to the point, laying everything out on the table without much subtlety. There are certain phrases that just stick out and get to me. For example, she sings “Our last, that moment comes to mind / calm goodbye that was only words saying be well.” It reminds me of when my high school boyfriend and I broke up and it was very messy. We somehow managed to come to neutral territory, but I was definitely pretending. This is the kind of song that I would listen to repeatedly if I was trying to move on from a break-up, because it voices exactly what I’d feeling.
It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite songs from Rent (“Without You”). They both have this idea that the world goes on without us while we’re experiencing tumult in our personal lives. Everything keeps moving and sticking to the routine, and the day to day of your life follows suit. But inside there’s this weird feeling, because you’re not actually moving on. It feels like your life should be significantly different after a major event, and it’s the fact that it’s not that is so jarring. You may appear fine on the outside, but on the inside you’re actually a mess. It’s a very realistic and relatable feeling.
PERFORMANCE AND STAGE PRESENCE:
One of the reasons that I got into K-pop was for all of the flashy dance routines. While I appreciate nice voices and good vocal technique (or at least what I think is good vocal technique), it’s not enough to get me to regularly watch more low-key performances. The fact that Taeyeon can stand in one spot on the stage and captivate me solely with her voice shows how strong her stage presence is.
It’s one thing to fill a song with emotion and meaning in a studio recording, when you have multiple chances to create the desired effect. To be able to do it on the spot in live performances is an entirely different animal. Having a nice voice doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to deliver a compelling performance. I’m not going to pretend that I know what’s going on in her head every time she sings, but it’s clear that she’s living in the moment and pouring whatever she has into her voice. “Fine” is already pretty powerful when you’re listening to the recording. When she sings it live, her voice has a more unpolished quality. K-pop is usually so manufactured that so it’s nice to hear some rawness in a live performance.
Although Taeyeon is the main vocalist of SNSD, I wouldn’t necessarily say she’s the member that draws the most attention. She blends in well with the rest of them, unless she’s belting a high note. These moments when she’s alone let her show what she’s really capable of. K-pop is an industry that’s built on making idols feel like they’re your best friend. You have so much access to them all the time, and you feel like you know them. Taeyeon is rather unique in this sense because she seems like such a private person to me. So I really enjoy her live performances because feels like it’s one of the few times she opens up.
I could honestly go on about how great this music video is for hours, but I’ll try to sum up the major points. In film school, my teachers were always showing us how to find visual ways to express internal feelings. Music videos can sometimes be the best examples of this, because they have to rely solely on images and can’t hide behind dialogue. “Fine” in particularly is filled with all sorts of little technical goodies that clues us into how Taeyeon is seeing the world after her breakup.
The most prominent example is the different items that represent her relationship. There’s a concept in film called “plant and pay-off,” which can happen either in terms of narrative or image. The is that you “plant” the idea of something early on in the story, and the “pay-off” comes later when it turns out that element has a further meaning. In short, things that might seem like a throwaway actually turn out to be very important. In “Fine,” we see a lot of small things that hold significance for the couple: cookies they like to eat, plastic cups that they like to play with, etc. At first glance, they might seem like minor illustrative details. But later on, we see visual signs of the breakdown of her relationship. These items reappear, but they’re broken. One of the cookies is smashed, and the plastic cup is crumbled. It’s a simple way of showing how a break-up can really permeate everything in your life, down to the smallest of things.
Another major element is the use of effects. As Taeyeon moves through the music video, it becomes very evident that she’s seeing things through a different lens. A lot of sections of the video have this effect that looks like crumpled paper. Her ex’s toothbrush and paper literally become pieces of paper that get balled up and thrown away (a super cool effect, in my opinion). The “plant and pay-off” idea comes back with her ex himself. A bunch of shots of him that we see in the becoming come back in the bridge, but this time his face is blurred out. On one hand it kind of feels like Instagram filters for your emotions, but they’re super effective.
There’s a lot of emphasis on the image to portray Taeyeon’s state of mind. There’s the camera, which shows some intimate personal close-ups of her. There’s the editing, which at one point moves into a disjointed stop-motion like sequence as she wanders around aimlessly. There’s the lighting and the quality of the image, where everything becomes consistently darker and/or more grainy. When she starts to show signs of closure at the end, all the shots are bright and crystal clear. Everything is so detailed, and it’s obvious that there has been a lot of thought put into the video.
The most emotional moment comes right after the bridge. Taeyeon is singing and looking into the camera when she’s overcome with emotion and has to stop. Given all of the emphasis on all of the visual elements, it’s a little surprising and jarring. It’s easy to think that this could be a commentary about her very public relationship (and break-up) with EXO’s Baekhyun. However, I don’t think that this is the case. Taeyeon seems like a very private person, and I don’t really think that she would put herself on display like that – especially after everything she went through when the news broke. I would make a case that she could have naturally thought of him during the shoot, and that she method acted for a more convincing performance. But I don’t think the song and comeback were specifically made to revolve around her past. She may be playing a singer who writes a song about her break-up for closure, but she’s not necessarily playing herself.
I already tend to be on the sensitive side, but I tear up every time that I watch this music video. If you look closely at Taeyeon, she’s not even really acting most of the time. She’s just mastered staring with a solemn and blank expression. But she’s managed to convincingly portray a woman in distress after a break-up, and there are a lot of elements that technically and visually support thus idea. I would say this music video is very close to perfection, both in terms of narrative and in technical elements. It’s very rare to find something that fires on all cylinders.
Taeyeon is very low-key with her fashion in this music video, looking very much like a girl next door. Her outfits are very stylish and feminine, but most of them doesn’t overly stand out (although I really like the pale turquoise outfit with the earrings). Unlike “I Got Love,” the story is more the focus. The clothes she wears for promotions are a little more glamorous. So although the fashion is great, it’s not really the priority. As for her hair, I used to think that she looked better blonde but the dark brown hair is really starting to grow on me!
ARTISTRY AND IMAGE:
I feel like I keep bringing up Taeyeon’s voice, but I think that’s what makes her so successful and well-liked as a soloist. Her voice is so clean and malleable, fitting a bunch of different genres. Her signature is pop ballads, but they all manage to have a different tone and style. “I” and “11:11” are both pop ballads, but the latter is more low-key. “Rain” is more jazzy, and “Why” is a fun dance track. I was surprised when she released the sassy “I Got Love,” but that track confirms that her voice can indeed adapt to many different genres. That being said, I think her ballad side is the strongest. She sounds much more authentic when she’s singing these types of songs, and I get the feeling that it’s her more preferred style. It’s a very different style from SNSD, but I think that it’s closer to who she is as a person.
Taeyeon has been in the industry for a long time, and I bet a lot of fans anticipated her solo debut because it was only a year and a half ago. I personally think that she was already guaranteed to have success to some extent. After all, she’s from one of the biggest groups in K-pop at arguably the biggest agency. But over time, she’s proven that she can truly stand apart from her group and be successful on her own. And while her notoriety as an SNSD is obviously a factor, most of it is thanks to her abilities and her appeal.
Song – 19
Lyrics – 9
Performance and Stage Presence -18
Music Video – 20
Artistry and Image – 18
CONCLUSION: Taeyeon isn’t my favorite member of SNSD, but she’s quickly becoming my favorite soloist. Her music is just so compelling and relatable. Her last two releases have reduced me to tears every time I listen, and I’m in a stable relationship! “Fine” is perhaps my favorite song that she has released so far, and the whole album is really worth a listen. I feel like a lot of the times K-pop isn’t actually about the music, but that’s the core of who Taeyeon is. She’s not a dancer or an actress or a variety star, although I imagine she could do well in any of those areas. In an industry that is filled with multi-faceted and multi-talented idols, she is first and foremost a singer. And she’s damned good at it.
Sources: Youtube, SM Entertainment, Wikipedia, SBS Inkigayo, Soompi, Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal)