Top 5 – Best Western/English Music Used in K-Dramas

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The Unnecessarily Long and Winding Intro…

No, this will not be about the Muzak song selection used in the hotel chain’s elevators (sorry next time I swears), but will focus on English song choices in dramas. This was inspired from the drama I’m currently watching You’re All Surrounded which is perhaps the first drama I’ve seen that used an English pop song as the tune that’s played over the closing credits following each episode. The choice is inspired, as “The Black Parade” the 2006 hit from alt-rock band My Chemical Romance, brings back some serious high school nostalgia when I was rocking what I’ll call “light faux angst”. “Back Parade” is great because its a winking take on the “I’m mad at everything” emo cliche, and is also catchy as all get out. So this becomes the perfect anthem for our cold, emo puppy Dae Koo (Played by Lee Seung-Gi) who is dealing with the weight of his past and thirst for revenge, but you know you outside his harsh exterior is just an adorable misunderstood genius, like surely all My Chemical Romance fans.

You're all surrounded - LSG

Look at how both try to act so grown up with the all black.

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Guy-liner or guns, doesn’t matter. Both still adorable.

Whoops got sidetracked…. This list could also be called the Billy Joel “Piano Man” memorial list, as in an honest world Secret Love Affair’s excellent use of the song would be my #1.  Since I already discussed it as part of my wacky theory on an earlier post, I’ll just give it a quick mention here…Now on to the actual list.

5. “Alien” by Arco – Coffee Prince (spoilers)

Shown in: Played many times over the course of the show

alien - arco

A song that recurs throughout Coffee Prince, which is normal for K-Dramas, and about the only normal thing this soundtrack did.  Filled with low key indie tracks, there were no ballads to be found in this drama.  “Alien” was perfectly suited for those moments of melancholy or coutempletation for our characters. When the male lead Han-Gyul finds himself attracted to his coworker whom he thinks is a guy , so there can be many parallels to his struggle with orientation and identity drawn from the lyrics of this song.

..Why I feel like an alien
not part of the human race
when my heart wants to burst
at the sight of your face
I feel like I’m suffering
from a beautiful disease
when your sad pretty smile
brings me down to my knees

such a simple thing
It should be such a simple thing

You can call me confused
all that I can confess
is I can’t come to terms
settle for something less..

Besides being the title of the song, alien is also used in his amazing “man or alien” love declaration to Eun-Chan. – “I like you…Whether you’re a man..or an alien.  None of that matters.”

4. “Don’t Trust Me” by 3oh!3  – King of Dramas

Shown in: Episode 7, around 50 minutes in

Screenshot 2014-05-15 23.37.26

I have a long and taxing relationship with the song, mostly because they are from my hometown, even filming a MV at my high school, and our families live in the same neighborhood (which is the 303 area code in question).  So let’s just say I’m a little too familiar with this musical duo, and was pretty okay when they no longer got tagged as “Colorado’s most famous band” (Colorado’s international distinction is already weird enough).

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When this song came out of nowhere to use as a character introduction for the actress who will be the female lead in the drama within a drama (got all that) I think I said something along the lines of “holy *&^# not again”.  But after the initial shock, I started to feel somewhat whimsical.  This song, whose origins and people I know, started with two college kids just messing around, and has now somehow found enough global recognition that  it worked its way into Korean television that this Coloradan happened to watch… and then the line “Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.” was brought forth and all whimsy vanished…  I jest, (for the most part) but back to the show, it’s hard to think of a better song selection when introducing a vain actress who will prove to be a foil for both male leads.  Such lyrics that exemplify this include: “She’s and actress, but she ain’t got no need.” “She wants to touch me, she wants to love me.” and of course “don’t trust a hoe, never trust a hoe.”  Anthony had best watch himself. 

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3. “Crazy in Love” (Beyonce) – History of the Salaryman (slight spoilers)

Shown in: Episode 15, over halfway, in the car

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Both this and the next pick were songs used diagetically, or sounds which the characters can hear (as opposed to narration or most OST songs which would be non-diagetic.)  Its diagetic impact on the characters (and the viewers) was grandly felt as this Bey classic was used as part of Yoo-Bang’s (Lee Beom-Soo) cheer up remedy for Yeo Chi (Jung Ryeo-Won).  After one of those typical monday morning Trot music vs. Beyonce debates, Sasha Fierce comes out the victor, leading to a hilarious session of some serious car dancing groovitude.

Screenshot 2014-05-15 13.18.26    Screenshot 2014-05-15 13.24.52

This is such a massive hit of a song yet it still manages to put a smile on my face, so it fits perfectly as a way to get Yeo-Chi to cheer up, and brings our leads even closer.  Such is the unifying power of the Queen.

queen bey

2. “Ode to Family” (The Cranberries) – Answer Me, 1997 (spoilers)

Shown in: Episode 5 around 26 minutes in

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answer me - cancer dad

This song brought down the emotional house, also me tears, with its perfect integration of tone, lyrics, visuals and dialogue.  The song starts playing on the radio where our lead Shi-Won receives heartbreaking news about her dad’s health, just as the radio announcer adds a hard dose of cruel irony.  From there, the lyrics are equally soul crushing as our lead breaks down to, “My father my father, he liked me, oh he liked me. Does anyone care?”. Then it goes from diagetic to non-diagetic and we move to the hospital, family gathered, all past grievances pushed aside.  Meanwhile the viewers can hear lyrics like, “Unhappiness where when I was young, and we didn’t give a damn.  Cause we were raised to see life as fun, and take it if we can.” Gut. Punched.  And if that’s not enough, we get the repeating chorus of “does anyone care?” running throughout the scene.  So. Good. Using this song adds to the emotions without being melodramatic.  One of several things this show did so well.

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1. “Wake Up” (Arcade Fire) – White Christmas (Spoilers!)

Shown in: pops up a few times, my favorite being in episode 6 ft. Kang-Mo

Not to get all philosophical hippy on y’all but this song runs deep into my soul.  Calling it a favorite song doesn’t really seem right, but when I listen to it in a particular contemplative state, well I feel things.  Unlike normally where my heart is an emotional black hole. (Kidding!?!)  The beginning of this song always seems on the verge of morphing or breaking out into something completely different, much like the trials our characters go through.  The first half builds in a most epic fashion, which encapsulated our leads bubbling emotions that might eventually lead them to break (or break down) at any point.  This is such the case , with insecure cameraman Kang-Mo, who is also deaf.  When he discovers that thought to be dead Ji-Hoon is actually alive, he crumples at the bottom of the stairs, overcome with emotion, as these words were sung.

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“Children wake up, hold your mistake up.. before they turn the summer into dust.. Children don’t grow up, bodies get bigger, but are hearts get torn up… I guess we’ll just have to adjust.”

“Wake Up” deals with adolescence, and all the emotional baggage that comes from growing up in this crazy world, Yet another fitting addition for this twisted take on the coming of age story. Much like this song, White Christmas isn’t something that can easily be described, but must be experienced.  Hop to it people!

 

Honorable Mention – “Not in Love” (Performed by Lee Min-Ki, Orig. Crystal Castles) – Shut Up Flower Boy Band

Shut Up Flower Boy Band ep 2

The singer is the one that’s scowling.

Shown in: Episode 1 opening song.  Also used in end credits

Though its sung by one of our characters (played by Lee Min-Ki) it’s really a cover of the Crystal Castles, who popularized it with their version in 2010, and is originally credited to The Platinum Blondes circa the eighties.  Though it may not quite hold up to the synthy brilliance of the Cry Casts, Min-Ki’s version remains quite excellent in a show that really had a grasp of the music these rockers wanted to play.

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11 thoughts on “Top 5 – Best Western/English Music Used in K-Dramas

  1. Another honorable mention should be “I think I wanna marry you” used in You From Another Star. Now, everytime I hear that song, all I see is her dancing and him crying 🙂

  2. I had no idea Not in Love was a cover of Crystal Castles (and The Platinum Blondes)! I bought the three songs from the show – I thought they were all originals! Do you think the other two are?

    • I know right? I kinda freaked out upon realizing. Any k drama that is pro crystal castles is a winner in my book… And I’m fairly certain the other two songs are sufbb originals… Is it weird if “Wake-up” has been my Monday morning alarm tune for 4 months?

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