Top 3 of 2017

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1. 魚仔 // 盧廣仲 [Fish // Crowd Lu]

This song shot to the top of the charts this year in tandem with the drama miniseries it was created for. 盧廣仲 Crowd Lu has been a creative staple of the music industry for many years now, but emerged as the lead actor in “A Boy Named Flora A” with surprisingly powerful results. The locally produced show became a breakout hit in Taiwan, and a movie is now in the works.

The lyrics for 魚仔 are simple enough conceptually, but feature a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese, introducing some unique sound cadences and symmetries that are unique because of the linguistic interplays. The marriage of the two languages also reflects the linguistic play that often happens in local Taiwanese households, and is an homage to generational communication.

At the heart of the song, there’s a story of a boy on the cusp of adulthood, singing a song for the family in his life, a grandmother he loves that he has to say goodbye to, and an unknown future made easier to walk into because of the love he carries with him.

看魚仔 在那 游來游去 游來游去 A fish, swimming back and forth, back and forth
我對你 想來想去 想來想去 While I, toward you, thinking back and forth, back and forth
這幾年我的打拼跟認真 攏是因為你 My hard work these few years have all been for you

我需要你 需要你 需要你陪伴我 I need you, need you, need you to go with me
好想要你 想要你 想要你陪著我 I want you, want you, want you to go with me
不知道你在哪裡 But I don’t know where you are

2. 明天 // 王詩安 ft 王蕾,方大同 [Tomorrow // Diana Wang ft Wang Lei, Khalil Fong]

In 2016, Khalil Fong announced that he’d be leaving the music scene as a performing artist and rejoining it as the producer at his own independent music label, FU. 王詩安 Diana Wong signed on as his first artist, and released her second album [Poem].

Khalil has always been a solid artist in his own right, and also possesses the right mix of skills to build strong portfolios for other artists. In , Diana’s repertoire is more interesting than the classic Mandopop type of music she debuted with, and the album also includes many of her own original compositions.

The song 明天 is a fusion of Chinese operatic elements, classic Mandopop beats and a Khalil-style electric guitar solo performance. Most interestingly, the guest vocalist on the track is Diana’s own mom, 王蕾.

霧紫夜空漫天 依偎在你肩 Purple fog full in the night sky, against your shoulder I rest
古木嵐煙 不情願 我只想 Ancient trees, mountaintop smoke, I do not wish, I only want
明天 看見你 熟悉笑顏 To see you, tomorrow, a familiar smile

歸來 幾時才 我的愛 別傷懷 Return, when will you, my love, don’t be sad
唱著 這曲調 心中 永駐 Singing, these melody notes, in my heart, they stay

3. 言不由衷 // 徐佳瑩 [The Prayer // Lala Hsu]

徐佳瑩 is one of my favourite vocalists. She’s so emotive at a performative level, you could ask her to sing any number of things and she’d always surprise you with a nuanced and layered interpretation.

That said, 言不由衷 [The Prayer] is a loopable songs on its own merits. Written by another popular Taiwanese artist, 艾怡良, it can seem like a simple enough piano-driven ballad, but a listen warrants a second, a third and a fourth and before you realize it, it’s probably been going on all day.

The spine of the song comes down to the lyrical execution of the concept. The Prayer is literally a prayer, or a blessing. The speaker in the song mourns the loss of a passing relationship, but wants to send the past of with a prayer. And it is this prayer that swells up in the chorus, destroying hearts everywhere. It is also worth noting that the verses are structured exactly the same way, with the first line of each verse repeating an idiom.

Verse 1 repeats 言不由衷 twice, and Verse 3 repeats 不知輕重 twice, but in Verse 2 and 4, a transition is inserted between the repetition. Verse 2’s 有始有終 is interrupted with the phrase “只能” which means “there is only” while Verse 4’s 愛的初衷 is interrupted with “顧念” which means, “I long after”. It’s a simple writing technique, that animates the carefully chosen language to inflect differently and open up space to imagine many kinds of stories that have gone this path.

The first lines of each verse in English:
言不由衷 言不由衷 words not like when first said, words not like when first said
有始有終 只能有始有終 a beginning and an end, there is only a beginning and an end
不知輕重 不知輕重 a weight that is not fully grasped, a weight that is not fully grasped
愛的初衷 顧念愛的初衷 the beginning of love, I long after the beginning of love

Chorus: 
願你永遠安康 願你永遠懂得 飛翔 May you have peace and health, May you always know flight
願你真的愛一個人 某個人 那個人 May you love a person, some person, that person
而懂溫暖來自何方 And know the source of all warmth

我如此堅強 願我永遠善良 I have been strong, May I always be kind
願我真愛上一個人 某個人 那個人 May I love a person, some person, that person
是不慌不忙 是心之所向 slowly, without rush, in the way my heart lies

miraelxx

1. HA:TFELT – 새 신발 / I Wander (feat. Gaeko)

When I heard that 예은 Ye Eun signed with Dynamic Duo’s record label, Amoeba Culture, I was excited to see how the former Wonder Girls member will grow in a hip hop and R&B company. How will Ha:tfelt, originally a K-pop idol, evolve into an artist with a capital A?

She has the talent, if not she couldn’t have created [MEiNE]. Ha:tfelt’s first two singles under Amoeba, both “나란 책 / Read Me” and “새 신발 / I Wander” tell a story she never had a chance to share in the last ten years.

“새 신발을 샀어요
I bought a pair of new shoes
어울리긴 해도 아직 어색해요
It looks good, but still a little awkward
길이 들어야겠죠
I need to break them in
걷기도 전에 뒤꿈치가 걱정돼요
Before I start walking, I worry about the heels”

Featuring rapper Gaeko of Dynamic Duo, the song uses 새 신발, a pair of new shoes as a metaphor for a new start. First verse begins with a meander, feelings of overwhelming anxiety and anticipation for the new path. In the second verse, you’re lost, but still walking; believing in yourself and making your own paths as you go. A song that gives hope to a life at loss and in confusion. You can watch a live version here.

“삶은 호의적이지 않았음을 증명했어 나의 운동화가
They prove how life is unfavourable
닳고 닳아 꺾어 신던 신발은 왜 버리지 못할까”
My sneakers are worn out and beaten
But why can’t I throw them away?”

Ha:tfelt’s definitely an artist to look out for in the new year.

2. 윤종신 Yoon Jong Shin – 좋니 Like It

I’m probably not exaggerating if I say this song is the top most played song in Korea (and in karaoke?) of the year, at least amongst those in their 20’s. Nearing the age of fifty, 윤종신 wanted to create a song dedicated to the complex emotions you experience in your 20’s from 이별 – a parting away, a break up, a farewell – before he loses the chance.

If you ask me who my top favourite artist is, 윤종신 would be my immediate answer. Although I missed his early career when he debuted in 1990, from his record label, Mystic Entertainment, to his “one song a month” Monthly Melody project which has been going for 8 years, as his young fan, I admire his ongoing passion for and his meticulous honest approach to music. He is probably one of the best lyricists in Korea.

“좋으니 사랑해서 사랑을 시작할 때  Are you happy now that you’re in love
니가 얼마나 예쁜지 모르지  You don’t know how pretty you are when you’re in love
그 모습을 아직도 못 잊어  I still can’t forget how you looked
헤어 나오지 못해  I can’t get over it
니 소식 들린 날은 더  Especially on days I hear about you

좋으니 그 사람 솔직히 견디기 버거워  Do you like him? To be honest, I can’t bear it
네가 조금 더 힘들면 좋겠어  I wish you would also have a tough time
진짜 조금 내 십 분의 일 만이라도  Even one-tenth of the pain I’m feeling
아프다 행복해줘  Feel the pain, and then be happy

Memories left lingering as years pass. Emotions left behind from loving someone dearly. The last shout of selfishness hoping for the person to feel the pain, even if it’s only a little bit, of how you feel. The last message hoping for happiness for the lost loved one. The last message engraved with jealousy, regret, desolation, and unforgotten moments. Reminiscent of melodies from 80/90’s pop ballads, the lyrics rendered through 윤종신’s powerful emotive vocal hurt. You feel the character’s pain. They touch your heart, your past. The female version – 좋아 Yes by 민서 Minseo – is a response to this version, and it’s as heartbreaking.

The English title of the male version should be “Do you like it? Are you happy?” and the female version should be “Yes, I do like it. Yes, I am happy.” “It” as a reference to the love she is experiencing now.

3. 언니네 이발관 [홀로 있는 사람들] / Sister’s Barbershop [People Who Stay Alone]

Why did it take me 23 years to discover this band? A year younger than me, I had all the years in my life so far, yet I listen to their songs for the first time when they release their last album. Without IU’s influence on Instagram (who’s featured in “누구나 아는 비밀 / A Secret That Everyone Knows“), I may have never even discovered the band this year.

I first listened to [People Who Stay Alone] when I was visiting Korea this summer. On repeat the entire three weeks of my stay, now whenever I hear the familiar voice of 이석원 Lee Suk Won, I am taken back to Korea, or embraced with the scent of Korea: the morning wandering in the streets near Gyeongbok Palace; the evening stroll through Hongdae; the solitary bus rides after a tiresome long day. (*cue “창밖에 태양이 빛나고 / Sun Shines Through the Window“*)

“아무 것도 소중한게 없어서 이 거리를 헤메이다가 널 처음 보았지
I have nothing special, so I wander the streets and saw you for the first time
아무것도 사랑하지 못하는 널
You, someone who cannot love anything”

From “너의 몸을 흔들어 너의 마음을 움직여 / Shake Your Body Move Your Mind” to “혼자 추는 춤 / Dancing Alone,” the nine-song collection is like an endless dance through the various landscapes of love. The melody is a gleeful sway and endless foot tapping, but sadness lingers in the words, stories translated through the vocal, seeping through the rhythmic percussions and guitar strings.

*playlist is missing the 6th song, “나쁜 꿈 / Bad Dream”

사람들은 외로움에 지쳐 있다
People are jaded from loneliness
누구도 누굴 이해하지 않는 곳에서
From a place where no one understands anyone
이렇게 춤을 추면서 외로워 몸을 흔들며
Dancing like this, shaking their body from loneliness

Eighth ranking in nation’s best-selling album of the year, this album is undoubtedly my number one album of 2017. Sister’s Barbershop’s last album is only the beginning of my love towards the band and their music.