Since their last album, Lion Heart, the members of KPop's most successful girl group, Girls' Generation, must have some time on their hands. As outlined by our piece on the Soshi Diaspora, there've been solo and collaborative efforts by Tiffany, Yoona, Hyoyeon, and Seohyun, but the most prolific of the octet by far is their "baby leader" and lead vocalist Taeyeon, who has already released two EPs since Lion Heart, and now her first full length LP My Voice.
Sometimes it's easy to think of KPop stars as cultivated celebrities, meticulously crafted, dressed, trained and polished by their companies, given what to wear, how to stand, dance, sing, even what to say. And in most cases, for better or worse, that would be true, and despite the growing numbers of disgruntled, blacklisted, or shunned KPop stars, most don't complain much, given their bee-line to fame, and hopefully a little pocket change if not outright fortune.
Occasionally, a true original talent emerges where least expected and breaks the standard pretty mold for what a KPop star should sound like. For example, Amber Liu of f(x), former 2PM member Jay Park, G-Dragon of Bigbang, and former Afterschool leader Kahi are examples of stars whose personalities and creative talent have had a larger impact than that of a mere windup song-and-dance team member.
A "sexy concept" girl group that's always been considered second-tier despite such sonic powerhouse tracks like "Joker" and our favorite, "Someone Like U", Dal*Shabet is not what you might consider the incubator of one of the strongest independant voices in South Korea today, but since the spring of 2016, their lanky maknae Park Subin (or just Subin) has been writing and producing stunning material in obscurity.
Subin began writing for the girl group in the winter of 2014, co-writing one of the songs on their seventh E.P. B.B.B., and then produced and co-wrote all of the lyrics and music on their successful Joker Is Alive, including their aforementioned single "Joker." (Incedently, "Joker" became controversial in South Korean as the English word joker sounds extremely like a Korean slang word for penis.) Her next composing credits would come on two of the tracks from Naturalness, including the solo track "From Head to Toe." Up until 2014, she'd done what most idols do, dance in sexy outfits, appear on variety and reality shows, and make the boys swoon with her lovely doe eyes and long legs.
In 2016, her and Dal*Shabet's company Happyface Entertainment finally unleashed her producing and composing talent, allowing her to produce some remarkable singles, starting with the stunning mid-tempo, acoustic, piano-driven "Flower" and its torch song b-side "Hate." Both songs display a musical intelligence and mature sound, free from the formulaic constraints of the typical new jack swing of K-Pop. "Flower" and "Hate" were followed by her E.P. "Our Love," another stride in the same direction, atmospheric, emotional, and moving, particularly the title track. Meanwhile, all of Subin's solo work has completely fallen through the cracks, as Happyface seems to have completely forgotten to promote the songs, and as of even now, very few people have even heard it. There are no videos to be found for any of her tracks on YouTube. But at least they are publishing it, and it's up to bloggers like us to spread the love, apparently.
This past February, Subin released another single and b-side, this time with well-produced MV's for both, though unpromoted. "Circle's Dream" is a clever, mid-tempo, minimalist march, featuring thrummingly restrained acoustic guitar, various forms of single percussion, and bubbly synths. The rambling verses held in place by a cutely repetitive mix of "dum da da da ditty da da" and "ooh wa", featuring Subin's warm expressive voice, slowly building to a pop. It's a cute little charmer of a single and very ecclectic.
The partner song to "Circle's Dream" is our song of the week, "Strawberry," a rambling, undulating ballad, driven by a solo grand piano and occasionally frosted with a very minimal light synth wash and cymbals over the top of the choruses. What makes "Strawberry" so effective is the rolling music bed and Subin's passionate vocals. Subin's voice is rangy, warm, breathy, dynamic and she uses it effectively, conveying the emotions of her usually clever lyrics, which feature subtle wordplay, mixing English and Korean.
The video is simple and stunning. Enjoy:
It's so unfortunate that Happyface has really left Subin's work out in ether, though it is quite different than the faire they are more familiar with promoting, Dal*Shabet's slick R&B dance numbers and their stellar new septet Dreamcatcher's hard-edged, JPop-flavored rock/pop. Though it's only a matter of time before more and more people find their way to Park Subin's beautiful work. It's too memorable to leave behind.