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Korean drama soundtracks booming as major medium of ‘Hallyu’

A promotional image of BTS V’s “Christmas Tree,” from the SBS romantic comedy series soundtrack for “Our Beloved Summer” (Most Contents)
A promotional image of BTS V’s “Christmas Tree,” from the SBS romantic comedy series soundtrack for “Our Beloved Summer” (Most Contents)
Although most countries have COVID-19-related travel restrictions, the worldwide popularity of Korean pop culture has continuously crossed borders, reaching new heights. Taking the baton from K-pop, songs featured in local dramas have newly become a major medium for the spread of “Hallyu,” or the Korean Wave.

Korean soundtracks have recently been made with an eye on the charts with the soaring popularity of dramas. The use of mainstream popular singers like BTS members Jin and V, and trot singer Lim Young-woong have led songs from dramas to top music charts.

After its release on Dec. 24, “Christmas Tree,” a song from the SBS romantic comedy series “Our Beloved Summer” by BTS member V made its debut at No. 79 on the Billboard Hot 100 nearly two weeks after. It marked the first time a Korean drama song was included on the US music chart. The song also retained the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s top-selling songs in the same week.

“Yours,” a soundtrack song from the tvN mystery series “Jirisan,” was sung by BTS member Jin. After the song’s release on Nov. 7, it arrived on the global Spotify chart at No. 45 and occupied the No. 1 spot on the iTunes chart for top 100 country songs.

Unlike ordinary K-pop songs that highlight singers’ powerful dance moves and splendid performances, dramas’ original soundtracks focus on artists’ delicate vocals. Not only singers’ singing abilities, but their fame determines the songs’ popularity, according to industry officials. 

A promotional image of Lim Young-woong's
A promotional image of Lim Young-woong's "Love Always Run Away” from the KBS 2TV’s weekend drama “Young Lady and Gentleman” (Most Contents)
Lim Young-woong, the singer who shot to stardom after winning TV Chosun’s smash hit audition show, “Mr. Trot” in 2020, released “Love Always Run Away” on Oct. 11 for the soundtrack of KBS 2TV’s weekend drama “Young Lady and Gentleman.” The song has topped local music streaming charts for several weeks, including the top 100 on Melon charts.

Seoul-based pop music critic Lim Jin-mo told The Korea Herald that the original soundtracks of dramas have gained so much popularity backed by a robust increase in viewership of over-the-top platforms amid the ongoing pandemic.

“Compared to other K-pop songs, Korean drama soundtracks have attained relatively lower public interest but it is surely increasing. As an increasing number of people get familiar with Korean entertainment content on OTT platforms, they get attracted to featured songs,” Lim said.

Music critic Jung Min-jae highlighted that Korean dramas featuring multiple soundtracks are “atypical” compared to other countries’ entertainment content. But it has become “customary” from the late-2000s, since dramas and soundtrack singers have often created an amazing synergy, according to Jung.

Yet Korean drama soundtracks’ popularity varies at home and abroad. Songs related to local dramas tend to gain more attention overseas when they are sung by K-pop idols and singers recognized abroad. Meanwhile, local listeners‘ preference for these songs rely on the dramas’ viewership ratings, Jung added.

By Jie Ye-eun (yeeun@heraldcorp.com)
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