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Webtoon music evolves from background music to original soundtrack

The album images of singer Baek Z-young’s “Our love was pain” (left) and Hwang Chi-yeul‘s “May you be happy.” (Toon Studio)
The album images of singer Baek Z-young’s “Our love was pain” (left) and Hwang Chi-yeul‘s “May you be happy.” (Toon Studio)

Drama fans and moviegoers often recall well-known scenes with the accompanying songs, like Aladdin and Jasmine singing “A Whole New World” while riding a magic carpet. Now comics fans are being offered webtoons accompanied by songs from major artists.

Top Korean singers, including Baek Z-young, Gummy, K.Will and Kim Jong-kook who have made hit songs for drama soundtracks, are now creating songs for webtoons.

Gummy, a veteran artist who has participated in multiple drama soundtracks, made her webtoon OST debut in June, with “I’ll Talk to You.”

In August, singers K.Will and Kim dropped “Back in Time” and “Tear Thief,” ballad soundtracks for Naver webtoons, “The Moon that Rises in the Day” and “Joseon’s Ban on Marriage,” respectively.

Baek, nicknamed the OST queen, released her first webtoon music with Kakao Webtoon’s “Nth Romance” on Dec. 2 as well.

“A wide range of artists, from the members of K-pop idols and rappers to trot singers, are working on webtoon OSTs,” a Kakao Entertainment official told The Korea Herald.

“With its large fan base of both popular webtoon series and musicians, some songs have ranked high in the local music streaming platforms. After hearing their favorite artists’ music, some become new webtoon readers,” the official added.

Webtoon fans can choose to play the songs as they scroll. Although it is an unusual format for most reading, webtoons have experimented with music before.

Webtoon illustrator and author Horang was the first to insert songs without lyrics as the background music for his “Song of the Cloud” in 2009.

Similar efforts were made by some webtoon creators in the early 2000s, using songs with more lyrics by little-known indie musicians.

Though playing background music for webtoons was considered an innovative approach, it didn’t go mainstream.

Things changed when songs related to webtoon stories started to arouse the public’s interest after local broadcaster MBC’s variety program “I Live Alone” featured webtoon creator Kian84 and artist Henry’s collaboration for music for Kian84’s new webtoon “Rejuvenation” in 2019.

A screenshot shows the webtoon creator Kian84 and artist Henry working on the background music of Kian84’s “Rejuvenation” on MBC variety show “I Live Alone.” (MBC)
A screenshot shows the webtoon creator Kian84 and artist Henry working on the background music of Kian84’s “Rejuvenation” on MBC variety show “I Live Alone.” (MBC)

When “Slightly Tipsy,” a song from the soundtrack of Daum Webtoon “She is My Type” by K-pop boy band B1A4’s Sandeul, reached the No. 2 spot on the streaming platform, just after BTS’ “Dynamite,” webtoons and musicians began to actively joined forces for both webtoon and music chart success.

The cover image of Sandeul’s “Slightly Tipsy” (Melon)
The cover image of Sandeul’s “Slightly Tipsy” (Melon)

Bucheon International Comics Festival also featured a webtoon OST concert as one of its major programs, inviting musicians to give live performances.

“I entered the world of webtoon after listening to Sandeul’s ‘Slightly Tipsy,’” a Sogang University student and a webtoon fan surnamed Lee, 25, told The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

“After listening to such an amazing song, I became curious about webtoons. Now, I pay more money for webtoons than for other over-the-top services, like Netflix, Tving and Wavve,” Lee added.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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