Blast from the Past: 10 Beautiful K-drama OSTs from Yesteryears
Enjoy a collection of timeless K-drama OSTs that will inspire you to explore their genius, which you may have missed previously
One reason, out of many, why Korean dramas are mainstream is because of their passionate OSTs. For consumers, great music in a great K-drama is legit entertainment. For me, it is my holy grail. There is nothing like basking in an ideal leisure activity such as listening to beautiful K-drama tunes. I’ve been listening to them a lot lately – old hits in particular – only to be surprised by how much freshness they retain.
I hope the following curated list of 10 evergreen K-drama OSTs will inspire you to explore their genius, which you may have missed previously.
“Fate” by Why from Full House (2004)
Haters turn into lovers when a love-hate relationship survives all odds and ordeals. Han Ji-eun (Song Hye-kyo) and Lee Young-jae (Jeong Ji-hoon aka Rain) cohabit under duress, a contract marriage. They claim to despise one another, but beneath the hostility, love blossoms. As realization dawns upon them, unspoken feelings produce excruciating pain – that is the crux of “Fate,” beautifully sung by Why. “Now if it’s not you, there is no meaning to anything/ I can’t contain myself anymore/ The fact that I have to erase you today again, makes it even harder.” Those are the sort of lyrics in the track that eloquently reflect agony and longing, with Why giving it soul that the actors breathe life into. Every time I listen to “Fate,” I feel an intense rollercoaster of emotions that draws me deeper into the song. A big shout-out to the piano chord progression that elevates the music in a harmonically meaningful way, and to the incredible lick that emerges in the final section like a lover’s goodbye kiss.
“Perhaps Love” by HowL and J from Princess Hours (2006)
This track from the iconic K-drama Princess Hours captures the burgeoning passion between the protagonists. It sonically expresses how an impetuous union slowly evolves into a heartwarming tale of young adults falling in love. Joo Jihoon and Yoon Eunhye’s natural acting as Crown Prince Lee and a commoner-turned-princess, Chae Kyeong, perfectly portrays the slow-burn romance, and “Perhaps Love” (as the song title suggests) adeptly recounts moments of their repressed feelings for each other – all set in the context of a monarchy with its own royal family. I’m glad the song made its way into the drama, because it found its way into my heart, our hearts perhaps.
“Make Me a Lover” by SS501 from Boys Over Flowers (2009)
One of SS501’s best hits was utilized as the second theme song for Boys Over Flowers. It’s a song about naive romance. Acoustically, it is relaxing, and each band member’s distinct tonal attributes add to the song’s immersive aspect. “Make Me a Lover” serves as the background score for the drama’s adorable scenes involving Ji Hoo (Kim Hyun-joong) and Jan Di (Ku Hye-sun). Ji Hoo consistently shelters Jan Di in crisis, while inwardly kindling feelings for her and dying to profess his love: “To the world, I want to shout ‘I love you’/ To love you and have you as my girl/ Dazzling, you’re always my star/ I’ll protect you/ I can always [be] waiting for you.” I became a major SS501 fan after hearing this song. This was my first experience of a K-drama soundtrack. It got so ingrained in my heart that I avidly sampled the songs of this incredible boy band. I definitely miss their presence in the K-pop scene these days. Despite the fact that three of the members later formed the spinoff SS301, the magic of all five members went missing.
“Haru” by SHINee from Haru (2010)
Haru translates to ‘day’ in Korean. This title track from the omnibus web drama of the same name is performed by the phenomenal K-pop boy band SHINee. It’s a catchy tune with a pulse throbbing throughout the six stories in the drama that come together at one point to create a memorable day, or rather, haru. To me, this song plays like a Christmas jam – a beautiful soul-soother with an amazing chorus and splendid harmonies. It’s another illustration of SHINee’s musical proficiency. Surprisingly, the song is underrated. Many opine that this one is a barebones production with nothing much to boast about. Well, I beg to differ. “Haru” sounds great, perhaps because it is simple and yet vibrant. Although the instrumentation is sparse, as you glide through the song, you get to uncover plenty of flavor in addition to SHINee’s silky vocals.
“You’ve Fallen for Me” by Jung Yong-hwa from Heartstrings (2011)
Jung Yong-hwa of the famed South Korean pop-rock band CNBLUE recorded a gloriously groovy track for Heartstrings, a youth melodrama about love, friendship and dreams. “You’ve Fallen for Me” is a great song, from the incredibly catchy words through the chorus to the excellent guitar solo. What can I say? Jung’s distinctive voice expertly harmonizes each emotion with the robust orchestration that flows beneath his potent vocals. The song is tender, romantic and resonant all at once. It’s a love ballad based on the main characters, also featuring Jung (as Lee Shin) and Park Shin-hye (as Lee Gyu-won). The words reflect Lee Shin’s declaration of the understanding that love “always comes unexpectedly.” He and Lee Gyu-won had a series of misunderstandings that caused them to get off to a bad start, but gradually things are blurry no more. Hence, he sings, “It soaks me like a shower, I never knew it was love.”
“Suddenly” by Kim Bo-kyung from City Hunter (2011)
This City Hunter OST is memorable for Kim Bo-kyung’s powerplay as a rookie singer, back in 2011. “Can’t you be the one coming to me now?” cries the passionate love song, adding, “I really desired you like crazy/ I always prayed that I could see you again/ I feel as though I will die like this.” The intense love that Lee Yoo-sung (Lee Min-ho) and Kim Na-na (Park Min-young) feel for one another is clearly articulated in Kim’s explosive performance. The protagonists perfectly depict feelings beyond words, and the melody catapults the mood even more. It roars with emotions replete with the force of love.
“Everytime” by Chen and Puch from Descendants of the Sun (2016)
Every time I compile a list of K-drama OSTs, “Everytime” finds its place in it. The song is too good to pass up. I mean, the gorgeous ensemble and engaging narrative aside, the track itself is a complete winner – a sincere declaration of love made through Chen (EXO) and Punch’s exceptional jamming, resulting in an all-time smash. If this fusion isn’t endearing enough, the music video will certainly do the trick. It captures cute moments starting from the first sparks that fly when Captain Si Jin (Song Joong-ki) encounters the fiery-yet-stunning cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Mo Yeon (Song Hye-kyo). The hook line “Every time I see you” is filled with passion, as is the rest of the song. It explains why Chen is regarded as one of the vocal kings in Korean entertainment. He pours his heart out while singing and Punch lends to the emotion with her angelic voice. They begin the duet with a superb arrangement, and the music culminates with Punch crooning “I Love You” – Mo Yeon’s confession to Sin Jin that effectively concludes the tune.
“Lucid Dream” by Monogram from While You Were Sleeping (2017)
Monogram’s version of any song transforms it into a melodic masterpiece. The duo with the combined talents of Kevin and Riwon conjures a lucid dream in the song of the same name from the multi-starrer fantasy rom-com thriller, While You Were Sleeping. While Riwon’s breathy vocals sound alluring, seductive and passionate, Kevin’s vocal prowess intensifies the impact. The song’s orchestration is dreamy, but it aches with pain, especially in the chorus section, where the words communicate the misery clearly: “Where are you/ I search and search, but I can’t see you/ Where are you/ Don’t let go of me/ Remember now to save me.” As Riwon’s crystal-clear voice hits the right notes, Kevin’s natural vibrato amplifies her singing, creating the hypnotic track. Listen to it now if you haven’t already, and experience its sedating sensitivity.
“Love” by Lyn and Han Hae from Are You Human? (2018)
Starting with a bright and warm piano and orchestral intro, Han Hae’s melodic rap on a restrained beat immerses the first half of the song, and Lyn’s irreplaceable voice appears in the middle, further enhancing the mood in sync with the storyline of this science fiction: A sudden accident puts third-generation heir Nam Shin in a coma. In an effort to keep his position as the heir to a chaebol conglomerate, his mother – a specialist in brain research and artificial intelligence – leads the creation of an android, Nam Shin III. Meanwhile, Kang So-bong (Gong Seung-yeon), a former MMA fighter, arrives to guard the android. Although Kang initially acts out of self-interest, she later develops feelings for Nam and falls for him as a result. I’m perturbed that many didn’t appreciate this drama or this song adequately. In my opinion, Are You Human? is a top-notch production, including its OST, with “Love” standing out from the rest.
“On Rainy Days” by Heize from Blue Birthday (2021)
Listen to this track on a rainy day; it hits you differently. “On Rainy Days” is a blockbuster song by Highlight (formerly BEAST) that was released in 2011. This track, reprised as an OST for the digital drama Blue Birthday, has a different appeal than the original due to Heize’s distinct tone. In the series, Oh Ha-rin (Kim Ye-rim, Yeri of Red Velvet) returns to the past through cryptic images left by Ji Seo-Jun (Yang Hong-seok), her first love, who died on her birthday a decade earlier. This ballad, delicate and laden with emotions, reflects Oh’s loss and suffering. Heize sings the heart-wrenching lines, “On rainy days you come and find me, torturing me through the night” with anguished candor. The melody is flooded with shimmering sounds and expressive vocal delivery.