May flowers haven’t quite flourished yet throughout much of the United States, but springtime has been well under way in South Korea for a few months. As the seasons change from frigid snow to sweltering monsoons, cherry blossoms and ambient pop music are the fixtures of spring on the Korean peninsula. Spring Vol. 1, the newest EP from Korean sibling duo AKMU, joins other popular Korean songs as the soundtrack to the season.
Spring Vol. 1, or “Adolescence” or “Puberty” as it’s named in Korean, introduces a new period of change for the pair. Composed by 19-year-old big brother Lee Chanhyuk, who will enlist in the Korean army after promoting the new album, Spring Vol. 1 is an ode to Lee and 17-year-old sister Suhyun’s balancing act between the seasons of youth and adulthood. Compared to the more innocent, ambient sounds of debut album Play, Spring Vol. 1 is multifaceted with songs ranging from jazz-pop “Re-Bye” to playful funk songs like “How People Move” and the more melancholic “Around.” Spring Vol. 1’s sound attracted South Korean and international listeners upon its release; every song appeared in the top ten of multiple Korean music charts while the album shot to the top of the iTunes K-pop chart.
The success of the new album, released later in the spring than many Korean songs dedicated to the season, joins the likes of other seasonal songs released this year. Ahead of AKMU’s album, the most popular springtime tune is easily the April Fools release from 10cm, “What the Spring??” 10cm foregoes the tropes of romance songs and instead bemoans the obsession with spring, falling in love, and the beauty of the season from the point of view of a single person. With little more than a guitar, “What the Spring??” is a bittersweet, comical folk anthem that flips the idea of hope springing eternal on its head.
To placate listeners hoping for something more cheerful, “Hopefully Sky” by A Pink’s Jeong Eunji and the duet “Spring Love” by Wendy of Red Velvet and soloist Eric Nam are the antithesis of “What the Spring??” “Hopefully Sky” is a folk-pop fusion backed by instrumentals provided by Korean folk musician Hareem, “Hopefully Sky” also equates the transition of the seasons to growing older and relays an uplifting message through Eunji’s warm voice. Verging on country, “Hopefully Sky” is one of this year’s most popular tunes. Meanwhile, styled much like a song off the soundtrack of a ‘90s rom com, “Spring Love” resonates with younger listeners who can relate to the youthful message of the song. Wendy and Eric’s dulcet vocals come together on the lo-fi track that tells the story of friends falling in love as the weather gets warmer.
This year had plenty of sprightly songs for this time of year, but along with the new there’s a variety of cherry blossom-inspired songs from Korean musicians that have surpassed their moments in the spotlight to be seasonal favorites. The most popular of all as Busker Busker’s “Cherry Blossom Ending,” which was released in 2012 and refuses to lose its hold over South Korean listeners. The song, dubbed “Cherry Blossom Zombie” after its continuous return to top 40 music charts in South Korea each spring, “Cherry Blossom Ending” has a sweet and quirky melody that is the audible essence of spring in South Korea. Based on vocalist Jang Bum Joon’s romance, “Cherry Blossom Love” expresses the fluttering and breeziness of the season through Jang’s stirring singing and the band’s busking-inspired sounds.
The flowery collaboration between soloist IU and the boy band HIGH4, “Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms” is another popular song for the season. The debut song of HIGH4, the 2014 mid-tempo pop track expresses the youthful desire to get out of cold, lonely winter and find a springtime romance. Features like soft percussion, chimes, and a rap place “Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms” make the K-pop ballads one of the more spritely songs around this time of year.
Roy Kim, who balances his career in Korea while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University, set hearts aflutter with “Bom Bom Bom (Spring Spring Spring)” in 2013. Filled with lighthearted crooning, “Bom Bom Bom” was Kim’s first song after he took first place on a Korean singing competition and the springtime hit solidified his career. The repetitive chorus and the whistling bridge are two of the most iconic aspects of “Bom Bom Bom,” which utilizes strings and percussions to replicate the sounds of the season.
And, while many springtime anthems from Korea are indie-folk inspired, last but not least is Ga In’s “Bloom,” which takes things in another direction entirely. The Brown Eyed Girls member turns the cherry blossom motif on its head in her solo track with a near-explicit take on the flowering season. “Bloom” is a retro-tinged, sexually explicit anthem that incorporates new jack swing and funk to create a modern day “Like A Virgin” for K-pop audiences, equating the rebirth of spring to the liberation of a young woman’s sexual liberation. A refreshing sound for the season, “Bloom” turns the demure innocence of other springtime K-pop themes on their heads and is one of South Korea’s most progressive songs of the decade.