By the time an artist is nearly a decade-and-a-half into their career, you might assume you’d be able to predict exactly what their next moves might be. While that might be true of some musicians well into their careers, that’s not a statement that can be applied to Taeyeon, one of K-pop’s most consistently versatile and ever-evolving stars.
This summer, the Girls’ Generation leader will celebrate 15 years since she made her debut with the group but – as the rollout for her new solo album ‘INVU’ has proven – she’s far from settling into one groove. Resting on her laurels and trotting out safe songs that keep her secure in her position as a beloved star but don’t challenge our perception of her are not moves you’ll find her making any time soon.
Over the years, Taeyeon has become best-known for her stunning vocals, possessing a voice that can fly through her range as effortlessly as an acrobat nailing a gravity-defying move. But her 2021 single ‘Weekend’ – which will also feature on ‘INVU’ – found her utilising her voice in a way not commonly associated with her. Its pastel-hued chorus is coloured with almost hushed falsetto chirps, her vocals subtle and low-key rather than the powerful and soulful sound she’s often praised for. This change, though, is no bad thing – instead it adds another string to the singer’s bow and presents yet another way in which she manages to draw the listener in.
A key aspect of Taeyeon’s vocals and, subsequently, her artistry is her ability to portray the richest of emotions in just a few notes. Korean composer Yoo Young-seok once likened her singing to that of “a woman who has been divorced seven times”, and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. But just as the pain of heartbreak doesn’t diminish no matter how many times you go through it, neither does Taeyeon’s voice ever waver in its ability to devastate. Even when she’s switching things up, as on her previous single ‘Can’t Control Myself’, one line still has the power to make us crumble emotionally.
Like ‘Weekend’ before it, ‘Can’t Control Myself’ also gave us yet more new angles to consider the “sound source queen” from. Emotive and raw, it dips into the pop-punk that’s on-trend around the globe right now, but puts a fresh twist on it, setting Taeyeon apart from the crowd. Instead of ripping through something more in-your-face and loud, she moulds the heart-wrenching feeling and clean guitar hooks of the genre into a stirring ballad. It’s a smart move – selecting the elements of the zeitgeist sound that work with her emotional storytelling and using them to create something utterly refreshing.
Of course, “King” Taeyeon – as fans often refer to her – has always had a penchant for experimenting with her sonic style, gliding through genres like a magpie on the hunt for shiny new treasure. After building her name as a solo act through OSTs for dramas – typically poignant and powerful – she ventured into pop-rock on her solo debut single proper, ‘I’. ‘Fine’, from her 2017 album ‘My Voice’, saw her merge folky acoustic guitars with gleaming power-pop, while ‘Why’ – released a year prior on the mini-album of the same name – combined gently juddering EDM beats, R&B glimmers and balmy tropical pop. Taeyeon has always made it very clear – stagnating in one place is not for her.
The newly released ‘INVU’ no doubt reinforces that notion once again and offers us yet another varied and multifaceted record to dive into. We might not be able to pin down where Taeyeon will take us next but we wouldn’t have it any other way. The element of the unknown helps keep her journey exciting, even this deep into her career, but there is one thing we can predict with absolute certainty – whatever turn she makes next, it’ll always undoubtedly be great.