Into the New World

9:14 PM

Way back in early January, editor-in-chief Stephanie put together a New Year’s playlist to start 2019 with a very specific state-of-mind...

By guest writer, Anne Tsai 

With some input from yours truly, what emerged was a set of songs that covered at least one of three themes: women, new beginnings, and cosmos (i.e. things having to do with outer space). Although January is long over and February is half over, we still believe that good music and good thematic material should be shared.

No Tears Left To Cry - Ariana Grande: 2018 was a phenomenal year for Ariana’s career, and No Tears Left to Cry was the opening act of her most contemplative album yet. When I revisited this song to write this blurb, I was actually just looking for technical elements to point out that made the song “ethereal.” But after watching the music video again, I realized that it fulfilled all three themes (criteria?) perfectly. The song begins with a choir vocalizing in heavily layered harmonies. Then, prolonged synth chords add to the atmosphere of the Inception-like video, following Ariana through tunnels and skyscapes and webs of lights. The whole thing looks like it belongs in a dystopia, and the lyrics reflect a light-at-the-end-of-a-tunnel optimism.

Love - Lana Del Rey: Lana Del Rey’s Love is incredibly cinematic, lending its grand sound to the echoing bass drums and vibrating bass guitar. The whole piece sounds like it’s building up to something huge, but Lana’s soft vocals never swell into a full-on belt, thus creating a subdued feeling of floating underwater. Also, MOON IMAGERY.

Dreams - The Cranberries: This song is great because it’s utterly unconventional. There is no chorus to be found (unless you consider the lalalala part to be the chorus). In the first lalalala section, the song completely modulates and enters into half-time, giving the illusion of slowing down. But as soon the section begins, Dolores O’Riordan modulates back to the original key and rhythm. I read a YouTube comment that called the lalalala yodeling, but I think it leans more into vocalization than yodeling.

Gashina - SUNMI: Gashina was the song that blew up in 2017, and it remains relevant today. Sunmi’s singles are never very complex, but that’s why they are such earworms. The fake flute and absolutely satisfying beat drop coupled with the iconic finger gun choreography is enough to watch this performance forever.

Heroine - SUNMI: If Gashina, Heroine, and Siren are the Holy Trinity of Sunmi title tracks, then Heroine is the underrated prequel to Gashina. Whereas Gashina describes a woman’s incredulousness at a lover breaking her heart, Heroine sees the woman justifying the pain that the lover has caused her. Sunmi starts the song with atmospheric vocals like ocean waves washing upshore. The prechorus crescendos into punchy percussions, but the instrumental chorus with an underlying pulsating bassline keeps the song melancholy and empty.

Universe - EXO: What makes a good ballad? SM Entertainment certainly knows the answer, and now you will know too. The key is in the simplicity: chords that beginner piano players can play at every beat, whispering vocals that swell into full-on belts and a sprinkle of modal mixture. For extra emotion, EXO adds electric guitar in the second verse, turning the song into a rock ballad. Listen to Universe for a giant warm hug.

Siren - SUNMI: Stephanie, why did you put Universe between the Holy Trinity of Sunmi songs? Siren is a heavily 80’s influenced piece with a huge switchup in the bridge, but as with many Kpop songs, the harsh tonal shift returns back to the main theme like nothing strange happened. Props to Sunmi for putting actual sirens in the track while pretending to be a mermaid.

City of Stars - La La Land Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: For all you La La Land haters out there, I will explain to you exactly why City of Stars won the Oscar and not that Moana song. City of Stars, without context, is a horribly boring song: the piano playing is basic, and Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s voices don’t particularly shine either. But the duet fits the characters’ plights well. The two protagonists are very egotistical when it comes to their dreams; they ask the city of Los Angeles “Are you shining just for me?” because they are so hopeful that the city will generously jumpstart their careers. With that hopefulness comes the tragic mediocrity of their talents and all the things they must give up to chase their dreams, including their own relationship.

Into the New World - Girls’ Generation: We have arrived at the center, the inspiration, the namesake of this playlist. Into the New World has become the standard for all girl groups and the anthem for many civil protests. It is so 2007, yet it is timeless. Stephanie once asked me why Into the New World sounds so sad despite it being Girls’ Generation’s debut song. The answer is that it is written in E minor. In fact, the song borrows the theme from Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony titled “From the New World.”

Breaking Free - High School Musical: At first glance, this is an interesting choice for the playlist, plus it’s hard to analyze and tear apart a song from my childhood. Other than Zac Efron’s nasally first two phrases, this song is extremely good. In the last chorus, Gabriella pulls out an impressive modulation--and all the instrumentation pauses for her. I would also like to note the cheesy starry background behind both characters, complete with a giant cutout crescent moon.

Mariner’s Apartment Complex - Lana Del Rey: I really like how Lana Del Rey layers her vocals in the prechorus. Layered beneath spoken lines, the singing creates a unique harmony. At the end of the song, the electric guitar and Lana’s whispers are staggered and panned between your headphones, bringing the song into a psychedelic conclusion.

Forget - Marina and the Diamonds: I’m very surprised at how low Marina’s vocal range is. And yet Forget reaches pretty high notes too. The song isn’t very musically complex, but it’s still exciting and good for screaming. Plus it’s funny how Marina pronounces the word “tortoise.”

Happy - Marina and the Diamonds: At the beginning, I thought the song was written in the time signature of 6/8 because I only had Marina’s singing to tap out the rhythm. But when the piano kicked in, it became an obvious 4/4. Happy takes its sweet time to build up, reaching its height in the second chorus. Even though Marina provides hope and optimism in her lyrics, Happy is an incredibly sad song in its tone and pace.

Eclipse - LOONA/Kim Lip: Eclipse was the solo song that garnered LOONA a good number of fans in their slow burn of a pre-debut project. For those of you who have seen “stan LOONA” everywhere but don’t know what it is, LOONA is a twelve member girl group in which new members were revealed every month with a solo song and accompanying music video. After eighteen long months, LOONA finally debuted altogether in August 2018. Kim Lip’s Eclipse is the sixth solo song; it is a simple, laid-back R&B/pop number, but Miss Kimberly Lippington’s vocal timbre and dance are irresistible. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that she is an experienced solo artist and not a rookie girl group member.

Telepathy - Christina Aguilera: When I heard the trumpet intro at the start of this The Get Down OST, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t an absolutely funky disco bop. I’m obsessed with the slap bass (everyone loves a good slap bass whether they know it or not). Telepathy is only three minutes long, but Christina still shows off her vocal runs and whistles. 

Cosmic Railway - EXO: If you’re a follower of Kpop, you know that Japanese releases are always sort of out-of-the-box for groups’ concepts. When I first listened to EXO’s latest Japanese album Countdown, all of the songs sounded strange to me except Cosmic Railway. This pop-rock ballad impeccably uses fake violin synths and layered vocal harmonies. You feel like you’re being lifted into an extraterrestrial TV drama.

If It’s Magic - Stevie Wonder: Let’s just talk about the beautiful harp that is the only instrumental in this song besides the harmonica at the very end. I think that harp needs to be included in more popular music; it’s too gorgeous to be excluded from both the classical and modern music worlds.

Lights Out - EXO: Another comforting EXO ballad. Although the piano is sparse, I particularly enjoy the silence between the bridge and the last chorus and the way that the vocalists sing descending notes (picture a person walking down a flight of stairs). I recommend reading the lyrics; they’re a reminder that after a bad day, one can fall asleep and start afresh the next day.

Sun & Moon - NCT 127: This is my absolute favorite NCT b-side because it’s just so atmospheric. The drawn-out synth chords and pulsating bass drum forms what I imagine is waves washing over rocks, but Stephanie informed me that she thought the instrumental sounded like a heartbeat. Either way, super echoey stuff is always fun to listen to. I love how the production becomes minimal when Johnny sings “You and I,” contrasting with the business of the emotional chorus. 

Diamonds - Rihanna: I have to admit, when I was eleven, I did not like this song because I thought “Shine bright like a diamond” was cringey and annoying. Maybe my past self was more critical of music than present me. Anyways, I thoroughly adore this song now. The backtrack is relatively simple, allowing listeners to focus on Rihanna’s vocals and lyrics. She compares her love to a star in the night sky, which aligns with the celestial theme.

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