As part of my “Top 100 K-pop Songs of All-Time” countdown, I took the effort to dive deeply into my top ten picks and break them down moment by moment.
But, there are plenty of other songs that deserve this same treatment. So, The Bias List proudly presents an in-depth feature: “Breaking Down the K-pop Song.”
As part of this feature, I’ll be taking a close look at some of the songs that really resonate with me. They could be personal favorites, or simply tracks that are too interesting to ignore. This feature will include title tracks, b-sides… even J-pop.
**Although I have a musical ear, I’m not technically trained. As a result, these breakdowns will often describe things in a more abstract way rather than use a ton of technical jargon. But as always, my passion for this music will certainly shine through!
Taeyeon – Time Lapse
Released in 2017 as part of her first full album and subsequent repackage, Taeyeon’s Time Lapse was never promoted as a single. But, it holds a special place in her discography. It’s the rare idol track composed by Nell frontman Kim Jong-wan, who up to this point had worked most consistently with Infinite’s Kim Sungkyu on his solo work.
Put on your headphones and join me as I break down this song and explain why it’s so satisfying.
Music: Kim Jong-wan, ZOOEY
Lyrics: Kim Jong-wan
00:00-00:18 – Time Lapse opens tentatively. A chaotic, whirling pules of electronics disorients the listener right off the bat, almost as if time itself is jumbled. The strum of three simple guitar chords brings this chaos to order, realigning the electro loop to its rightful rhythm.
Taeyeon’s crystal-clear vocals exist somewhere in between these competing instrumental elements, offering a softer texture that instantly gives the song a dreamlike quality.
00:18-00:33 – The instrumental patterns remain the same here, but the vocal melody begins to veer into new territory. This changes organically, climbing to higher and higher notes with each passing line. We’re clearly headed toward something big.
00:33-00:48 – The production becomes so rich here, as synth strings are brought in to give this segment a satisfying swell. The electro pulse from before is replaced by a seesawing loop that builds a ton of tension.
As the instrumental favors a more rhythmic structure, Taeyeon’s notes elongate and become more dramatic. Her vocal is yearning and reflective and all sorts of emotional, and paints the track with undeniable pathos.
00:48-01:02 – More synth textures enter the mix as the melody continues to climb. Though this extended build doesn’t pack a ton of surprises, there’s a lot of melodic variety here that keeps the segment from feeling too repetitive. There’s also a sense of openness to both the tone and delivery. As the tension builds, the song feels like it’s blossoming.
01:02-01:09 – Most of the instrumental strips away and we’re left with heartbeat-like percussion and a few well-placed keys, which descend with a melancholy that puts an interesting twist on that extended build before it. This matches the lyrical content, of course, which is all about longing for a love lost and coming to the realization – again and again – that there’s no going back.
01:09-01:24 – When we think of “drops” in pop music, we usually go straight to EDM. But, Time Lapse uses the idea of a drop in a very different way. We’re back to the melody of that introductory verse, but this time it’s underlined by a thumping dance beat. Sad songs aren’t restricted only to ballads, after all. Sometimes tempo itself can evoke a more nuanced emotion.
This moment is really quite transcendent. There’s a clarity to each and every instrumental element, combining to create a vibrant sound at odds with the general melancholy of the track. The pace heightens significantly here, as Time Lapse moves at a gallop. This gives the verse a snowballing effect, as if time itself is speeding at an almost insurmountable rate. If things were under control before, we’ve now moved into a place where all bets are off.
The synth comes in cascades, but its general melody isn’t really different from that first verse. We’re still descending, though this time it’s more of a freefall.
01:24-01:38 – The frantic pace continues as a filtered snare joins the fray. The track continues to barrel forward at an unsustainable clip. Something’s got to give.
01:38-02:07 – I always visualize this part of the track as the moment the protagonist takes flight. If that second verse had us running for our lives, dodging emotional shrapnel, this is the moment we jump off the cliff and face the truth.
Looking at the lyrics, this is also the point where the illusions come crashing down and the protagonist is at her most unguarded. It’s more of a mental breakdown than a moment of ascension.
This out-of-control frustration is highlighted by the insistent percussion, as the strings swell in the background. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and satisfying. Up to this point, Time Lapse was like a coiled spring. Here, we finally get some catharsis.
And as this segment repeats (albeit with a totally different arrangement), it becomes clear that the extended build from earlier on is actually Time Lapse’s chorus. It’s certainly not a traditional chorus. But, Time Lapse isn’t really a traditional pop song, either.
02:07-02:22 – Few K-pop songs utilize space as well as they could. Title tracks, in particular, feel the need to cram as much in three minutes as they can, without any “down time.” But, pop music needs a chance to breathe.
It’s brilliant for Time Lapse to pull back here for a short instrumental break. The song has begun to exhaust its own emotion, and this interlude of subdued guitar and keys gives the listener a moment to reflect.
But, it’s not long before the production begins to build itself back up.
02:22-02:38 – The addition of icy synth textures invites Taeyeon’s vocal back into the fold. She sounds slightly worn out as well, resigned to her fate as the brittle melody takes on a pleading quality.
02:38-02:46 – And then… the killing moment. Whether we’ve known it or not, every ounce of Time Lapse has been building up to these two notes. The production drops out to silence, Taeyeon takes a fractured breath, and releases it all.
The first note is without accompaniment, but when the melody veers downward, the full brunt of the instrumental crashes in around her, bringing a maelstrom of sound with it. Her voice anchors the wave of emotion, resolute. There’s a guttural quality to the performance — a purging of all that emotion.
Lyrically, this phrase translates roughly to: “Erase everything.”
I think we get the picture. This moment will bring you to your knees.
02:46-03:13 – We head back into that chorus-that’s-not-quite-like-a-chorus, buoyed by the full bombast of the instrumental. Distorted guitar gives this a beefier backbone than the choruses that preceded it, and Taeyeon brings a volley of emotive ad-libs that tease at the edges of the melody.
03:13-03:44 – Most K-pop songs would have ended after that last chorus, but Time Lapse knows that moments of catharsis and recognition aren’t constrained by three-minute streaming times. The track moves into a skeleton of its chorus, taking the melodic peaks from before and twisting them into a tortured coda that extends the energy without simply replicating it.
03:44-04:14 – As the song starts to filter out, we’re left with fragments of melody, swimming inside a blend of guitar, synth and strings. Things are not wrapped up neatly with a bow, as the protagonist is clearly still mired in the trauma she’s feeling, but the song cuts out nonetheless, sucked into empty space just as we had begun.
And just like the time lapse photography with which it shares a name, the track is a microcosm of feelings, funneled expertly through an arrangement that knows how to squeeze every ounce of emotion from its use of dynamics, tempo and space.