How I Fell In Love With Korean TV Soundtracks

How I Fell In Love With Korean TV Soundtracks

Written by Frank Doris

I’d been in something of a musical rut. I’d listen to friends’ musical recommendations and halfheartedly poke around for new music on streaming services, but nothing was really doing it for me over the last year. Adding to the ennui was the fact that nothing much on TV streaming services was capturing my interest either. (How many times have you scrolled through dozens of Netflix or whatever previews, only to give up after about 10 minutes because it all looked like crap?)

So, after being delighted by seeing Extraordinary Attorney Woo in 2022 (starring the extraordinarily talented Park Eun-bin), and when a friend had recommended that my wife and I check out the 2023 Korean romance TV series King the Land, we were ready to give the latter a try. The teaser looked interesting: “Amid a tense inheritance fight, a charming heir clashes with his hardworking employee who’s known for her irresistible smile – which he cannot stand.”

The show got off to a little bit of a slow start, but, as we were to find out later, this is the case with many Korean series, where the main characters and the premise are introduced slowly and deliberately in the first episodes, and then things build and go down many paths, often unexpected.

King the Land stars Lee Jun-ho as Gu Won, who is set to inherit The King Group, a conglomerate of the King Hotel where much of the story takes place, and Im Yoon-ah as Cheon Sa-rang, a hotel worker who is unstoppably cheerful until she encounters Gu Won under comically awkward circumstances. Let’s just say they don’t get off to a good start. Gu Won’s path to becoming head of The King Group is blocked at every turn by his ruthless older half-sister Gu Hwa-ran (Kim Seon-young), and complicated by Gu Won and Cheon Sa-Rang’s families.

About halfway into the first episode, we were hooked.


King the Land blends laugh-out-loud humor (often silly and bordering on slapstick), with drama, family conflict, friendship, and naturally, romance. The acting is superb. The relationship between Gu Won and Cheon Sa-Rang evolves slowly and improbably. The supporting cast are outstanding. (There was a controversy involving the portrayal of a briefly-appearing character, which I won't go into here.) There are too many fun characters to list, but I have to single out Noh Sang-sik (Ahn Se-ha) as Gu Won’s friend and assistant/sidekick (and there’s almost always a sidekick to the main character in these shows, often in a humorous role), Gu Il-hoon (Son Byong-ho), Gu Won’s father and larger-than-life chairman of King Group, and Han Mi-so (Nam Gi-ae) as Gu Won’s mother.

The music is pretty much inseparable from the acting and cinematography in setting the overall mood and feel of the shows; much more so, I think, than in American and British TV series. King the Land, like so many of the other Korean shows we’ve watched, has a charm and refreshing lightness about it, even when the situations and family drama get intense. We watch the shows with the dialog in Korean, with English subtitles. That way you get to hear and enjoy the full intention of the actors and the subtleties of their vocal inflections. (We don't speak Korean.) Here was literally a whole different world than the overworn cliches, overplayed acting and unfunny humor of most American TV. And it was a world of touching warmth and fun.

And a major part of the fun factor was the soundtrack. In not only King the Land but in other Korean original TV soundtracks (often abbreviated as OST), there’s a lot of singing, with an emphasis on sweet, airy, high-pitched vocals from both male and female singers. The songs lean towards the soaring ballads, though there’s a healthy helping of K-pop stylings, and the background music can range from somber synth pads to bouncy snippets like the mallet percussion of “Woo Young-woo, Backwards and Forwards,” the theme from Extraordinary Attorney Woo.” There’s also a noticeable prevalence of piano music. I don’t know if this is a thing in Korean TV soundtracks but it seems to be. Most of the music is contemporary-sounding, rather than utilizing traditional Korean musical instruments and styles.

The lyrics tend to be full of imagery and metaphor, reflecting hopeful longing, dreams, and love both unrequited and fulfilled. For example, in “Confess to You” from the King the Land soundtrack (warning: this song is an irresistible earworm), Lim Kim sings, “Like a star shining brightly/illuminating the dark night/your appearance dazzles me/smiling like a warm spring.” The sheer talent level of some of the singers is phenomenal. They have range, tone and emotional expression and can absolutely nail the high notes with thrilling confidence.

I gradually came to realize that the sound quality of some of the music is excellent. The orchestral scoring of “The Song for My Brother” from the Crash Landing on You soundtrack sounds simply gorgeous, with beautiful clarity, depth and instrumental detail. Ballads like Park Eun-bin’s “Someday” are warm and inviting. The dance-pop songs like GRASS’s “It’s Sunny Today” are lessons in state-of-the-art contemporary music production.


My wife and I have become completely enamored with Korean TV shows. Besides King the Land, we’ve watched Crash Landing on You, Crash Course in Romance, Business Proposal, Doctor Cha, Divorce Attorney Shin, Once Upon a Small Town, Forecasting Love and Weather, Castaway Diva, Welcome to Samdal-Ri, Romance is a Bonus Book (which, appropriately enough, is beautifully written), Thirty-Nine, Little Women, D.P., You Are My Spring, and Law School. The last five are darker than the others, but they’re still laced with plenty of very funny moments. Some of the characters are downright lovable. And one of the best things about Korean TV comedies is that there’s no laugh track. You won’t realize how wonderful this is and how irritating laugh tracks are until you watch a show without one.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll go with Crash Landing on You, about a rich South Korean woman (Son Ye-jin, with Hyun Bin playing romantic lead Ri Jeong-hyeok) who accidentally winds up in a very different militaristic world in North Korea. It’s an unstoppable combination of drama, heart, and humor. The most vocal-centric soundtrack is Castaway Diva, about a young talented singer who was stranded on an island for 15 years, played by the incredible Park Eun-bin. And not that it was bad per se, but we thought You Are My Spring left too many loose ends unresolved.


As a result of my months-long immersion in Korean TV, I’ve branched out into listening to the music when not watching the shows. I love the bright feel of the pop stuff, the sumptuous sonic envelopment of the orchestral scoring, and the literal sound of the sweetness of the singing, though some of the high-pitched vocalizing may not be for everyone. In addition to the original soundtrack music, I’ve been listening to K-pop hits, K-pop classics, and other Korean music, from BTS to ballad singers.

Consider my previous musical rut demolished. I’m more enthusiastic about music now than I have been in a long time.

I don’t need to do a musicological thesis on it to figure out why.

This music makes me happy.


20 favorite Korean TV soundtrack songs

“Confess to You” – Lim Kim (King the Land)
“Get to You” – Jung Seung Hwan (King the Land)
“Dream Us” – Park Eun-bin (Castaway Diva)
“Yellow Light” – Gaho (King the Land)
“The Song for My Brother” – Nam Hye Seung, Park Sang Hee (Crash Landing on You)
“It’s Sunny Today” – GRASS (Crash Course in Romance)
“Woo Young-woo, the Same Backwards and Forwards” – Roh Young Sim (Extraordinary Attorney Woo)
“Fly Away” – Park Eun-bin (Castaway Diva)
“Thirty-Nine Opening Title Version” – 서른, 아홉 (Thirty-Nine)
“A Peony Orchestra Version” – 작약 (Thirty-Nine)
“The Witches” – ULUV (Castaway Diva)
“Everyday With You” – KyoungSeo (King the Land)
“Someday” – Park Eun-bin (Castaway Diva)
“Missing You” – Hong Dae Kwang (Once Upon a Small Town)
“Better Than Birthday” – O3ohn (Extraordinary Attorney Woo)
“Love Hurts a Little More” – Kim Na Young (Forecasting Love and Weather)
“Rich Life” – Yoo Hee Hyun, Park Se Joon (Little Women)
“A Butterfly Flew Away” – Kim Min Seok (You Are my Spring)
“Love Time” – Lily (Castaway Diva)
“A Day for Me” – Shinae An (Doctor Cha)



Header image: Park Eun-bin as Seo Mok-ha of Castaway Diva. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/티비텐.

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