Ideally, solo debuts will speak volumes about a performer in a way that they are unable to in a group setting. The ability to differentiate one’s self as a solo artist is what separates the average solo work (think of Hyosung’s various solo comebacks) from the great (think of almost everything Hyuna has done outside of 4Minute). Thankfully, Taeyeon’s solo debut “I” falls into the latter camp. While it may not be bold or particularly groundbreaking, “I” showcases a studious maturity that is timelessly gorgeous in sound and style.
The most revealing thing about “I” is that it doesn’t sound like an SNSD song at all. Featuring what can best be described as “inspirational church guitar licks” and rollicking drum rolls, “I” is essentially a straight-forward mid-tempo single that could comfortably fit in the adult contemporary genre. The steadiness may fly in the face of current K-Pop trends but the restraint works in the song’s favor as the singular focus of the track makes it so that the listener is able to focus on the element of a solo debut that should truly matter – the soloist’s voice.
The anthem-like production needs a performer that can match the fullness and warmth of the instrumentals and SNSD’s leader absolutely slays the track. Whereas her delivery in SNSD songs is always clean (and too polished at times), Taeyeon’s work on the hooks and choruses in “I” are transcendent as her booming voice seems to fill in the stunningly beautiful landscapes that the music video proudly displays (more on that below). Most K-Pop songs would have inserted Verbal Jint’s rap verse (which, while fine, sound unnecessary here) into the bridge but “I” makes the decision to build up to the final chorus with an anticipatory instrumental beat and then it deploys Taeyeon to absolutely murder the song’s conclusion with some tremendous vocals that still manage to maintain some wonderful textures and tremors in Taeyeon’s voice. Like a seasoned athlete who knows when they need to go at full speed and when to conserve power, “I” masterfully knows how and when to use Taeyeon.
As beautiful as Taeyeon’s voice is on “I,” the video looks even better. Of course, having New Zealand scenery at one’s disposal certainly doesn’t hurt and the video makes incredible use of its location shots to showcase vast beaches, countrysides and beautifully-lit towns. The warm, sunny lighting and patient long-shot camera angles lend “I” a serenity that is rarely seen in the genre’s love of frenetic cuts and spastic strobes. And while Taeyeon mostly complements the breathtaking location shots by looking equally blissful in a Banana Republic Fall catalog, she is still able to steal the show with a quick give-no-fucks glance that gives the video a much needed rebellious edge that keeps it from falling squarely into the music video equivalent of an Anthropologie store.
“I” is somewhat remarkable because its sensibilities stray from the typical R&B, hip-pop and ballad routes that most solo debuts tend to angle for. However, the project works thanks to Taeyeon’s ability to lift the medium-tempo track to emotionally resonating peaks and the video’s understanding that it doesn’t have to do much more than film some gorgeous landscapes and frame that around its stupidly pretty star. It is inevitable that SNSD will eventually split up and do their own things at some point but if “I” is any indication of what’s in store for Taeyeon as a solo artist, there is very little to be worried about.