Ten of the Best Cover Versions by K-Pop Artists
When they are not busy making original music, K-pop acts often like to put a different spin on songs from a different era. Whether it’s old-school American/British pop, 90s RnB or Korean music from a time before K-pop even existed, you can bet one of your favorite artists has had a go at doing their own version of it.
So, especially for you, dear Soompiers, here is a near-perfect selection of ear candy remakes. Have a look through, listen to the playlist and tell us about your favorite remakes in the comments below.
Originally by Lee Seung Chul
This song has become an unofficial theme song for SM Entertainment’s flagship girl group, but it was actually originally a hit for a male solo singer. It sounded completely different when it was first performed, all the way back in the 1980s, as a bass-heavy rock track.
The girls have often used the track as an intro in concerts, but paid homage to Lee Seung Chul, the song’s original performer/producer/writer, in the form of this epic genre-crossing seven-plus-minute version:
Lee Seung Chul originally recorded the song after his first stint as the lead singer of rock outfit Boohwal, and remains as active as ever on the Korean music scene, earlier this summer recording a song for the soundtrack of KBS hit drama “Producer.”
Originally by Weather Cast
This was a performance one-off to my knowledge, but thanks to EXO fans, it is now part of YouTube folklore. The boys are not really known for their slower, mid-tempo tracks, but this tune makes you wonder what might happen if EXO ever decided to slow things down a little.
At any rate, it is a very interesting and surprising take on a pre-K-pop era RnB effort from now largely-forgotten vocal duo Weather Cast.
Eagle-eyed Soompiers will recognize ex-Loveholic member Kang Hyun Min in the video.
If you are reading, EXO, how about a stab at another Weather Cast song? I’m nominating this.
Originally by Blackstreet
OK, Spica. I am no big fan of yours, but your concert-favorite rich-vocal version of this 90s classic, originally by 90s American boyband Blackstreet, has to be heard to be believed.
But as a full-on acapella? Congrats, girls…
…you win the Internet.
Originally by Masaharu Fukuyama
2AM may be very accomplished balladeers, but many would consider Masaharu Fukuyama’s “The Greatest Love” to be one of the most moving down-tempo tracks to come out of anywhere in Asia in the last few years. Which makes the idea of 2AM attempting a cover version brave, if nothing else.
The original performer has a fairly bass-heavy and distinctive voice, and goes with a fairly minimal keyboard accompaniment, so the challenge for 2AM was to reinvent the track somewhat.
The boys and their producers decided to add a little more in the way of instrumentation, with some luscious string sounds in the first half of the song. In the second half, the music swells to great emotive effect, with even more instruments entering the fray.
The whole thing ended up sounding quite operatic, and the boys sensibly adjusted the vocals to fit with a key they are all more comfortable with performing in.
Originally by Cho Yong Pil
Now this is the only variety TV show song I am allowing onto this list, otherwise the place will be flooded with “Immortal Songs” and “King of Mask Singer” performers. But this one is worth making an exception for.
Even if you do not like pre-2000s Korean music, you will probably have a soft spot for a lot of Cho Yong Pil’s work. For most Koreans, he is considered the country’s finest living songwriter. His 1981 song “Red Dragonfly” was a turning point in Korean music. Nothing quite like it had ever been recorded.
Even if it does not exactly float your boat, you have to admit that it is a totally unique song. But then there is ALi’s version.
Just thinking about covering this song takes some guts. But trying to completely re-invent it? Most would shy away from that.
ALi turned this from an experimental prog-rock symphony into an explosion of raw, multi-layered soul. The arrangement is perfect, and the execution is peerless. Quite remarkably, it eclipses even the original.
I have heard this hundreds of times, but it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end every time.
Originally by Kate Bush
This has been a phenomenal year for SHINee. “Odd” is arguably the group’s best album to date, and “View” is the group’s most mature dance song yet. And in the album’s repackage lead song, “Married to the Music,” the boys have come up with one of the best boyband dance hits of the year so far.
So amid all this excitement, you could be forgiven forgetting that main vocalist Jonghyun made a pretty solid solo album this year – all the way back in January.
Towards the tail end of his “Base” promotions, Jonghyun found the time to drop by MBC Music’s “Picnic Live” show to perform possibly one of the most unexpected and ambitious cover versions in recent K-pop history.
“This Woman’s Work” was originally recorded, produced and written by Kate Bush and included on her landmark “The Sensual World” album in 1989 (essential non-K-pop listening, by the way).
It was then covered by American soul artist Maxwell in 1997 and, more famously, in 2001 for a live EP.
OK, you may say. What is so unusual about Jonghyun attempting this cover? Well, first of all, take a listen to the Kate Bush original.
Now take a listen to Maxwell’s “MTV Unplugged Live” version.
Both Kate Bush and Maxwell are not what most people would just call “good singers.” Kate Bush was the premium pop vocalist of the 1980s synthpop scene. Maxwell (arguably alongside D’Angelo) is the most outstanding male RnB vocalist of his generation.
But more than that, both Kate Bush and Maxwell have incredible vocal ranges. Both have no problem switching from deep bass tones to falsetto, something that most serious singers would not dream of attempting.
For a singer like Jonghyun, it must take a lot of conviction and self-belief to tackle a track like this. It involves putting your reputation on the line.
But for what it’s worth, I’d say SHINee’s lead vocalist made a fairly decent stab at singing a notoriously difficult track – and in a foreign language at that.
Two thumbs up to that man.
Originally by Linkin Park
Because when you think 90s American rap-rock, you think of former Nine Muses member Sera, right? Well, probably not.
But right before Sera withdrew from the girl group, she went through an almost feverish spate of YouTube cover versions of Korean and international pop songs. These ranged from a very melodic version of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” to Boney M’s “Sunny” and Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.”
But these were not just throwaway karaoke covers using downloaded backing tracks.
Sera provided her own backing vocals, played keyboard and guitar, and even self-produced her work using the Cubase DAW, the kind of advanced production software that only serious record producers bother with.
As she has gone on to show with her post-Nine Muses independent releases, Sera takes her music pretty seriously.
Still, a ukulele cover of “Numb”? Really? This song?
Sera, you are full of surprises. Let’s hope the independent music career takes off – Nine Muses fans cannot wait to see what else you have up your sleeve.
Originally by Ra.D
BTS has managed to build up something of a reputation for having a harder edge than many other K-pop boybands.
Well, if your name means “bulletproof boys,” a flak jacket is your act’s logo and you wear faux-police uniforms replete with shoulder holsters and night sticks on music shows…
…there should be no real surprise on that front.
But even the toughest of cookies can have a soft side. And Jin certainly showed he is no exception this year, uploading this sweet version of Ra.D’s “Mom” on Parents’ Day to the BTS Soundcloud account.
Ahhh, Jin. We never knew you had it in you. Mom is probably still beaming from the sentiment.
Originally by Sand Pebbles
Every K-pop trivia expert’s favorite fact is that T-ara’s Boram is the daughter of legendary Korean singer-songwriter Jeon Young Rok, who helped to shape the popular music landscape in the 1970s.
Those who are really in the know will remember that he also has another famous daughter in the shape of D-Unit member RAM.
With this rich musical heritage, it seemed only fitting that T-ara should one day attempt a 70s cover themselves. They did this in the shape of a cover of Sand Pebbles’ “What Should I Do?” – transforming the track from a mid-tempo guitar-led pop track into a gorgeous slice of synthesizer-infused disco-influenced K-pop.
Dad’s subtle influence can be felt throughout T-ara’s oeuvre. He even dropped in to make a cameo on the fantastic “Saturday Night Fever”-themed music video, though it must have been a blink-and-you-miss-it deal, because I cannot find him in either version. Here he is on the set with the girls, at any rate.
Boram clearly has a deep musical bond with her father.
She has performed alongside him several times, and their collaborations are well worth checking out.
Originally by Jung Hun Hee
Not content with just covering Jung Hun Hee’s late 1980s’ classic, the JJCC boys actually managed to enlist the help of the veteran singer herself for their take on the track.
Fitting a collaboration of this sort into a boy band version of this track takes some serious planning on the production side, but somehow this worked quite well.
Rather tastefully, they hand the first verse to Jung Hun Hee, which she sings in a style closer to the original. From this point, the track shifts into a more familiar boyband style, and even successfully incorporates several rap sections.
By the time you get to the end of JJCC’s version, you could be forgiven for forgetting altogether that it is actually a remake of a song that originally sounded like this:
Well, that’s it for our list, Soompiers, now it’s your turn! Tell us about some of your favorite K-pop cover versions in the comments below.
Here is the YouTube playlist for all the covers:
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electronica and a hankering for hip-hop. When he isn’t writing for Soompi, he is remixing your favorite K-Pop tracks – with sometimes astounding (but often catastrophic) results.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not represent Soompi as a whole.