About a week ago, I listened to Taeyang’s 2009 hit “Wedding Dress” for the first time in many, many years. I couldn’t get through it during my first listen because I felt like I was going backwards in space and time to the twelve-year-old me who bought the song on iTunes, listened to it on repeat, and, like every other Korean person my age, learned the intro on the piano. After a couple more tries, I realized that “Wedding Dress” is as addictive now as it was before, with Taeyang’s musical and fashion style almost overtly inspired by the Ne-Yo of the early-to-late 2000s, including the tilted fedora covering half his face. And like Ne-Yo, Taeyang is the guy who is always getting broken up with, and his songs are about him perpetually dealing with the aftermath.
In “Wedding Dress,” Taeyang falls in love with a girl who falls in love with another guy, and she ultimately gets married to this other guy. The entire song revolves around Taeyang making a last-ditch effort in trying to convince the girl not to marry the guy she wants to marry with some classic guilt trips like
“Baby, please don’t take his hand
‘Cause you should be my lady
I’ve been waiting for you for so long please look at me now.”
“Losing” a loved one to another person, or being friend-zoned, is a theme that will seemingly never die because it’s amazing creative material. After all, the success of Korean dramas relies on not only a fantastic main love interest but also an equally lovable secondary love interest, a Taeyang of sorts who was there for the main character the entire time but just wasn’t the right one. And in a truly “nice guys finish last” kind of way, we feel bad for the second-string guy, because he’s crying, and now I’m crying.
In 2014, Taeyang returned with “Eyes, Nose, Lips,” a thematic reboot of “Wedding Dress” in which he remembers a break-up with an ex-lover. Except instead of letting things go and being kind of sad about it like a lovable 2005 Ne-Yo who just wants to change his answering machine, Taeyang has evolved into a person with about the same level of respect for female agency as a “T R A P S O U L” Bryson Tiller.
A shirtless Taeyang opens the song by telling the girl not to be sorry—not because it’s her right to love whoever she wants, but because it makes him look pitiful. Taeyang then tells her to just kill him already and leave. Despite this flair for the dramatic, he assures her that he’s all right, and then talks about how him not being able to let her go ultimately imprisoned her. After this rather acute observation, a still shirtless Taeyang continues to mourn not being able to forget her, and a massive poster of Min Hyo Rin, Taeyang’s current girlfriend, bursts into flames behind him.
We are familiar with the Taeyang who is eternally the second-string love interest, but in “Eyes, Nose, Lips” he is vengeful and unbearably self-pitying under the saccharine veneer of the chorus in which he loves every part of his ex-lover’s face. The nice-guy dramatics of “Wedding Dress” felt dramatic enough to pass off as a problematic-fave Korean drama plot line, but the strange earnestness of “Eyes, Nose, Lips” felt too close to the pseudo-apologetic antics of someone like Justin Bieber and the incessant drunken texts you receive from an ex.
Three weeks ago, Taeyang released “Darling,” the third song in what is so far what I call Taeyang’s sad boy trilogy. It appears that this relationship ended after a fight in which both parties said some words that they regret, and Taeyang acknowledges that the relationship is over—he did the best that he could. But as of right now, despite the world telling Taeyang that “nothing lasts forever,” it seems as if it’s only her that can make him happy. While Taeyang never explicitly says goodbye to any of his songs’ ex-lovers, as that would be incredibly off-brand, in “Darling” he gets closer to it than ever before.
With a hip hop ballad-ready voice that sometimes feels out of place in Big Bang’s electronic experiments, Taeyang has long held the throne in the jilted-lover music market. But the recognition in “Darling” of the existence of a mutually respected end displays perhaps the final episodes of Taeyang’s eight-year sad boy plot arc. Although a change of pace has been long overdue in Taeyang’s solo work, the success of songs like “Wedding Dress” is admittedly untouchable, and it’s hard to imagine what else Taeyang could sing about if he does end up saying goodbye.