ANN/THE KOREA HERALD – After a 14-year break of devoting herself to her family, Byul (KOREA HERALD pic, below) has returned with her sixth full-length album.
Byul last Wednesday unveiled her sixth full-length album, Startrail, the first album under her name since she tied the knot with comedian and singer Haha in 2012 and since her fifth LP Like A Star – Primary dropped in 2009.
Standing before local press for a joint interview a week ahead of the album release, Byul expressed that she had been desperate to realise this comeback. Releasing a full-length album is not easy even for singers who make regular releases, let alone returning after over a decade. But Byul said she had so much to say through her music.
“It had to be full length for me. As much as I’ve been away, I had so much to say and show through my music. It seemed impossible to share all if not through a full package,” Byul said.
After winning on National Singing Contest, Byul, whose real name is Kim Go-eun, debuted in 2002 with her hit album December 32 and quickly made her name as a ballad musician.
Despite her breakout success, however, her popularity did not last long and diminished quickly following her marriage in 2012. In that time, she has given birth to three children, the last in 2019.
Having avoided the spotlight for over a decade, it was not an easy choice to return, she said.
“Giving birth and raising kids were hard enough for me. And doing something else, making music on top of that, seemed impossible. Although I know I was a singer myself and I’d been on the stage, it all felt like a far-fetched dream, like when I used to watch TV as a kid and dreamed of becoming a singer,” she said.
Despite any misgivings, Byul mustered the courage. She did not want to disappoint her fans who had waited for her indefinitely, and that’s why she came back with a full-length album.
The meaning of the album’s title Startrail is straightforward in that it maps out the path of the star, which is byul in Korean. According to the singer, it carries the 20-year trail she has walked since her debut and sets forth the road she now looks ahead to.
“Looking back, I realised I’d sang song after song during my 20s. I’d never thought of any other job since I was a child. Singing was what I did best and I thought it was my fate to go on the stage,” she said.
She began her professional career early, winning a national contest and debuting straight away at the age of 20 with a song produced by the nation’s top producer, JY Park, CEO of K-pop powerhouse JYP Entertainment.
She went on to release hit singles Greeting, a duet with Na Yoon-kwon, Tear Glands, No More Us and You Are the Best, as well as chart-topping original songs for drama soundtracks like I think I for Full House (2004), Fly Again for Two Outs in the Ninth Inning (2007) and Words Engraved in My Heart for My Husband Got a Family (2014).
Since November 2012, she has stayed connected with fans via single releases, dropping seven songs until November 2018, when she released Distance, the last song under her name before her comeback on Startrail last Wednesday.
Just as Byul embarked on her singing career, her father fell ill after a medical accident in 2002. He endured a long battle until he passed away in 2012, just a month before his daughter’s marriage.
“As an entertainer, I had to stand in front of the public and enthrall them. At a young age, trying to make others happy while I was suffering inside felt overwhelming,” she said.
There even came a period when she did not feel up to doing music at all. Singing itself disappointed her. Her job required more than vocalising songs that she liked and going on flashy stages.
But straying from the hustle and bustle of entertainment for a long time, Byul said the value of even such unwanted opportunities hit her differently. The few moments when she could go on the stage could not have felt more precious, she said.
“Although there might be songs on my trail that I didn’t like at the time, it’s thanks to those songs as well that I could be standing here again. I’m amazed even now that people are paying attention to my new album,” she said. “I’m just grateful.”
Startrail is a 10-track collection of songs that tell different stories about the singer.
According to Byul, the album itself is like her favourite playlist of songs she has cherry-picked.
Leading the album are Afternoon and You’re. Young-jun of ballad group Brown Eyed Soul and composer Jeon Hong-joon jointly composed and penned the lyrics of main track Afternoon, which draws on feelings of missing a past love even after time has passed by.
The album also includes two self-written songs by Byul, but the singer explained she felt it was more important to front the album with a song that could meet the public’s anticipations for her as a ballad singer.
“I’m returning after a long while and with an album celebrating my 20th anniversary. So I hoped the lead song could make it sink into the public and the fans that I’ve really come back,” she said.
“The songs I wrote are my own stories. It’s not about love or breakups, but just stories consoling my bygone days and past memories. I know that ballads are not all about love and breakups, but I assumed a song like Afternoon would click with people’s ideas of my song,” she elaborated.
Byul’s self-written songs on Startrail are Such A Night and Dear Younger Me.
She said Such A Night shows a new style of music from her. An easy-listening song that she’d wanted to include on this album, this tune popped into her mind on a sleepless night.
“I was lying on the bed at night, and the melody and the lyrics just came up. I recorded it on the spot with my phone and took it to the producers the next day,” she said. “I couldn’t express everything through a ballad so I just tried what I wanted to. There’s many other songs with new styles on the album.”
With Dear Younger Me, the 40-year-old comforts her younger self back in her 20s when she had to endure hard times alone.
Byul also included a cover of Haha’s Don’t Know.
Haha debuted in 1997 as a singer with his first album Ha Dong Hoon and has several hits under his belt, including A Story of a Short Kid and You Are My Destiny. Don’t Know is from Haha’s second EP, Gap, released in 2021.
“I just liked it. I’d wanted to take it but Haha would not give up on it, so I covered the song,” she said. “I looked through at least 500-600 tunes when I produced this album.
“The song collection itself took a year and half, but still I couldn’t find one like Don’t Know.
But it’s a completely different song when you hear it.”
Byul hoped her album could make up for her decade-long hiatus. She said she could not celebrate her 20th anniversary last year due to the long break and thus filled this album with songs that could explain those times to listeners.