Itaewon Class’ Sweet Night: Reading into Kim Taehyung’s Songwriting (Analysis)

V, a.k.a. Kim Taehyung’s Sweet Night: a folksy-indie pop OST written in English, with the loveliest use of language mechanisms and touches of vulnerability. The title of the song itself sets the context, and what makes this night so particularly sweet?

Soundtracks are tailored to stories. Music to match the visuals — the song to match a show, a drama. From one soundtrack lover to another, Taehyung knows this too for certain.

As he composed and wrote Sweet Night, Taehyung even lends his vocals to participate in Sweet Night’s narrative for the webtoon-based Korean drama, Itaewon Class.

On my pillow
Can’t get me tired
Sharing my fragile truth
That I still hope the door is open

In the first line, we find out that the protagonist is resting as Taehyung starts singing with “on my pillow”, sharing their “fragile truth” to someone, or even possibly just thinking out loud. The use of the word “fragile” adds a strong sense of delicacy.

Taehyung’s musical decisions must also be pointed out. How he uses a breathy, whispery resonance on his lower range to create that sweet and dark timbre gives a sense of calm, determination but also vulnerability. This truth is something breakable, something they’ve taken care of in handling, and tonight they are determined in sharing it (“can’t get me tired”).

’Cause the window
Opened one time with you and me
Now my forever’s falling down
Wondering if you’d want me now

In shaping the idea of wanting a shot at a relationship they had never entertained the possibility of before, Taehyung merges two common English sayings — “a window of opportunity” and “when one door closes, another opens” except where before, there was a smaller chance (“window”), now the person is hopefully ambitious, wanting an entire door to open instead.

It is also along this line where Matilda Mann starts to harmonise with Taehyung’s. Their voices together are more complementary than contrasting, and the harmonisation in the song fits the evening mise-en-scène for Park Sae-royi and his romantic perspective with Jo Yi-seo — as seen in the drama.

However, Sweet Night is much bigger than this in the grand scheme of things. We find out that it’s a confession, whether love, platonic, or as some have posited, about the estranged relationship between Sae-royi and his dad. As listeners, we’re now invested.

How could I know?
One day I’d wake up feeling more
But I had already reached the shore
Guess we were ships in the night
Night, night
We were ships in the night, night, night

What a huge, nerve-wracking situation — especially when there was a chance they missed before. How could the protagonist have known before they would have developed feelings for the other after meeting and parting, and reaching their destination earlier?

Like ships in the night is a metaphor:

“Here, the passing ships tell the readers about the people who see each other for the first time, and only for a short duration, before parting ways, disappearing into the vastness of the earth.”

Note Taehyung’s use of past tense — “we were ships in the night”, meaning the person has changed their view of the situation. Meeting briefly and parting was what they had thought was all there was, but now they’ve realised differently.

The repetition of “night”, other than referencing the name of Sae-royi’s pub is also important in reinforcing the listener’s imagining of this confession in the cocoon of darkness. Sweet Night is a gentle song, but there is still a buildup of emotions as we go further into the confession.

On his falsetto, Taehyung also softly hums; as this song is meant for and speaks for Sae-royi, this part subtly sets the hopefulness in against the song’s melancholic tone and its instruments.

I’m wondering
Are you my best friend
Feel’s like a river’s rushing through my mind
I wanna ask you
If this is all just in my head?
My heart is pounding tonight
I wonder…

The doubling and layering of Taehyung’s vocals as they harmonise with one another in the second verse implies our protagonist’s overthinking: Taehyung compares this stream of consciousness to a river as he wrote and sang on faster tempo — “Feels like a river’s rushing through my mind”; but the phrasing slows down as he sings “I wanna ask you if this is all just in my head, my heart, it’s pounding tonight, I wonder”.

Taehyung is once again continuing the line of imagery associated with water — the aforementioned ships — and emphasising now that their brain is flooded, their heart is pounding as they look at the other in wonder, asking for permission to come closer.

This next stanza has now heightened the emotions of longing and yearning through elongated vowels and beautiful vocal runs, riffs that display Taehyung’s agility.

And though Taehyung uses mostly his lower range for the song, here he makes quick jumps and glides, falsettos when it’s needed to deliver the intensity of emotions. The falsetto is insanely good in conveying such climactic feelings.

If you
Are too good to be true
And would it be alright if I
Pulled you closer?

How could I know?
One day I’d wake up feeling more
But I had already reached the shore
Guess we were ships in the night
Night, night

The second chorus goes along the same way as the first, giving Sweet Night a lullaby-like nature, with the lines “how could I know” again emphasising the wistfulness and bitter sweetness of regret of not having foreseen this situation of kindled feelings. However, the instruments are more on foreground now as the dark and bright violins find their middle ground through Taehyung’s vocals. There’s the increased intensity of these said feelings.

By the end, we hear Taehyung whistling which follows the melody of the vocables from the chorus, and some humming sounds in between. There’s unusual harmony between the whistling and the violin. in which both rings and tones suggest our protagonist’s contrasting feelings: his hopefulness, and sadness.

We were ships in the night
Night, night

At this point, we have to step back and realise what a feat this was for Taehyung to write. If you’ve learned a language before, you’d know how much studying and work it takes to get to as advanced a level where you can mould the language as you like to write songs with metaphors and wordplay. Taehyung’s only gonna get better from now on with his steadfast work ethic.

Now is also a good time to say that Sweet Night and Sweet Night Instrumental are like two entirely different works.

The instrumental is a build-up of feelings through the acoustic guitars and violins. The resonance of strings and their timbre has given an understated layer of meaning and depth to this song Taehyung made. Meanwhile, the piece with Taehyung’s vocals stabilises the listener in its already innate and pervading melancholy. Taehyunh’s vocals ground you to that feeling. And yet, both manage to manifest the very same images and themes of loss, love and hope.

Having said this, the differences between the two have made me recall of vocal teachers reiterate that the voice is a musical instrument itself. In a good majority of Taehyung’s works, it’s easily noticeable how Taehyung puts notable significance to the instruments he will use on his songs, and how they must harmonise and work together accordingly. He knows and is aware of all of this — as well as the fact that his voice being an instrument itself.

And it’s amazing how he uses his own voice to rewrite Sweet Night into another masterpiece when the instrumental is already a treasure on its own. And as a lover of soundtracks myself, it cannot be helped but trace his mindset and workflow for Sweet Night, to make the song stand on its own, with or without his vocals. He is a storyteller not only as a songwriter but also as a singer.

When I said he is a storyteller through sound, it means he is able to make people imagine and feel. We all know this by now. A singer should know himself, and I believe more than ever now he knows the places he will take his voice. Taehyung is not only a vocalist who just sings. He is an instrument to the music. Putting this “the voice is an instrument” now in context, this analysis alone will not do his vocals justice, but as we still learn to appreciate him as our artist, some things just need to be said.

It is from this perspective and with the consideration that has me awe-stricken about his musical maturity. I’m beyond moved with Taehyung’s passion and dedication as an artist. Taehyung’s musicality not only extends to his vocals but also to how he makes music. From Stigma, 4 O’Clock, Scenery, Inner Child, Winter Bear, to now Sweet Night, seeing him evolve as the artist and singer he wants to be is just very satisfying and pleasing, all the more that I’m proud of being his fan and will support him further in the future.

Speaking of the future, Taehyung’s about to also release his first mixtape anytime soon — judging by how this song continues to reach new heights and love across the globe — it’s daunting to imagine how KTH1 will fare next. A force to be reckoned with.

Footnote: “They” is used here as the pronoun to be as gender-neutral as possible. I don’t want to place gendered/heteronormative expectations on a song Taehyung wrote.

Watch the official Sweet Night MV here:

professional nerd; BTS & V; a fan not a critic

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