Territory: South Korea
Previous Best of Entries: 2012: [#44] "Stand Up"
Other notable song(s) from 2014: "Shine", "Finally"
J-Min is one of those acts who I think SM can really use to break into other parts of the market -- there's a shortage of strong, pop-rock female soloists (the only major one I can name off the top of my head is Younha), and I feel like SM's resources can and should push for J-Min to see success. But, well, we all know how SM's treating J-Min -- her first appearance on my year-end countdowns was in 2012 with a (really great) OST, and she only released her first Korean EP this year.
"Shine" is a solid effort though, I just wish there were more "Secret Letter"-types on the EP.
"Secret Letter" is that balance between "musical" and commercial that I really wish SM struck more consistently with all its acts. In standard SM fashion it's polished -- strong production, arrangement, execution -- but it also has depth to it as a song and as a composition. The treatment of the instruments is aesthetically cohesive and dynamically complex. You won't run out of layers to listen to -- from the tongue-in-cheek piano line to the matching mischievous string section, further substantiated by the raw treatment of the drums.
And yet the melody is reachable -- singable, and pop enough for SM. It echoes the mischief in the instrumental while J-Min's vocals bring a feminine grace to imposing quality of the other elements. It's a juxtaposition that works well not only because of the contrast, but because the strengths of J-Min's vocals are highlighted while the relative flimsy quality (when compared to other soloists) is downplayed by the arrangement. "Secret Letter" is the perfect example of style working hand-in-hand with substance -- and it's a win-win situation.