Kim Tae-yeon (born March 9, 1989), more commonly known mononymously as Taeyeon, is a South Korean singer. She had been a trainee at SM Entertainment’s Starlight Academy during her middle school years before debuting as a member of the agency’s girl group Girls’ Generation in 2007. Since then, she has risen to prominence due to the group’s success on the Asian music scene and further participated in the agency’s projects Girls’ Generation-TTS, SM the Ballad, and Girls’ Generation-Oh!GG. Aside from group activities, she has also recorded songs for various television dramas and movies.
Taeyeon began a solo career in 2015 with her first extended play album, I. It peaked at number two on South Korea’s Gaon Album Chart and its title track sold over two million digital copies. Her second extended play, Why (2016), charted at number one and yielded two Gaon Digital Chart top-ten singles “Starlight” and “Why”. Her debut studio album My Voice (2017) and its two singles “Fine” and “Make Me Love You” achieved similar success.
As a solo artist, Taeyeon has received several awards, including five Golden Disc Awards, two Mnet Asian Music Awards, two Seoul Music Awards, two Seoul International Drama Awards, one Mnet 20’s Choice Award, one Melon Music Award, one Cyworld Digital Music Award, and two Gaon Chart Music Award.
Taeyeon was born on March 9, 1989, in Jeonju, South Korea. Her family consists of her parents, an older brother, and a younger sister. Having believed that she was “only talented” at singing, Taeyeon harbored the dream of becoming a singer at a young age. During her second year in middle school, Taeyeon accompanied her father to SM Academy (a former music institution and auxiliary affiliation of SM Entertainment), to pursue vocal lessons. Although her father at the time did not encourage Taeyeon to become an entertainer, he was persuaded by the school’s president to give his daughter a chance after she recognized Taeyeon’s “clean” voice. During the next year, Taeyeon accompanied her father from their hometown to Seoul on every Sunday to receive her vocal lessons from The One. She named BoA, Whitney Houston and Utada Hikaru as her pre-debut inspirations.
Taeyeon was trained by her former vocal instructor, known professionally as The One, for three years. In a 2011 interview, he described Taeyeon as a “smart” student, someone “unlike others who came to him with dreams of becoming a celebrity… wanted to be a singer and reach the top with her own talents.” In 2004, he “wanted to acknowledge Taeyeon’s potential” by giving her the chance to be in his song “You Bring Me Joy”. That same year, she won first place at the SM Youth Best Competition and officially received a contract from SM Entertainment. The training process was so tough that it nearly made her quit at one point; she continued, however, and debuted as a member of girl group Girls’ Generation in August 2007. The group gained significant popularity after the release of their hit single “Gee” in 2009. Taeyeon graduated from Jeonju Art High School and was awarded the school’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Apart from Girls’ Generation’s activities, Taeyeon also appeared in several solo appearances. She first contributed her vocals to “7989” (featuring Kangta), a track taken from both Girls’ Generation’s eponymous debut album (2007) and Kangta’s fourth studio album, Eternity (2008). Thereafter, Taeyeon started gaining popularity through her various television soundtracks, having recorded “If” for the KBS2 drama Hong Gil Dong (2008) and “Can You Hear Me” for MBC’s drama Beethoven Virus (2009). Between the two songs, the former was perceived to have become more popular than its respective drama, while the latter won a Popularity Award at the 2008 Golden Disk Awards. Both tracks remain as some of Taeyeon’s most well-known hits to date. During this period, she also recorded “It’s Love”, a duet with Girls’ Generation member Sunny, for the MBC drama Heading to the Ground (2009).
Following a radio hosting job in 2009–10, Taeyeon briefly dabbled with an acting career by making a theatrical debut. She was cast in a lead role in the musical Midnight Sun (2010), an adaptation of the Japanese novel of the same name (2006). Having learned the guitar for her character portrayal, she played the part of Kaoru Amane, a teenager who suffered from xeroderma pigmentosum. Her performance in the sold-out shows received good press despite the musical’s critical reviews. Jang Gyeong-jin of 10Asia praised Taeyeon’s “distinct vocals” and commented that her acting stood out among idol stars who had ventured into musical fields, while Kim Ji-yeong from The Dong-a Ilbo felt “Taeyeon’s optimistic and charming personality made her the perfect match” for the role. Despite the favorable response, Taeyeon later described musicals as difficult, citing that her weak concentration made it hard for her to act and sing at the same time.
The same year, Taeyeon worked with Korean songwriter-composer Ahn Young-min on her musical projects. She recorded “Like A Star” (featuring The One), having the song peaked at number one on Gaon Digital Chart after its release. Her next single, “I Love You”, for the SBS drama Athena: Goddess of War soundtrack, reached number two on the same chart. Ahn recalled his impression of the latter song: “I was surprised at how well Taeyeon could sing. This is a rather mature song, so I would be lying if I said I didn’t have my doubts, but she blew me away. I was moved to tears listening to her singing.” In 2011, Taeyeon lent her voice to Kim Bum-soo’s “Different”, a single featured in his seventh album Solista: Part 2. The song debuted at number two on Gaon Digital Chart. Taeyeon and Kim Bum-soo met again at his concert two years later for a live cover version of the latter’s 2008 song “Man and Woman”.
Following Taeyeon’s working relationship with him from the drama Beethoven Virus (2008), musical director Lee Pil-ho was determined to collaborate with her again on his MBC’s melodrama The King 2 Hearts (2012) soundtrack, by having her record the main theme song “Missing You Like Crazy”. It was released in March 2012 and debuted at number two on both Gaon Digital Chart and K-pop Hot 100. Taeyeon’s vocal received positive feedback from the song’s composer Park Hae-woon: “She fully understood the song in its entirety and expressed each detail very precisely…even though this song requires the lowest note that a female singer can produce, Taeyeon executed them perfectly.” The song was named the most popular soundtrack at 2012 Seoul Drama Awards. Later in the year, she contributed her vocals to the song “Closer”, for the SBS drama To the Beautiful You, which managed to reach number seven on both Gaon Digital Chart and K-pop Hot 100.
In April 2012, a Girls’ Generation subgroup named TTS was formed with Taeyeon and fellow members Tiffany and Seohyun. Their debut EP, Twinkle, met with much success and became South Korea’s eighth- highest selling album of the year. The subgroup went on to release two more EPs: Holler (2014) and Dear Santa (2015). In January 2013, Taeyeon and Tiffany sang a duet, “Lost in Love”, which was featured in Girls’ Generation’s fourth Korean album, I Got a Boy. Two months later, she recorded “And One”, written and composed by Kangta, for the SBS drama That Winter, The Wind Blows. It debuted atop the Billboard’s K-pop Hot 100 and reached number two on Gaon Digital Chart. In July 2013, Taeyeon was invited to record the theme song “Bye” for the movie Mr. Go soundtrack, after its musical director was left with a “deep impression” having heard her cover version of a song during a radio appearance.
In February 2014, Taeyeon joined the roster of SM the Ballad, a ballad group initially formed by SM Entertainment in 2010, contributing her vocals to their 2nd album Breath. Her lead single of the same name (a duet with Shinee’s Jonghyun) peaked at number three and six on South Korea’s Gaon Digital Chart and K-pop Hot 100 Chart, respectively. She also recorded a solo song, “Set Me Free”, for the album. Her other 2014 releases included “Colorful” for JTBC’s campaign “The World Is More Beautiful Because We’re Different” and “Love, That One Word” for the SBS’s drama You’re All Surrounded; the latter entered Top 10 on both Gaon Digital Chart and K-Pop Hot 100. In February 2015, Taeyeon accepted a personal request from f(x)’s Amber to feature in “Shake that Brass”, the lead single taken from her debut album, Beautiful.
Taeyeon began working on a solo album in late 2014, believing her “right time” had come. She previously was afraid of not being ready for a solo debut, but her eight-year career proved to help her gain the experience to be “well-prepared”. The final product, an extended play titled I, was released in October 2015. The EP peaked at number two on South Korea’s Gaon Album Chart. It became the sixteenth best-selling album of 2015 in South Korea, with sales of 119,576 copies. It additionally peaked atop the US Billboard World Albums. The commercial success of I, according to Yonhap News Agency, was the main contributor to SM Entertainment’s leading music sales during the fourth quarter of 2015. The lead single, which features rapper Verbal Jint, peaked at number one on Gaon Digital Chart and has sold over one million digital units. To accompany her solo release, she held a series of small concerts titled Taeyeon’s Very Special Day. Her concurrent reality show, OnStyle’s Daily Taeng9Cam, was the third most popular idol program of 2015 in South Korea. Taeyeon was also named Best Female Artist at the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards, and at the 2016 Golden Disk Awards.
Taeyeon next contributed her vocals to Yim Jae-beom’s “Scars Deeper than Love”, Verbal Jint’s “If The World Was a Perfect Place” (2015) and Crush’s “Don’t Forget” (2016). In February 2016, SM Entertainment launched a digital music platform called SM Station, having Taeyeon’s single “Rain” being its first release. The song peaked at number one on Gaon Digital Chart and sold more than 1 million digital copies. It remained to be the most commercially successful song of SM Station to-date. A few months later, Taeyeon and Super Junior’s Kyuhyun was featured in a commercial for the bottled water brand Jeju Samdasoo, for which she recorded a song “The Blue Night of Jeju Island”. She also became a spokesperson for Sword and Magic, a game developed by the company Longtu Korea, for which she recorded a rendition of BoA’s 2003 song “Atlantis Princess”. Her celebrity endorsements witnessed an increase in sales figures for both brands.
After her record label’s musical focus started steering towards EDM, her follow-up EP titled Why (2016) also saw that incorporated into its track list. The album met with complimentary reviews, with Jeff Benjamin from Fuse praising Taeyeon’s “powerful vocals” in it. It debuted at number one and two on South Korea’s Gaon Album Chart and Billboard’s US World Album Chart, respectively. The lead single peaked at number seven while her other single “Starlight” (featuring Dean) was at number five on the Gaon Digital Chart. With her accompanying concert series, Butterfly Kiss, she became the first Korean female solo artist to hold a full-scale concert while still being an active girl group member. It was deemed by the media as a success, setting a precedent in a Korean market which stigmatized concerts held by a single girl group members on the basis that they could not be profitable. The concert saw her perform a self-composed unreleased song, “Pray”, for the first time.
After having recorded “All With You” for SBS’ television drama Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, her next single, “11:11”, was released in November 2016. It peaked at number two on the Gaon Digital Chart and was chosen by Billboard as the seventh best K-pop song of the year. Self-describing the track as an “easy-listening song reminisce and remember the autumn”, she later revealed an acoustic version of it on video-sharing website YouTube. For her 2016 work, she was honored by The Dong-a Ilbo as “Voice of the Year”, “Singer of the Year” and “Most Hardworking”. She also won “Best Female Artist” at the 2016 Mnet Asian Music Awards.
Taeyeon’s first studio album, My Voice, having been in the production process for over a year, was released in February 2017 and spawned a single titled “Fine”. Both the album and the song were well-received, topping both the Gaon Album Chart and Gaon Digital Chart, respectively. On April 5, 2017, a deluxe edition of the album was released, accompanied by the single “Make Me Love You”. The song reached number four on the Gaon Digital Chart. In May 2017, Taeyeon embarked on her first Asia tour “Persona”.
In December 2017, Taeyeon released her third EP This Christmas: Winter Is Coming. The album debuted at number two on the Gaon Album Chart, and at number six on the Billboard World Albums Chart. Hong Dam-young from The Korea Herald highlighted Taeyeon’s “calm and undeniable vocal prowess” in the album while praising it as “the most sophisticated Christmas tunes” of the year. Its single, “This Christmas,” debuted at number two on the Gaon Digital Chart. To promote the album, Taeyeon held a three-day Christmas concert titled “The Magic of Christmas Time”.
In June 2018, Taeyeon released her fourth EP, Something New. The EP peaked at number three on the Gaon Album Chart, and at number four on the Billboard World Albums Chart. That same month Taeyeon embarked on a Japan Showcase Tour, exclusively available to members of SM Entertainment’s official Japanese fan club. The tour visited four Japanese cities, including Fukuoka, Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka. Following the success of her sold out showcase tour, Taeyeon released her first Japanese single album, Stay, on June 30, 2018. The album contains two original Japanese songs “Stay” and “I’m The Greatest”. In October 2018, Taeyeon embarked on her second Asia tour. On October 12, it was announced that the tour would head to Hong Kong’s AsiaWorld Expo Arena, making her the first-ever South Korean female solo artist to hold a solo concert at the venue.
In August 2018, Girls’ Generation’s second sub-group, Oh!GG, was announced consisting of Taeyeon and four other members who remained signed under SM Entertainment; the group released their first single, “Lil’ Touch” in September.
In the early years, Taeyeon’s music was predominantly ballads recorded for television soundtracks. With the popularity of songs including “If” (2008) and “Can You Hear Me” (2009), she was referred to as the “representative singer of popular OSTs”. Since debuting as a solo artist, Taeyeon’s musical styles have varied. Her 2015 debut single “I” departs for a pop rock sound. In 2016, the single “Rain” incorporates elements of jazz and R&B, while “Why” utilizes various elements including EDM, R&B and tropical house beats.
Taeyeon has been widely regarded as a “talented vocalist” for her soulful vocals. Her singing abilities have been subject to attention from several major South Korean producers; Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment expressed in 2009 on MBC’s Yoo Jae-suk & Kim Won-hee’s Come to Play his wish to work with Taeyeon for her “ability to tell a story through singing.” Korean composer Yoo Young-seok correlated Taeyeon’s singing to “a woman who has been divorced seven times.” Taeyeon was selected as the best K-pop vocalist by 40 anonymous music industry officials in October 2015, and was named the best female vocalist in their twenties by twelve Korean music companies in April 2016.
As the leader of popular K-pop girl group Girls’ Generation and a successful solo artist, Taeyeon has been recognized as a prominent South Korean figure. Janelle Okwodu from Vogue described Taeyeon as “the Beyoncé of [Girls’ Generation]” whose fashion styles are “constantly on the go.” Gallup Korea ranked her the most popular K-pop idol of 2016, and Forbes Korea named her as the 11th singer and 32nd celebrity on their Top 40 Power Celebrities of 2016. She became the first K-pop female celebrity to reach seven million followers on Instagram in June 2016, and as of June 2017, remained the most followed.
Taeyeon has been cited as an inspiration for numerous K-pop artists. Boy band BTS deemed her as the inspiration for their single “Boy In Luv” (2014). She has also been named as an influence by Lovelyz’s Jiae, Melody Day’s Chahee, Cosmic Girls’ Luda, CLC’s Elkie, Sonamoo’s High.D. and Baek A-yeon. Vibe’s Yoon Min-soo described Taeyeon’s musical styles as his purposed subgenre of Korean R&B “K-Soul”: “I can feel that sort of emotions from the ballads Taeyeon sings. If you can feel a deep soul from a singer, that’s ‘K-Soul’.”
Since debuting as a member of Girls’ Generation, Taeyeon has received numerous nominations and awards for her solo activities in original soundtracks, radio show hosting and musical theatre dating back to 2008. She has won two Best Female Artist at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, as well as Bonsang awards at the 25th Seoul Music Awards and the 30th Golden Disc Awards.