“I can’t. I really can’t.”
“Alright, don’t stress up. Come out and have a listen.”
Taeyeon pulls off her headphones and steps away from the mic. She gets out of the recording room and stands behind the console. The recording engineer taps a key on the keyboard and rich music fills the room. Taeyeon closes her eyes and listens as her voice floats in the room, belting the tune with emotion, then, the awkwardness when she begins to rap. With a cringe, she turns to the producer.
“I’m really sorry, but I can’t. I’ve tried it so many times. I even got professional help. And it cost me.”
“Professional help?” the producer asks, eyebrow raised. “What did it cost you?”
Shit. Said too much. “I got advice from a rapper.”
“I see. Well, you have definitely tried your best. I suppose we can’t force this. The song is perfect but missing the rap part. We’ll have to get someone else to do it. But it won’t be easy to find someone on such short notice.”
“Actually, I’ve spoken to my company. They have no problem with me collaborating with an indie rapper.”
“I see. Does your company have somebody in mind?”
“I do. She’s my friend.”
The producer scratches his hair and nods. “Okay. We have the studio for two more days. Can she come tomorrow?”
“Yes, she’ll be here. Thanks a lot, Ben,” she replies with overflowing confidence. Truth be told, Taeyeon isn’t entirely sure but she’s determined to make it happen.
“Do you really need my help? I’d rather not if it isn’t absolutely necessary.”
“It is absolutely necessary.” For you to gain more exposure and get what you deserve.
“You know how I don’t like the restrictions.”
Taeyeon takes her friend’s hands and pulls them to her heart. “Do it for me?” she implores, searching for a spark of relent in her friend’s eyes.
“Only because it’s you,” her friend says with a sigh.
A gush of relief floods her mind and Taeyeon throws her arms around the relenting woman. “I love you, Fany. I love you.”
“I love you too but don’t ask me to do this again. Find another rapper next time.”
Taeyeon is too happy to think about the next time. She’ll take what has been given first.
Snugly tucked in bed, Taeyeon is finally able to sleep well tonight. Her mind lingers on the thought that Tiffany will finally gain some recognition for her awesome work and it brings happiness to her. Tiffany, her friend of more than a decade. Tiffany, the most passionate person she has ever known. Tiffany, the rapper who believes in staying true to her art, staying true to the message in her music. Strong-willed and resilient, Tiffany doesn’t believe in caving in to mainstream fame and fortune. She doesn’t believe in letting a company or creative team direct and dictate what she does; what she raps. Surely a little attention wouldn’t hurt. In fact, what is music if there isn’t an audience? Just a one-handed clap.
With that concluding statement, Taeyeon enters the dream state in which she dreams of seeing Tiffany winning a popularity award at the most prestigious music award show. She wakes to realize that it was only a dream but is even more resolved to make it happen. And today is the day.
“Do the second line again. Open up the ‘a’ vowel. We want it to sound open like the sky.”
Taeyeon closes her eyes as music pours in from her headphones and sings the second line again. The music cuts two beats later.
“Check,” says the producer.
Music plays again, this time with her voice filling out the vocal line. It sounds better than before. The expression achieved.
“Nice. Come out and have a listen.”
Taeyeon exits the recording room searching for Tiffany. She is sitting on the couch at the side. “You’re here.”
“I keep my promises,” Tiffany replies as they hug briefly.
Taeyeon can’t wait for Tiffany to blow them away with her rap but business first. Taking Tiffany’s hand, she walks to the producer’s side with her in tow.
They stand in silence as the song plays. The chorus is good.
“We’re done with your part,” the producer says to Taeyeon.
“I’m staying here for Tiffany’s part too.”
“Okay. We’ll listen to the whole song first. Then Tiffany can go in and record.”
The producer paces the length of the console workstation as Taeyeon stands hand-in-hand with Tiffany, knowing perfectly well that Tiffany is no stranger to the song. In fact, she had shared the demo with Tiffany when she first received it, eager to have Tiffany’s opinion of the song before making her decision. And if anyone were to ask her why she needs Tiffany to listen to it first, she wouldn’t be able to answer them. She doesn’t have a reason, other than the fact that she needs it.
All of these details are of course superfluous to the producer. He doesn’t need to know how many times Tiffany has heard this song before. He doesn’t need to know that Tiffany had approved of this song before Taeyeon told her company that she wants it. So they stand and listen till the end. Then, it’s Tiffany’s turn in the recording room.
Like the professional that she is, Tiffany catches on quickly and injects her flavour into the rap. Taeyeon looks to the producer and wonders what he thinks of it. Does he think it’s good? Does he think it’s more than good? Tiffany records the rap three times. Each time, they listen and the producer passes some comments. Taeyeon hopes Tiffany doesn’t find it restricting or whatever it is she finds wrong with the mainstream style. Thankfully, Tiffany accepts the suggestions with grace and by the third time, the rap is fluent and expressive and uniquely hers.
After another round of listening, the producer asks Tiffany to re-do a couple of lines. To which, she says, “If it’s okay, I’ll do the whole chunk. Recording lines separately would make it artificial.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t sound artificial.” The producer pats the recording engineer’s shoulder. “Ben will make sure of that.”
“I don’t mean that,” Tiffany replies. “I’m talking about my end of it. My emotions won’t flow naturally enough with just the two or three lines.”
The producer scratches his chin and frowns. “Alright. Where would you like to start from then.”
“The fifth line at least.”
Two rounds later, Tiffany steps out from the recording room and Taeyeon stands to join her. Together, they listen to the rap once more, then the entire song. Tiffany’s rap is oddly fitting and the producer gives the okay.
“This went well. Much better than I expected. You’re quite the unique rapper, Tiffany.”
“Thank you. I hope you won’t take offense to my style of recording.”
“Of course not. We’re all professionals here. We want the best for the song.”
“I’m glad you understand.”
Taeyeon gives Tiffany a hug when they get to her car. “You were great. And it wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“It wasn’t. Your producer is nice and understanding.”
“You can be lucky too, if you want.”
Tiffany is already shaking her head. “No. I want to decide how my cover looks like. And I don’t want a team of stylists telling me what to wear.”
The sigh in Taeyeon’s chest can no longer get any bigger. Tiffany has been resisting this right from the start. And mainstream companies don’t go for her style of rap. But with this collaboration, things might change. She just doesn’t know how much.
“We are all very surprised to learn that you have such a good rapper for a friend. Why have you the two of you never talked about it before?”
“Tiffa—Stepho doesn’t want her music to be related to mainstream pop.”
“She has her preferences. She prefers to have complete control over her music.”
“You almost said Tiffany earlier. That’s her actual name, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, I’m so used to calling her Tiffany.”
“Why Stepho then?”
“It fits her rapper style better than the name Tiffany.”
“What made you think of collaborating with an indie rapper?”
“When I realized that I can’t rap.” Taeyeon throws in a laugh and the interviewer joins in.
“It can’t be that bad?”
“I really can’t. No matter what I do, it sounds awkward. I’m just not cut out to be a rapper.”
“Well, you’re already an excellent singer so it wouldn’t be fair if you turned out to be a gifted rapper as well.”
“Your single is selling extremely well as expected and Stepho is gaining a lot of attention as well. Any chance for a second collaboration?”
“Not at the moment, no.”
“Will you please stop talking about me and my music on every single show and interview?”
“I can’t. They’re gonna ask about it and I don’t have any reason not to answer.”
“Tell them that I don’t want you to.”
“Tiffany, I can’t do that. It will make you look bad.”
“I don’t really care if it makes me look bad. I have my niche of fans. I don’t need the mainstream approval.”
“Why are you so resistant to more exposure? Isn’t this good for you?”
“I don’t want to turn into an idol rapper.”
“What’s wrong with idol rappers?”
“Nothing. I just don’t want to be one.”
“Nobody is asking you to be one.”
“It’s beginning to feel a lot like it with all this attention heaped on me.”
“It is to be expected the moment you agreed to collab.”
“I did it to help you. Remember?” Tiffany puts her hands on her hips. “So the least you can do is cut down the talk.”
“It’s part of promoting my song too, you know. It’s a huge part of the song and you’re telling me not to talk about it? Is that reasonable?”
“I’m really beginning to regret this.”
Regret? After all she did for her? Taeyeon is angered. “What’s wrong with gaining a few more fans? You should be thanking me for promoting you. You have no idea how many other unknowns out there would love to ride on my massive popularity.”
“Oh, popular one, it’s such an honour to be your friend. I, the unknown, am unworthy of you and your legions of fans yet here you are, taking me under your wing, grooming me to be the next big star. I should be so grateful. I should be kneeling before you, kissing your feet.”
“Fucking hell, Tiffany.”
“Fuck you, Taeyeon.”
Regret is all that fills Taeyeon as she goes about fulfilling her duties. Fan sign events, radio shows, variety shows, talk shows, reporters, online live streaming and more. Everywhere she goes, people are asking about Stepho, the indie rapper. Try as she might, it is really difficult to avoid answering them. They are questions related to her new release, not questions that try to uncover or create rumours. But she tries nonetheless. She tries to steer the conversation away from Tiffany. She tries her best. That is the most she can do. But none of that is enough to bring Tiffany back to her.
After knowing Tiffany for all these years, Taeyeon knows that she will have to apologize first. That’s Tiffany for you. Whether she’s right or wrong, she’s never going to apologize first. On the other hand, Taeyeon doesn’t really mind being the first to apologize if it will resolve the conflict. Someone has to give way, at the end of the day, and she supposes this is one of the ways in which they are compatible as friends.
Sending the ‘sorry’ text isn’t difficult. It is the crafting of the message that gives her a headache. What should she say? In the end, she sends a one-word message: Sorry.
That’s all it takes, because moments later, she receives a text from Tiffany that says: I’m sorry too.
Taeyeon hops and does a little celebratory dance. Things are going to be alright again.
Settling into the private booth to wait for Tiffany, Taeyeon plugs in her earphones, closes her eyes and listens to her newly released song for the 3981th time. Each time she listens to it, Tiffany just sounds better and better. And it isn’t because she’s biased. People at her company have told her about the interest people have in Tiffany. That’s how good Tiffany is. It just seems such a waste that she refuses to go mainstream. It’s such a waste that her music isn’t heard by more people.
Taeyeon opens her eyes as Tiffany sits on the cushion opposite her. “Hey.”
“Have you placed the order yet?”
Taeyeon shakes her head so Tiffany turns to the waiter and points to the same dish they always have in this Japanese restaurant. Grilled eel rice. “We’ll have two sets of this.” The waiter nods and exits with a bow. That’s when Tiffany says, “I’ve gotten a couple of calls from some companies in the past few days.”
“Really?” The news excites Taeyeon and all memories of their quarrel slips into the shadows. “Which companies?”
“Wow.” The happiness fades quickly when Taeyeon reminds herself that Tiffany isn’t keen on joining a mainstream company. “Well, you can ignore them since you’re not interested.”
“I have no intention of accepting their offers but my father says there’s no harm in listening to what they have to say.”
The news surprises Taeyeon. “So you’re going to meet them?”
“Okay . . .” Taeyeon doesn’t say anymore in case she steps on a landmine again.
“I doubt those companies will like the conditions I will ask for.”
“You won’t know till you talk to them.”
“That’s why I’ll meet them.”
Taeyeon nods. “Sounds like a plan.”
“But there’s something I should thank you for.”
“A line of hiphop apparel got in touch. They want me to endorse their female clothing line. And they’ll sponsor my outfits in future.”
“Oh! Which label is it?”
“Ohmygod.” Taeyeon blabbers in a rush. “Your favourite—”
“Yeah.” Tiffany is smiling now. “I know, right.”
Taeyeon grabs Tiffany’s hands and shakes them. “This is awesome!”
“Yes, it is. And it’s all thanks to you.” Tiffany bites her lip. “I realize that I’m wrong now. I was wrong about things.”
“Forget it. We’ve been friends since we were what—fifteen? I’m just happy for you when good things happen to you, you know. I want the best for you.”
“I know. I know.” Tiffany moves around the table to Taeyeon’s side and spreads her arms wide open. “Forgive me?”
Taeyeon moves into Tiffany’s arms without hesitation. “There never was anything to be forgiven in the first place. I know you too well.”
“Still love me?”
“Still love you.”
Oneshots aren’t really my thing but this one came to me while translating Taeyeon’s interview with K-WAVE. Hope you enjoyed it~
HIPHOP TIFFANY STEPHO THE SWAG