I have been an active Kpop-listener for just over two years now, and I have come to realize that I don’t enjoy Kpop the same way I do for music, in general. Sure, I appreciate the musical aspect of the songs, but visuals matter too (which doesn’t matter at all for English songs). For example, I recently started ‘stanning’ (am I using the word right?) Red Velvet- I have watched about 40 percent of their radio and reality shows (in subs, of course) and I streamed “Peek-A-Boo” when it came out for a day or two- and that’s not what I do for English or Japanese pop groups.
Kpop is a manufactured thing- everything is, but it is more conspicuous for Kpop- and I won’t argue that, but there’s nothing wrong with just enjoying the cute girls, pretty boys (with their colorful wardrobes) and the bubblegum synths and not think about how cliche the lyrics are- again, not that I care much about lyrics. That said, I don’t know whether or not I can continue to be more of an active Kpop fan like I have been for anime for five years- but I do know that I’m enjoying it now, and that’s what matters the most.
AKMU- “Dinosaur“, “My Darling” & “Play Ugly“
AKMU’s sudden turn from acoustic to EDM territory in “Dinosaur” was a pleasant surprise- the synths are really pleasantly layered with its buildup has coherency and doesn’t ruin the tone of the song- it’s my favorite EDM track from last year.. Suhyun’s voice in the breakdown sounds inhumanly beautiful (how doesn’t her voice crack?), and the two siblings harmony during the bridge is on point, as always. The MV is shot really beautifully, too. From the same EP (Summer Episode)- “My Darling” is on the more cheerful and acoustic side- but there’s still an electronic aspect injected in it; it’s a catchy, upbeat song- how can it not be without that ‘dumba dumba dumba we’ after the chorus? “Play Ugly” came out near the beginning of last year, with AKMU announcing that they will be going on a hiatus since the Chanhyuk is going to enlist in the military. It is a fun, with a piano, guitar and bass-driven backing track and the siblings have such nice chemistry in vocals in this song- their parts are really fun to listen to. And the MV features some cute clips when they were kids.
LOONA- “Love Cherry Motion“, “Heart Attack“, “Sweet Crazy Love” & “Loonatic“
Loona is a promising upcoming group with a elaborate lore behind them, releasing new songs every month revealing new members (11 out of 12 have been revealed so far, I think)- and I don’t know half of it- I had listened to their songs sparsely throughout last year (I only listened to 4 EPs out of 7 from 2017, and they are pretty solid). “Love Cherry Motion” (by Choerry) starts off with a glitzy, bubblegum flow then takes a Egyptian beat drop in it goes dirty- that cool tonal shift is handled really well in the MV, too- with the change in color grading and everything. “Heart Attack” (by Chuu- who looks adorable in the MV)- it features a catchy clap-clicky percussion with cute sing-talky-bits as verses. “Sweet Crazy Love” (by Odd eye Circle- a subgroup) has a nice looping string section with percussions of different beats flowing in and out in the track and of course, there’s the stoppy chorus which makes the song a lot catchier. “Loonatic” is a dream pop song- something I don’t see in Kpop- and it is pretty well produced with a captivating drone-y instrumentation and really solid vocals.
This is probably the only Hyuna song I have liked so far. The xylophonic base in the backing track and the accompanying melodies branching out from it makes it a packed EDM track- and by now, it has been pretty clear that I like tracks that have a lot going on instrumentally and this song has that. Contextually, this is song about Hyuna’s relationship with the industry’s demands and her personality over the years, and her saying that- but the lyrics aren’t really as straightforward. Anyway, the context of the song (according to the article I linked) makes it more interesting and offers some explanation on what the strange yet eye-catching imagery of the MV was about.
“Hobgoblin” sounds like a 4minute song but I don’t mind it- it’s catchy and the beat is grimy enough to make the song not just sound like a “Crazy”-clone. The girls’ wardrobe in the MV is really appealing, and the same can be said for their “I Like It” MV. This one is more instrumentally skeletal- but still beaty and honeyed-sing-talky enough to make me put it on loop, and stare at their alluring choreography, for a couple more times. I never heard of CLC before I came across these songs, but now I will be keeping an eye (and an ear) on their future releases.
BTS- “Not Today“
BTS made their debut on American TV last year and made some non-Kpop-enthusiasts’ heads turn- I’m happy for them. But I didn’t enjoy “DNA” and “MIC Drop” as much as I did “Not Today”. It has a swelling, heavy synthy backing track to accompany this underdog empowerment anthem. The choreography in the MV is as solid as ever- the boys are dancing machines.
Bolbbalgan4 reminds me of AKMU, so much that they seem like parallels, because the lead vocals (Jiyoung) have amazing vocals that give diabetes to my eardrums and Jiyoon raps and plays the guitar. They put out “Red Diary Page.1” EP last year, which is only 15 minutes long featuring five short, sweet songs- I recommend listening to it when you are in the mood for sugary acoustic pop songs. “Some” and “Fix Me” are spawned from more or less the same musical style- with crunchy guitar chords, a shuffling percussion, and powered with the honeyed cadence of Jiyoung and chilled, light rap of Jiyoon. They are a pleasant couple of songs.
Super Junior- “Black Suit“
I am not really familiar with Super Junior’s discography, but “Black Suit” definitely made me go and listen to their ‘classics’ (like “Sorry Sorry” and “Mr. Simple”). As for the song, the synths in the intro is really ear-catching, and then the dance track divulges into a brass section which adds to the dance-y feel to the track. The song is a short one, yet it manages to cram in so many sonic interludes (both vocally and instrumentally)- this is a cool trend I’m seeing in SM produced songs, but that’s just a coincidence.
[I missed including “Black Suit” when I was mentally recollecting the songs from my playlist, but thanks to Auri’s early comment- I remembered and now that I have double-checked the list, there’s nothing else I missed. Lesson learned: always go through the list again after you finish writing a frickin’ year-end list.]
Winner- “Really Really“
This is probably my favorite boy group song from last year- it is catchy and it has a longer playlist life (meaning that I didn’t get tired of it quickly). It has a chill house-like backing track, and it doesn’t pull any weird breakdowns- it’s short, the flow is uniform, and the rap parts are under the same instrumental umbrella. The black and white color graded MV is alright and has a ‘cool bois’ aesthetic to it without going too overboard with it.
Block B- “Shall We Dance“
I am familiar with only 4 boy groups in Kpop- and Block B isn’t one of them. I got recommended in Youtube when I was listening to that “MIC Drop” song from BTS- and the brass section drew me in and I put that track on loop for two hours- and it’s not just the brass, the beat is also accompanied by transforming basslines stepping in and out throughout the track: it’s a pretty groovy beat. As for the MV- uh, it looks a bit too artificial and saturated with that urban props, but the choreography is cool.
Mamamoo- “Aze Gag“
This one reminded me of their “Taller than You” (which is one of my favorite Kpop tracks ever), where in both songs, the members are messing around with each other. In this track, they make referential Korean puns in their verses with a 4 beat loop with some guitar stops spread throughout its length. I appreciate the jokes like I appreciate Gintama’s Japanese puns- with the help of translator’s notes (well, nowadays Gintama doesn’t make puns and if they did- I would have a better gauge on their jokes than Korean ones). I love Mamamoo’s unique chemistry between their members during their performances, where the members get on stage and just have fun instead of getting shackled by a detailed, repetitive choreography (not that I have anything against that at all), and songs like “Aze Gag” and “Taller than you” brings that aspect out in full bloom. Their title track was pretty good, too- but I like “Aze Gag” a lot better, since it’s more playful.
This song blew up during near the end of August- during that time I was watching a lot of Korean reality shows on Youtube and I was seeing a lot of people covering her dance (with the finger gun and all that). The backing track is pretty neat; and with that high-frequency synth and that transforming percussion- the song is super catchy. The MV is definitely one of my favorites with Sunmi showing off her infinitely extensive wardrobe and her just messing around in an abandoned house.
Playback- “Want You to Say“
This one would be favorite summer song if it came out in summer. The tropical beat is really pleasantly layered with bubbling percussive tracks and a nice breezy bass line- it’s my favorite tropical backing tracks from last year. The vocals are solid with that right sprinkling of vocal effects in the chorus. The MV is shot really well and the choreography dances on the line between cute and hot pretty well. If I wasn’t such a big Red Velvet stan, this would have been my favorite girl group song from last year.
Taeyeon- “Fine“, “I Got Love“, “Time Lapse” & “Cover Up“
Taeyeon dropped a great album last year, which became one of my favorite pop albums of the year pretty quickly. There are a lot of solid tracks of diverse styles but I’ll be picking only four. “Fine” is a grand vocal showcase riding on the branches of an acoustic backing track- the instrumentals are pretty bare-bones but Taeyeon’s vocals trump over all. “I Got Love” is on the more groovy side with a sort of heavy and grimy synth, and the choral breakdown is a short clean brass that hooks me on the song. “Time Lapse” features nostalgic swelling synths and an ascending guitar- it’s an atmospheric song, and Taeyeon’s voice once again shines through with emotion. “Cover Up” is on the bubblegum side of things with the chorus having a nice synth breakdown; and the MV’s cute, too- with Taeyeon just lazing around in cool outfits.
IU- “Palette“, “Jam Jam“, “Black Out“, “Eojetbam Iyagi” & “Secret Garden“
IU released a solid album (“Palette”) filled with an assortment of emotions conveyed through free flowing ballads and funky beats with an intimate take on her singing. The album sounds so liberating that it seems more like an indie project than a producer-centric one. “Palette” is the titular track from the album; with an introspective instrumental with cool sound samples popping in and out throughout its length- and IU’s sweet voice ascends this song to a soothing level of enjoyment. G-Dragon’s verse didn’t ruin the flow of the song at all, surprisingly- so it’s cool. “Jam Jam” has a dance synth as a backing track against the relaxed cadence of IU’s voice, and then in divulges into a depth where IU starts chanting something- which is super catchy- then it steps into a sweet, light drone. The song was really close to become a ‘proper’ dream pop song. “Black Out” is a playful one with a nice shuffling beat and the guitars chime in the background to spice it up, and IU is always there with that sing-talking ear candy.
After “Palette”, IU dropped a cover album of old Korean songs, and I loved two of the five cover songs. With “Eojetbam Iyagi”, IU brings in that retro, groovy, guitar-bass driven melody I can never forget, especially the diddling of that bass, and she spices up her vocal performance with some ‘uhs’ in apt places to make the song more playful; the retro aesthetic of the MV is spot on. “Secret Garden” is a whole different beast with an airy and healing feel to the whole song- played up by pleasantly placed string sections, relaxing and atmospheric sound samples and her voice brings it all together with healing harmony.
Red Velvet- “Rookie“, “Red Flavor“, “Zoo“, “Peek-A-Boo” & “My Second Date“
Red Velvet is my favorite girl group so far. They don’t settle for a single musical style or visual, instead they experiment with diverse concepts (mixing in their ‘Red” & ‘Velvet” sides in different proportions), and 2017 was a prolific year (2 EPs and 1 album) where they got to do just that. And of course, the members are all unbelievably pretty ladies who can fit into any concept.
“Rookie” was my first earworm in 2017- the staircase melody of that brass which erupts in the chorus along with the girls just chanting the song name is the catchiest thing ever; and the MV as one of the most vibrant and kookiest wardrobe for the girls so far- and that’s saying something. But “Rookie” has a shorter playlist-life when compared to “Red Flavor”- which starts off with a punching, fruity hook, then goes on a vocal melody and finally divulges an eccentric voice sample (which never really threw me off for some reason) and brings the opening hook back.”Red Flavor” is my favorite from the five because it’s not just a straight forward pop track. This song also made Yeri’s and Irene’s rap verses sound really good with all that tempo-responsive percussions. “Zoo” is another song from their “Red Summer” EP- it has a bubbly synth-layering backed with cool sound samples to give off that feeling of being in the wild- the voice effects are also on point in this track.
Fast forward to November, and Red Velvet dropped a cool dance pop album titled “Perfect Velvet”. The 9 songs in the track list feature really colorful and captivating synth layers. “Peek-A-Boo” is a strange mix of cheery and intoxicating sounds- with a looping smooth and heavy beat coupled with xylophonic melody; and the MV handles that aesthetic pretty well. “My Second Date” is another earworm, this time, being that omnipresent icy xylophone melody in the backing track. The sing-talky parts have that cute ice-cream and bubblegum feel to them; again, great sample layering in the track.
And “Bad Boy” stole a place in my 2018 list already, so things are looking really up for Red Velvet this year.
That’s a lot of songs- I like too much stuff. Now, I have to start writing my “Top 10 Anime from 2017” post…