We're already halfway through 2017 and I'm wondering where the heck the year went. Does the year go faster for me when the music is less exciting? I wonder...
Oh, 2017. You've been an odd one. It's a case of 'be careful what you wish for'. Kpop was trending towards more experimental over the last couple years. By 'experimental' I don't mean groundbreaking. It's still pretty firmly in the realm of manufactured pop. But there is a strong showing of songs having non-traditional structures, samples, and effects. The effort to make a straight pop, endlessly catchy, earworm appears to be old hat this year. As a result, many tracks were Frankenstein-esque amalgamations of trap, hip hop, tropical house, and... noise. Loud and compressed noise. Most of the top boy bands are completely swallowed up by rap (which almost always sounds forced to me). Not my jam.
Notably, the songs I've liked the most so far fall into a few categories. (1) Solo women, R&B flavored, with lower vocal range. (2) Boy bands with genuinely catchy hooks/choruses and less 'rippety-rap'. (3) Indie rock.
My Tropical House playlist continues to grow. I'm lucky to actually like the tropical stuff. It's easy to listen to. I say lucky, because if you don't like tropical, Kpop is probably killing you this year. It's everywhere. It's unavoidable. And everything is starting to sound the same. It actually doesn't have a huge presence on my playlist, but it's in there. My sympathies if you're one of those people who hates it. I'll say a little Kpop prayer for you. I still have no idea what trend will be next. I think we're a long way off from tropical being fully run into the ground.
Generally, my playlist is a story of choruses. Catchy choruses are key. That's a bit of a subjective thing, but in a year where choruses have been weird, trap-heavy, monotone things, it's the catchy choruses that form the core of what I'm listening to.
[Link to the full playlist on Youtube]
In chronological order:
- SEVENTEEN - HIGHLIGHT
- NCT 127 - Limitless
- DAY6 - I Wait
- Koh Nayoung - Cold night, You were warm
- I (feat. Tiger JK) - I Wish
- Dreamcatcher - Chase Me
- Burningsoda - Cutie Puppet
- Jessi - Don't make me cry
- Klang - The Wanted
- Taeyeon - I Got Love
- BTS - Not Today
- Subin - Circle's Dream
- CODE KUNST (feat. G.Soul, TABLO) - FIRE WATER
- JOOHEE - She's Mine
- Brave Girls - Rollin'
- Justin Oh (feat. Hyolyn) - Jekyll & Hyde
- CNBLUE - Between Us
- MONSTA X - Beautiful
- Somdef - Ring Ring Ring
- WINNER - Really Really
- MiSO - KKPP
- UNIT BLACK (BOYS24) - Steal Your Heart
- LABOUM - Hwi hwi
- SNUPER - Back:Hug
- VIXX - Shangri-La
- SOHEE - Spotlight
- Kim Lip (LOONA) - Eclipse
- MARMELLO - PUPPET
- Kim Ki Peum - Out of my way
- PRODUCE 101 - NEVER
I'll be highlighting some videos in the full post below.
Popped some non-Korean tracks at the end too!
Popped some non-Korean tracks at the end too!
SEVENTEEN - HIGHLIGHT
-- Was this technically released in 2016? Yes. But it arrived just as I had the end of the year list on lock. And I'm still jamming to it, so it earned a spot here. SEVENTEEN as a whole is still impressing me, though their most recent leads haven't quite nailed it for me. But this release with the performance unit is pretty great. Don't Wanna Cry is cool as well, especially the choreography.
NCT 127 - Limitless
-- The big melodic sound of the chorus is nice here. It's in the same vein as EXO's Monster from last year. The real kicker for me is that bizarre growling vocal fry. It's such a specific choice. Made my eyes go wide when I first heard it. Very here for that.
Koh Na Young - Cold night, You were warm
-- Love the satisfying beat here. There were a half-dozen songs in this general style I had to pare down for my top 30. Atmospheric, melancholy, R&B. I'll drop a few here: Kassy - Dream, Whale - Scientist, RICHARD PARKERS - TODAY, LAYBACKSOUND - 4hours.
I (feat. Tiger JK) - I Wish
-- She came a bit out of nowhere and got me hooked with the BoA vibes. This one recalled Z.HERA's XOX from 2015, which I couldn't get enough of.
Dreamcatcher - Chase Me
-- So far it looks like this completely new incarnation of MINX is committed to the rock sound, which has me thrilled. I really hope they can hold onto this concept and explore it further. GOOD NIGHT is also solid.
Taeyeon - I Got Love
-- This track got a very mixed reaction from Kpop fans. It appears that if you like it, you love it. If you don't like it, it's a travesty. Lol. Probably if you have an expectation of some huge EDM drop after the hook, you'll be super disappointed. Right from the off, the appeal was that bluesy, dark, ominous feel. So when it didn't do the obvious big EDM drop I got very happy. That sad, drippy, synth-brass anti-drop, or whatever the heck it is, takes it to the next level for me.
BTS - Not Today
-- Certainly not my favorite thing from BTS ever, but it gets me hyped nevertheless. I probably liked Spring Day equally as much. Or close to it? I don't follow the big thematic narrative BTS is doing with all their material, but I'll take the opportunity again to express my appreciation of it. Like I said in the 2016 final playlist, the way BigHit is packaging, branding, and promoting these guys is something very special. Their presence at the Billboard Music Awards was also not nothing. They handled that press bonanza remarkably well. Keep hammering away, gentlemen!
Subin - Circle's Dream
-- Continuing with the unusual thematic choices, Subin. This is a weird song in the realm of Kpop. Totally different than anything I've heard DalShabet do. I love everything about it. The repetitive-ness doesn't even bother me. It's refreshing every time it shuffles through my playlist. Gotta do the finger twirls, too!
Brave Girls - Rollin'
-- I've warmed up to this one. I don't care for the video or choreography. But the catchiness can't be denied. Those warbling tropical pan flutes (?) go a long way in helping this one for me. Really high nasal vocals from girl groups tends to kill my enjoyment of a song I otherwise like a lot. When this happens, I look up pitched-down or 'male versions' of the songs. [ex.:Male version - Rollin'] Even if the audio quality isn't great, I often end up grabbing these versions for my personal playlists. They're surprisingly effective.
MONSTA X - Beautiful
-- Good example of the boy bands being swallowed up with rap. But in this case, the lovely chorus balances it out enough to make the list. SO MANY dude groups had no such redeeming element. Nice classy suits/shirts too.
WINNER - REALLY REALLY
-- This catchy ass chorus is irresistible. Tropical. This looks to be a winner for lots of fans this year. It clearly has a universal appeal. Also a really fun video with the diversity of dancers. Gets a little uncomfortably appropriative towards the end. Can't win 'em all, I guess!
MiSO - KKPP
-- MiSO is taking Grace's place this time around. The track I have no business liking. The one that is way outside of my general interest. BUT THE CHORUS.
THE CHORUS, DANG IT!!! She also has a great energy as a performer.
LABOUM - Hwi hwi
-- I'm sorely lacking in classic girl group tracks, but Laboum is holdin' it down. Bright, fun, feel-good whistles, and a catchy melody.
SNUPER - Back:Hug
-- Snuper has been doing stuff with strong 80s vibes. I think that's still true here. The thing that stood out about this one was that it sounded like Infinite. Infinite in their prime. Before the Dawn, Be Mine, The Chaser, etc. And I LOVED Infinite in their prime. So I'm down for this.
VIXX - Shangri-La
-- One of the most visually stunning videos of 2017. And as I mentioned in my original post, I have a weakness for choreography using folding fans. Luckily, I also really enjoy the music. As much as I loved VIXX's dark/creepy era, it's nice to see them push into other concepts that are still a strong melding of visual and audio ideas.
Kim Lip (LOONA) - Eclipse
-- #1! Eclipse is my favorite song of 2017 thus far. It will be strong competition against anything for the rest of the year. There isn't anything particularly quirky or special or stand-out about this song and video. But it is by far the most satisfying listen of all the rest. I put it on loop and don't get tired of it. The production is excellent. Well-crafted. An enormous budget is going into these Loona ladies. A ton of songs and videos of surprisingly good quality. But this is the only Loona song I've liked out of the group. Might as well be number one, eh?
MARMELLO - PUPPET
-- Marmello is a proper rarity. We've got our FTIsland, CNBLUE, DAY6, pop-rock type bands from the gentlemen. Basically none as sincere from the ladies. I hope Marmello is able to hang in there and keep putting out fun songs. That guitar solo!
PRODUCE 101 - Never
-- SPOILERS for season 2 of Produce 101!
I have to do it! I must half-break one of my rules. It's not an official MV. It won't ever have one. BUT IT COULD! It was my favorite song that came out of the season, by far, and this is a top five song for the first half of the year. Love those big vocal hooks from Jaehwan. Also excellent choreography. The floor work in the bridge is iconic. Here's the studio recorded audio.
A quick list of the notable English/non-Korean tracks by Korean artists:
- Gallant x Tablo x Eric Nam - Cave Me In
- TEN - Dream In A Dream
- Hyukoh - Wanli (Mandarin)
- SHANNON (feat. Amber) - Love Don't Hurt (Korean version)
- SPACECOWBOY - HEALER
- CURV - Keep on Dancing
- THE KOKOS - Better Together
I'll leave you with the video for TEN's Dream In A Dream from above, released in SM's Station project. This is my #1 on purely visual grounds. Regardless of how cliched many of the elements in the MV are, it's just frickin' beautiful. Look at it! So pretty! Pretty pretty!
Thank you for your time!
As always, feel free to leave your own playlist in the comments or link me elsewhere so I can check it out!