Friday, January 1, 2016

[PLAYLIST] KPOPPY's Best Of 2015 : The Eclectic Mix

A re-cap of my general guidelines.
  • Only songs with MVs
  • Synergy: The video and song amplify each other
  • Innovation or anything that feels fresh
  • We embrace weird here
  • No OSTs
  • And when push comes to shove... personal taste trumps...
2015 was a hell of a year. Last year, I tended to favor material off the beaten path. This year, the mainstream seemed to have a weird little fire under its butt. Lots of bold moves, different sound, and bucking trends that have been the norm for years. This made for many difficult playlist-crafting sessions along the way. And even now there are at least twenty songs that I could easily switch out, so we'll include some honorable mentions at the end.

I'll quickly mention a few trends I noticed. Black and white. So much greyscale in MVs this year. Not just frequency, but mostly paired with songs I loved. I started a playlist early in the year and kept it going.

Another trend brought me great joy. Girl groups in flats! For a long time female idols have been wearing high-heels as the standard. This led to choreography being mostly the stereotypically hyper-feminized style of burlesque/go-go/cabaret/vogue dance... as they were styles born out of wearing such shoes. It's a fundamentally different kind of limited movement and posture. Sometimes watching dudes dance in heels illustrates this best. It's not the gender, it's the shoes, and the cultural associations we connect with them.

But there has been a slew of ladies wearing sneakers, flats, or going barefoot. Lots of the new girl groups have had much freer, more energetic, and aerobic choreography because of this, which is awesome. myB, Lovelyz, Gfriend, Red Velvet, Oh My Girl, CLC, April, and Gain among others, all kept their heels on the ground and gave high-energy performances as a result. 
Huge thumbs-up from me.

My top 30 eclectic mix. The order is purely chronological.

I'll try not to repeat myself too much from the first half of the year playlist.

-- For that totally stunning grayscale balance. The directing still takes my breath away. Great pair of voices. I hope they continue to work together.

4MINUTE - Crazy
-- This beat really smacked everyone in the face right out of the gate. I never cared much for 4Minute until this MV and I think they've got a lasting Kpop icon with this one.
-- For my ultimate bias doing totally epic and strange things while unlawfully shut out of broadcast media. Suck rocks, SM!
-- Hugely appreciate everything about this MV. Milton meets Kpop. She's not necessarily Eve or Lilith. She's the snake. All up in your garden, rustling your fruit tree jimmies. Beautiful use of texture. Woven scales and lace alluding to snakeskin. Barefoot. Gorgeous.
-- ICC or Dumb Dumb. ICC or Dumb Dumb. For me, ICC is the superior track and is way more musically interesting. Dumb Dumb is the superior video with better pacing and grand visuals. Going to stick with ICC considering the heavy rotation it has been on for much of the year.
-- For sending us all on a 90s TV kid nostalgia trip to end them all.
-- EXO continues to put out some decent stuff. I appreciated Call Me Baby for the clean presentation of choreo and performance. Also just a jam.
-- This was one of a few that were shoo-ins for this playlist from the very first viewing. It encapsulates everything I look for in my top 30. I gushed about it when it first came out. I'm still gushing about it now.
-- Probably the most 'normal' Kpop here. The pre-chorus and chorus is just so killer it had to make it in. This won the big summer girl group battle for me. Sistar's 'Shake It' and 9MUSES 'Hurt Locker' were in close contention, but don't get me quite so hyped to listen to long-term. Also increasingly seeing gay relationships normalized in media, which is awesome!
-- Let's get weird, y'all!
-- It was totally hyukoh's year. Oh Hyuk and his voice and refreshing awkwardness seemed to be everywhere. Deservedly so! I've loved everything these guys have to offer. Looking forward to more from HIGHGRND.
-- In the summer I said, "... a visual hybrid of Fiona Apple's 'Criminal' and Dizzee Rascal's 'I Don't Need a Reason', which I think is pretty interesting, despite the song not really being my thing."
This song became my thing. The video still makes me super uncomfortable by default, but for thought-provoking reasons rather than straight-up problematic ones.
-- My favorite band/rock track of the year. And there were some good ones! But Love You Dear makes me feel happy and sunny and I want to get up and dance forever. Great song.
-- My girl crushes, MAMAMOO. Musically, this group is my one true love. They have yet to release an MV I'm totally cool with. Even for comedy, I don't have much tolerance for harassment/stalking/drugging stuff. BUT THE SONG IS AMAZING. They're taking after my faves, DBSK(OT5). Favorite group of all time. Never liked a single music video in its entirety. Lol.
-- Continues to be dope. I was cheering in my seat for the first viewing of this one and that feeling re-ignites for every subsequent viewing. These guys are on an absurdly successful roll, against so many odds. Hoping they can keep their quality up without nose-diving from the massive amount of work they're putting in.
-- From my initial post: "The 'you're beautiful just the way you are' message, especially delivered by a bunch of pretty boy idols... in a culture with super narrow beauty standards... will always feel condescending and/or insulting to me. Lmao."
There's also the inappropriate/awkward cream-licking part in the bridge, which does not feel 'just right' considering the age of the young actress.
All about the music/choreo,.. lyrics and cream-licking aside.
-- A hugely slept-on jam. One of my favorites for the year. So percussive. So catchy. Shoes a girl can move in!

Super Junior - Devil
-- The actual MV is too scattered for me, but I love the choreo and this is probably top three out of SUJU's whole discography for me.
-- Rap exploded this year. The exposure through shows like Show Me The Money and Unpretty Rapstar finally hit a critical mass. Kisum has been active for a few years already, but this track felt like her true debut. Wonderful song with a solidly adorable video. Love the styling and pace of edits. Jooyoung's voice is sooooo nice.

Primary (feat. ChoA) - Don't Be Shy
-- Let's get weirder, y'all!
Primary has had a fantastic year back in the game. Interesting collaborations with cool tracks. I'm not a huge fan of AOA, because I have a hard time listening to really high girlish voices en masse. ChoA is often providing those vocals for her group, but here she gets to show a more comfortable range and sounds great doing it. Nice mellow reggae-esque track here accompanied by some satanic Pokemon Barbie seance ritual. I'll take it!

Wonder Girls - I Feel You
-- Only a few Wonder Girls songs have ever drawn my attention over the years. Their comeback album, REBOOT, blew the top of my head off. Just the kind of 80's throwback sound I love. And I appreciate what a careful tribute the video is to that era. Robert Palmer all up in there.
Also the hardest working push-up bras in Kpop this year. Lol. Applause!

chancellor & Bumkey - Son E Ga
-- This one is barely clinging to a spot, but every time the chorus hits I can't bare to replace it. Just a chill R&B jam and then you're transported to some Michael Jackson Human Nature realness. I can't resist its power.

G.Soul - Crazy For You
-- I wanted to put both this one and his debut, You, in here, but this one has a bit more pep to it, so it'll be the representative. Very interested to see what this guy will continue to come out with. I like his sound.

-- If I was ranking things, BTS's Dope and Seventeen's Mansae would be top 2. These guys are so exciting to me. Totally refreshed my Kpop love. It's probably clear that I favor a fully-packaged performance as much as I love a good song. Seventeen is delivering on my favorite things in spades. Their debut with Adore U was also fantastic this year. Take your pick. But Mansae made me jump out of my seat and cheer for what these kids have accomplished. Had to highlight the performance version of the MV. It's just the greatest. Mansae, Seventeen! Mothereffin' mansae!

ZZAPA (feat. Microdot) - New Days
-- Let's get weirdest, y'all!
Animation? Oppressive political and social ideologies? Packaged ZZAPA delivering us unto freedom and hip-thrusting dance parties? Sign me up! If you ever wanted to see the Supreme Leader 'twerking' this one is for you!

OH MY GIRL - Closer
-- OMG's debut with Cupid was totally my drumline jam, but the video was almost too visually saccharine to be tolerated. Luckily they followed up with Closer, which is both an ethereal bop and gorgeous fairytale MV. Are all those echo-y ambient choral vocal effects a cheap trick to make us all fall in love? Maybe. Do I care? Not in the least! Love the choreo. Not a high heel in sight!

AKMU - Like 'Ga Na Da'
-- Does a commercial/promotional video count? If it's AKMU, it does! It might be short and a lesson in using Hangul correctly, BUT IT'S THE CUTEST. Their voices are perfect and their hanbok is perfect and their sibling banter silliness is perfect.

IU - Twenty-three
-- IU's comeback was all praise and then all scandalous headlines. This poor woman will never win. All controversy aside, Twenty-three is a brilliant commentary on the challenges of managing one's identity in a creative and brutally critical industry. People see what they want to see. They draw the narrative to suit their purposes no matter how it might contradict reality.
Also 10/10 for the cake face-plant.

PSY - Napal Baji
-- PSY finally having a proper comeback brought me great joy. It's a super fun album and it includes a collab with my ultimate bias Junsu in my favorite song of the lot. But Napal Baji is my second favorite. The MV made me grin from ear-to-ear all the way through. Another example of all the things Kpop has to offer that I love. It's just damn entertaining.

Yoon Mirae - This Love
-- Mirae and the MFBTY crew had a bunch of great tracks earlier in the year. Really enjoyed Bang Diggy Bang Bang. But here we are right at the end of the year and Tasha comes out with this stunning ballad. Got me all weepy and frisson-y.
Just had to close out 2015 with the Queen.

Now I have to say that I had a playlist double this size and felt it would be impossible to cut anything from it. Ended up having to make some rather arbitrary decisions based more on the overall feel of the playlist then any good musical/taste reason. There was just so much that I loved this year.

Some notes and honorable mentions:

I think it was particularly good showing for girl groups and debuting ladies, along with a handful of dudes and boy bands who came out with some of the best stuff I've seen in a long time. The battle of girl group summer anthems is only represented by BESTie here, but 9MUSES Hurt Locker and SISTAR's  Shake It were difficult cuts. Lots of cool stuff from solo debuts of established artists as well, including Taeyeon and Jonghyun. Mad Clown's Fire sat at the top of this list until a cut in the final hour. Oof.

Then there's Stellar's Vibrato, which was an amazing song, but... I didn't know what the heck to do with that. The song would make it a shoo-in for this list, but the video has problems that completely ruined the enjoyment of it for me. I'll be making a post about fragmentation soon. Did it do them any good to go that hypersexual route? Seemed like my discomfort was shared by many and hurt the impact that track could have had. So close to being something fantastic. Missed opportunity!

Where are Big Bang and SNSD? SHINee and f(x)? Well, Big Bang didn't blow my mind with anything. All of their many releases were solid, but none were as thrilling as I hoped they would be. I only cared for SNSD's Lion Heart, but it became irritating over time. SHINee's View and f(x)'s 4 Walls are a purely personal issue. SM Entertainment is clearly leaning heavily towards a particular ambient Europop sound and probably will through 2016. Sometimes I don't mind this sound, but it often comes with excessive repetition, which bothers me, and a certain kind of percussion that is like nails on a chalkboard to my brain. I LOVE the melody and performance of 4 Walls. I could even get into the weird artsy video. But this specific artificial synth beat syncopation sound makes my skin crawl in a way that listening to someone loudly chew food with their mouth open does. Makes me physically very uncomfortable for some reason. Which is a damn shame because I adore it otherwise. Still looking for a remix I can tolerate.

Among idols, the most exciting groups to watch are Oh My Girl and Seventeen as rookies and MAMAMOO and BTS for maintaining some momentum.

Okay, that's all folks!
It was a year of great full albums and the mainstream broadening its sonic horizons.
I'm not sure if I've enjoyed a year of Kpop this much since... 2009? Good stuff.
And thankfully nowhere near the amount of tragedies that 2014 brought.

Going to be interesting to see how much of the sonic/visual experimentation bleeds into 2016.


  1. Fantastic choices as always. I can't argue with anything you've said here and the top 30 are all songs I appreciate if they aren't in my favs already. I recently posted my top five and it was a hard damn time narrowing it down because it was a flipping fantastic year of music. There's a lot of crossover with your picks as well, though I'm surprised my #2 didn't find a spot anywhere here. I though it was genius and something that matched your musical taste.

    I agree with your reasons for leaving big names like SNSD and Big Bang off the list, and I'm pleased you made room for the likes of Kisum, Anda, Chancellor and Bumkey (the best time to listen to "Son E Ga" is anytime).

    I hope that Oh My Girl kills it in 2016 and the MAMAMOO continues to conquer the hearts of all (and god willing knock it out of the park with a flawless MV).

    Thanks again for being a reliable source of current k-pop goodness, and providing thoughtful commentary along the way. When you point me in the direction of something worthwhile, I can trust that it will be good.
    Happy New Year!!

    1. Brown Eyed Girls was sooooooo hard to cut. I like Brave New World a lot. I guess it just came down to personally feeling the song was a bit too cluttered or Frankenstein-y... multiple songs in one. Which I'm not a huge fan of. Still very hard to cut, because it's awesome.

      MAMAMOO PLEASE! I've been so busy I kept forgetting to reply to you here, but I just saw they're preparing a new album and it reminded me of you! Lol. Praying with you for an awesome MV. PLEASE! And Oh My Girl, too, whenever they make a come back.

      You're very welcome! I'm perpetually glad there are a handful of you that get use out of the blog, including yourself. Truly appreciate it, Shane! Thank you.