Sunday, January 1, 2017

[PLAYLIST] KPOPPY's Best Of 2016 : The Eclectic Mix

Tons of huge names, that I typically like very much, released songs that didn't quite hit the mark for me. Boy bands especially failed to really excite me even though many of them had great comebacks. Just not my thing in many cases. Ballads had a good showing this year! They typically don't make a splash in end-of-the-year playlists from Kpop fans. But they'll find a place in mine!

Trends. I don't listen to much American music these days, but I did listen to Justin Bieber's album in 2015 when there was enormous hype around it. I immediately began the countdown to when that particular EDM, tropical house, vaguely dance hall kind of sound would show up in Kpop. Major Lazer. Same thing. A bit hard to describe that sound, but when you hear it you know it. Sure enough, roughly mid-year, the 80s throwback trend of last year had blended into more of a house sound. I added to a playlist along the way that hopefully conveys this trend developing. It won't be strictly 2016 and I'll continue to add to it beyond this year.

KPOP meets house, tropical house, reggae, etc, playlist!

Indirectly related to the music, I noticed another trend. Medical in nature. More than ever there were celebrities being open about their psychological health and issues related to exhaustion and anxiety. Panic and eating disorders, fainting and extreme fatigue, gastric conditions and a variety of mental illnesses., Now it's likely that competition in the industry these days has become more difficult to manage. but it's also something that has probably always existed. The difference being that struggling artists and their companies are being more open, honest, and supportive instead of hiding these things to protect their image and the illusion of perfection. I see this as progress which will hopefully improve working conditions and mitigate some long-term harm into the future. One can hope! (But there will be no breath-holding from me)

Anywayyyy, we're here for music, right?! Let's get to it. My top 30, as always, only includes promoted songs with MVs, good synergy between the audio and visual components, aligns with my personal taste not with popularity or charts... and no OSTs!

MY TOP 30 ECLECTIC MIX for 2016 in chronological order only:
[The full playlist link on Youtube]
Highlighted tracks and my final thoughts for the year are in the full post!
I also have to shout out a few English-language tracks that were lovely.

See the 2016 first half of the year post for more about the tracks that stayed in until the end of the year. I'll mostly skip over them here.

NiiHwa - Say Yes
-- This track never stopped being hypnotizing the whole year.

Jung In - UUU
-- I had to resurrect this one. It had nearly made it into my first half of the year playlist. Going back to hear this emotionally raw vocal again hooked me in all over. I've said before that pointe shoes on non-dancers is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Not a fan of the MV at all. But the vocal, the strings, the melody... they make up for it.

SNUPER - Platonic Love
-- Another resurrection. Maybe not so surprising considering I was obsessed with the mega-80s Wonder Girls album last year. It's a throwback sound I adore. Platonic Love is thoroughly marinating in it. Plus, everyone loves a SNANK BAR.

Berry Good - Angel
-- For a high girly sound that I would normally not go for, the ambitious chorus and vocal over-the-topness/tuning remains infectious.

Luna - Free Somebody
-- Really one of the best overall Kpop songs in years. I'm so glad Luna got to do something on her own. And for it to be embraced by a wide range of fans and represent her so well.

EXO - Monster
-- I'll be honest that EXO is barely clinging to this playlist. The verses don't do much for me at all, but the huge sound of the chorus still has an excellent impact. I do hope that the common boyband concept of edgy, violent, beat-downs, and gunfights will chill out. PLEASE!

Jeong Jin Woon (feat. Tiger JK) - Will
-- This whole thing is fabulous. Jinwoon is falling into a category similar to Jaejoong. Working solo after years of pop ballads in 2AM and going with a strong funky rock sound. And Tiger JK's addition suits it nicely. Love it.

KISUM - No Jam
-- Will never not be a blast to listen to.

LiVii (Alice Vicious) - Luna
-- This is top 3 for me. One of the most exciting and refreshing tracks out this year. Candy-colored dreams floating on rainbow bubbles. She has just recently renamed everything on her channel and social media from LiVii to Alice Vicious. I guess we'll go with that in the future. This is the song that I'll look back on as my Kpop song of 2016.

24Hours - Get It On
-- Budget MV of the year and also an excellent feel-good rock ditty.

Yoon Jong Shin (feat. Gaeko) - Empty City
-- I just freakin' love this song. So easy to listen to. Makes me want to get out for a walk in the city just for the sake of it. Also a secondary shout-out to the other videos this year that featured longboard dancing, both of which I loved a lot: Retronixx's 'Onkiro' and Far East Movement's collab with Hyorin 'Umbrella'.

J-Min - Ready For Your Love
-- That's a ballad with a BEAT. Love the big atmospheric sound here. Pretty flowers!

NU'EST - Love Paint
-- This was a big grower for me. Took me going back to scour my huge playlists while finalizing this to remember how much I like the bass and overall feel. Great hook.

Fromm (feat. Giriboy) - Pieces of You and Me
-- This is my favorite song and music video of the year. This quiet, super-chill, 'boring', ballad duet is #1. It got me through the existential crisis of this absolutely miserable election season here in the US. It calms down my brain. Gives me frisson. Makes me feel like I can get through my day. The MV location shots are stunning. The color is pastoral heaven. When my anxiety has run me ragged, this kind of peace is my drug of choice. Just look at the dang thumbnail! Every frame a painting, for real.

AMBER X LUNA - Heartbeat
-- Something crawled into SM's craw this year and pushed them into releasing all kinds of odd things. Station, I guess. Not like this is a particularly innovative EDM track. It just feels good. Seeing Amber and Luna sweating their butts off for the live performance is great fun. I continue to be grateful for Amber shaking up idol expectations in a meaningful way.

BTS - Blood Sweat & Tears
-- Absolutely dripping in that tropical house trend that has so influenced this year.
If you'll grant me a tangent, I need to say some words on BTS. This group is extraordinary. Most of their music is not lined-up with my personal taste. I'm not A.R.M.Y. I'm not sure I could name them all properly if asked. THIS. GROUP. IS. EXTRAORDINARY. For someone who has followed Kpop closely for a little more than a decade, what's happening here is special. I don't know where BigHit came from. I don't know how this group was formed. All I know is that maybe since their second comeback, they have consistently put out solid hit songs, each with a strong cohesive sense of the group and the members that form it. At every level, sound to visuals to concept to sheer effort BTS and their handlers are firing on all cylinders. They know their audience and target demographic (Not me!). They know exactly which string to pull and how hard. There must be something in the water over there. I don't know how they're keeping up with these demands on their endurance! Also loved Save ME this year. Maybe more than this one, but this video put it over the top. Come on, Pietà! Come on, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Fall of Icarus, Fall of the Rebel Angels! Art history geeks, come through!

I.O.I - Very Very Very
-- 2016 was the year of the TV-formed girl groups; Twice and IOI. Twice's massive hits this year were fun, but are pushing that high girly pitch too far for my ears. I was pleasantly shocked to enjoy watching Produce101 and IOI. The songs on the show were far superior to the stuff they came out with following it. But then Whatta Man really nailed it for me, styling notwithstanding. The energy was there. Then JYP concocted this ridiculous earworm. It's still girly, but the vocal levels are balanced well. And the MV is so damn cute!

GRACE - Trick or Treat
-- Crunch!!! Grace was my WTF addition to the playlist last year. And here we are again! I just love how different this sound is. I appreciate her irreverent streak. Cheeky dance, too.

BLACKPINK - Playing With Fire
-- This is simply a jam. I'm certain Playing With Fire or Whistle will be in a multitude of top playlists. I still have mixed feelings about BlackPink. They are that hyper-polished, same height, same underweight, same category of the Korean hyper-pretty standard that is making girl groups look increasingly homogenized these days. When human beings are being selected for how derivative they are, I get concerned. I watched some of their first TV promotions and they seemed deer-in-the-headlights unprepared and anxious. Thinking back to watching their predecessors debut, 2NE1 were bold, diverse, and charismatic right out of the gate. CL alone was on another level performance-wise. They have potential, but this group feels more like a factory creation from SM rather than the relatively organic YG. I look forward to them becoming more comfortable performers.

Jay Park (feat. Hoody) - Me Like Yuh
-- I said it in one of my recent Jay Park posts that I'm not convinced he ever sleeps. The dude works a lot. Or at least it just seems that way. The full MV for this track is the English version. I prefer the Korean version with Hoody and the choreo is cool.

Uhm Jung Hwa - Watch Me Move
--  I always wait until the year is actually over to finalize this playlist. Last year it was Yoon Mi Rae's gorgeous ballad sliding in there at the last minute. This year it is another legend. I was only a couple of years into following Kpop closely when Uhm Jung Hwa came out with DISCO. It's one of the first Kpop songs I ever bought. I was crapping my pants watching her perform it again live with TOP at the SBS Gayo Daejun. I'm delighted by her comeback. Still a fantastic performer. The same energy she had in her prime. Wonderful.

A few more odds and ends:

A number of legendary 1st generation artists have made comebacks in the last couple years. Sechskies was notable this year. But on that note, I'd be remiss to not mention the losses. We're clearly moving into the range of time where the 2nd generation groups are starting to fall away. Male artists are increasingly entering military service and female artists are reaching the ends of contracts and disbanding. 2NE1, 4Minute, KARA, Rainbow, are major losses and a number of others have lost members. I'll link to a compilation video.

There were a few songs in all English I want to highlight:
Amber's in particular is one of my favorite Kpop related things this year in. I like her voice.
The video is too cute. She seemed to have a really good year. I don't know what kind of blood oath she had to make with SM to give her the kind of creative freedom she has, but damn, she's workin' it out.


The reward for a killer chorus in a song that is otherwise meh due to a male rapper, CSP's Busan Girls with Kayla owning that vocal.

I'd say SM's Station project was a success. My favorite was the BoA/Beenzino collab. Supposedly Station will continue into 2017. The SM roster seems so massive right now. I don't know how they're managing that volume of artists. Seems like a nightmare. Filling ALL THE DUNGEONS.

On that note, I'm curious how far this Tropical House kinda trend will stretch. And what would come next? This time last year I knew this would be coming. This year, I'm not sure what's ahead.

If you're passing through and have made it this far, I encourage you to leave a comment. What are your top picks of 2016? Link me to your blogs or anything. I always love to see how widely tastes vary.

Wishing a thoroughly joyous 2017 to you all!

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