Monday, January 1, 2018

[PLAYLIST] KPOPPY's Best Of 2017 : The Eclectic Mix

I'm looking back at 2017 with a heavy sigh. I think my playlist might reflect some of my mood. Fair warning. It was a tough year personally and I found myself more and more gravitating towards emotionally resonant or calming material.

Characteristics of Kpop for the year? I believe we're finally nearing the end of the Tropical House bonanza. The relentless 'Frankenstein' tracks, which were packed full of too many disparate ideas in the first half of the year, have mellowed out. Kpop has felt more coherent from track to track in the last few months. Still lots of trap percussion. Too much, probably. Moving more towards Future Bass as the tropical stuff fades. Things felt like they got kinda nuts in 2017, so I'm pondering if we'll move towards even more traditional structures and sounds (Despacito clones, for example) or we'll move in an entirely different direction.

I don't typically mention fashion, but there were distinct trends. The ladies traded in their high-waisted shorts for cheerleader skirts and skater dresses. That started in 2016, but it was pushed super hard this year. Flats and kitten heels are still pretty standard, which I continue to love. Stay out of the high heels as long as you can, girls! The gentlemen really fascinated me. There was almost a uniform that developed. Huge over-sized button-up dress shirts, half-tucked into slightly too-short pants, chokers, and dangly earrings. No complaints from me. Men with long, elaborate earrings is apparently something I'm into. Ahem. The more you know...
Mullets can disappear forever though. Please. PLEASE.

Kpop got very cosmic. Lots of big space themes. Star fields, celestial bodies, nebulae. Eclipse imagery was pervasive. Suns and moons. This really intrigued me considering the major eclipse story of the year was across the continental United States. Nothing in Korea. Kpop is absolutely serving a global marketplace, if there was still any doubt.

The rules, as always. Only songs with music videos. No OSTs. All Korean language. No repeating artists (tweaked this one a bit for one case -- sue me).
Okay, music! Let's go!

MY TOP 30 ECLECTIC MIX for 2017 in chronological order only:
[The full playlist link on Youtube]
I'll highlight a bunch, add in some more thoughts, and include honorable mentions in the full post. I have a bunch of b-side, English, and otherwise interesting tracks I want to mention this year.

I already talked about some of these in the 2017 first half of the year post, so I’ll mostly jump over them, but you can see that post here.

DAY6 - I Wait
-- DAY6  released a track every month this year. Interesting project. I liked a few of them. They fell a bit flatter in the latter half, but they're still nice. 'I Wait' is excellent though. One of my favorite boy band band tracks I've ever heard out of Kpop.

I (feat. Tiger JK) - I Wish
-- Cha Yoonji's debut was my 'BoA for the new generation' jam. Those little string sample flourishes are cool. She participated in The Unit TV show, but left due to health reasons. Hopefully this won't be the last we see of her in the industry.

-- Rock has a strong presence in my playlist. Absolutely love KLANG's rich voice and the percussive beat. Sometimes a straightforward foot-stomper is just what the doctor ordered.

BTS - Spring Day
-- I chose Not Today for the my first half of the year list, but only just eking out this one. 'Spring Day' is such a weird instrumental track. It has this rising and falling electric guitar/chainsaw(?) thing going on that is new to me. Something about it cruises along like the train in the MV, undulating in and out like the waves on the shoreline. The vocal melody is emotive, but still catchy. The music video is easily one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Ever. Director LUMPENS always makes the most incredible stuff for BTS.

I'll ramble a little more here to express my ongoing appreciation for BTS pushing huge narrative themes. The references in this, fictional and real... Omelas, Snowpiercer, You Never Walk Alone (Hillsborough disaster), yellow ribbons, shoes washed up on the beach, listing tunnels and corridors (Sewol Ferry disaster), and the pile of laundry, which is likely imitating the artist Boltanski's installation in Paris representing victims of the Holocaust. All incidences where greed and dogma led people in power to exploit/neglect and destroy groups of people, especially young people, for their own gain.

'Spring Day' has haunted me through the year. I found myself humming it to calm down when my hometown was burning from wildfires and I was on the knife-edge of evacuation. It became very popular in Korea as well. The lyrics are very beautiful and mournful, dealing with the loss of a loved one that can never return. Kpop just suffered the loss of a wonderful artist, Jonghyun, and Spring Day came to me again in the days following.

This is going to be a song that will continue to be important to me into the future.

Subin - Circle's Dream
-- Still loving this unusual ditty. It has never stopped feeling refreshing.

Kim Lip (LOONA) - Eclipse
-- The last third of LOONA's member reveals have been awesome. More towards R&B and 80s retro feels. Definitely my thing. But nothing has eclipsed Kim Lip's. It was my #1 for the first half. In the end, it's my #2 and I could still listen to it endlessly. It's largely the detail in Daniel Obi Klein's production that tickles all my fancies here.

-- Trying to cut this playlist down to 30 really messed me up when I noticed there was an overwhelming number of solo female mellow R&B songs. Seriously, there was like a dozen of them. I'm not even sure if Shannon should have this spot. Koh Nayoung, Kim Ki Peum, SOHEE, Jessi, JOOHEE, aaahhhh too many! I like the big atmospheric sound of 'Love Don't Hurt' though, so here it is.

The Barberettes - Summer Love
-- I love these ladies so much. The vocal range and harmony is so appreciated. And isn't this just the most delightful, happy, summery jingle?! There's also a lovely English version, which I'll link in the ending discussion. All good feelings for this one.

The KOXX - Blister
-- I love Hyunsong's voice! It smiles, no matter the feel of the rest of the song. They often use these oddly English lyrics that waver between incorrect grammar and being perfectly poetic. I'm super into both. But this one being all in Korean means there's no way I'm leaving it off the list!

Lim Sooyeon - Cigarette
-- Last year, it was FROMM's 'Pieces of You and Me' providing quiet, emotional, solace. This year, it's this chill ballad. The chord progression in the chorus is so interesting to me. It's like climbing stairs or something. This tentative rising feeling.

LONGGUO & SHIHYUN - the.the.the
-- Just like the first season of PRODUCE 101, the second season has spawned a wave of debuting groups and artists. These two will eventually be in a larger group with their company, but they've started with this little duo first. One of these guys is also in JBJ, which is a similar kind of deal. There are a bunch of solid boy bands doing this type of semi-chill EDM or Future Bass. This one isn't all that special, but that 'the the the' part hooks me every time.

The Rose - Sorry
-- Back to rock. This was The Rose's debut. A strong one! It reminding me a touch of a Roh Jihoon track from a couple years ago, which I had loved. The focus is on the easy and beautiful melody. I'm always here for new instrument-playing bands, so I look forward to seeing what these guys do in the future.

DMEANOR - Right Here
-- The most purely relaxing R&B song of the year. My whole body melts when I listen to this. It's likely just straight-up boring if you're not into this kind of thing.

SUNMI - Gashina
-- Gashina had to grow on me a bit. Certainly enjoyed it right away, especially the hilarious attitude of the music video, but the song itself took me a little while to fully get into. There's a high probability that my attachment grew from watching the live performances and choreography, which I adore. One of my favorite things that happened in Kpop all year was the performance where Sunmi's male and female dancers switched places and did each other's choreography. IT. WAS. GLORIOUS. Yes, ma'am! Thank you, ma'am!

-- More relaxing R&B. Can you tell I was in need of some soothing music this year? Lol. Anyway, Hangang feels like mid to late 90s Janet Jackson with some contemporary elements. It just plain feels nice. That grooving bass.

-- #3 of the year, I think. Catchy. Classic Zion.T R&B goodness. Also Studio Pivote's animation MVs are almost always perfection. Love their work. Nabiyaaaaaaaa... nabiyaaaaaaaaaa...

Jimin (BTS) - Serendipity
-- Favorite track of the year and it's just an intro to BTS's album. I'm getting away with a second BTS song on the list because it's only Jimin! I make my own rules! Then I half-break my own rules! Lmao. I already wrote a damn novel about Serendipity at the time I posted it, so no need to keep on about it. Suffice it to say, listening to this the first time was a revelation and continues to bring me pure sunshine joy.

-- You could apply almost everything I said about Longguo and Shihyun to MXM. PRODUCE 101, didn't make it to Wanna One, debuted as a project unit duo. Very much in the category of the typical boy band EDM we got this year, but I think this is one of the best examples of it. Really fun. Sounds uplifting!

Jay Park x Double K x Boi.B - REBORN
-- A song for an advertisement! Happens from time to time. Last year it was MAMAMOO's 'Woo Hoo'. There have been quite a few good CF songs this year actually. This one is for a digestive drink(?). At any rate, feel-good R&B/hip-hop. Almost thought I'd have no Jay Park on the playlist, but this kept getting stuck in my head. Had to go in.

-- Absolutely favorite non-pop track of 2017. Talk about uplifting! It has this great low end with rumbling bass and selectively explosive percussion. The MV is a bit of a drugged-out garden party haze of horses, bunnies, and melting psychedelic effects, which is great fun. I really love The Solutions a lot. They keep putting out work for which I can't get enough.

Wanna One - Beautiful
-- The penultimate PRODUCE 101 entry. Energetic is also great, but this one has a heavier/darker feel that's more my preference. I watched the show all the way through, loved it, and by some Kpop miracle ended up with a bunch of my favorite guys in the final 11. I loved what IOI became as well, but they were a little under-served by being the guinea pig season and votes favoring personality and looks a bit more than the dude season. My subjective opinion, of course, but Wanna One got the most talented singer (Jaehwan), rapper (Woojin), and dancers/performers (Daniel, Daehwi) available from the original pool of contestants. Not that extremely talented individuals didn't get cut throughout, but we definitely got some of the best of the best with Wanna One. And while the IOI ladies got some half-assed productions for their first songs, dramatically improving towards the end of their reign, these gentlemen got fantastic material right from the start. I'm glad. It'll be really fascinating to see what groups will be formed post-Wanna One. They have so much momentum this time around.

Younha - Parade
-- Yep! She got in under the wire! I've loved Younha's work for ages, including her career in Japan. I'm happy to have her here at the end. Her new album is much more on-trend then I think I've ever heard her. That could have gone either way, but I like it quite a bit. Happy to close out the list with something bright and optimistic going into 2018.

Alright, honorable and additional mentions:

Red Velvet's Red Flavor is essentially a perfect Kpop song. I love it. So catchy. Why isn't it on the list? Because SM has been pushing for some strange production elements in all of their artists, which in this case, manifests as that bizarre synthed, warbling, slurring male vocal, chanting 'red flavor' though the whole song... at least I think that's what it's saying. Every time I hear this song I get this very aggravating impulse to hit the delete key on that particular effect. It drives me batty. I'm still looking for a remix that magically removes it from the track without compromising the rest of the sound.

Three mentions for an emotional/political experience:
  • 10cm - HELP (for the socially excluded)
  • Yoon Jong Shin, Eddy Kim - NOW (for the intimate loss of loved ones)
  • Lee Seung Hwan - God of Money (because 'dirty money rules the world, rules the world!')
PRODUCE 101's NEVER was an original song performed during the season. It's one of my most favorite tracks of the year. It has no official MV though. If only! Girls Next Door's Deep Blue Eyes was another fun track from a TV show.

Had a bunch of English songs in the first half of the year post. A few more to add here. Watching the performance of Here Comes the Regrets is an absolute must. It's gorgeous.

N.Flying's The Real takes the cake for funniest MV of the year. That plot twist at the end! I also loved the look of ONF's ON/OFF, which was also a decent jam. The aesthetic reminded me of Portal 2.

B-sides that deserve recognition. Hyukoh's whole album was great. Jesus Lived in a Motel Room is my favorite. IU's Jam Jam was my favorite from Palette. Woo Won Jae was the 2nd runner-up on SMTM6. He released We Are with Gray and Loco. It blew up rather big in Korea. The lyrics are great. It's basically the theme song for all of us night owl freaks who keep such weird hours that we're in someone else's timezone. Story of my life. I'm in PST, but spend most of my life on something more like KST.

Why windfarms? Last year there was this funny trend of music videos being shot in locations with abandoned pools. This year it was around wind turbines. Snuper's Meteor, Monsta X's Newton, and GOT7's You Are were a few. I think there were at least a couple more.

I mentioned earlier there were a bunch of boy band tracks I really enjoyed. All pretty solid production with nice catchy choruses and pretty music videos. Most of them just didn't have that little extra oompf to make it to this list or in some cases could take the place of something that is on the list without much trouble, like JBJ's Fantasy. Here's a stack:

ASTRO - Crazy Sexy Cool
B.I.G - 1.2.3

BLACK6IX - Please
BTS - Not Today
CNBLUE - Between Us
GOT7 - You Are
JBJ - Fantasy
MONSTA X - Beautiful
MVP - Take It
NU'EST W - Where U At
ROMEO - Without U
SEVENTEEN - Don't Wanna Cry
SF9 - Easy Love
Snuper - Back:Hug
UNIT BLACK - Steal Your heart

At last, I'll post a nice tribute to the late Kim Jonghyun of SHINee in the form of a performance compilation. He's the type of artist I would have been thrilled to watch fill future decades with incredible work. He'll be missed terribly.

More sighs.

Okay, that's all folks.
Hoping against hope for a brighter 2018 than 2017, for me personally, and for all you Kpop fans out there. Take care of yourselves and look after each other as best you can.

Lots of love and a very happy new year to you!

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