2014 Year in Review: K-Pop


Since I’ve essentially been inactive in the blog area but been paying a load of attention to K-pop this, and last year, I figured I should at least write a summary post for last year. In an attempt to be an unbiased writer and try out Youtube APIs, I wrote a script to pull all the K-pop releases of this year into a couple of playlists. There were 355 releases this year(albums, singles, OSTs included) so it’s quite the listen. Enjoy after the skip…

As for the list, I decided to go with some fairly different categories for my post, since there are probably other people with better opinions.

Best Female Solo Album:

Ha:tfelt – Me

Although the album didn’t seem to receive that great a response, I loved the album. Having never cared much for any one particular genre, I loved the combination of various genres on the album. Yenny/Ha:tfelt has also always had a great voice and has great control over her voice which is obvious from her promotions. That said, the choice “A’int Nobody” as the title is probably what killed the commercial viability of the album. Standouts “Iron Girl” and “Wherever Together” would have been much more interesting to promote, with slightly faster tempos and the potential for actual choreography(whatever they had her do for A’int Nobody was veeeeery awkward).

Personal Favorite: Iron Girl, Bond

Gain – Truth

Gain slayed with her solo comeback this year. “Truth”, “Bloom” and “Fxxk You” were pretty darn well-rounded, well executed and appropriate for her public persona. She even got the appropriate amount of hate vs love with the fairly sexuality-focused subject material and imagery in each video. B.E.G is one of the few girl groups that don’t make me cringe in their public appearances and I’ve come to like GaIn through W.G.M as well. She did particularly well on this solo album and I look forwards to seeing more from her!

Best Female Group 180:

AOA

2014 has seen an insane boost in “sexy” concepts for girl groups with various nugu groups shooting into stardom by abandoning their previous images and going on to “mature”, most notably Girl’s Day and AOA. Although this can only be good for the members(please pay them sometime soon), the loss of an idol girl band(with instruments) is a little saddening(not that their overly cute concept back then really grabbed me). In any case I’m picking AOA for this one considering their ability to get even their male counterparts foaming at the mouth on camera.

Turning Point Albums:

GOT7 – Identify

“Girls, girls, girls” was a somewhat awkward debut with half the members so young they barely knew what to do around the girls they were supposed to be getting, albeit an okay somewhat catchy awkward. My hopes for them skyrocketed with “A” and I got another tiny boost with “Stop, Stop It”. Although I am not a fan of the vocaloid effect over the vocals in the chorus, the song is otherwise fairly catchy. It’s the songs that are not title tracks that I actually want to mention however, with “Magnetic”, “Turn Up the Music”, and “Just Tonight” being my absolute favorites on the album.

BAP – First Sensibility

B.A.P has always had a rock + rap aesthetic since their debut and I had been itching to hear Dae-hyun’s voice on a rock ballad. First Sensibility gave me all that and more with “1004” and I was very much appeased. Personally, I wish they would ditch the jazz cabaret vibes in their music because it isn’t as appealing combined with their vocals and rap styles. There are still quite a few awkward sounding tracks such as “SPY”, which is reminiscent of “Hurricane”, and “Bang x2” which is not even punk…I don’t even know where to start. But, despite a few missteps this is definitely the most cohesive album they have put out and have transitioned them away from the super rookies persona to a more artistic veteran artist image. Very welcome in my opinion. Good luck for the future B.A.P!

Ailee – Magazine

Ailee’s earlier works seemed to both not quite fit her image or her voice. I think with Magazine, she is finally finding her own style which sets her apart from other singers in the game. Immortal Songs cameos always help as well.

Industry Upsets:

AOMG

To be honest I was skeptical when Jay Park came back out of seemingly nowhere to found AOMG as a record label. It really wasn’t until SimonD joined as co-CEO that I began to take things seriously and was surprised to find that they had pulled some well-known names in underground Korean hip-hop into the label. I don’t know what to say about Jay Park as an artist, but his entrepreneurial spirit is impressive.

Series of contract nullification lawsuits

Though we were all aware of the horrendous contracts K-pop idols had, we never knew just how little return they were getting on their work, and just how much work they were putting in, until this year’s slew of lawsuits. The tally:

Settled:

2 – Block B, Tymee

In Mediation:

4 – B.A.P, Luhan, Kris, Meghan Lee

Possible future of GLAM’s Downfall

Honestly, GLAM was one of my favorite groups of 2013 so to see them hardly promote in 2014 and then have Dahee mess things up throughly was disappointing. Current favorites are “I Like That” and “In Front of the Mirror”. Please let Zinni survive at the very least!

Ladies’ Code

Rest in peace EunB and RiSe, best of luck to Ashley, Sojung and Zuny. I hope that they take their time recovering and only rejoin the entertainment industry on their will alone. Still listening to “Bad Girl” and “Supergirl”, my two favorite songs from them other than “Hate You”.

Standout Songs:

Melted- Akdong Musician

Unlike other writers I’ve been reading(AFK, IATFB, KPopalypse, Arcady) I actually like Akdong’s brand of folk-pop ballad/slow tracks. “Melted” was a blow away piece on the album including a valuable, globally applicable social commentary on human apathy. Overall well produced and executed, AKMU makes it on my standout song list.

Sogyeokdong – Seo Taiji

Seo Taiji is back and biting the K-pop industry once again with another album with a sound that is very different to what is currently popular. Some people dislike him as his music is essentially a mix of other music genres and therefore not actually “groundbreaking” but that unique-sounding mix is exactly what I like about his discography. Let’s face it, pretty much all music borrows from other music these days. “Sogyeokdong” also brings in some interesting elements with a history lesson, making the song much more intriguing and impactful enough to include in this category. Not to mention it was already well produced and interesting even without the background.

Indie Knockouts:

Manyo Mansh

Puer Kim’s voice was a much-needed breath of fresh air in a music market where the high key songs are just getting higher. Add her biting lyrics and the interesting concept of her music video and it’s reason enough to keep a watch on her.

Nell – Newton’s Apple

It’s about time I sat down and listened to a Nell album in its entirety. Glad I did, the album gets progressively better and more interesting with each track. Will continue to lookout for them as they always bring great emotion and production to their music.

Need more activity please:

Eric Nam

Eric is one of those artists whose voice is great, but I can’t quite get behind majority of his releases. His covers, however, are something I can always make time for.

15& Park Jimin

Alright, “Hopeless Love” came out this year to satisfy this. But I want MORE.

Han Byul(former LEDApple)

He has such a great Alt. Rock voice, I want him to stay in the genre. That said, I see him coming back as a ballad singer. And that’s a crying shame.

Taeyang – by himself

Taeyang’s long-awaited Rise album was admittedly great- minus the songs GD was on and any featurings with GD in 2014. I really enjoy Taeyang’s music and find him to be the most grounded of Big Bang so when BB inevitably calls it quits, I hope he will continue on as a solo artist(cut free of all GD influence and bias from YG).

Most Promising:

Mamamoo

I liked these girls since “Don’t Be Happy” was released and I’m glad they kept things going all the way until “Piano Man”. Fingers crossed they don’t lose steam now because they are definitely my favorite debut of this year.

Purfles

ToppDogg 

I’m still rooting for Topp Dogg. They did well with “Annie” and particularly “Arario”, they just need a big break. And hopefully it comes before the members spontaneously combust.

The things I was excited about prior to 2015 and things still waiting for:

Amber solo debut

Being literally my favorite female in K-Pop, I was looking forward to Amber’s solo debut. Since Amber has some experience writing and composing, and she is actually a better singer than rapper(shocker) I had a reasonable expectation that it will be good. The Llama did not disappoint; apart from the strange track she decided to release, “Shake That Brass”.

Shannon’s Future

I was surprised to like her debut ballad song since I usually dislike ballads. Having liked Shannon’s voice for some time now I’m glad she started out strong. Hopefully we’ll see a more exciting song + great choreography again in 2015.

Special mentions:

C-Clown – Justice

Quite different from “Young Love” which was a great song, albeit normal K-pop ballad. It seems like C-Clown has decided to go for a different sound since they didn’t get anywhere after “Young Love”. Justice is the most catchy of the songs they have made since then, and I enjoyed it. Almost as much as I enjoy watching Crown the Clown.

Not sure what’s going on with the band,  but I hope they survive whatever’s going on under the surface.

Boy’s Republic – Videogame

Forgot about this song until I was going through the playlist, but it’s really catchy and I liked it when it came out. Too bad the rest of their releases have been so uninspiring.

Yeri Band – Romeo Mannequin

It’s good to see a female-fronted band really hit the mainstream. The only other one I know of with mainstream success is Janus, and they are industry veterans at this point.

Orange Caramel

Come on. They are love. Okay?

MBLAQ – Broken

This turned out to be a really enjoyable album. Wish I had listened to it earlier-you know, before we knew MBLAQ’s days were done.

M.I.B – The Maginot Line

Don’t know who produced “Chisa Bounce”, but keep ’em!

History – Desire

Not sure what happened to History this year but it looks like they need a better promotional team. Why? Because their least impressive songs were promoted off their album and that’s a crying shame because “Psycho”, “It’s Alright” or even “Blue Moon” would have been great follow ups to their debut single.

Bigflo – First Flow

Not sure about the overall sound, but I like the gritty feel included in each song. Might be worth looking into Bigflo a little more.

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