Archive for the ‘K-Pop’ Category

Best of 2015: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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It’s really difficult for me to keep up with K-Pop these days. The scene moves through songs, groups, soloists and promotion cycles as fast as ever, and as I keep harping on about this week, I have far less free time these days to take any of it in. I thought I might need to drop the music out of my life in order to keep doing the other things I enjoy throughout 2015, but luckily I didn’t have to, thanks to a little podcast called This Week in K-Pop (plug time), a twice-monthly audio show put together by two Americans living in Korea that showcases and critiques new K-Pop releases of both mainstream and a slightly lesser-known nature.

Combined with a meaty morning and evening commute, this meant I was able to keep building my usual K-Pop single countdown list throughout the year, and even do so from a wider pool than ever before. As a result I actually had a full top 15 ready to go way back in early August. From then on, it was a bit of a headache to decide what new additions would leave and what would stay, leaving me with possibly my most carefully constructed list since I started doing this three years ago.

By and large, it was the beats that defined 2015’s Korean pop music output. After a constantly tumultuous, frequently uninspired, often dull and occasionally tragic 2014 for the Korean popular music industry, 2015 proved that the wildly successful, still-young subsection of world music was more than capable of reinventing itself and delivering surprises. K-Pop’s so-called “identity” is now more difficult to categorise in Western terms than ever, as it continues to stretch its tendrils into heavier contemporary EDM backing tracks, quirky samples and widely spreading subgenres while refusing to back away from the ’90s-inspired idol group structures, creative knife-point choreography and insanely high production values that have defined it from the very beginning.

Short version: K-Pop was back in a big way in 2015.

As always, no album B-sides or non-Korean language songs from K-Pop artists are eligible for this list – generally only songs with MVs (music videos) appear, even though that meant I had to scratch some really good Infinity Challenge/Unpretty Rapstar songs this year. As always I have taken said MVs into consideration when ordering the list, but ultimately the song itself is the biggest contributing factor, and I tried to keep that in mind at all times. Also, this year I just went ahead and made my previous “unwritten rule” an official one – no more than one song from an artist or group can make it on. Now I’ve waffled on long enough, so let’s watch some K-Pop videos.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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15. Wiggle Wiggle – Hellovenus

We might as well kick things off with the earliest song of the year to appear on this list – It dropped on January 8th 2015, hot on the heels of a viral video featuring the girls of Hellovenus practicing a dance cover of Jason Derulo’s Wiggle. And despite how opportunistic and cynical the move was, it resulted in an incredibly catchy song with a thumping club beat that would set the stage for similar bass-dominated hits in the year to come.

And yeah, this isn’t the “real” music video, because the actual one is easily of the tackiest, cheapest quality, most poorly edited MVs I have ever seen (it’s here if you really want to watch it).
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Best of 2015: Top 10 Disappointments

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Let’s get this 100-mile-an-hour time of year started with some good old fashioned negativity, shall we?

It doesn’t really feel like 2015 was a particularly disappointing year in entertainment media, at least not in terms of things that weren’t my own fault (such as the fact that I barely saw any movies this year due to the relative lack of gigantic blockbusters). I can’t really think of too many releases that fell far below my own expectations quality-wise, but there was enough ancillary stuff going on around those releases to fill a list. The list is very heavily skewed towards videogames this year, but when there were so very many big ones released, you might say such a trend was inevitable. Maybe. Anyway, here we go.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. The Order’s Beautiful Failure

After a 2014 that saw Microsoft’s lead console trounce Sony’s in the exclusive games department – despite lagging behind in sales – 2015 looked set to be the year that Sony hit back. And it was going to hit back very early. February saw the release of The Order: 1886, quite simply the best-looking game that had come out on either major console at the time. The story was intriguing, the weapons looked cool, and the game received a ton of marketing support. And it was over very, very quickly. A game with a largely repetitive combat loop that I finished in a single day – something very rare indeed – The critical consensus on The Order: 1886 was not particularly kind. The general internet reaction was, predictably, much worse. I don’t think it was a bad game per se – The story and gunplay were decent enough to pull me through the whole game, after all – but no replay value or extra content to speak of is pretty hard to justify with a full-priced retail game in today’s climate. The Order: 1886 certainly failed to live up to its billing as the PS4’s first exceptional exclusive title – nope, apparently that came a month later with Bloodborne.
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I Went to Bigbang’s MADE Tour 2015

The first of two concerts I’ll hopefully be writing about before the end of the year! This post got long…

Well what a treat that was.

In the world of K-Pop, there are few bigger acts than Big Bang (Is that the right way to write it? I’m never sure – Should it be Bigbang? Or BIGBANG, even? Let’s just go with the way that makes the most English sense). Debuting nine long years ago, the YG Entertainment flagship group has been consistently at the top of the K-Pop consciousness for a while, and has amassed quite a considerable reputation in the Western music world as well. Outside of PSY and perhaps Girls’ Generation, there isn’t a more widely recognised K-Pop name than Big Bang. Just about every solo release from the group’s five extremely busy members is met with pandemonium by fans, and when all five get together, well, that’s something else.

So it was a big enough deal when Big Bang announced earlier this year that they would be coming out with their first release(s) as a group since 2012. I never expected that in their subsequent world tour announcement, Australia would be included. Yes, the country ritually ignored by the big name Korean music labels, especially since the relatively disappointing – though still loud and passionate – attendance at 2011’s poorly-marketed K-Pop Festival. Yep, the arrival of Big Bang on our shores for the first time – for two rapidly sold-out shows no less (and a reactively added third) – is probably going to be pretty significant for Korean pop music fans down under going forward.

But never mind all that. Big Bang’s second Sydney show, which I was lucky enough to attend alongside five friends, was just a really good time.

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Yep, it really happened.

I’ve been to one K-Pop concert before – B.A.P’s Live on Earth tour appearance in Sydney last year, and it was a lot of fun. But this was next level. Yeah, that’s mostly because Allphones Arena is a much bigger and more technically impressive venue than the Big Top, of course, not to mention Big Bang has more money to put into a spectacular show than B.A.P does. The boys from YG have also been around for far longer, and have built their name up over a sizeable body of work. G-Dragon, T.O.P, Daesung, Seungri and Taeyang are walking legends in their field, and they wouldn’t have had to do much to send the beyond-feverish crowd into raptures. Yet if you ask me, they matched their much younger colleagues in just about every way on stage, turning what was already a major event into one hell of a night.

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Best of 2014: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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I’m not going to lie – this is a list I do mostly for my own amusement, as I know that K-Pop fans who actually devote the time to listening to albums are kind of scarce. And yet, if you’re reading this, then you are either one of those rare people, or you’re at least curious. In any case, please make yourself at home, sit back and relax as I present to you my ten favourite major album releases in Korean pop music over the course of 2014. In my humble opinion there was a decent amount of good stuff to be found this year.

The list is split into two top fives – one for Mini Albums (essentially EPs) and one for Full Albums, which qualify when they contain eight or more tracks.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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MINI ALBUMS
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5. Holler – TaeTiSeo

I’m sure it isn’t an original expression of opinion to say that the only thing holding up the overall quality of Girls Generation’s non-Japanese album output over the last several years is the work of TaeTiSeo, also known as “What happens when you distill a nine-member group down to its three best / most complementary voices”. Indeed the second album from the SNSD sub-unit is a strong sophomore effort that only falls short of their 2012 debut Twinkle by virtue of having one less track. Holler sees Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun harmonise their way around a handful of vocal showcase songs that push their range and certainly do no harm to the future prospects of these three superstars of Korean pop. The mid-tempo ballads are there, as expected, but Holler also ratchets up the tempo more than Twinkle did, resulting in the highly enjoyable StayEyes and Adrenaline, not to mention a general ‘all seasons’ feel.


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Best of 2014: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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Trust something like K-Pop to make me nostalgic for 2012, of all things.

The ancillary troubles that dogged the Korean pop music industry throughout 2014 are well documented in K-Pop circles, and while I have no interest in writing a full-on postmortem, there’s little doubt these troubles had at least some effect on the amount of quality stuff released throughout the year. As once-big acts found themselves on the way out and the mid-tier labels attempting to profit from this got caught in a game of follow-the-leader, the resulting stretches of ho-hum releases stretched on for quite a while.

But this is K-Pop, and you can always guarantee such a high volume of output from all the gazillion labels these days that some of it is bound to be worth listening to. 2014 was no exception, producing some good quality singles worth celebrating, or in this case, counting down!

No album B-sides or non-Korean language songs from K-Pop artists are eligible for this particular list – generally only songs with MVs (music videos) appear. The visual nature of K-Pop means I have taken said MVs into consideration when ordering the list, but ultimately I made this list via an IPod audio playlist, so the song itself is the biggest contributing factor.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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15. Jackpot – Block B

K-Pop is a lesser entity overall without the crazy creative energy of Block B, so it’s a very good thing indeed that they are still around after all the label dramas of last year. Block B’s new home, Seven Seasons Entertainment, seems even more willing to let Zico and the boys loose on whatever concept tickles their fancy than Stardom was, and as a result we get things like Jackpot. Somehow both high-energy and creepy at the same time, the song leverages a carnival atmosphere to thrilling effect. Yes, the change-up for the chorus is jarring, but I have no doubt that was part of the plan, and that post-chorus is just so infectious. Block B is alive, manic and well.
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Best of 2014: Top 10 Disappointments

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Last year I began my year-end countdowns with a list of a more negative flavour than the stuff I’m usually inclined to write, but it received a pretty substantial amount of attention (who knew?) and was a refreshing challenge to put together, so here we are with its 2014 return. I present my opinion on the top 10 entertainment media disappointments of 2014.

In the early months of the year, I didn’t have much of a list building. Almost every widely anticipated movie proved to exceed expectations rather than dip below them, and as for videogames, despite a relative six month drought of major releases, there was always something good to play. Then, in the second half of 2014, things started to unravel, with huge, emotionally charged media stories abounding over controversial issues. They were mostly gaming related, which stung a bit, but that was fine with me in at least one department, as it ensured I wouldn’t have to think up a new type of list for 2014. Here we go.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. Interstellar fell short of the hype

One could make the point that no movie of 2014 felt the weight of expectation more than Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Many people, myself included, waited with baited breath for more details to be revealed about the sci-fi epic following a highly cryptic opening teaser and an even less transparent first trailer. Few would disagree that Nolan’s highly impressive track record justified the kind of hype afforded to Interstellar, but when the disappointing first wave of reviews came through for the American release of the film, that hype backfired. Then, as my free time began to dissipate due to new commitments, a lot of my friends started to see it without me, and several of them raved about it. So my hopes were raised again – then I saw it myself. While I do think Interstellar is a good movie, even a very good one, I just can’t get past its messy attempts at sentimentality which, for me, place it below every other (admittedly excellent) Nolan movie thus far. It’s a compliment to the director, really.
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I Went to B.A.P Live on Earth 2014

I’ve been both busy and ill this last week, which is never the best combo for this blog, but here we go now.

It was the experience I felt I had to have. After almost three years without such an opportunity, last weekend I finally made it to a full-on K-Pop concert (That incredible late 2011 K-Pop extravaganza came a few months before I cared). Though my enthusiasm for the genre probably peaked last year, when I came pretty damn close to attending a similar event before it fell through, I am by no means done with appreciating K-Pop and even if I was, I have bought so many albums and written so many words about it already that to move on without having seen it live in its purest form would have been a real shame.

Enter TS Entertainment and their always busy headline act, six-member male group B.A.P.

Also known as “A K-Pop World Tour That Actually Includes Australia – Wow.”

Sydney’s Big Top in Luna Park was packed for the May 10 performance event and there was a surprisingly decent contingent of older and male fans getting into the swing of things (I had expected an almost completely teenage fangirl demographic in the crowd and was happy to be proved wrong). As I mentioned in a K-Pop countdown two years ago, B.A.P’s musical output does tend to have a more universal appeal than most male K-Pop groups, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
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