Best of 2018: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

Here we are at the big three, and my most difficult list of the year. Seriously, I had more trouble ordering this one than I did any of the others (It’s always the biggest effort to format too). There are so many different moods that albums are capable of putting you in – or sustaining – so every time I came back to the draft I shifted, added or removed something. This is the most accurate representation of my favourites that I could come up with at this point in time. Turns out it’s the poppiest album list I’ve put together for several years. I usually like to highlight song collections and/or artists that didn’t make my singles list on this page, but this year there are quite a few albums containing singles that either made this year’s main Top 15 or the honorable mentions. Also, I may have just realised while typing this that literally half these albums are from SM Entertainment. Whoops.

For the purposes of this list, a mini album is between four and seven non-instrumental, non-remix tracks long. Eight or more of these makes a full album instead.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS
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5. Blooming Days – EXO-CBX

As always, I love a good attempt at a structural gimmick when it comes to albums, and Blooming Days has a doozy – seven tracks, one for each day of the week and its corresponding mood. Though title track Blooming Day – sitting in the Tuesday slot – is not one of the strongest products to come from the EXO family stable, the rest of the album does a reasonably good job of putting together an aural week that you can experience in less than half an hour. The strongest three tracks, neatly enough, are the opener, the exact midpoint and the closer. Monday Blues is just so good at nailing the bleary-eyed feeling of staring at a week of work ahead, Thursday evokes that knowingly premature daydream of a fruitful weekend and Lazy takes the album’s best backing track and uses it to transport the listener to a sun-soaked picnic. The first of several SM Entertainment albums on this page, I can recommend Blooming Days wholeheartedly to any listeners out there who like to count tracks in their head.

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Best of 2018: Top 10 Gaming Moments

This year’s moments list is virtually an even split between single-player story beats worthy of entire spoilercasts and the discovery of delightful game mechanics I just did not expect. That’s just about all I could ask for, as that spectrum of variety made this one of my easiest lists to write. It’s no coincidence that my number one entry is a combination of both of these types, and with a bit of right-place-right-time multiplayer magic sprinkled in, we’ve got ourselves another strong showing from the industry and another year of reasons to love gaming.

Also I apologise but some of these screenshots might show up really dark for you, possibly because they were taken on a really bright TV.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Spoilers ahead!

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10. Hot Air Balloon Crash – Overcooked 2

The first Overcooked was frantic and colourful and threw plenty of surprises at you, but they were always deliberately telegraphed and only slightly altered the game’s stages aesthetically. After a fair few of those kinds of stages in Overcooked 2 – enough to start getting used to the rhythm of the game’s heaven-sent ingredient throwing mechanic – the game threw me and two of my mates onto a hot air balloon amidst turbulent weather and frequent fires on deck that you have to put out (which ended up being my job). Luckily we were only meant to make salad, which is reasonably simple. But no sooner had we got our pathing and task division down than the entire stage suddenly broke apart and plummeted out of the sky, crashing straight into a sushi restaurant where all of a sudden we had to prepare – you guessed it – sushi. The shock, visual flair and immediate need to adapt made for an invigorating surprise that probably played a big part in ensuring we would actually try to finish the game.

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Best of 2018: Top 10 Movie Scenes

In stark contrast to yesterday, here’s a list where my options seemed to overflow. 2018 had some pretty neat and creative cinematic sequences worth singling out.

In the age of the Marvel super-blockbuster, we have not just one but two post-credits scenes on here, but also two clever and unique opening scenes to go nicely with them. The overall balance this year is more in favour of uplifting, funny and/or cool over stressful or scary – I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to my taste and how much is related to the kinds of movies that came out this year with hype or interest around them. Anyway, here’s the (spoiler-filled) list.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Big spoilers ahead!

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10. Opening Titles – Upgrade

It’s been a while since I was genuinely struck by the opening title sequence of a movie enough to remember the sequence itself. Before even beginning to get into its own wonderful groove, Upgrade made me do just that. We see one faded, scan-line-obscured logo, followed by the Blumhouse mark, then cut to a black screen. A small blip of light widens to fill the frame, then the line splits and contorts to become a waveform matching the disembodied, cold female voice filling the speakers. With just a hint of oh-so-foreshadowing superiority to her words, the obvious AI says “OTL Releasing Presents”. Now the waveform fills the whole screen and gains a third dimension as the camera pans away slightly, in time for her to continue, “A BH Production…” It’s then that it becomes obvious – She is reading out what every other movie simply places onscreen or just avoids. As the waveform gains more and more complexity, it splits and falls away in the middle so the camera can enter the resulting chasm, just as the AI says – tauntingly – “Upgrade”.

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Best of 2018: Top 5 Game Consoles

Console time.

On our increasingly stretched list of five this year we see two players in the definitive final stages of their lives, two perhaps approaching the dawn of their successors and one still young with a lot to prove. This is a transition period of sorts in the console space but 2018 was also a year for big-budget, high-impact exclusive games. And exclusive games remain the number one most important factor I use to order this list, although other elements will always be important too. How I feel a console has grown via aspects like associated services, system-level improvements and that nebulous “how I feel playing it” quality all come into consideration.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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5. PlayStation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

Yep, it’s actually dead now, I know, I know. This year finally saw Sony announce that 2019 would see the end of Japanese production of this wonderfully misunderstood and mishandled portable. As Japan – the Vita’s home, after all – was the only place still manufacturing Vita consoles and accessories, not to mention the only place said consoles and accessories were still selling decently, that’s quite a death knell. There were still worldwide game releases on the platform in 2018, though, and so even though I finally got rid of my lovely lime green Vita for good this year, I can still technically use the thing to hold up the bottom of this list. Because there is literally nothing else to qualify it as a top five. Here’s hoping for new consoles next year…

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Best of 2018: Top 10 Movie Characters

There sure were some characters worth remembering at the cinema this year. Half of them weren’t even from superhero movies! No protagonists this time around – Well, maybe one, technically – It’s almost all supporting characters or villains, which seems to be this list’s default form if left unsupervised. Most of this list is filled by actors who aren’t big names – at least in Hollywood – which is always fun to see too.

There are some spoilers ahead. In fact this might be my spoiler-iest character list ever, simply because so many of these characters are defined by what they achieve (and don’t achieve) in their movies.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Some spoilers ahead.

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10. Eleanor – Crazy Rich Asians

One of the reasons that Crazy Rich Asians works so well is that it has memorable characters stuffed into every nook of its runtime. I could have gone with Awkwafina’s sweet-hearted comic relief Peik Lin, or Gemma Chan’s near-perfect protagonist-in-waiting Astrid, but I’m going to put Eleanor, matriarch of the uber-wealthy Young family, at the top of this page. In what feels like a grandstand Hollywood comeback role, Michelle Yeoh glides across the screen with measured tact and an arsenal of emotional weaponry she is not afraid to use if it means protecting her family’s legacy. From the opening scene, which well and truly exists in service of the character, to the final moment she locks eyes with our protagonist across a crowded room, Eleanor never completely drops her guard and yet it’s somehow still so easy to empathise with her plight. Yeoh’s graceful performance exhibits danger and safety in equal measure and it greatly strengthens the movie.

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Best of 2018: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

What a difference a single year can make.

2018 was arguably (and this really is arguable because music is so subjective) a significant step up over 2017 for that unique range of K-Pop sounds that have kept people like me connected – however loosely – to the industry for so long. But 2018 was also the year that I spent the least time listening to K-Pop since this list has been a thing. That’s not necessarily an indicator of the future – for the first half of the year it wasn’t clear whether the podcast I relied on for most of my K-Pop exposure was on hiatus or actually done (It turned out to be the latter) and I also stopped listening to the curated playlists I would normally enjoy while running because of a shockingly persistent knee injury. During that lengthy period I only really listened to the biggest-name releases, though I eventually readjusted my habits – quite late in the year it must be said – and took in a whole bunch of K-Pop at once. That probably had an impact on my positive outlook for the year, because I didn’t have to wade through as much average sameyness, but I maintain that I still find this Top 15 stronger than last year’s. Take that as you will.

The list only considers songs that have a corresponding music video (with one odd exception) and have a significant amount of Korean lyrics within them. It’s an audio-first critique, however – Some of these MVs I hadn’t actually seen before I sat down to write this. It’s restricted to one song per act. Oh, and if this is just about the only K-Pop stuff you’ve watched this year, I recommend hovering over each video and turning off the automatic captions as you go. They’re distracting and usually not exactly poetry when translated. That’s just the way I do it, though. You do you.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. POP/STARS – K/DA

What’s that? This doesn’t count? I’m using a League of Legends promotion as clickbait? I am outraged at the mere accusation. Have you heard this song? Against all odds, what could have come across as a cheap attempt to cash in on LoL‘s sizeable Korean player base is in reality a hyper-polished production effort worthy of a top tier K-Pop label, complete with affectionate nods to such tried-and-true Korean music video tropes as rapid-fire freeze-frame poses, member-specific sets, stationary expensive cars, minimal footage of actual dancing and an ultra-serious group logo stinger. Featuring just enough Korean language to count for this list – duly provided by a third of (G)I-DLE – POP/STARS was composed almost entirely at RIOT Games, which seems unfair to the rest of K-Pop because it is a banger. Check out the hologram-infused live performance of the song at the LoL World Championships if you fancy.

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Best of 2018: Five Special Awards

That’s right, after a few years of an unchanged formula I am finally mixing things up a bit. The gaming trends list was fun but when I was looking at the viablity of doing it again the patterns of 2018 just looked (depressingly) like more of the same. So I am taking a page out of all kinds of other publications’ books and doing five different lists so truncated they only have one entry on them. Some of these awards are almost specifically tailored to one entry, while others I could probably have made into at least a top five but I only have so much writing time at this point in the year so that would be less than ideal. Let’s give this a try.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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Best Game Publisher

Sony

This one is a games media favourite and one I’ve always wanted to cover on this blog. While major third party game publishers would usually have a good shot at taking this kind of award (which might usually cover both published games and general media presence), Sony’s own range of PS4 exclusives from their own stable were just too good to ignore this year. They probably would have won this on the strength of God of War and Spider-Man alone, but the admittedly polarising Detroit: Become Human was also a tremendous achievement in its own right. Sony didn’t have the best E3 this year by their standards, but they still grabbed plenty of headlines with their debut gameplay showcase of The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima while continuing to prove an old truth – if you want a pile of fantastic single-player games, pick up a PlayStation console late in its life cycle.

Runner-Up Ubisoft

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