Posts Tagged ‘K-Pop’

Best of 2013: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

Bestof13_light

That’s right, this is here now, which means two things:

  1. I listened to enough K-Pop albums, and saw enough merit in them, in 2013 to be able to make this list; and
  2. I really didn’t buy nearly enough English-language music this year to do any sort of countdown relating to it.

If listening to K-Pop is a bit of a niche pursuit in these parts of the world, which it certainly is, then indulging in K-Pop albums is like a niche within a niche. Unfortunately many K-Pop fans never go beyond watching the MVs that, to be fair, kind of define their industry, and they don’t see any reason to do so. Typically K-Pop albums can be shallow efforts to fill a track quota and make more money off the hype surrounding a single title track. My efforts to explore the extensive back catalogue of K-Pop albums in 2012 revealed as much, with some exceptions of course. Something changed in 2013, though. The general standard of albums I looked into this year seems to have raised, for reasons I won’t speculate on. I’m cool with it, though. Particularly noticeable was the output of SM Entertainment, previously one of the absolute worst offenders in this area. They released “full albums”, as opposed to the far more common and easy to release “mini-albums”, for pretty much every major group in their stable in 2013. Most of them were quite good to boot. As the number one record label in K-Pop, I would be surprised if this didn’t influence some of the other companies in some way to put more effort and creativity into their album writing.

Because they have fundamentally different structures, this countdown is actually divided into two top fives: one for mini-albums and one for full albums. An album counts as “full” for the purposes of this list if it has eight tracks or more.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
VR BEST OF 2013 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 scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

– – – – – – – –
MINI ALBUMS
– – – – – – – –

5. A’s Doll House – Ailee

Korean-American YouTube singer turned K-Pop star Ailee has one of the most powerful voices in the current industry landscape and she puts her pipes to work in her second Mini-Album A Doll’s House, which manages to trump her debut 2012 effort Invitation despite only featuring one title track (Invitation had two good ones). Said title track, bombastic big band song U&I, is a perfect high-energy opener to the album, before songs like No No No, Scandal and final track I’ll Be OK showcase her mid-tempo proficiency. How Can This Be is an enjoyable 3/4 ballad, but the highlight of the album is unquestionably Rainy Day (audio below) which builds well and lets Ailee hit plenty of vocal heights. As an article on seoulbeats.com so astutely pointed out this year, the song sounds even better with the site Rainy Mood open in another tab.


.

Continue reading

Best of 2013: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

Bestof13_light

2013, much like any other year, saw an insane amount of movement in the Korean popular music industry. Its lightning-fast trends and short attention span continued to make the rest of the music world seem like it was moving at a snail’s pace, and while the obscene rate of new groups debuting in 2012 slowed considerably this year, there was still a constant stream of new material to ensure boredom was near-impossible. While I didn’t quite follow the industry as comprehensively as I did in 2012, and despite some stretches of time without any remarkable releases, the sheer volume of music on offer meant that I sat down to chisel this countdown out of a shortlist of no less than 39 tracks. I honestly struggled to keep the honorable mentions at just ten.

Just like last year, this list is devoted to “K-Pop Singles” only (they’re technically “title tracks”, but no need to confuse things too much). No album-only tracks, or ‘B-sides’, if you will, or else we would be here for a while. This year there will be a list dedicated to K-Pop albums anyway. Once again, I’ve ignored every 2013 K-Pop single released in Japanese or other non-Korean languages. But don’t let that stop you from checking some of them out (particularly when it comes to SNSD). Tracks are ordered based on visual factors as well as musical ones (such is K-Pop) but audio strength is given preference where applicable. Let’s get started.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
VR BEST OF 2013 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 scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

15. Gentleman – PSY

Let’s kick things off by giving credit where credit is due. PSY may not have lit up the world like he did in 2012 with Gangnam Style, but his 2013 follow-up Gentleman still managed to smash several YouTube viewing records. Though the song no doubt shares deliberate similarities with last year’s mega-hit, it maintains its own character through a more aggressive style of humour, a larger scale and a partnership – both in personnel and in borrowed choreography – with veteran girl group Brown Eyed Girls. Ga In of the influential foursome brings her famous Abracadabra moves to PSY’s set to enhance an already hilarious and catchy package.

Continue reading

K-Packaged

Yes, looks like another K-Pop post. But this time I’m not writing about the music. I’m even not writing about the people who perform the music. Today I’m writing about just how damn shinily those Koreans wrap up their products. Because it is, quite frankly, on another level, and it is, quite honestly, ridiculous.

At the end of last year I touched on just how important presentation can be to me in my Top Ten Game Cases of 2012 list. I’m the kind of person who genuinely got goosebumps at Apple’s colour-soaked iPod Nano ads from the latter part of the last decade. Good presentation is like a drug to me; it’s a weakness, God knows it really is.

Anyway, yesterday, this happened:

Kpopsplurge1

No really, I can explain.

Continue reading

The VR K-Pop Starter’s Guide

So we are now a week and a half into the Year of the Snake (the year in which I was born, incidentally). To celebrate the Lunar New Year I thought I’d post something with an East Asian flavour and I had this in the pipeline for a while, so here goes. Took me way too long to compile, this one.

So you’re aware of this whole K-Pop thing. You’ve seen Gangnam Style a hundred times and maybe you think there’s something you might enjoy in the genre. Perhaps you have a friend who listens to the stuff and you’re interested in what the fuss is about. Or, perchance, you’ve read my own reasoning for being a fan (a guy can dream) and it has piqued your interest. Regardless, you might be wondering where to start. Well, look no further.
.
-◊-

THE ESSENTIALS

Before you read anything else, watch these clips.

Gee – Girls’ Generation

WHY IT’S A BIG DEAL: This 2009 mega-hit was the most viewed K-Pop video on Youtube before PSY decided to riff on the Korean elite. It was partially responsible for the whole phenomenon of easily accessible Youtube K-Pop, plus it was the first K-Pop song to make any significant impact on the Japanese charts (the second-biggest music market in the world, apparently). It established Girls’ Generation (also known as SNSD) as a group at the very forefront of Korean pop music. Suffice to say they haven’t looked back.
LIKE IT? Check out some of Girls’ Generation’s other hits, such as Genie, Run Devil Run and Hoot. If you like the cutesy style of the clip, well, welcome to like a third of all K-Pop. You’ll be right at home.

I am the Best – 2NE1

WHY IT’S A BIG DEAL: Just compare this to the previous video. 2NE1 are K-Pop’s most successful “attitude girls”, going for a look and style that inspired a shift in girl group presentation back when they debuted in 2009. This is their biggest hit thus far, released in 2011, and its meticulously crafted swagger is truly something to behold.
LIKE IT? For more 2NE1 ‘tude, have a look at Fire and Hate You. If you’re after more of this kind of devil-may-care style, head the way of Miss A and GLAM.

Continue reading

Best of 2012: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

YouLoveIt

It’s been a crazy year for Korean pop music, mainly because of one man: PSY. His story has been told to death, though. There was quite a lot of other stuff going on in the world of K-Pop in 2012, of course, and though I only started listening to the genre this year, I was fortunate enough to be able to ingest plenty of it. So here’s my third VR Best of 2012 list. For my wider thoughts on K-Pop, check out this post.

This one is a top fifteen rather than a top ten to make up for a later list that is only going to appear as a top five. I’ve taken a number of things into consideration with each single, such as the music video, the dancing (if any), the presentation of the song etc., because such things are definitely important in the K-Pop industry, but above all I’ve tried to prioritise the way the song sounds as an audio-only product when it comes to ordering the list.

Note how I’ve titled this list “K-Pop Singles”. If I included album-only tracks, of which there were plenty of highlights in 2012, we’d be here for days. Also, for the sake of narrowing down the impossible selection, I’ve gone ahead and ignored every 2012 K-Pop single released in Japanese or other non-Korean languages. So no Flower Power, Dazzling Girl or Like Money. Dem’s the breaks.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
VR BEST OF 2012 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 scary. You have been warned, fanboys.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

15. Sherlock – SHINee

It’s fairly widely agreed upon that SHINee is one of K-Pop’s best and most consistent performers when it comes to making tricky choreography shine (forgive the pun). Though their main Korean hit of 2012, Sherlock , arguably doesn’t quite hit the heights of previous efforts as a song (it’s essentially a mash-up of two other tracks), it certainly does as a dance. The asymmetrical moves picked up even more awards for the talented quintet this year and it isn’t hard to see why.

Continue reading

Why I like K-Pop

Yep, it’s out in the open.

And we might as well get the hipster stuff out of the way: I was, like, totally into it before Gangnam Style.

There comes a time in every person’s life, after the dramas of adolescence have been left behind, when he or she rediscovers things from his/her childhood that, once upon a time, seemed like the greatest thing in the world but eventually became “uncool” to like as a teenager. Without the self-conscious tinted glasses of that awkward period, the young adult is more able to appreciate those entertainment properties that, while aimed at kids, are actually put together well enough to warrant enjoyment once more.

Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is one explanation for the popularity of Disney movies, TV shows like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Adventure Time, as well as game series like Pokemon, among adult audiences.

While it isn’t directly analogous, a similar logic can be applied to explaining the relative Western popularity, or at least the inherent appeal, of a pop music phenomenon that is otherwise more than a little baffling. Of all non-English language musical outputs on the planet, none is enjoyed in quite as many countries as Korean pop or, as it is more commonly known, K-Pop.

Why? Well, for quite a few reasons, but few more prominent than the fact that at its core, it imitates a musical style that was popular when the young adults of today were kids.

Spice_brah

Man, I used to be obsessed with these girls.

Remember New Kids on the Block? Take That? Boyz II Men? The Backstreet Boys? N*Sync? Steps? The Spice Girls? S Club 7? God knows I do, and as it turns out, so does Korea. For some reason, after the early-to-mid ’90s had run their course and pop groups had fallen out of fashion in Britain and the United States, the fledgling Korean entertainment industry took their interpretation of the phenomenon and ran with it.

Continue reading