Posts Tagged ‘Korean’

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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Movie Review: Cold Eyes

Some friends and I checked out the Korean Film Festival in Sydney on the weekend and saw this. I have no idea how or when it will resurface for viewing here, but keep an eye out for it.

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Starring:
Han Hyo-Ju, Jung Woo-San, Seol Kyung-Gu
Directors:
Kim Byung-Seo, Jo Ui-Seok (The World of Silence, Make it Big)
Rating: MA15+
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My experience with South Korean cinema is extremely limited – In fact before this film I had only seen the original Oldboy and managed to get through only one K-Drama (2009’s Iris) – but I’ve been told multiple times that a lot of cool things are happening nowadays in the world of celluloid south of the DMZ and I should supposedly be paying more attention to what comes out of it. Indeed I eagerly await news of a blu-ray release of the Chris Evans-led sci-fi hit Snowpiercer, which has been causing quite a stir overseas, and after my curiosity led me to check out Cold Eyes at this year’s Korean Film Festival in Sydney, best believe I’m going to track down a fair few more. Cold Eyes is a slick. intense and very entertaining crime thriller that I wish was easier to access.

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Best of 2013: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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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.

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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.
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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.

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The Baddest of the East

Today marks the long awaited Korean debut solo release from CL, leader of mega-successful K-Pop group 2NE1 and the self-proclaimed “baddest female of Seoul city”. It’s kind of a big deal in K-Pop circles and so to celebrate, here’s a little something on Korean female idol rappers.

If you’ve ever had a taste of K-Pop music lasting longer than an hour or so, you’d have a pretty good idea of the genre’s attitude to hip-hop music. Hip-hop influences run through just about every bit of dance choreography you’ll see today, but there’s more to it than that. It pervades the image of nearly every group in some form, whether male or female. For example, outside of Girls’ Generation (coincidentally the most popular K-Pop group around these days), pretty much every girl group now packs an obligatory “rapper”. That’s regardless of whether said rapper actually has any background rapping, or whether their “raps” consist of anything more than talking in a slightly modified voice over a beat.

While this can result in some cringeworthy sounds, it also gives some rappers who do know what they’re doing a platform to the kind of recognition they just wouldn’t get on the underground scene. Because of K-Pop’s corporation-driven, highly standardised nature, which breeds the kind of male-female parity that only such unapologetic profit-chasing can produce, what we’re left with is a situation where, by association, female rappers receive just as much attention, if not more, than their male counterparts. I certainly can’t think of any other country where this is the case, at least not off the top of my head. And sure, idol group rapping is naturally going to be tamer than the underground stuff, but that doesn’t mean it can’t sound awesome (It certainly doesn’t hurt that the natural flow of the Korean language lends itself well to a good rapper).

So ignoring the likes of Tasha, a hugely respected Korean solo R&B/hip hop artist who is pretty incredible at what she does, as well as just about every other actual full-blown hip hop artist in Korea, I’m going to focus here on rappers that come from idol groups. What follows is my admittedly limited opinion on the seven best Korean female rappers going around in K-Pop groups at the moment:

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7. Lime – HELLOVENUS

Despite debuting last year as part of one of the girliest groups K-Pop fans have seen in a while, Kim Hye-Lim or “Lime” has some pretty impressive rapping talents. Not only can she belt out a tune with the best of them but she can also switch up rap styles, pulling off either speed or flow-based rhymes when the situation calls for it. Fans are still waiting for a HELLOVENUS release that actually shows off these skills in earnest, because for now they don’t really fit the group’s image, but no K-Pop group stays to one concept for too long…

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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