Posts Tagged ‘kpop’

Best of 2019: Top 11 K-Pop Albums

Yes, this is where I’m putting that extra point from the shortened consoles list.

2019 was in my estimation the craziest year for quality K-Pop mini albums I’ve yet experienced. For a significant chunk of this year I toyed with the idea of outright replacing this list with a top ten purely devoted to the EP format. With the extra point and more honorable mentions I’ve pretty much ended up with one anyway, which is great because thanks to an expanded K-Pop recommendation circle I did uncover a good amount of worthwhile full albums in the end as well. I may have bent some rules, but I’m really happy with the list this year. Happy listening!

1-3 tracks = N/A

4-7 tracks = mini album

8+ tracks = full album

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VR BEST OF 2019 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. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS

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6. Kill This Love – Blackpink

Yes indeed, once in a while a YG girl group actually releases enough songs at the same time to count as an album! In Blackpink’s case, the loooooong time between drinks just about paid off in 2019, because Kill This Love brings three A-game B-sides and a pretty decent remix to slot in under the bombastic title track and create a winning EP. First-change rumbler Don’t Know What To Do leverages the drop-happy stylings that have helped slide Blackpink out from under 2NE1’s shadow, while Hope Not finally brings back the all-too-brief magic from the group’s debut year acoustic B-side Stay. The sealer is the middle track, however: Kick It is a low-key better song than the actual lead single, Kill This Love, which is no dud itself. Uniting big drop with strumming flourish, it rocks.

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Best of 2019: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

We back with an eighth attempt at summing up the year in K-Pop, as I bring you my fifteen personal favourite songs deemed worthy of music videos. As always, that’s the distinction: These aren’t my favourite music videos per se; I hadn’t even seen most of these MVs before starting to write the list. I rank these songs based mostly on the songs themselves.

A massive shout-out has to go to the community of the recently-reborn This Week in K-Pop podcast, which is now a Twitch call-in show airing weekly on Sundays at either 3pm or 8pm CST depending on the week. Those lovely people are responsible for just over a third of the list, as I once again spent about two thirds of the year not listening to a lot of Korean music. They know how to recommend the good stuff.

And for what it’s worth, this might be my favourite list of honorable mentions ever. There wasn’t much separating them all in the end. It was a good year for K-Pop, particularly for pop-adjacent rock bands and emerging solo artists. Let’s dig in!

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VR BEST OF 2019 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. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Umpah Umpah – Red Velvet

We begin with yet another Real Summer Jam from what is now my most featured K-Pop act ever. Red Velvet brings those unchallenged layers of harmony and that quirky bass sampling as brightly as ever, but now featuring late stage vocal ad-libs and references to their own half-decade career (Wasn’t it just yesterday they debuted?) By RV standards Umpah Umpah is actually rather straightforwardly produced – I guess after going B-side-level weird with earlier 2019 single Zimzalabim they needed a palette cleanser – but it’s still got that wonderful flavour you expect from the group’s upbeat output.

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Best of 2018 Closer

A happy new year to all of you reading this! Here’s hoping 2019 is everything you could hope for. May your Avengers and Star Wars finales be satisfying, your K-Pop playlists overflowing, your first-party Switch exclusives meaty, and your new consoles well-priced, smartly-marketed and player-friendly!

In case you missed any, here are the links to the ten lists I put up over the last two weeks to summarise 2018:

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1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 5 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

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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 2017 Closer

Happy new year! 2017 is going to be a hard act to follow for entertainment media, what with its great movies – both blockbuster and indie in spirit – and especially its decade-topping lineup of videogames. Big event movies will certainly come in 2018, headed up by the most ambitious Avengers film yet and the second Fantastic Beasts flick, and smaller gems will emerge as they always do. But there’s a fair bit of videogame uncertainty going into the new year. Will Microsoft nail all their proposed releases this year? How close are we to a new Playstation? What can the Nintendo Switch’s second year possibly bring to even hope to match up to its first? Time will tell. In the meantime, here are the links to all ten of my 2017 year-end countdown lists:

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1. Top 5 Disappointments

2. Top 5 Gaming Trends

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 5 Game Consoles

5. Top 10 Movie Characters

6. Top 10 Gaming Moments

7. Top 10 Movie Scenes

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 15 Movies

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Best of 2017: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

NOTE: This list was already written when we received the news of the apparent suicide of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun. At the time of publication this development is still less than a week old, but I cannot write it into the main article without sounding flippant about it, and so have left the list un-edited. Kim Jonghyun was literally the first male voice I heard after discovering that I liked K-Pop, and his voice also kicked off my first K-Pop Top 15 at the end of 2012. His loss has rocked the K-Pop community worldwide, and on a personal note has hit me just as hard as the Chester Bennington tragedy earlier this year. I can only imagine how his family must be feeling. He will be missed.

Ah, 2017. If you were a K-Pop fan around when I started being invested in the genre (is it even a genre anymore?) half a decade ago, and you’re still here, then congrats. Your ears have clearly been through a lot and your tastes must be resilient. Though 2016 saw many more big-name K-Pop groups bite the dust, the official dissolving of Sistar and the Wonder Girls in 2017 – alongside respective three-member exoduses from T-ara and Girls’ Generation – meant a 2017 K-Pop fan can hardly be accused of holding on to past glories.

There were quite a few fresh influences and trends worth getting excited about this year, even if they flooded the market so quickly it was hard to find quality at times. The most prevalent surely must be the KARD-and-Winner-led influx of tropical house, because at one point it felt like every group was trying on the sea-and-sand beats. Korea’s ongoing recent fascination with contemporary EDM beat drops also spread into the realm of American DJ collaborations this year – particularly so among the top-tier boy groups – and that helped solidify BTS in rarefied air on the Billboard Top 10 Artists chart in the USA. It seems K-Pop’s year-on-year growth in online popularity around the world has reached a point that no “niche” categorisation can hold back some fandoms. Let’s not forget that we now live in a world where the CinemaSins guy can riff on a Red Velvet video and get views for it. But fear not, because K-Pop was still pulling out plenty of offbeat gimmicks all its own in 2017, from the song-a-month themed schedule of Day6 to the slow revelations of new LOONA members one solo performance at a time. I found a decent amount of K-Pop to enjoy in 2017, and hopefully you did too.

As always, some rules I like to hold myself to: No more than one song from each act and no B-sides. A song needs to have its own official music video and be sung primarily in Korean to be on the list, even though this disqualifies some pretty good songs like Girl Next Door’s Deep Blue Eyes, EXO’s Electric Kiss and Dumbfoundead’s Water (although, to be fair, the latter comes from an actual American rapper). Here’s my sixth annual K-Pop Top 15 list.

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VR BEST OF 2017 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 strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Don’t Wanna Cry – Seventeen

It felt like this song was around every corner when I was looking for K-Pop throughout the majority of 2017 – on YouTube, on curated streaming playlists, on podcasts – and for good reason. It may not have the most exciting backing track, bridge or rap section, but it sure has one catchy hook. Some nights I just can’t get that chorus line out of my head. I want to scream it out right now. Also, it’s Seventeen, so the choreography is amazing and executed with ridiculous accuracy to boot. Who actually wants to cry, though, Seventeen? Who?

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Best of 2016 Closer

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All things considered, 2016 was pretty good for the entertainment media I cover on this blog (I use “cover” loosely – sadly I barely wrote here in 2016). And I don’t even really watch TV shows! 2017 can potentially be even better when you look at what’s coming on paper, sitting there all promising in its un-delayed state. Here’s to a more consistent videogame release schedule, more wonderful RPGs, maybe a decent DC universe movie? 2017 looks like it could have a nice ring to it. In any case, here are all the links to my 2016 countdowns:

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1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Top 5 Gaming Trends

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 5 Game Consoles

5. Top 10 Movie Characters

6. Top 10 Gaming Moments

7. Top 10 Movie Scenes

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

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Best of 2016: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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One of the symptoms of the churning waters of 2016 in K-Pop was the comparative evaporation of full album releases from big players in the industry. Whereas every previous year I’ve done this countdown has brought a reliable salvo of well-polished, high-variety SM releases – usually led by f(x) – and a breakout LP or two with strong devotion to a decidedly non-Korean concept – think IU’s Modern Times or Wonder Girls’ REBOOT – 2016 had neither. If your first thought is that this might translate to a bloodbath of competitive mini-albums, you’d be right, as hedging bets seemed to be the name of the game for the big Korean entertainment companies this year. Luckily there were still some real gems spread throughout the year for fans of longer form K-Pop, and you can find my favourites below.

For the purposes of this list a mini-album is a release between four and seven tracks long, while a full album holds eight or more.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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. Music is a very personal thing and if you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS
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5. The Velvet – Red Velvet

I’m just such a sucker for clearly defined concepts when it comes to albums of any kind, so Red Velvet’s The Velvet was always going to have a bit of a leg-up in a crowded year for quality K-Pop minis. As a follow-up to last year’s energetic, off-kilter The Red, the idea behind The Velvet is to show off the softer, more conventional side to the quintet that is in theory build into the group’s very identity. And for the most part, it pulls the idea off, with only the robotic rhythm of Cool Hot Sweet Love there to indicate that this is even the same people who did The Red. While some may find the lower tempo and less experimental flavour a bit boring, if the 90s warble of lead track One of These Nights is any indication of the kind of song we’ll get in the future from this half of the Red Velvet discography, I’m in. And that’s before I mention Rose Scent Breeze, the most glorious instance of cheesy, karaoke-friendly ballad goodness I’ve heard in a long time. I have screamed out the chorus of this song on late drives home more times than I care to admit.

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Best of 2016: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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Wow, five years of listening to K-Pop. I’m not sure how to feel really.

When I first discovered the increasingly wide genre back in 2012, talk of a “five year curse” was prevalent – the idea that K-Pop groups, especially female ones, seem unable to stay together for much longer than half a decade. And though the supposed rule has hardly been exact in its application, 2016 is sure as hell going to be remembered as a year of falling dominoes in the world of K-Pop groups. In the same year that the Brown Eyed Girls celebrated an unprecedented full decade without a member change, the likes of Miss A, Kara (for real this time), 4Minute, Rainbow and 2NE1 – all of whom were in top form when I started out – bit the dust. Other big acts lost important members (B2ST) or finally shuffled off to their mandatory military service (Bigbang), in the process well and truly solidifying the shift in Korean music generations that arguably started in 2014. The landscape is now almost unrecognisable from the days of Gangnam Style.

Of course some things never change, and history is bound to repeat. Though there are more successful soloists, more acoustic guitars, more rappers and heavier EDM beats around than ever before, K-Pop’s affiliation with cutesy girl group concepts returned in a big way in 2016 – especially among mid-tier acts – with barely a trace of the often-tacky “sexy” stylings of the last few years. And while we’re on the subject, it’s kind of a cool novelty to see each of the Big Three Korean entertainment companies bringing a properly successful female group to the table at the same time. That arguably hasn’t happened since 2012, at the tail end of the Wonder Girls/SNSD/2NE1 glory days. Now we have Twice/Red Velvet/Blackpink, and they have cute/weird/cool covered quite well respectively.

But I’m not here to write a dissertation; I’m here to count down my top 15 favourite K-Pop songs of the year, and there are a lot of different kinds of tracks to cover. So let’s do that, for the fifth time on Vagrant Rant.

No more than one song from a group/solo/collaboration can be eligible for this list, and it only takes into account songs that have a corresponding music video and feature Korean language lyrics. Every aspect of the release, visual and otherwise, is considered, but overwhelmingly the audio comes first.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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. Music is a very personal thing and if you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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15. Last Dance – Bigbang

I hope you’ll allow me a sentimental entry to kick things off.

Bigbang may be a YG Entertainment act, and true to their label they tease fans regularly with releases that don’t actually release for months or years after they are first mentioned. But they’ve been around in some way or another, without any real hint of breaking up, for ten years, and the gigantic quintet has given us a lot of fine memories. So on the eve of their mandated military service they released, alongside two other pretty decent songs, this heartstring-puller, and its emotional impact feels earned. Last Dance gives Bigbang a contemplative track that feels rather, shall we say, final, particularly alongside its brooding MV. There ain’t nothing wrong with it musically, though, providing plenty of Bigbang staples like growling Daesang/smooth Taeyang vocals, a bassy T.O.P rap and a soaring chorus that ends with a definitive full stop. Good luck to ’em.
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Best of 2015: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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Another year, another dual-pronged countdown for the uncommon – and much appreciated – K-Pop album fan. If you’re reading this you’re probably either looking for some recommendations to expand your music horizons, or you are in very, very deep with Korean pop music. Sometimes the flashy K-Pop surface singles aren’t what you feel like listening to, and you want to see what weird and wonderful B-sides/album compositions are out there in the K-Pop world.

Well the good news is that 2015 was just as good a year for Korean albums as it was for the MV tracks, and I’m here to give you my opinion on some of the better ones. This time around, you might actually be able to listen to these in full, because 2015 wasn’t just a big year for K-Pop albums in terms of quality, but in terms of accessibility.

That’s right, the advent of Apple Music back in June was a pretty sizeable game-changer for album fans living outside of Korea. Due to the California giant’s insane worldwide reach, most K-Pop releases make it onto iTunes, and that phenomenon translates to Apple Music streaming availability almost one-to-one. So if you have a membership you can now browse the delights and the duds of K-Pop’s longer form to your heart’s content. For real.

As usual the list is split into two top fives – one for Mini Albums (your EPs, basically) and one for Full Albums, which qualify when they contain eight or more tracks (like LPs, yo). Also, there are a couple of albums that would have made this list – Big Bang’s MADE and iKon’s Welcome Back – had their labels not insisted these releases “aren’t complete yet”. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt for next year.

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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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MINI ALBUMS
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5. Pink Funky – MAMAMOO

MAMAMOO’s early momentum continued in 2015 with a huge number of individual member collaborations, MV releases and infectiously energetic live performances, and they backed it all up with a strong mini-album that can sit nicely next to their incredible debut EP. The songs plug into MAMAMOO’s duelling styles with panache, leading off with brazen brass loops and Moonbyul hip-hop on Freaking Shoes, sailing through squeaky synths on Um Oh Ah Yeh , syncing up with their flagship retro concept on No No No and then hitting it out of the park on the Sunday afternoon jam Self Camera. Even the comparatively generic ballad A Little Bit and the hook-lite Esna vehicle Ahh Oop! are improved by rounding out this fun sophomore effort.


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