Posts Tagged ‘title’

Best of 2018: Top 15 Games

It’s truly fascinating to me to watch the cooldown period after a universally-acknowledged year of videogame greatness. Sometimes the vaunted 2007 gets the wonderful afterparty that was 2008 – with the likes of GTA IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Fallout 3 and Bioshock – and sometimes 1998 gets the uneventful ’99 hangover. In the age we live in, packed as it is with more games and more types of games than ever before, it’s difficult to argue that any year can be truly bad for releases. That said, 2018 mixed in the kinds of critical and commercial disappointments that might have sunk an older year but only seemed to add a footnote to an annum of tremendously successful standalone titles – especially if you owned a PS4.

This is, of course, my personal favourites list, so games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are absent (for reasons I’ve already touched on). There are fewer indie games on this list than usual, which doesn’t reflect a poor year for smaller-budget games (not even close) so much as it does that sweet spot near the end of a major console life cycle where a number of ambitious projects in development for years all seem to hit at once. There are iterative sequels that perfect a formula, refreshing surprises and a not-insignificant combination of both. Overall it’s a list defined by games I did not expect to fall in love with – either because they were entirely new or because I had not ever properly been grabbed by their respective series. In fact, I’d say I was only confident I would enjoy four out of these fifteen games before I played them – and trust me, that’s an undeniably low conversion rate for me. Yay for the unexpected.

Eligibility for the countdown is simple. Excluding multiplayer-first titles, I need to have played each game for more than five hours or completed its main path – whichever comes first.

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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. Unravel Two (XBO)

E3 week was pretty uniquely special this year because for the first time in a long while, I was just as excited to play unexpected games that had just come out as I was about those on the horizon. One of several surprise “out now!” releases during E3 2018 was Unravel Two, a sequel to one of the indie darlings of E3s gone by. While I didn’t hear great things about the first game in terms of mechanics and ended up skipping it entirely, I was extremely happy to find that the sequel picks up the slack in a big way while presenting a world just as visually stunning. The rope physics in this game are the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of finding in a 2D platformer and they are used to great effect for both fluid movement and puzzle solving – the two often going hand in hand – but the kicker is that the entire 5-hour adventure absolutely sings in co-op. I played Unravel Two start to finish with my sister, who rarely plays games, and she was as glued to the screen as I was.

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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: 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 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 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 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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