Posts Tagged ‘tracks’

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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My Mario Kart 8 DLC Impressions, Round 2

I regret that this year’s guest blogging week had to be cut short by one day due to unforeseen circumstances, but I do want to take a brief moment thank all six wonderful contributors for their entertaining pieces. Moving on…

It’s official: Mario Kart 8 is now the biggest Mario Kart game to date. Say what you will, Battle Mode fans, but this week’s arrival of the highly anticipated second MK8 downloadable content pack announced last year means that the latest in Nintendo’s flagship racing series boasts more content than any entry before it. The game is now bursting at the seams with 48 painstakingly rendered tracks, along with 36 playable characters and a dizzying number of karts, bikes, ATVs and the like. Given the critical and commercial success of the last DLC pack, I wouldn’t be putting any money down on this being the last update, but we are at least now at the end of what we knew was coming, and there’s a sense of finality that comes with that.

So, much like I did for the first DLC pack last November, I thought I’d share my impressions of the new stuff. Everything you’re about to read has been scientifically tested by a small but lovable bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings over an evening of, err, healthy competition.

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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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My Mario Kart 8 DLC Impressions

Yesterday, Nintendo entered a brave new world – one in which for the first time in their history, they have a Mario Kart game with additional tracks as paid DLC. Thanks to the largely unprecedented Nintendo move of adding substantial downloadable content to Mario Kart 8, fans now have an extremely enticing incentive to jump back into the game almost six months after it launched. For $10 AU (technically $8 if you buy the pack with the upcoming May DLC as well), three new characters, four new karts and eight new tracks are available for you to download at your leisure. Last night I brought some friends over to try out the new content, and here’s what I think:

Nintendo, this is the reason I love you.

It’s certainly weird to think of the Big N as a company peddling DLC, especially given how long they’ve gone without it in a general gaming environment that is positively rife with the stuff. But surely, this is downloadable content done right. This first pack is alarmingly cheap for what you get, and it’s extremely evident that a lot of design work has gone into it. Though I’m not really all that fussed about the new characters (Tanooki Mario, Cat Peach and Link from The Legend of Zelda series) or the new Karts (The classic B-Dasher, the Blue Falcon from F-Zero, the bulky new off-road Tanooki Kart and Link’s matching Master Cycle) , the detail that has gone into their design is fitting of Nintendo’s reputation. Link makes his trademark angry yell noises during hectic races and waves his sword around during tricks, for example, while Tanooki Mario’s horn sound will be familiar to anyone who grew up with Super Mario Bros 3. The real value for money, of course, is in the eight fresh tracks, and boy do they deliver.

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VR Zelda Month: Top 15 Non-Dungeon Music

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It took me a long, long time to decide on what pieces of Zelda music went into this list. Much harder to compile than the dungeon music list, and in fact probably the most difficult list of them all, putting together a collection of the best overall tracks in a series as musically rich as The Legend of Zelda is a truly daunting task. So it’s a good thing people have opinions.

Despite how amazing they tend to be (or, perhaps, because they tend to be so amazing) I have disqualified end credits themes from this list. They tend to just be medleys of tunes from whatever game they happen to hail from, anyway.

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VR ZELDA MONTH 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. Spoilers may follow.
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15. Outset Island – The Wind Waker


What better way to start this countdown than with the wonderful background track from the very first island in The Wind Waker, a Zelda game many people rank as the best in the series for music? The theme of Outset Island is just so fitting of Link’s initial naivete at the, well, the outset of his journey. The gentle flow of the melody is grounded by that persistent deep and inoffensive brass rhythm, yet matches so well to the ambient sounds of ocean swell against the beach. What’s more, it features a callback to the music of the opening area to Ocarina of Time, the Kokiri Forest, with a delightful flourish at 1:30 in the above video.
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Tracking Back: A Cautionary Tale of Reputation

I can be such an idiot sometimes.

Kudos to Deviantart artist brumal.

So there’s this series of videogames called The Legend of Zelda– I dunno, maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s only one of the longest-running and highly respected franchises in gaming history. Anyway I consider myself a fan of the series. I haven’t played all sixteen of the games – far from it, actually – but it holds a special place in my heart as well as a number of my all-time favourite games. But, like any series, it has its “black sheep” – the one or two titles that allegedly don’t quite live up to its illustrious name.

Now depending on who you talk to, the identity of those black sheep can vary. It’s pretty universally acknowledged that The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is the biggest outlier in the series’ history, because it takes on much more of an RPG flavour than the other fifteen games and is presented with a side-on viewpoint. That’s more of a style thing, however, and beyond that personal opinions on quality dominate the discussion of so-called “unworthy” Zelda games.

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