Maybe it’s because these songs were released more recently and I haven’t had time to get bored with them, but I feel like a lot of my favorite songs of the year were released in the fall. That is to say, a lot of songs that I would probably put in my Top 10 of 2016. I thought that there were a lot of comebacks in the summer, but I was wrong. There were so many comebacks and so much to listen to! It seems that this has continued into January, and I already have a long list of songs that I really like.
*Note: The month that these songs are listed under refers to the period where I listened to it the most, not the actual release date (since some were released in the final days of the month).
Got7, “Hard Carry”
Girl groups dominated the summer, but boy groups came back in full force in the fall. For me, Got7 kind of started off this wave of all of my favorites coming back. (I actually couldn’t handle them coming back with Monsta X and BTS within the space of two weeks) I feel like this song got a lukewarm response from the international community, but I really liked it. Got7 is still experimenting musically, and it seems that they are getting closer to finding a sound that they like. “Hard Carry” is fierce, fast-paced and frantic – matching the idea of “turbulence.” There is a very aggressive electronic influence in the song, matched with quick and powerful choreography. “Hard Carry” refers to a video game player who generally makes the most kills and carries his/or her team, so the song is essentially a bragging one. But Got7 had a pretty good year so I would say it’s deserved. I still have no idea what the narrative is for the music videos, but so far the albums and title tracks themselves are pretty cohesive.
Dal Shabet, “Fri.Sat.Sun”
This fun dance track was what really got me Dal Shabet. As you can probably guess from the title, the song is all about waiting for the weekend. The music video reinforces that by showing the ladies bored at their respective jobs and partying it up on the weekends. It’s a very upbeat pop song, which relies heavily on their smooth and sweet vocals with the instrumentals adding a bit of sass. The choreography is also really fun, with just the right mix of sweet and sexy (think lots of body rolls and bouncing).
BTS, “Blood Sweat and Tears”
There is no doubt that this was BTS’s year. “Blood, Sweat & Tears” was one of the breakout hits of the fall, and it cemented their status as one of the current “it” groups. There’s so much going on here: a solid track with a dancehall sound, stellar choreography as always, and yet another cryptic music video that may or may not relate to their previous ones. Now that their youth trilogy is finished, BTS is slowly moving towards a more mature image. They consistently choose themes that speak to people, which makes them so popular. This song could be about giving our all to one person, but given all of the imagery in the music video it could also mean them giving their all to their art and their passion. BTS also goes the extra mile when it comes to their videos, inundating them with references and clues that has fans endlessly theorizing. You’d think people would get tired of it by now, but here I am planning a series of essays on it. If BTS keeps paying the attention they do to all aspects of their work, they will stay on top for a very long time.
I.O.I, “Very Very Very”
I was initially disappointed by “Very Very Very.” “Whatta Man” was one of my favorite songs of the year because I thought the charismatic girl crush concept was a great fit for I.O.I. (barring those “Bad Blood” outfits). So for me, “Very Very Very” was a step back towards the cutesy “Dream Girls” – and that one really did not do anything for me. But when you think about all eleven members and not just the subunit, this track actually fits the concept of the whole group well. It’s the track that best matches their bright and refreshing image. And of course, it’s so darn catchy.
To be honest, I’m still on the fence about using an emoticon as the basis of a song. (I’m technically a millenial, but I’m an older one) But the song – which is about an unrequited crush – is very cute and age appropriate for Twice.Plus the costume-themed music video is a lot of fun. Although they’re massively popular right now, I don’t think they’ve quite tapped their full potential yet. Their songs don’t really have a lot of vocal complexity, and neither does their choreography. But at the moment, I think that their concept is serving up tracks that are fun to listen to and easy to sing and dance to. And they’re really good at doing that. “TT” made it onto my boyfriend’s very small list of K-pop songs he likes and he’s pretty much all about BTS, so that should say something about how catchy it is.
EXO-CBX, “Hey Mama”
I know I said I’d try not to put one group’s songs on my list more than once, but I failed with EXO. If you count EXO CBX, these guys have three tracks on my Top 50. I listened to this song a lot in November because I took a dance class where we learned it, so I will admit that it might have not made it onto the list otherwise. But listening to this song constantly made me really appreciate it. It’s funny how this subunit came from a joke, because it really works. Theoretically all members in one group should be friendly, but these three are close and it definitely shows. They’re having so much fun in the music video, and you get the sense that it’s not just playing for the camera. The song is upbeat funky and kind of reminds me of something that Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars might put out. And although Baekhyun and Chen already have a good amount of exposure as main vocals, this really showcases Xiumin and what he can do.
Blackpink, “Playing With Fire”
A lot of songs have an EDM touch these days, and “Playing With Fire” is no exception. But what I really like is the piano in the beginning. It gives it a bit of a modern jazz feel, and the EDM actually picks up the piano’s melody for the track and makes it interesting. Blackpink gets a lot of hate for being a copy of 2NE1, and the similarities are undeniably there. I agree that “Boombayah” and “Whistle” are songs that 2NE1 could easily have done at some point in time. But I don’t get that sense with “Playing With Fire,” and I think that it puts them on the right track to find their own definitive style.
Although I ended up liking more ballads than I thought I would, “11:11” is the only one that would make it into my Top 10. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t put a huge emphasis on lyrics because I can only rely on translations. That being said, “11:11” is one of those songs that brings tears to my eyes even if I only have a slight inkling of what it’s about. It’s a break up song, and it’s soft and melancholy. It’s not overly emotional and there are no high notes to belt out, but it really captures the feeling of feeling stuck and not over it. You can also see it in the music video, which is a really beautiful visual portrayal of reliving sad and unhappy memories. I have been in this place in the past, so I can really relate to it. So yes it’s a downer, but it’s a damned beautiful one.
I honestly could go on and on about this one. “Monster” was my favorite song of the year, but “Skydive” comes in at a close second. I didn’t even really know B.A.P. before November. I binge watched all of their music videos maybe a day before their comeback. “Skydive” officially made me a stan, because it is so strong on all fronts. By far the most impressive part was the music video, which featured the members as a gang being betrayed by one of their own. It WILL give you all the feels. It’s a concept that’s been done before, and B.A.P. themselves have done it before. But the music video was so well-edited and thought out, and clearly portrayed the story. The plot was pretty simple and linear, but there were so many little details and clues that were planted and had payoffs – which is something that a lot of other story videos lack (sorry BTS, I still love you though). I was so absorbed with the music video at first that I wasn’t actually listening to the song, but that too is quite excellent. If I had to describe it in one word, I would say “epic.” It’s intensely dramatic with aggressive EDM, but what makes it so powerful is the members’ voices. You can hear the emotion in their vocals, and it sounds sometimes like they’re literally singing their heart out. The choreography is also filled with big and bold moves. In an industry where the emphasis is mostly based on picture perfect performances, it was nice to see a group thinking outside the box and being a little less stylized. It was a little messy but in a good kind of way, and it was emotional and raw.
A lot of fans of Mamamoo seem to like them for their more fun and beagle-like side. I do like that of aspect them, but I confess that I’ve wondered if they could do other things. So I was really impressed by “Décalcomanie,” which proved that they can. While it still has elements of their signature style – jazzy sound, stellar vocals and harmonies, etc. – it showcases a more sexy yet sophisticated style. The music video was controversial for its depiction of romance and women, but it and the song do evoke the feelings of Old Hollywood. There’s a very nostalgic atmosphere here. One thing that I really enjoyed about this comeback was the styling. These days, “sexy” means short tight skirts, exposed midriffs, and high heels. Of course there’s still some of that, but I was really impressed that Mamamoo also spent half of their music video (and some of their performances) rocking suits.
Shinee – Tell Me What to Do
I feel like I was the only person who wasn’t that into “1 of 1.” And I’m a 90’s kid! I found myself more into “Tell Me What to Do,” which is very experimental for them compared to their signature sound. Shinee is known as a very vocally strong group, but they’re also known as amazing synchronized dancers. So it’s interesting to listen to a track where the focus is very much on the vocals, and you can really hear everyone’s distinct vocal flavor. While the funky beats, are there this really isn’t anything I’ve heard in any of their title tracks. You hear a lot more emotion than you usually do in their upbeat songs. The song is about fixing a one sided relationship. The music video is more about a love triangle with Taemin and Minho, but it does a really good job of expressing the longing the singer feels.
B1A4 – A Lie
I’m not really familiar with B1A4, but my impression of their overall discography is that their music tends to be simpler than that of some other groups. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, and I’m not referring to the quality of the music (i.e. is it good or bad). It’s just that their instrumentals don’t have a lot of bells of whistles and aren’t overly complicated. In “A Lie” especially, they’re really letting their vocals shine and dictate the feel of the music. When it gets louder or softer, it’s because the vocals are leading – not the instrumental. This results in a really clean sounding song that is simple in composition but powerful in effect. It reminds me of music that I listened to when I was younger, where there wasn’t so many effects in the composition of a song. It’s emotional and yet low-key, and it’s a nice change from the more dramatic stuff that I tend to go for.
Seventeen – Boom Boom
This one was my “earworm” for December. Seventeen has always been bright and energetic, but they’re slowly steering their overall image from “refreshing” to “funky” with a hint of sexy (but they’re not there yet, and this awkward noona is grateful for that). “Very Nice” had a very Michael Jackson feel to it, and this continues in “Boom Boom.” It alternates from smooth and slick to fast and jazzy, and shows off Seventeen’s fun side. They’re entertaining as always, both in their music video (where they clumsily try to steal something) and their choreography. Watching Seventeen is like watching a musical purely made of pop music. They’re a group that really infuses their members’ personalities into their music, and it’s fun to watch.
Jessica – Wonderland
I wasn’t into K-Pop when Jessica was part of SNSD, so I don’t really have a feel on her when she was a member. But as a soloist, she’s really established an image that fits her – feminine and stylish. “Wonderland” is perfect for the winter season. Although it’s not specifically a Christmas song, it has this kind of heartwarming feel a lot of holiday tracks emulate. It’s a pure pop delight, and it does have a Western feel (maybe because Jessica is also American). As expected from a woman in fashion and an eye for style, the visual music video are on point. Clothing-wise, she embraces the “ice princess” moniker her fans have given her. And you really feel like you are in a winter wonderland.
K.A.R.D. – “Oh Na Na”
I am living for this co-ed group. It’s amazing that this concept still is rare in an industry saturated with groups. I didn’t realize that they haven’t officially debuted yet, but this is a solid pre-debut track. The style is “moombahton,” which is a mix of house music and reggaeton. It is definitely more Western-sounding. The girls both have solid vocals, the guys both are pretty good rappers, and all of them are solid dancers. Co-ed groups have struggled, so I really hope that they will succeed. And I bet they will if they keep making addictive tracks like these.
And that’s it for 2016! January is filled with so many comebacks and debuts, and there’s already a lot of great music. I’m looking forward to what this new year brings!
NOTE: All videos belong to Big Hit Entertainment (BTS), Corridel Entertainment (Jessica), DSP Media (K.A.R.D.), Happy Face Entertainment (Dal Shabet), JYP Entertainment (GOT7 and Twice), Pledis Entertainment (Seventeen), RBW Entertainment (Mamamoo), SM Entertainment (EXO-CBX, Shinee, Taeyeon), TS Entertainment (B.A.P.), WM Entertainment (B1A4), YG Entertainment (Blackpink), and YMC Entertainment (I.O.I)