I was expecting January to be a slow time for K-pop, but we still got a lot of great of music. Female artists basically dominated this month for me. A lot of my favorite rookie girl groups had comebacks, Dreamcatcher had a strong debut, Seohyun and Suzy released amazing music, and three of my favorite biases had an amazing collaboration. Yet I couldn’t completely forget about boy groups – “Limitless” turned me into a major NCT fan.
ALL AROUND FAVORITES
I came out of 2016 following about 50 different groups to some degree, which I would say is a lot. So for 2017, I decided to be very selective about adding new groups to that list. Dreamcatcher broke my resolve almost immediately. They drew me in with their interesting music, solid dancing, and unsettling music video. They’ve delivered a solid debut with a concept that not a lot of other groups are doing right now, and it definitely caught my attention. In my opinion, they were the strongest debuting group this month.
Sometimes all it takes is one really good song to make you a fan of a group. This is what happened to me with “Limitless.” I can’t quite explain how or why, but after a couple of listens I was hooked and hardcore stanning
Taeyong NCT. “Limitless” is experimental and mainstream at the same time, with hard hip hop beats meeting smooth boy band vocals. And although the clothing and aesthetic is funny questionable, it does give me some throwback feels to when I was in high school (which wasn’t that long ago, but it sometimes feels like it is). I don’t really think that they’re being slept on…they are from SM, after all. But I hope that people give their music a listen, because it is quality.
The girls are getting a lot of attention for their image change, and rightfully so. Obvious 4minute comparisons aside, “Hobgoblin” is fierce and badass. The girls jumped all in to this new concept and they are owning it. I have literally had this song on repeat for the past two weeks. It just has this fierce beat that you can’t help but jam to. I love girl crush style songs, and this one has officially passed “Whatta Man” for my new favorite.
Seohyun, “Don’t Say No”
I am so here for Seohyun’s sweet and sultry debut. She said that she didn’t want to do the innocent maknae thing, and I’m glad she stuck to her guns. The mood and tone for this song – and her whole album really – allows her to show her colors as a grown woman. A lot of the “it groups” and idols in K-pop are younger than me, but Seohyun and I are around the same age. So I definitely enjoy a more mature concept that I won’t feel foolish dancing and singing along to. This song about pleading for your lover to come back is so emotional and easy to sing along to. I also love the light R&B influences that match her vocals really well – it reminds me a lot of Ariana Grande’s “The Way.” Seohyun is currently killing it on the charts and got her first music show win last week, and I hope the momentum continues!
Special Mention/Favorite Collaboration: Luna (f(x))/Hani (EXID)/Solar (Mamamoo), “Honey Bee”
I already live for collaborations between K-pop idols. Somehow I was further gifted by three of my biases coming together. I feel like this is the K-pop equivalent to “Bang Bang” for me. The song is decidedly jazzy, sexy, and fun. All three of them manage to create a coherent image while maintaining their own specific kind of sexy. Luna and Solar kill it on the vocals. As much as I love Hani, vocally I thought she would be the weak link – and I was pleasantly surprised. Although she didn’t get any notes to belt, she got to show off her sweet higher register. I fervently wish that they either promote this song or that I get to see it on some year-end shows.
Special Mention/Favorite Ballad: I.O.I., “Downpour”
I only get really upset about I.O.I’s disbandment when I think about it a lot, and this song gave me all of the feels. It’s a sad but sweet ballad that speaks to love but also to the girls parting ways. The piano really pulls at the heartstrings. Add all that to a music video that summarizes I.O.I.’s journey together, and the tears will certainly flow.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS:
Favorite Aesthetic MV: WJSN, “I Wish”
(My definition of an aesthetic MV: A classic music video that’s primarily designed to be eye-catching. There might be a concept, but there’s not necessarily an obvious story or plot to tie it into. They’re mostly visual candy. These kind of music videos catch my attention mostly if they have interesting technical elements: color schemes, production design, lighting, cinematography, editing, etc.)
I mentioned before that I absolutely love this music video. It’s actually my inner child come to life, and it makes me want to go back home and dig out all of my Lisa Frank stuff. They really went all out in their production design, creating a world that’s simultaneously retro and futuristic. There are so many fun items and references to look for, and there’s a visual connection to their other amazing video “Secret.” And I’m not going to lie: I also love the overwhelmingly pink color scheme.
Favorite Concept Music Video: Suzy, “Yes No Maybe”
(My definition of a concept MV: A music video that is somewhere in between an aesthetic music video and a story music video. There is a definite concept, and everything in the video helps to visually solidify it. There is usually some kind of story, but it’s more of a situation. There generally isn’t an ending or resolution, or if there is it’s ambiguous. Or in some cases, the story is put aside in favor of the visual elements.)
Others have noted how this music video is an homage to Wong Kar Wai and 90’s Hong Kong cinema. One of my film school professors was obsessed with him, so I can definitely confirm the cinematographic influences. Everything’s there: grainy shots, blurred time lags, mood-depicting color schemes, and even the obligatory diner scene. Even if you don’t know anything about that, the music video is a clear depiction of Suzy’s mental downward because from her situation. I assumed it’s an affair, but at the least it’s a very unhealthy relationship. I don’t necessarily agree with the femme fatale analogy, but it is sexy and dangerous. What really strikes me about this video is the huge contrast between the dramatic situation and Suzy’s appearance of intense detachment. She looks so removed from the world, but the crazy camera work really portrays her mental state without her having to act any of it out. I am a little disappointed about the ambiguous ending (which is why I didn’t label it as a story music vide0), but the technical aspects are really excellent and drive the emotional point home.
Favorite Story Music Video: Pentagon, “Pretty Pretty”
(My definition of a story MV: A music video that is clearly has some kind of narrative, with the soloist or members often playing characters and not versions of themselves. Ideally there is a beginning, middle, and end.There must be some kind of resolution, or a promise of one if the narrative spans several music videos. The story should ideally be easy to figure out, but it can also be cryptic and give lots of visual clues like BTS’s trilogy.)
Sometimes a simple plot is one of the nicest ones. “Pretty Pretty” is a heartwarming story where a geeky Yeo One falls for I.O.I’s Chungha and wants to get close to her by auditioning for her dance group. Of course, main dancer Kino gets in his way. It fits the upbeat and fun track perfectly. There are a lot of obvious tropes: boy works hard to impress girl, boy sheds geeky image for cooler one to do so, rivalry, etc. But it’s really sweet and light-hearted fun, which I personally need after a rough month. Plus the ending isn’t too sappy!
Most Impressive Moves: Dreamcatcher, “Chase Me”
High-level choreo? Check. Knife-like synchronicity? Fantastic formations? Check. I already went into detail about it in my review, but this is seriously impressive for a group that’s just debuting. I just can’t stop praising them.
Special Mention: Seventeen, “Highlight”
(“Highlight” was technically released in December, but I’m counting it because they did a special thirteen-member performance this month.)
Seventeen’s choreography has always impressed me. They really know how to use all of their members to create really dynamic performances. But what really gets me about this particular dance is how well it matches the song. A lot of dances really just hit the beats, but this uses all of its elements. There are so many changes between tempos, levels, and fluidity of movement. They manage to use the choreography to build up the song so much that they can use simple but powerful movements for the last chorus. I’ve followed them pretty closely, and this choreography confirmed to me that their star will only continue to rise.
Choreography I Want to Learn: CLC, “Hobgoblin”
When this song comes on while I’m cooking or washing dishes, I’ll always stop and dance to it (and my boyfriend makes fun of me). I’ve literally had to stop myself from dancing along when I’m walking in the street or at the grocery store.
B-SIDES I LIKE:
*AOA, “Three Out”
This jazzy number about dumping a no-good cheater is pure sassy fun. It almost has a contemporary Broadway musical sound. It’s the kind of song you’d sing your heart out to if you were going to the same thing.
*NCT 127, “Good Thing” and “Baby Don’t Cry”
(Yes I know I put two…I’ve really fallen hard, haven’t I?)
“Good Thing” has already gotten some attention because they promoted it on music shows. There’s also this nifty dance video featuring Yuta krumping, Taeyong breakdancing, and Winwin doing Chinese acrobatics (Mark and Jaehyun dance in it too). It’s definitely a bop, and it has that kind of classic SM sound that NCT generally shies away from in their title tracks. If you forgot that they were EXO’s little brother group, this is the song that will remind you.
“Baby Don’t Like It” is pretty *scandalous*: it’s about falling another woman and
probably potentially cheating. And I do not condone cheating or affairs in ANY way. But putting the lyrics aside, it’s a nice smooth R&B jam with some sweet vocals and stylized rapping. And I could listen to Taeyong rap all day, so there’s that.
*Seohyun feat. Eric Nam, “Hello”
I like almost every song on Don’t Say No, which almost never happens. But if I had to pick one, I’d go for her sweet romantic duet with Eric Nam. I love his voice on his own, but when he sings with a female artist it just takes on this dreamy quality that makes my heart swell. They both complement each other so well, and the song made me feel all warm and mushy inside.
*Sonamoo, “Do It Like Me”
Sonamoo has been shedding their edgy and confident image for more bright and refreshing fare. Although I appreciate that they like their new direction, I’ve missed that part of them. “Do It Like Me” is a good compromise between what they used to do and what they want to do. This song about being confident in your looks and yourself is feminine enough to go with the bright image that they want, but there’s enough sass in it that you will remind you of their earlier work. In my opinion, it’s closer to what should be their signature sound at this point.
All in all, January had some quality music. I’m looking forward to February, but a whole bunch of my favorite groups are coming back and I have no idea how to handle it!
NOTE: All songs and music/performance videos belong to Cube Entertainment (CLC and Pentagon), FNC Entertainment (AOA), Happy Face Entertainment (Dreamcatcher), JYP Entertainment (Suzy), Mystic Entertainment (“Honey Bee”), Pledis Entertainment (Seventeen), SM Entertainment (NCT 127 and Seohyun), Starship Entertainment (WJSN), TS Entertainment (Sonamoo), and YMC Entertainment (I.O.I)
Other sources: Soompi, Seoul Beats, Billboard