Katherine’s Top K-Pop Releases of 2017, Part Two: #41-50

It’s hard doing rankings when you’re multifandom. Your favorites change like clockwork, and you literally like everything. I’ve been stubbornly pretending I don’t have a new ultimate bias for a month now, because I’ve switched four times this year alone. The only thing that’s ever certain is that you want all your bias groups to do well.  So while I want to honor all my faves in these posts, I struggle because I really just want everybody to be #1.  But for the sake of this blog, I confronted my indecisiveness for once. And I think I’ve come up with a Top 50 that best reflects my tastes as a multifandom K-popper.

DISCLAIMER: Everything in these posts is based on my own personal opinion.  I like and listen to a ton of different groups, so I’m not trying to start fan wars or say X is better than Y. Most of the factors I looked at were highly specific to me and tailored to my tastes.  This is not a list of the “best” K-pop releases based on any professional standards; I’m just sharing what I liked and listened to the most in 2017! Also, I’m only covering title tracks for these posts.

CRITERIA: I structured the rankings in a similar way to my reviews, so I looked at the whole comeback/debut rather than just the single. However, my feelings about the song carried more weight than those on choreography, music videos, styling, etc.  I also considered: Did I really enjoy the song at the time? Did I keep listening to it throughout the year? Was I interested in watching their performances or variety show appearances? Was this a step in the right direction for the group creatively (whether the sales and charts reflected that or not)? And so on and so forth.  I’d like to say my bias towards certain groups and members didn’t play a part… but that would be fibbing.  To be fair, it wasn’t a huge influence. It mostly determined a couple of tiebreakers.

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50. Sistar, “Lonely”

I avoided former groups for this list, but I had to include Sistar. 2017 saw far too many disbandments, and this one hit me the hardest. Though I only knew them for a year and a half, they were probably my favorite girl group. K-pop is mostly mindless entertainment for me, but these “same age friends” really inspired me.  They set themselves apart as summer’s sexy queens, proving the appeal of different skin tones and body types in an industry obsessed with a certain visual. Sorry for all the sentimental rambling; I never really got the chance to write about them before. It’s pretty safe to say “Lonely” wasn’t the bubbly summer bop we were all expecting, but that’s okay. It’s actually kind of nicer this way. While it was definitely bittersweet, it was also a powerful and emotional coda to these ladies’ wonderful seven year careers.  It’s a damned good ballad, and it still makes me tear up six months later.

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49. 9Muses, “Remember”

The general consensus on 9Muses is that they’re criminally underrated, and I definitely agree. It’s a shame, because “Remember” is their best release to date.  The song is so dark and haunting, balanced by the ladies looking unbearably gorgeous. The highlight is the fantastically sinister music video. It’s not quite as supernatural as the teasers hinted, which would have been cool. However, it hints at some very real and traumatizing terrors like stalking, manipulation, possibly assault, and maybe even murder (okay, definitely murder).  I’m pretty sure the suggestive shots were engineered for the male gaze per usual, but I’m going to pretend that they’re a poignant commentary about objectifying women.  The story ultimately isn’t super clear, but it does succeed in making you feel unsettled and emotional in so many ways.  This comeback definitively proved these women deserve more recognition… and that we need more dark concepts in K-pop.

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48. JBJ, “Fantasy”

Produce 101‘s incredible popularity this year has ushered in many things, like the rebirth of NU’EST and Wanna One restructuring the industry as we know it. The greatest part, however, is that the majority of the show’s contestants have gotten to debut. Most of these rookies are following the current trend, releasing music with a fun and heart-lighted image. JBJ went in the complete opposite direction, and it paid off. I don’t like comparing concepts since it’s like talking about apples and oranges, but there’s no doubt their dark and intriguing debut makes you take notice. It’s very compelling, and I totally got drawn in. From the intense music and tantalizing lyrics to the borderline sexy dance moves, JBJ proves they’re completely aware of what it takes to be someone’s fantasy.

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47. SONAMOO, “I (Knew It)”

Every international fan has at least one under-appreciated group they’re super overprotective of.  I actually have four: SONAMOO, gugudan, CLC, and Oh My Girl (who all happen to be in this post). I’d go to bat for all of them, but SONAMOO is the one whose lack of popularity makes me irrationally angry. Things are slightly better with Euijin competing on The Unit, but I still have no clue why no one ever talks about them. 2017 has been SONAMOO’s most creative year yet, and “I (Knew It)” is the cherry on top. This trendy latin pop song is a nice synthesis of all the concepts the ladies have tried. It’s bold, sexy, and dramatic, with hints of their initial strong and fierce image.  At the same time, it has the more mature and feminine side they’ve been showing off lately.  Though SONAMOO had a bit of identity crisis in their rookie years, they’ve proved time and time again they have the skills to be a top girl group. I try not to use this blog to shamelessly plug groups, but I will ferociously hype these multi-talented ladies whenever I can.

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46. Oh My Girl, “Coloring Book”

I feel like I talk nonstop about how I’m not into cute concepts, but that doesn’t mean I’m always immune to them.  It’s actually pretty funny that Oh My Girl is the one cutesy group who can truly thaw my icy heart. I usually don’t like to admit that I’m an “unnie” fan, but I will for them. They seem so sugary sweet, so you’d think someone like me would run in the opposite direction. But they’re just so adorable and wonderfully quirky that I can’t help but love them! “Coloring Book” is basically just an explosion of cuteness on all fronts: high-pitched voices, aegyo galore, colorful doll-like costumes, etc.  Basically, everything a girl group needs to give Korean male fans a heart attack. It’s a little all over the place, but it’s super bright and joyful. The delightful music video filled with Oh My Girl’s bubbly antics will definitely make you smile.

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45. Golden Child, “DamDaDi”

2017 was pretty a tough year for new boy groups.  Besides the usual problems of competing with fellow rookies and building a fandom in an era practically dominated by EBS (EXO/BTS/SEVENTEEN), Produce 101‘s massive popularity resulted in a whole wave of debuts.  Many boy groups who weren’t related to the show easily got lost in the chaos.  However, I think Golden Child had one of the most promising debuts this year – and without any MNET connections! I was trying so hard not to get invested because I follow way too many groups, but “DamDaDi” was so good that I had to reconsider. It’s a catchy bop with an easy-to-learn dance, and a thoroughly wholesome vibe that will remind you of High School Musical and early One Direction if you’re old like me. Most rookies need time to get into a groove, so I think a lot of debuts fall flat compared to their later releases. Golden Child came straight of the gate with a fun and solid track.

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44. CLC, “Where Are You”

For some mysterious reason, CLC still remains under the radar. It saddens me because they’ve been putting out quality music since their debut, and “Where Are You” is another underrated gem. This lovely 90’s R&B ballad explores the girls’ softer and more feminine side, combining their typical retro music with delicate grace and ethereal beauty. “Hobgoblin” was CLC’s more popular release this year, at least with the international (read: Western) fandom. I was totally here for something fierce and fabulous, and I’ll get to “Hobgoblin” in a later post. But though “Where Are You” is much gentler, it definitely should not be ignored. It’s just as good, and I actually think this concept is more sustainable for them in the long run.  I’m really sad it didn’t get as much attention as it should have, because it was pretty much flawless.

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43. gugudan, “Chococo”

Back when gugudan debuted last year, I wasn’t overly impressed with “Wonderland.” I enjoyed their idea of pulling from fairy tales, but I wanted them to emulate their brother group VIXX and put a dark twist on it.  I still would like that, but what we ended up getting this year was so much better. Everyone loves a good fairy tale, but gugudan has enriched their theatre concept by putting spins on all kinds of popular stories.  “Chococo” is inspired by the children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and it’s a delightful treat.  Though it kind of gives me early Red Velvet vibes, it’s clear that gugudan are no copycats.  They’re perfecting their own blend of trendy pop music and eccentric aesthetics.  The music video is a colorful chocolate candy trip, and it’s great that they’re not afraid to get weird.  I love that gugudan is marching to the beat of their own drum!

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42. Highlight, “Calling You”

Though I have nothing against slower or mid-tempo songs, I tend to prefer energetic dance tracks.  I just don’t really listen to more mellow music unless I’m in a specific mood.  However, I will say “Calling You” is one of my few exceptions.  Every time it comes up on my playlist, I will listen and sing along without fail. Many popular songs these days rely on fancy effects and unique sounds to draw you in and keep you listening. What I like about “Calling You” is that it’s very straightforward, and it just lets the melody shine through. Though it’s a super relatable song about missing and drunk dialing your ex, it’s also low key enough to be the perfect background music for pretty much any backdrop.  Highlight’s all about being relatable these days, and I enjoy how they manage to zero in on situations and emotions that anyone could empathize with.

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41. EXID, “DDD”

EXID is back at it again with their trademark brand of sexy and sassy.  After briefly playing with a more funky and retro sound, they’ve returned to their tried and true formula: bouncy beats, jazzy brass, and the hip swiveling dance moves that helped propel them to fame. The boldly colored music video is also a plus, as the ladies alternate between being hot and cold – literally and figuratively.  No one quite knows how to get people riled up like EXID, so I imagine that this whole setup is a total tease for male fans. As a female fan, I think “DDD” is fantastically fierce. It’s peak sexy, with the kind of aura I could only dream of pulling off. I still maintain that Hani is the ultimate girl crush, and she’s totally in her element here with her lavender hair and glamorous fur coats. It’s true we’ve seen stuff like this from EXID many times before… but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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VIDEO SOURCES: Youtube, Around US Entertainment (Highlight), Banana Culture (EXID), Cube Entertainment (CLC), Jellyfish Entertainment (gugudan), Loen Entertainment (JBJ), Star Empire Entertainment (9Muses), Starship Entertainment (Sistar), TS Entertainment (SONAMOO), WM Entertainment (Oh My Girl), and Woollim Entertainment (Golden Child)

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