Katherine’s Top K-Pop Releases of 2017, Part Six: #1-10

It’s been a long and unexpected hiatus (5 months exactly – more on that in an upcoming post). K-pop is a fast moving industry, and most of the groups that I’ve chosen for this post have already made comebacks or are releasing new music imminently. Just waiting on you, EXO BUT, I’m the type of person who tries to see things through no matter how behind I find myself.  Leaving this post out would drive me nuts when I’ve already finished all the others. So, please join me on a blast back to recent past as I celebrate the songs that completely captured my heart in 2017!

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 at the time? Was this a step in the right direction for the group creatively (whether the sales and charts reflected that or not)? 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.

We have now arrived at the songs that I listened to nonstop and never, EVER grew tired of – and I’m still not tired of them, either.  It stands to reason that my favorite groups would perform most of these songs, so it should be no surprise a lot of SM artists ended up so highly-ranked. The featured image might have been a clue I’ve said all along that my biases would eventually come into play, and it’s never more apparent here.  But what can I say? SM artists had a really good year!  So, which of my favorite groups will end up taking the number one spot?  And which other non-SM acts made it into the Top 10?

10. TWICE, “Likey”

TWICE dominated K-pop in 2017 with an astounding FOUR comebacks. With their insanely catchy songs, cutesy choreography, stunning visuals, and bright smiles, they easily cemented their reputation as the princesses of bubblegum pop – and “Likey” is the prime example. From the appealing hook to the fun dance moves, it’s an undeniably addictive delight.  Though one of TWICE’s biggest criticisms is that they don’t have a lot of individuality, this comeback was definitely infused with more of the girls’ unique flavor.  It featured the strongest rap section Chaeyoung and Dahyun have had since debut, plus a sassy dance break that shows off the group’s “girl crush” side. While I’m still disappointed that JYP Entertainment prioritizes TWICE’s looks and charms over their artistry, “Likey” is the best reflection of what these girls bring to the table overall.

9. BLACKPINK, “As If It’s Your Last”

We only got one BLACKPINK song in 2017, but at least it was a great one!  The girls still remain somewhat of a mystery, but it’s quickly becoming apparent that their appeal lies in their two contrasting sides: fierce and glamorous onstage, but cutesy and girly offstage.  “As If It’s Your Last” maintains BLACKPINK’s loud and sassy image  that we know and love, but it also infuses a bit of that cuteness we see on their variety shows.  The result is a fun and flirty song for the summer, boasting thudding beats, a catchy hook, and booty-shaking dance moves.  I’m the type of girl that is naturally drawn to fierce concepts over cute ones, but I couldn’t get enough of “As If It’s Your Last.”

8. BTS, “DNA”

Let’s be honest: it was word of mouth from ARMYs that helped BTS make their way onto the US pop scene at the end of the year.  However, it was their skills and the quality of their music that helped them stay there.  I’ve played “DNA” for many friends with divserse music tastes, and every single one of them likes it.  It checks off all the boxes for what a good pop song needs. At the same time, it’s also a very unique take on an upbeat love song (for BTS, anyway).  I must admit I tend to stray from groups that become wildly popular – not because I think they’re overrated or overhyped, but as a natural result from constant exposure.  This often happens to me with BTS, but “DNA” is the perfect reminder of exactly why they became so popular in the first place: great music, killer choreography, and lyrics so relatable they practically pierce your heart.

7. EXO, “Ko Ko Bop”

After dominating 2016 with the dark and dramatic “Monster” (my favorite song of that year), EXO’s music took on a much more relaxed tone.  “Ko Ko Bop” dips its toes into reggae, while also managing to stick with the popular EDM trend. The dance moves are so much fun that they inspired a viral video challenge this past summer.  Their trippy music video – one of EXO’s most unique yet – takes a very psychedelic approach to the group and their known superpowers concept. And there’s plenty of eye-catching fashion statements to go with that colorful palette. “Ko Ko Bop” was a little too mellow to top the more dramatic songs on my list, but I remain impressed by my EXO’s versatility. Actually, I always forget how experimental their sound is, so their new music is always a pleasant rediscovery. In an industry that heavily favors groups with set brands and images, they’ve managed to rise to the top without ever using the same concept twice.  One thing’s for sure: EXO is always full of surprises! Now come back with another album, please

6. Monsta X, “Beautiful”

Up until “Beautiful,” Monsta X relied on a powerful and masculine hip hop image; their debut song literally featured a dance move of them kicking down doors.  “Beautiful” still has their trademark loud and dominating presence – we all I know I love my dance beats – but this time, it’s layered with a bit of romance and sophistication. Sporting chic suits and using suave dance moves, the rising boy group’s song about a dangerous forbidden love is incredibly alluring. And it’s just as “beautiful” (sorry) to watch as it is to listen to; the gorgeous music video is filled with vibrant colors and stunning imagery.   The end of Monsta X’s Clan trilogy was about growing up and maturing, and we definitely saw that in the characters they played.  However, I think it also translated well into their artistry – they’ve been serving up nothing but quality music ever since.

5. Taeyeon, “Fine”

Breakup songs almost always make me tear up, but this one really makes me cry.  Part of it is from having a recent similar experience, but it’s mostly because of how beautiful “Fine” is.  The music is so stripped down and Taeyeon’s voice is so clean and clear, but both those things pack quite a lot of emotion in their simplicity. Honestly, I think the music video is probably one of the best from 2017 because the storytelling perfectly captures the raw feelings of the lyrics. There are so many small yet genius ways of visually depicting the subtle differences after a breakup, like the ex’s items disappearing from the frame and his face getting blurred out.  Personally, I think that Taeyeon is a gem who can wear many hats as a singer.  However, I believe she’s at her best when she keeps it low-key and sings from the heart like she does here.

4. NU’EST W, “Where You At”

One of my favorite K-pop moments of 2017 was discovering NU’EST.  I had heard of them before Produce 101 Season 2, but I hadn’t checked out their music.  If you read my recaps, you will know I went through a journey watching their progress.  So of course there’s an sentimental component to my liking “Where You At,” but I also just think it’s an amazing song. It’s EDM, but it also manages to turn what’s usually a dance song staple into an emotionally compelling instrumental hook.  Most of the songs in these posts feature stunning music videos, and “Where You At” is no exception.  It’s pretty much a visual treat: stunning landscapes, use of the four elements, intriguing camera angles, and interesting lighting. Plus, the choreography looks like it’s telling a story and I’m always trying to figure out the plot. It’s clear that NU’EST and their team think a lot about the entertainment and artistic aspects of their work, and that translates to quality releases.

3. NCT 127, “Cherry Bomb”

I was determined to keep EXO as my favorite boy group, but NCT 127 officially dethroned them with “Cherry Bomb.”  30 seconds into the music video, I realized these boys were NOT playing around.  NCT marches to the beat of its own drum, and that’s most apparent here. Everything about “Cherry Bomb” is unique: the mix of rap and vocals, the off-the-charts intensity and staggering confidence, and even the daring fashion.  I love the juxtaposition between the hurried pace of the beat and the slow burn of the instrumentals. The choreography is my favorite part, and it’s also easily my favorite dance of 2017.  The moves are a bit unorthodox, but the whole vibe is such an interesting blend of borderline arrogant confidence and subtle sexiness (or maybe not so subtle – we all know which part I’m thinking about).  “Cherry Bomb” remains one of my most listened-to K-pop songs, and I’m sure it will stay that way.

2. Super Junior, “Black Suit”

I’m super attracted to the “handsome gentleman” look, so I love the maturity and seductive atmosphere of “Black Suit.”  My favorite sexy concepts are the subtle ones with confident gestures and alluring performances. (Basically, I like guys that are smooth operators.) “Black Suit” is already low-key sensual thanks to its jazz elements and suave choreography, but the heart-fluttering lyrics about desire definitely kick it up a notch.  The highly entertaining music video is also a huge plus. The best part of “Black Suit” is that it’s definitive proof that the members are aging gracefully (I am saying this as an older K-pop fan who is trying to do the same). Very few of today’s most popular boy groups could give “Black Suit” the same level of sophistication, and it’s not because they lack the skills or talent; it’s just that age and experience are more beneficial to this concept.  “Black Suit” is the perfect fit (sorry) for seasoned performers like Super Junior.

1. Red Velvet, “Peek-a-Boo”

If I had gotten around to reviewing “Peek-a-Boo” back in the fall, it would have earned my very first perfect score.  I honestly think it’s that good. It’s a nice reminder that a mature and sophisticated sound can still mix well with Red Velvet’s quirky pop image. “Peek-a-Boo” is fascinating because it’s full of contradictions that somehow work together. The melody is cute and playful, but the arrangement is teasing and seductive – with something mysterious and intriguing underneath. I also adore it because it’s a huge creative success on all fronts, allowing Red Velvet to showcase different aspects of themselves.  The song highlights their roots as princesses of trendy pop.  The choreography and the styling show off their new sexier image. And finally, the music video taps into that peculiar and unique side we’ve come to know and love.  I’ve always loved Red Velvet, but I think they got overshadowed by TWICE’s burst in popularity and Black Pink’s huge debut in 2016. In my opinion, 2017 was Red Velvet’s year to shine.

VIDEO SOURCES: YouTube, Big Hit Entertainment (BTS), JYP Entertainment (TWICE), Pledis Entertainment (NU’EST W), SM Entertainment (Super Junior, Taeyeon, EXO, Red Velvet, and NCT 127), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X), and YG Entertainment (BLACKPINK)

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