It’s been quite a busy year in Kpop! The bad is that more groups have disbanded including Wonder Girls, Sistar and History. These amazing and talented groups have left a void in the market that many of the nugu groups are fighting to fill while the more senior groups/idols continue to strengthen their fanbases and positions on the charts.
I thought it would be a good idea to check in with the music so far and filter through the MANY releases to gain perspective on the current trends in the industry. Please keep in mind based on my highly subjective opinion. You may not agree with any of the music I mention and that’s okay. The great thing about the Korean industry is that there’s music for everyone. Also this list isn’t in a specific order.
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t like
Lookie Rookie when it dropped and my feelings have only marginally improved since then. Thankfully, the mini for Rookie was wonderful so that era was not a total write off. Body Talk, in particular, caught my attention right away and I’ve listened to it consistently since it was released. I’m a sucker for emotionally devastating songs to upbeat instrumentals and that’s Body Talk in a nutshell. The production is full with a quick beat but the synthesizer is what truly allows the instrumental to stand out. I love that they’re instructed to sing to match the tones of the music too. I love everything about this song.
While Loona has yet to debut, we’ve been gifted with pre-releases throughout the year as a means of introducing the members. I’ve found that most of the singles have been hit or miss but none have captivated me like Eclipse has. Kim Lip has the perfect voice for the smooth R&B present and she never extends her vocals during the runs. She keeps it cute, simple and sexy. The song is a bop and I hope we get more of this from her both as a solo project and within the final group.
While never truly warming up to Winner, I have found that their music tends to be pleasant even if it’s also easily forgettable. So it was a huge surprise that I loved Really Really right away. Really Really. (Ha). The song is catchy, makes you want to move and it’s pure fun. Sometimes I don’t want to be emotionally ruined with lyrics and when that happens, songs like this are my go to. The singing and rapping never tries to do more than it should and instead allows you to get swept away with the riddim (and yes that’s what I’m calling it since “tropical house” is just watered down reggae). I always want to dance when I hear it and from the looks of the music video, that’s also what Winner wants to do when they hear it too.
Signal was a polarizing song in Korea with the public hating it while fans seemed to put more and more energy into cementing Twice’s position as the ‘Nation’s Girl Group’. I like Twice but I’ve never been into their music but then Signal descended on me and I quickly fell in love with it. Look, I know that Signal is basically musically crack but I also know that I’m hooked and I’m not looking for a cure. The song is catchy, it’s structure is simple enough for anyone to follow and this is the first title track that has zero focus on showing that they have 1 good singer. It’s not necessary here! The song is cute. The choreography looks like so much fun. The girl’s look good in their retro outfits. I love it!
As Sistar’s last release, I probably should say something profound about the group and the song but I have yet to finish listening to it or watching the mv without tearing up so… yeah.
I couldn’t pick between the two so here’s a two-fer! I absolutely adore the co-ed concept and appreciate the focus on international Kpop fans because it places Kard in a unique space where they can pretty much do what they want. It also feels great to be seen as important to Kpop groups who generally focus 90% of their attention on their Korean base. I want to say that Kard’s consistency with delivering reggaeton influenced bops is why they’ve gained popularity so quickly but I actually believe that the music would be nothing without the charisma, talent and chemistry between the members. Their voices are so unique, especially So-min and B.M, and they always commit to lyrical delivery. I personally believe that Jeon So-min has one of the best voices in the industry right now and she is definitely the best choice when it comes to lead vocals. It was her voice in the chorus for Rumor that made me go back and give Don’t Recall another chance. It was then that I started to get into the group.
It’s easy to like this song for the message but the production is well executed and everyone delivers exceptional vocals and visuals. The strong intro and the chorus are where the song especially captivates. Also Bang Yong-guk makes his return.
I was surprised by how much I loved this song. It’s fun and easy to sing along to. Honestly, I love throwing my middle fingers in the air so this was always going to be a hit with me! G Dragon is at his best as he croons about hating his fame and the fake people that come with it. He’s especially annoyed with Seungri’s “friends” trying to talk to him.
Cherry Bomb just dropped and while I do love the song, after Mark’s 3 rd verse the single falls flat and I always wonder why they didn’t just end the song there. Limitless, on the other hand, is entertaining until the very end. In a previous round up for Blackgirlnerds, I gushed about the chorus making this song and that’s still true.
Every month this year, Day6 has released music and every month I am impressed with their sound. The bridge for I Wait is definitely the highlight for this song and probably what sets it apart from so many of the Kpop releases this year. There’s so much going on with this song but it never feels disconnected, instead you’re taken onto this roller coaster and it’s about enjoying the music. The lyrics are simple and familiar enough but I love that the tempo and chanting heighten the frustration felt. Pay more attention to Day6!
Dreamcatcher (not sold on the name) has continued to impress with their rock influenced sound and Gothic aesthetics. The intro for Good Night is brilliant as we start with sinister clock ticking and from there it’s a frantic pace that is consistent except for key points in the song. The vocals and rap are convincing and I truly appreciate that they don’t sound too high pitched. That tends to be my issue with many nugu groups. Good Night would be the perfect theme song for an anime about witches and I do hope that Dreamcatcher finds a lot of crossover appeal to the world of anime.
Introspective music is my drug of choice so Palette was made to be love by me. I too wondered at 25 about insignificant changes in personal choices and treated them like grand mysteries. Why had I refused to acknowledge that yellow was my favourite colour for so long??? I think there’s a comfort with yourself that comes with age and IU has channeled that growth into her music wonderfully. The chorus is where this song peaks but the rap verse by GD is also a highlight. More idols need to express their personal growth in their music. Especially now that it’s becoming okay to be an older idol.
I love Oh My Girl and I’ve given up wanting Closer 2.0 because it seems like management is more interested in doing the high-pitched, crack instrumental music concept this time around. Not gonna lie, the chorus is super fun and the yeol songarak with the accompanying “I’ve got super powers” dance move is very effective. It has stuck itself to my brain and refused to let go!
This song is all kinds of try-hard ridiculous but so damn catchy at the same time. Give her 3 years and she’ll be doing what Hyuna does but better. MiSO is the maknae of Girls Girls who are an unknown girl group that debuted in 2015. I honestly just heard of them through Miso and I’m sure that many people did as well because they left very little impact. Hopefully, the buzz around Miso forces a comeback so the other girls can try to shine as well.
I don’t listen to much K-Hip Hop but the old school feel of Blurred Lines and the story-telling hooked me. What felt fresh about this song was that Cheetah explored her rage at this man for being shit. I tend to listen to pop singles and girl groups are generally allowed to be sad but they are rarely allowed to get angry. The lines You swallowed my sadness. I hope you will drown in my tears and Each of us has a different loneliness. Friend ship, love shit. I hate it all are especially intimate and descriptive. I love when music feels personal? Anyways, check out Cheetah. Also the phone break was genius and perfectly made use of having a male rapper feature on the track.
Lee Hyori’s return was a lot less U-Go-Girl than many of us had hoped but the sounds found in her new album Black are all very similar to the pre-release Seoul and that is where she is in her life. The longing felt in this song is the reason I connect to as much as I do. The theme of longing for the past, whatever that past includes, and how it conflicts with the comfort found in today is universal. The thrill of the city and it’s emptiness versus the abundance of life found in smaller towns is palpable. I love this song because every single word is as sharp and poignant as it is visual. It makes me long for a place with soul, to rest my own in.
Davichi is known for their ballads which is understandable since that is what they do best but Lee Hae Ri brought us a bass, toe-tapping song that is as cool as it is emotional. We know she can sing so she did not have to prove that with this solo release. I preferred that she didn’t go all out vocally and instead decided to keep it cute to match the mood of the song.
Goblin’s OST is still charting while most of us have purposely forgotten about the drama which says everything. Ailee is impressive as always and the lyrics tug at the heart-strings as they’re meant to do.
The chorus of this song is everything. Teen Top are notoriously overlooked IMO but they brought everything with this comeback. Vocals! Rapping! Dancing! Hooks AND a banging chorus! Stop sleeping on Teen Top!
Presenting music in the future bass genre was tricky because for many people, the loose structure and lack of discernible instruments is unappealing but that was what drew me into the song more than I would have been if we got a run of the mill back drop to the basic lyrics. I also appreciate that in the over-flowing stream of idols today, these old guys are still willing to take musical risks. My only complaint with Touch is that the lyrics could be a touch (heh) more meaningful as their generic nature tends to emphasize the coldness felt with the mechanical instrumental. Even for a winter concept, the song at first felt too cold and impersonal.
Other Notable Mentions
- SES – Remember
- BoA – Camo
- Seohyun – Magic/Love & Affection
- Melody Day featuring Ilhoon – You Seem Busy
- BTS – Not Today
- Subin – Circle’s Dream/Strawberry
- Taeyeon – Time Lapse
- Got7 – Never Ever
- Monsta X – Beautiful
- Girl’s Day – Thirsty
- Zico – She’s A Baby
- Jessica Jung – Because It’s Spring
- Sechskies – Be Well
- Vixx – Shangri-La
- BTOB – Movie
- iKon – B’Day
- BoA and Madclown – Tonight
- Okdal – Love Advice