Monday, 26 December 2016

Best Of K-pop 2016

2016 was both a good and bad (it was no 2014 but, then, what is?) year for K-pop: Lots of amazing music was released but we also lost several of our favourite groups and members. However, the good kind of outweighs the bad in my opinion. There were a lot of my favourite groups delivering, as per, but there were also people I'd never heard of before or had never paid much attention to, who blew me away.

Here are the 25 best K-pop tracks of 2016, IMHO. (Note: The order is arbitrary, I couldn't bear trying to rank all of these.)

1. VIXX "Fantasy"

VIXX released three mini-albums in 2016 and had an all around good year. The members were in dramas, movies, musicals and variety shows, released solo tracks for OSTs and, in the case of Ravi, a mixtape. 2016 solidified them as one of the best and most exciting groups in the industry. As a result of all this, there are a lot of tracks I could have picked (and lots I love) but I went with "Fantasy", which samples Beethoven, is slick as and shows the boys at their gothiest, moodiest best.

2. Rainbow "Whoo"

Rainbow announced that they were disbanding only recently and it's a serious pity. This release is catchy as hell (that "Clap. Clap, clap, clap" gets stuck in my head so bad), cute and epistomises everything that was great about the group. Also, how hot is Jaekyung?! Dang. 

It's only a shame that they never really got the recognition that they deserved. 

3. WINNER "Sentimental"

WINNER is one of my favourite groups, perhaps even second to VIXX. Obviously, they are another group about whom we got sad news this year, following the confusion about the failure for planned comebacks to actually happen and the eventual departure of Nam Taehyun. Sad as I am that Taehyun has left, I still love and support the group and can't wait for them to be able to get back to making music together now. It was hard to choose just one track from the releases that came out in the beginning of this year but I went with "Sentimental" in the end. Mostly because the kind of chacha move during the choreo in the chorus is adorable and addictive.

4. Sandeul "Stay as you are"

Much as I loved B1A4's comeback (finally), it was Sandeul's solo track that really stole my heart this year. The sentiment behind the song was destined to do so. I mean, I'm a romantic moron. Basically, it's about how he hasn't met the love of his life yet but wherever she is and whatever she is doing, he wants her to be happy and loved and only live well until he meets her, even if she is currently with someone else. And, of course, it sounds beautiful because, if Sandeul's appearances on singing shows in the past year have taught us anything, it's that he really is a stunning singer.

5. 4Minute "Hate"

Another group that sadly disbanded this year, 4Minute left us on a rather strong note with the cinematic, punchy, intense and excellent "Hate". It was a great follow-up to the similarly strong "Crazy" and a brilliant direction for the band, it's a pity that they didn't get to explore it a little more...

6. SEVENTEEN "Check-in"

SEVENTEEN are a group that make me smile affectionately like a doting older sister. They're incredibly talented and have a bright future ahead of themselves. They also work very damn hard. I mean, how many comebacks did they have this year alone? I could have chosen any one of those as each was catchy, bright and exciting but I went with the Hip-hop sub-unit's first mixtape track that was released with a video. The video is rad and the song is great but mostly I was just being lame and bailing on having to choose a favourite among their other tracks.

7. K.A.R.D. "Oh Nana"

I wasn't aware a co-ed group was debuting until this video had already come out. I checked it out out of curiosity but stuck around for the track. Can you say "bop alert"?! So. Damn. Good.

8. BTS "Blood, Sweat and Tears"

I can't not include BTS. If you're talking about bops, they definitely have to be part of the conversation. They are killing it and only going from strength to strength. I think they might even be the first K-pop group that will ever truly break into the American music market. But, even if that never happens, they are still the reigning princes of K-pop. There's a reason I look forward to their every comeback so keenly, they never disappoint and "Blood, Sweat and Tears" is fantastic.

9. Brave Girls "Deepened"

For some reason, Brave Girls are flying wayyy under the radar but all of their releases have been great. "High Heels" was a typical bubbly summer girl group track, yet still excellent and a little more refreshingly tongue-in-cheek and self-aware than many other groups who produced similar tracks. However, "Deepened", released at the beginning of the year, is a truly good song that is a breath of fresh air. I really hope these guys gain more of a following and get a chance to grow!

10. G. Soul "Where Do We Go From Here"

Speaking of flying under the radar, G.Soul is a JYP act that seems to be doing just that, which I cannot fathom. His releases this year were some of the better R&B k-pop tracks to be unleashed on the market...and yet he doesn't seem to be getting mainstream love. Atmospheric, moody and sexy, this is just some good shit. Plain and simple.

11. Wonder Girls "Why So Lonely"

Another JYP act that was killing it (the label was really having a good year) was Wonder Girls. Having ditched their CEO to produce their own track, they came back at us this summer, following their eightiestastic comeback in 2015, with the excellent reggae-inspired "Why So Lonely".

12. MAMAMOO "I Miss You"

Perhaps an unpopular opinion but, of the songs MAMAMOO released this year, "I Miss You", was, hands down, my favourite. Sexy and cool, I thought that it was the direction the group was going to take. It seems their retro concept has taken over since then and I've personally tired of that a little so, this remains my favourite release from them this year.

13. I.O.I. "Very Very Very"

I.O.I. is the group that was formed by the television show Product 101, which pitched 101 trainees from various record labels against each other to become part of a girl group. Their releases have been very typical "cute" concept tracks but excellent ones and, though I'm not a massive fan of said concepts, I love I.O.I. As they are only a temporary project and won't be working together anymore, I felt I had to include them on this list and this song...well, I defy you to not get it stuck in your head.

14. EXO-CBX "Hey Mama"

Speaking of getting stuck in your head, the similarly repeated "Hey Mama" of this track from EXO's first sub-unit is damn catchy. EXO-CBX is made of some of my favourite (and underrated) members of the group and the whole project is slick, fun and stylish.

15. NU'EST (MINHYUN&JR) "Daybreak"

Nu'est are an older group that have achieved a decent amount of fame and recognition over the course of their career but aren't exactly a hot topic these days, which is a crying shame as this year's comebacks have been, in my opinion, the best they've ever had. Their sound is definitely smoother and more R&B influenced these days and is doing something a little more interesting than the rest of their peers. Everything they've produced this year has been dreamy, stylish and a little arty. This track, an unofficial sub-unit formed by Minhyun and JR on the latest album, is exactly that, dreamy and stylish. It was hard to just pick just one song but this is the one I had on repeat. Plus, the boys look especially gorgeous in this video.

16. MINO "Body"

If we're talking looking gorgeous, WINNER's Mino's solo track, "Body"(as part of his sub-unit releases with IKON's Bobby) deserves a mention. The song is sexy, the video is sexy and he looks seriously good in it.

17. Kwon Jinah "The End"

I love Kwon Jinah. Her whole album is fantastic from beginning to (excuse the pun) end but this song really stands out. Plus, I'm pretty damn proud that I was able to understand all of the dialogue in the video.

18. J-Min "Ready For Your Love"

Another fantastic track from a female soloist was J-Min's criminally underrated "Ready For Your Love". Not only is the song great but the video is stunning. I played this on a loop when it first came out.

19. NCT U "The 7th Sense"

One of the best debut tracks of the year has to be NCT U's "The 7th Sense". Dreamy, vaguely futuristic and impossibly cool, it was a strong introduction to SM's ambitious new boygroup that has 50 members who will be introduced to the public in sub-units that explore different genres, concepts and audiences across the globe, rather than perform as a whole. There were various NCT releases this year but this is my favourite, by far.

20. Loude "Tonight without You (1:00 AM)"

By comparison to every other group on this list, these guys are tiny. And, yet, I somehow stumbled upon them and fell in love. Clearly inspired by indie and dance acts from abroad, this is a chill pop-rock track with a funky beat and excellent synth use that is a very pleasant listen.

21. Agust D "Agust D"

When Suga of BTS released his mixtape, I wasn't particularly interested. In general, K-pop groups rappers' mixtapes aren't all that interesting to me but this one was different. Like Rap Monster before him, Suga proved that BTS is on a different level than most other groups. This mixtape is fantastic and the opening track, "Agust D", that introduces us to Suga's solo alterego, Agust D (Suga backwards + D for Daegu, where he is from) is killer. With their skyrocketing fame and Suga's personal demons informing the tracks and a brutal honesty that is refreshing in the poster perfect world of K-pop, this mixtape goes hard in the best possible way.

22. Yong Junhyung "After This Moment"

Another solo release from a K-pop rapper, this one comes from Beast's Junhyung and has a killer hook. This is one of my most-played tracks of the entire year. No video came out to accompany it, so I don't think it was crazily well-publicised. I imagine many people missed it but it's worth checking out.

23. ZICO "I am you, you are me"

Everything Zico touches turns to gold and he's been involved in a lot of great musical ventures in 2016 but this track from the beginning of the year is my favourite. The groovy rhythm, aesthetics of the video and styling are all right up my alley.

24. Jeong Jinwoon "Will (Feat. Tiger JK)"

With his move from JYP to Mystic, Jinwoon obviously got the opportunity to pursue the music he is really passionate about. Clearly, his love for rock needed to be explored after years in a ballad group and, while this debut was deemed a failure during subsequent television appearances, I really liked it. I think the styling and stylised atmosphere of the video and song are awesome. Plus, I love the Jarvis Cocker vibes.


Even though this was just released, it has to be one of the best tracks of the year. BIGBANG are K-pop royalty, on a whole different level than everyone else. While I fuck with this a little less than last year's releases, it's still a fantastic song. It's just a damn shame that T.O.P. has to enlist in the new year and that other members are sure to follow shortly thereafter.


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