Around this time, I realized that there was no going back: I was officially a fan of K-pop. So I embraced it. I watched even more MVs and variety shows. I got back into dancer mode and started to teach myself choreography from various dance practices (girl groups only so far). And I went to KCON France, which was a couple days before my birthday! This spring had a lot of great new music, as well as comebacks from some of my favorite artists.
NCT U – The Seventh Sense
To be honest, I still don’t quite understand the whole concept of NCT. Now that most of the guys in NCT U have been put into NCT 127, will they even come back? I really liked NCT U and was extremely impressed by their debut. Everything about it – music video, song, choreography – seemed so professional, like they weren’t even rookies. They came swinging out of the gate as a well-balanced team of strong rappers, vocalists, and dancers. I also like the R&B Drake-ish vibe of the song. It’s naturally kind of a slow jam, but the choreography matches it so well and is on point.
Block B – Toy
I’ll confess: I really wasn’t into Block B at first. The songs that they’re known for – Nalina, Nilili Mambo, Very Good, etc. – just aren’t my style. When I heard that they were on the lineup for KCON France, I went back and listened to everything again. Although my opinion hasn’t changed about their early work, I really love “Toy.” It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting based on their previous concepts, and it showcases a more mature side of the group. Instead of a loud “in your face” hip hop jam, it’s a clean and simple melody with some touches of EDM. The song is about being used by your significant other like a toy – and being okay with it. This is mirrored in the MV by the members’ passivity; they’re still and doll-like while singing. It’s definitely experimental for Block B, and in my opinion it paid off.
Jeong Eunji (Apink) – Hopefully Sky
This song made Eunji my Apink bias. I must say that this song’s subject has a lot to do with my liking it. I lost my father several years ago, so anything father-related will automatically set off the waterworks for me. My eyes watered watching Eunji remember her childhood and play with her kid self, and I burst into tears when her father appeared at the end. It’s a beautiful reminder that it’s important to appreciate our parents – living or no longer with us. But there are other things that are great about this piece besides the theme. I know nothing about vocal technique, but I can see that Eunji is an amazing singer. She has a deep and rich voice and can hit high notes with ease. Her singing is so soothing; you could listen to it forever. I also really like the overall mood of the song. The other ballads that made it on this list are kind of wistful at best and downright melancholy at worst. “Hopefully Sky” is an exception; it’s uplifting and fills you with warmth. And for me, it gave me all the feels.
Vixx – Dynamite
The members of Vixx are the kings of the “dark” concept. They’ve been Jekyll and Hyde, voodoo dolls, robots, love slaves, and now Greek mythological figures. So given how successful they are going dark and weird, part of me finds it ironic that I preferred the most upbeat song they released this year. (Little did I know that the song is only upbeat in tempo, not lyrics – the song is about one’s frustration as a relationship ends) Dynamite is – well, dynamic. It’s jazzy and makes you want to get up and dance. I have to admit that I’m not quite sure what’s going on in the music video, but it’s very aesthetically pleasing. I thought that Vixx’s Conception Project was really strong throughout 2016, but “Dynamite” remained my favorite of the three releases.
Lovelyz – Destiny
I think it’s because I’m an older fan, but I find it really hard to get into groups who have a primarily cute or innocent concept. I do have some exceptions to this rule, and “Destiny” is one of them. The energetic strings make the track really dramatic. The girls’ sweet vocals give it a dreamy and almost mystical quality. It’s the type of song that could fit really well as an an anime opening. The piece is about unrequited love and patiently waiting for someone to love you back. This is expressed in the music video, where the girls are sitting and standing around – and suspended in motion at some parts. It’s very well-crafted and pretty to look at. The accompanying choreography is very graceful and feminine. This song and video were meant to start a trilogy of comebacks, and I’m excited to see what comes next for these girls.
BTS – Save Me
BTS mania hit me hard in the spring, especially when I found out that they were coming to KCON France. Seeing them live pushed Got7 to become my favorite group (it was temporary, but more on that another time). “Save Me” is more low-key than the energetic “Fire” and the sexy “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” The music video is simplistic: a moving one-shot of them dancing. I love all three releases, but I personally find “Save Me” it to be the most emotionally compelling of the three. I usually look at the lyrics after I’ve listened to the song, and the song itself pulled at my heartstrings before I even knew what it was about. The tone and the emotion conveyed the message of the song and matched the lyrics well. BTS’s vocalists aren’t the strongest, but you can really feel the heart and soul in their voices here. Not to mention that all three rap breaks are different, interesting, and suit each rapper’s individual style while making a cohesive song. It’s great to see them branching out from their earlier work and trying new things.
AOA – Good Luck
Unsurprisingly, AOA has quickly become my boyfriend’s girl group of choice (he actually plays “Like A Cat” on repeat). I obviously don’t like them for his reasons, but I do love their music. AOA’s music is always catchy, and they usher in summer with the sexy “Good Luck.” The brass adds a sassy edge to the song that makes you want to strut on the sand with them. The ladies have tended to stick with a mix of cute, feminine, sexy in their recent title tracks. Some concepts veer towards the former, where they’re obviously sexy but act all innocent. This time, they clearly know that they’ve got it and they act like it. Plus they all run on the beach Baywatch-style, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Monsta X – All In
This year, Monsta X threw their hat into the ring with the story-based trilogy trend. I do like the song, but in this case the music video played a big factor in putting it on my list. I won’t pretend that I understood everything in it, and I still have no idea what exactly that damned blue flower is about. What I did figure out – specifically, Shownu and Minhyuk/Hyungwon’s plotlines – really spoke to me. I won’t spoil the story here, but there are some very powerful themes at play in the music video, some of which I’m not sure are completely intentional. All I will say is that song is about going all in for the person you love, and the characters do as well. As for the song itself, it’s typical Monsta X fare – hiphop with heavy percussion and a touch of EDM. It definitely helps solidify their image as a masculine group, and comes with a dance including sexy back rolls and some questionably ripped shirts on Shownu and Wonho.
Oh My Girl – Windy Day
Oh My Girl is one of those few groups who made it onto my list more than once, because I couldn’t decide between “Liar Liar” and “Windy Day.” They’re both pretty interesting songs, for very different reasons. While “Liar Liar” is cute and bubbly like their debut song “Cupid,” “Windy Day” falls more in line with their romantic “Closer.” I didn’t quite understand the lyrics, but from what I gathered it’s a comparison of a love interest to the air. The song and the music video both express this well. The verses and choruses are sweet, soft, and almost ethereal. Then the sitar comes in and changes things up. The girls’ tranquil tea parties and general meandering in the forest interrupted by massive gusts of wind. Some people might say that there’s too much of a difference between the two styles, but I think that’s precisely the point. Love and attraction kind of hit you when you least expect it.
Luna ( f(x) ) – Free Somebody
This song is definitely one of my favorites this year. Luna is my f(x) bias, and from the first moment I heard it I was hooked. She performed it for the first or second time ever at KCON France, and I lost my mind screaming myself silly. “Free Somebody” plays to Luna’s strengths as both the main vocal and lead dancer of f(x), delivering a powerful melody and backing it up with some sensual – but not overtly sexy – choreography. It’s got a heavy EDM influence that helps punctuate the dance moves. The music video is colorful and fun with some great style choices (hey there, Powerpuff Girls T-shirt). A psychedelic candy gets Luna fantasizing about the cute boy that she’s stuck in an elevator with, leading to some interesting animation sequences. I was disappointed to hear that it wasn’t well received in Korea, because in my opinion it’s one of the best songs that came out of this year.
CLC – No Oh Oh
CLC caught my eye because their music is different from the standard cutesy fare we get from most rookie girl groups. Their title tracks are still cute, but have a bit of an edge to them. “Pepe” and “High Heels” in particular sound like updated versions of something you might find in earlier decades. “No Oh Oh” has a retro vibe too, and sounds like it’s more from the 90’s (and the MV looks like something from the 90’s too). In a fun nostalgic way, it reminds me of something that I might have heard on Radio Disney when I was a kid. There’s a little bit too much going on in the MV, but the song is so darn catchy that I watched it over and over again. I will say that this one does make a compelling case for knowing the lyrics and subject of a song. Given its bright and bubbly nature, I was surprised to find out it was mostly about a girl asking a guy to stop pressuring her…oops!
EXO – Monster
My number one favorite track of the year. In my opinion, EXO is at their best here. Intriguing song with a trap beat? Check. Addictive choreography? Check. The most even line distribution we’ve ever seen in a title track? Check. The list goes on and on. I was slightly disappointed with the music video because the teaser made it look like there was an actual story. There’s still some semblance of a plot, but it kind of gets ditched for aesthetics like SM does. To be fair, those aesthetics are killer (I love the overwhelming presence of red, as well as the purply pink lighting when they dance). I’m also really digging the dark vibe. Some people did complain about the lyrics being creepy, with the men comparing themselves to monsters with their lovers. But I’m going to say it’s high-concept, because I’m one of those people that likes to fantasize about bad boys.
Sistar – I Like That
After going through Sistar’s work, I was totally ready for another fun and sexy summer bop like “Touch My Body” or “Shake It.” What we got was still sexy, in a more sophisticated and mysterious way. Saxophone plays throughout the song, which makes it automatically sexy. It also has a bit of a dangerous and alluring vibe, which matches the lyrics – a woman is disappointed by her lover’s cheating ways, but she knew what she was getting into in the first place. The music video also scores major points for me. The style, production design, and choreography are out of this world. Everything is so aesthetically pleasing. I do love Sistar’s summer jams, but I really hope they continue in this direction.
NOTE: All videos belong to Big Hit Entertainment (BTS), Cube Entertainment (CLC), FNC Entertainment (Apink), Jellyfish Entertainment (Vixx), Plan A Entertainment (Eunji), Seven Seasons Entertainment (Block B), SM Entertainment (EXO, Luna, and NCT U), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X and Sistar), WM Entertainment (Oh My Girl), and Woollim Entertainment (Lovelyz)