My Favorite Songs of 2016: July – September

This summer had a lot of fun releases that perfectly suited the season.  It was dominated by girl groups, with the likes of Gfriend, Wonder Girls, I.O.I., and Red Velvet taking a lot of music show wins.  My personal list of favorites for summer is female-dominated, so go girl power!

JULY

Taeyeon – Why

As a soloist, Taeyeon has worked hard to establish her own color separate from SNSD. Since debuting there was the emotional power ballad “I” and the jazzy “Rain,” which were crafted to really let her vocals shine.  I wasn’t expecting her to choose an EDM-influenced dance track for her 2nd album, and I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s fun and upbeat with a distinct summer feel , which is evident in the music video where she travels around California playing in pools and setting off fireworks. She’s not belting out high notes like in her other songs, but she still showcases her sweet voice.  She’s portraying her more whimsical side here, where she skateboards and eats popsicles on swings and sprays hot dog stand guys with ketchup. It’s nice because I feel like it’s a side that we don’t really get to see all that often.

Sonamoo – I Like You Too Much

If I ever made one of those “Stan talent stan _______” posts on Tumblr, it would be for Sonamoo.  They’re one of the few groups I never see anyone posting about, and I think it’s such a shame.   The girls are a very well-balanced team with very evenly spread talents, and this song really spoke to all of their abilities. Initially, I felt like “I Like You Too Much” was a clear departure from their signature edgier sound in favor of trendier styles à la Gfriend and Twice. DIA made a similar about-face, and in my opinion it didn’t work out well. The music video doesn’t help either – we’re basically put in the perspective of a young man wishing for a girlfriend and then living out his romantic fantasies with the members (Nahyun is literally in a maid costume). But the more I listened to the song, the more I liked it.  It’s catchy, energetic, and a little funky.  It also has a nice progression and builds to this fantastic note by High.D in the chorus. And it’s accompanied by very dynamic choreography.  As my mother said while watching the dance practice, “Those girls are really moving fast!”

Astro – Breathless

All of Astro’s albums have been season-based, and they’ve managed to make three different and distinct tracks that still allow them to maintain their bubbly and refreshing image.  This is especially true in “Breathless,” which is a bop. The song and the choreography are so bright energetic, but the music video is what really makes this song stand out.  It’s just so darn clever.  The boys fall asleep on the beach and have a collective dream where they’re bottles of soda belonging to I.O.I.’s Yoojung (who’s plenty bubbly herself). It’s definitely an interesting idea, but the camera choices and the editing really make it work.  The juxtaposition between the members and the actual soda bottles is smart and actually has you buying into the idea.  Fun and likable personalities are extremely important these days, and Astro has the sunny and silly demeanor needed to pull off something quirky and comedic like this.

Wonder Girls – Why So Lonely

The Wonder Girls have really established themselves as a retro style group since their reformation as a band.  Their ability to capture our stereotypical impressions of an era is impressive. Everything about “Why So Lonely” screams 70’s vibes, from the reggae influence and the trippy music video to the psychedelic color scheme and the on-point fashion.  My mother, someone actually alive at the time, says she doesn’t remember everything being so “sexy.” Take that with a grain of salt because she avoided most musical trends in the 70’s and 80’s, but she’s right. This music video is very sexy. Which is interesting, because the song is about being ambivalent and disillusioned in a relationship.  It probably represents (sexual?) frustration, which is expressed in the music video where the ladies are having a less than satisfactory relationship with a Ken-doll mannequin. They end up ganging up and taking it out on him in some dark but funny ways.  Sister solidarity indeed.

AUGUST

Blackpink, “Whistle”

Love them or hate them (I happen to love them), Black Pink came onto the scene with a bang this year.  Like I said about NCT, their debut felt very polished and professional. “Whistle” was almost an immediate hit, and shows a lot of what the girls have to offer.  It has a pretty Western sound somewhere between hip hop and pop, and a nice mix of rap and vocals.  It also has a lot of interesting effects like finger snapping and the whistle in the chorus.  I don’t think there’s a story or anything deep in the music video, but it has lots of interesting images and a colorful aesthetic. The choreography is interesting and matches the beats of the music well.  I’m generally tired of cutesy girl groups, so a group with a more charismatic approach is welcome change.

I.O.I  – Whatta Man

I totally live for this song, and it’s not just because I’m already familiar with the chorus. YMC  backtracked on the quite obvious “sexy” concept and claimed they were going for “charismatic” instead. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and mark the leather getups as a poor style choice.  Besides that, the vibe that I get from this comeback is entirely girl crush.  The song is brassy and sassy – just the kind of thing I blast while I’m gearing up for a night out. Chungha did the choreography,  which is very interesting and appropriate because she has consistently shown a humble and low-key side offstage but turns up when she performs. It’s the kind of dance that is sexy, but in a “Look at me because I’m awesome” kind of way –  projects confidence.  The music video is about Yoojung getting rejected by her crush and glamming herself up with the help of her already sexy confident members, only to reject him right back.  It’s a bit of a trope, but I appreciated it all the same.

WJSN – Secret

I was kind of on the fence about WJSN on their debut.  I feel too old to really enjoy the cute “Mo Mo Mo,” and when I was watching “Catch Me” I was all too aware that I was watching mostly underage girls gyrate in leather outfits. (Somehow this did not happen when I was watching “Whatta Man,” but I can’t explain why) So this more mellow and feminine song really came out of nowhere for me.  It really suits their vocal line, who mostly have higher toned voices.  Yeonjung’s addition gives them some power that I think they were lacking before. Exy’s rap break fits well with the song and isn’t too intrusive. The choreography makes use of all thirteen members to really create some interesting formations and movement. Aesthetically, the music video – which tells the story of Yeonjung falling to their planet – really plays with their “Cosmic” and zodiac concept.  It kind of looks like my tarot deck come to life, and it is total eye candy.

EXO – Lotto

I will freely admit that this is not EXO’s best song, especially following my personal favorite “Monster.” Holy autotune, Batman!  However, it managed to stay in my head all of August and I couldn’t help singing along. Darn you, “lipstick chateau!” The vocals aren’t overly varied except for Chen’s high note, but the song is darn catchy.  I think the choreography added a lot and it fit really well with the mood of the song, which I have dubbed “low-key swag.” I have no idea what’s going on with the music video, although I watch it a lot because I’m convinced that it’s a prequel to “Monster.” If you watch it enough times, there are a lot of similarities. But it does feature Suho burning piles of money and swinging a spiked bat and Chen casually drinking while the SWAT team approaches him.  And about six seconds of Sehun doing some body rolls.  Okay, that may be a teeny part of why I like the music video so much.

SEPTEMBER

Red Velvet – Russian Roulette

I guarantee that you will not be able to get this song out of your head.  In a year filled with earworms, this one takes the cake.  If I listen to it once, it will stay with me for days.  Good thing it’s a good song.  It’s extremely repetitive, but that’s the whole point.  The choreography is deceptively hard like their other songs, with fairly easy key points but difficult everything else.  The music video is really smart and plays off of the dangerous idea of “Russian Roulette.” The members try to cause harm to each other in every possible way, but it’s like they’re in a cartoon and there’s no lasting damage. (There’s even footage of Itchy and Scratchy to punctuate this) And of course they’re done up in cute outfits and have colorful hair, so it’s interesting that it starts out as a cute video and then takes an unexpectedly dark turn.

2 P.M. – Promise (I’ll Be)

If I had discovered K-pop as  a teenager, I would have been all. over. 2 p.m. I saw some old dance videos from their beast-dol days and I couldn’t even handle it. But we’ve all grown up into adults, and this time they traded in shirt ripping and sexuality for suits and sensuality.  This comeback is all about what it means to be a gentleman.  The song seems straightforward at first, about a man promising to do anything and be the best for his love.  It appears chivalrous, but the music video puts that into question.  Half of the members have active love lives, and the other half are left to brood handsomely out in the cold.  And it’s implied that those moody men are exes of the women who have moved on.  So now the song takes on a double meaning: is it sung by a romantic knight in shining armor, or is it sung by a guy who knows he’s in the doghouse and wants his girl back?  The song and choreography switch between smoother and more aggressive sections, which help to mirror these contradictions.  It’s definitely very sexy in a smoldering kind of way.

Infinite – The Eye

This year, Infinite gave us a emotional song and a matching music video to boot.  “The Eye” refers to the eye of the storm, which in itself is a metaphor for a relationship gone wrong. It’s about a moment of calm which cannot last, and it’s only a matter of time before the storm and the drama starts again.  There’s a very orchestral aspect to the song – piano and violin, especially.  That and the strong percussion helps it build to give it that sense of emotion. An electric sound is thrown in during the dance breaks where their movements become more aggressive, conveying the sense of the storm brewing.  The whole thing flows really smoothly, especially there isn’t any rap to break it up. The music video is dark and gray and dramatic.  There are several ideas to what the story is exactly and what the members represent. Regardless of your theory, the main idea is that L is being drawn to something and the other members are trying desperately to keep him away from it, because whatever it is will only bring him pain.  It’s a little more dramatic than some of their other title tracks, but it is poignant and filled with feeling.

Apink – Only One

Apink apparently cried when they first heard this song. They thought that it fit them so perfectly, and I have to agree.  It’s a really nice track that has some slight R&B influence but still resonates with their pure concept. All of the ladies are in their twenties now, and this comeback helped them mature their image while staying true to their foundation.  It’s a sweet love song that showcases their beautiful vocals, especially for Eunji and Namjoo. It’s one of those songs that immediately relaxes you when you listen. The music video itself doesn’t really have much of a story or a substance.  It’s just nice looking images of the members being happy and waiting for the person that makes them happy at an amusement park.  But at the same time, when I watch it all I think about is how they’re growing up.  Signs of maturing seem to be very evident when the basis of your whole concept is pure and innocent. The styling is so crucial here, and it’s so on point.  They look and dress like adults, and you can tell that they’re growing up.

NOTE: All videos belong to Fantagio Entertainment (Astro), JYP Entertainment (2 P.M. and Wonder Girls), Plan A Entertainment (Apink), SM Entertainment (EXO, Red Velvet, and Taeyeon), Starship Entertainment (WJSN), TS Entertainment (Sonamoo), Woollim Entertainment (Infinite), YG Entertainment (Blackpink), and YMC Entertainment (I.O.I.)

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