Katherine’s Top K-Pop Releases of 2017, Part Four: #21-30

Okay, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: there are a bunch of boy groups in this post. Apparently, this is the part where I decided to put all the comebacks that have attractive men with intense auras. (Fortunately, the rest of the Top 50 will be more diverse!) I tried to be as articulate as usual, and not just write fancy versions of “OMG I love [insert group name here]” or “[Insert bias name here] is so attractive.” I think I did pretty well, but I’ll still warn you that the fangirl in me might occasionally take over.

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.

30. B1A4, “Rollin'”

B1A4 are so mellow that I tend to forget about them until they make a comeback, and then I feel like a complete fool because their songs are always really good!  Boy groups these days tend to favor more intense and dramatic styles (please see the rest of this post for reference), but B1A4 is a nice change of pace from that. While their discography is generally pretty low-key, they always do well because they focus on releasing catchy songs that people enjoy singing along to.  “Rollin'” does borrow from the popular tropical house genre, but it strikes a nice balance between being following the trends and having its own individual flavor. Above all, it remains classic B1A4: memorable music with a clean and polished sound (and some fun dance moves thrown in for good measure).

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29. Gugudan, “A Girl Like Me”

After a cute but somewhat flat debut, Gugudan came back firing on all cylinders with an excellent example of the “girl crush” concept. Inspired by the Greek myth of Narcissus (the guy cursed to fall in love with his reflection), “A Girl Like Me” is an exploration of confidence – and borderline arrogance – in all of its forms.  The stellar music video features the members exhibiting tell-tale signs of vanity, from the classic mirror gazing to the more modern selfie-taking.  It’s incredibly detailed, and it also allows Gugudan to hone the eccentric aesthetic that should help them stand out from the crowd later on. Boasting killer vocals, a fierce beat, and sassy dance moves, “A Girl Like Me” is the ultimate confidence booster that will make you want to strut your stuff.

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28. EXID, “Night Rather Than Day”

The fabulous ladies of EXID are currently one of K-pop’s reigning sexy groups, but this comeback is proof they can be just as successful in a more toned-down environment. Make no mistake: “Night Rather Than Day” still has plenty of sensual and suggestive undertones. After all, the whole song is about how the calm night time is perfect for seeing your lover. And the music video does give some welcome glimpses of EXID’s trademark cheekiness, as they cut up Metro cards and melt wax over car keys to get their significant others to spend the night. However, the ladies leave their distinctive loud and in-your-face sound for some low-key R&B and jazz, giving everything a much more playful feel.  It’s nice to see their fun and funky side, especially in an industry that likes to forget sexy girl groups are real people with real personalities.  I was initially skeptical about EXID’s concept change, but I couldn’t be happier to be proved wrong.

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27. B.A.P, “Wake Me Up”

Pop music is usually seen as light and enjoyable, but very surface level. While many songs are relatable and capture some very real feelings, they usually don’t dig deep into a person’s psyche. That’s why I appreciate groups like B.A.P. who speak out about their difficult experiences, in a world where most are taught to sweep it under the rug.  “Wake Me Up” is a powerful yet personal piece about fighting your own inner demons, whatever they may be. It’s reinforced by a compellingly realistic music video that depicts people of all backgrounds and ethnicities – a rare move in K-pop.  It’s so essential for people to be able to talk openly about their struggles and pain, and I find it really inspiring how “Wake Me Up” emphasizes the ups and downs of the journey instead of the end result. If anything, 2017 taught us that mental health awareness is of paramount importance – not just in the K-pop sphere, but all over the world.  We often look to celebrities and artists to validate our feelings and speak on our behalf, and hopefully groups like B.A.P will help usher in a new age of understanding.

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26. Pentagon, “Critical Beauty”

Pentagon is one of those groups who theoretically have it all: stellar singers with powerful voices, charismatic rappers with their own unique flavors, skilled dancers with sharp moves, and CF-worthy visuals. They have so much potential, but the sheer amount of boy groups out there has sadly kept them somewhat under the radar. While their first two releases followed all the K-pop rookie trends, “Critical Beauty” sets them apart. With a guitar riff straight out of Elvis Presley’s “Jail House Rock” and some old school dance beats, it manages to be an effortlessly cool blend of retro and modern (those pinstripe suits!). The smooth and charming lyrics are another highlight: the members are singing about how they’re astounded by the object of their affection, but somehow we’re the ones who feel like swooning. Pentagon released two other incredibly unique songs this year, but “Critical Beauty” was the first to show off their distinctively creative aura.

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25. SF9, “O Sole Mio”

SF9 is another new boy group group that was able to stand out in a sea of rookies and display their own unique charms. Known for sharp and crisp choreography against an EDM backdrop, their switch to the increasingly trendy latin pop for “O Sole Mio” is a pretty noticeable change. The alluring guitar strumming and syncopated dance beat might remind you of a certain wildly popular song… but “O Sole Mio” is only just similar enough to “Despacito” to guarantee people will like it. With smooth Italian phrases in the lyrics and commanding bullfighting stances in the choreography, the boys emphasize chivalry and charisma to great effect.  My favorite part is the eye-catching music video; it’s filled with masterfully color-corrected shots that make the California desert look like a fantasy land. Though I pretty much consider “Critical Beauty” and “O Sole Mio” equal in quality, the excellent music video (and seeing them in concert!) gave SF9 a slight edge.

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24. Monsta X, “Dramarama”

This post has been pretty diverse so far (at least musically), but now we’re going to move towards my personal preference: the aggressively energetic dance tracks.  When I think of groups with songs like that, Monsta X are usually the first ones who come to mind. I went to their Paris concert this summer, and my ears were ringing for hours afterwards.  Though “Dramarama” still has Monsta X’s trademark intensity, it’s also refreshingly different. It seems very smooth and polished with its steady beat, repetitively seductive guitar riff, and restrained yet sexy choreography (those shoulder moves, man). However, all that tension and energy is still there; it’s just under the surface threatening to burst forward. We’re so used to Monsta X tearing up the stage that a more understated performance is even more intriguing.  Like many songs on this list, I also gave major points for the music video. Equal parts nail-biting action and poignant drama, it’s an interesting exploration on the consequences of time traveling. I always think music videos with narratives are tricky, but I’m impressed that it has a fairly cohesive plot.

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23. NCT 127, “Limitless”

I’m pretty good about not showing my immense love for NCT on this blog… but if you look at my Tumblr on any given day, you’ll probably see a bunch of pictures of Yuta and/or Taeyong.  Though NCT 127 is one of my favorite boy groups right now, I find them a pretty hard sell because of their generally questionable outfits wildly experimental hip hop sound.  They’re actually one of the few K-pop groups that don’t typically have any pure pop influence in their music. It’s possible you’ll find their stuff intriguing, but it’s more likely that they’re an acquired taste. I was actually on the fence about them until they came back with “Limitless” – which basically turned me into an NCTzen. While it’s still pretty standard NCT – unconventional sound and structure, loud thudding beats, rude Taeyong dominating everything, etc. –  it’s also probably their most accessible song to date. That aggressive hip hop influence is tempered by smooth boy band style vocals, providing an interesting contrast. And of course, their distinctive choreography and aesthetics will catch your eye (whether you like them or not). I’ll freely admit that my bias towards YuTae NCT got them this far up my list, but I still maintain that “Limitless” is seriously worth a listen.

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22. BTS, “Not Today”

While I think BTS is pretty much churning out hit after hit these days, I’m one of those people who prefers their original heavy hip hop sound. So “Not Today,” which is basically the baby brother of hits like “Boy in Luv,” “Dope,” and “Fire,”  is right up my alley.  It’s filled with their signature crazy energy and hard hitting choreography, both things that I like immensely.  However, I hold “Not Today” in high esteem because of its message of standing up for what you believe in. BTS are never afraid to get political, and “Not Today” is the reminder we all need to keep pushing forward and fighting for what’s right – no matter where we are in the world. BTS arguably surpassed EXO as the top group in K-pop this year, so they might seem like the furthest thing from underdogs right now. But they did in fact start from the bottom, and they’re the only group who debuted in 2013 who has seen massive success.  They’re effective in everything they do, but powerful songs like “Not Today” really remind us of where they started out and how far they’ve come.

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21. Red Velvet, “Red Flavor”

And to end things on a completely different note… here’s the ever delightful Red Velvet with a bubbly fresh song you can’t help but love!  Though I always enjoy music from my favorite girl group, I wasn’t as into their recent releases as I was with “Ice Cream Cake” and “Dumb Dumb.”  I was waiting for another smash hit, and “Red Flavor” was the fabulously energetic comeback I’d been waiting for.  Easily the song of the summer, it’s nothing but light and effervescent. It’s so evocative both in lyrics and sound that it actually reminds me of drinking refreshing things like fruit juice and soda.  It’s definitely sweet, which is what many girl group fans are looking for, but it doesn’t overdo it. Complete with fun choreography and Red Velvet’s trademark quirky aesthetic, “Red Flavor” is top quality girl group music.

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VIDEO SOURCES: Youtube, Banana Culture Entertainment (EXID), Big Hit Entertainment (BTS), Cube Entertainment (Pentagon), FNC Entertainment (SF9), Jellyfish Entertainment (gugudan), SM Entertainment (Red Velvet and NCT 127), Starship Entertainment (Monsta X), TS Entertainment (B.A.P), and WM Entertainment (B1A4)

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