Katherine’s Top K-Pop Releases of 2017, Part Five: #11-20

This is probably the most personal section of my list.  I tend to naturally follow the trends, so most of my Top 10 songs were really popular in Korea or internationally (or both). But interestingly enough, this second tier speaks a lot to my more individual tastes. Given the content of half of these songs, you could probably guess where my mind was at in 2017.  But regardless of subject matter, these are all good quality tracks. This part of the list contains the music I had a soft spot for this year, the songs that I absolutely loved and listened to constantly when they came out. Though I may have occasionally taken a break or been swayed by comebacks from my bias groups, I always returned in the end.  

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.

20. SEVENTEEN, “Don’t Wanna Cry”

SEVENTEEN always pulls out all the stops, but their true success lies in their ability to interpret the mood of their music and convey that to the audience. Whether they’re cute, flashy, or the coolest kids in town, that energy fully colors their performances. That’s easy enough when the songs are light-hearted and fun, but it makes a huge impact when it’s something sentimental like “Don’t Wanna Cry.” I’m seriously astounded by how SEVENTEEN makes a break-up song so personal and intimate with thirteen members. You’d think large numbers would be a hindrance that dilates those pure raw emotions, but it actually makes the stage all the more compelling. “Don’t Wanna Cry” is also pretty simple structurally, so the choreography really elevates it by drawing on the lyrics and natural build in the music. It’s like watching a modern ballet, and I always have tears in my eyes by the final chorus (ironic, right?).  I’ve always thought SEVENTEEN was an exceptionally talented group, but “Don’t Wanna Cry” really solidifies them as stars.

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19. Dreamcatcher, “Chase Me”

While I’m as multifandom as they come, I usually take my time getting into new groups. I tend to be pretty neutral on debut songs, because I think most rookies need several tries to find themselves musically. However, I was drawn in by Dreamcatcher’s incredibly solid debut. Who knew metal rock and occult ghost stories could make such an intriguing pair? The song and dance are great, but it’s the fantastic music video that will draw you in.  I’m normally way too much of a scaredy-cat to enjoy horror, but I found myself delightfully creeped out. And it’s seriously impressive that they expanded that initial story into a full blown continuity for their next releases. It’s true Dreamcatcher’s “anime” style music and horror aesthetic help them stand out from the crowd, but I don’t like them just because they’re different.  I like them because they have a clear vision of their music and artistry, and they’re sticking to it. (And I’m excited to see them in concert!)

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18. ASTRO, “Baby”

ASTRO is such a delightful group.  Their concepts skew a little too young for me to feel like I can truly stan… but their music is good, and their comebacks never fail to put a smile on my face.  “Baby” is fun, bubbly, refreshing, and above all light-hearted – proof that they’re total masters of the bright and energetic concept. This is especially true in the music video, where ASTRO’s café serves drinks that bring on pleasant dreams of the member of your choosing.  Again, I just think it’s cute – but if you’re not an awkward noona fan like me, then it’s probably very heart-fluttering! My favorite part is the smooth and syncopated choreography, which is seriously on another level in terms of difficulty.  Honestly, I thought “Baby” was so good that it would be ASTRO’s breakout hit. Though that sadly wasn’t the case, it definitely shows how much talent they have to offer.

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17. K.A.R.D, “You in Me”

K.A.R.D. has done break-up songs before, but there’s something about “You in Me” that’s more realistic and really hits home.  Thanks to the music’s mournfully dramatic tone and the painfully evocative lyrics, it feels more raw and aching than the wistful “Don’t Recall” or the jaded “Rumor.”  The disjointed and jerky choreography has a more authentic feel than most K-pop dances, which are beautiful but almost always polished to perfection. And the music video is absolutely heartbreaking in its depiction of the death of a relationship – both literally and figuratively.  I’ve loved every single song that K.A.R.D has released so far, so I have no complaints whatsoever about their songs sounding similar.  However, “You In Me” is definitive proof this group is capable of much more than partying it up with trendy tropical sounds.

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16. Girl’s Day, “I’ll Be Yours”

At this point, I’ve pretty much accepted most K-pop groups will be younger than me. However, I still get really excited when the ones my age make a comeback, especially when it’s a girl group doing girl crush – my favorite concept. The members of Girl’s Day are no longer girls; they’re fully grown women who know exactly how to get what they want. And since confidence is the key to success for girl crush songs, their behavior in “I’ll Be Yours” is downright inspiring. They can grab men’s attention by snapping their stockings, or captivate them to the point they don’t even notice they’re on fire. Minah turns the Cinderella trope on its heel (no pun intended) by giving the man the shoe and walking away.  And let’s be honest: Hyeri knocking a guy out in a boxing ring while decked out in a ballgown is iconic.  Girl crush concepts are all about inspiring women in the best ways possible. “I’ll Be Yours” is jazzy, classy, and sassy, and I’m so here for it.

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15. CLC, “Hobgoblin”

“Hobgoblin” is actually my most played K-pop song of 2017, so I think this is a pretty fitting spot for it. I’ve said before that CLC is an underrated girl group I will always hype, so I was obviously thrilled when they kicked off the year by bursting onto the scene with a badass concept.  I’ll admit that “Hobgoblin” was a bit too close to 4Minute to really make the impact the girls needed (HyunA wrote the lyrics and coached the girls on their expressions).  It’s basically a more melodic and version of “Crazy,” but that’s not a bad thing at all. From the forceful rapping and out of control synth to the insane amount of booty popping, CLC proves that every girl has a fierce side just waiting to be unleashed.  Also, I’m in love with the styling for this comeback.  They all looked on point, and I would totally try most of those looks.

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14. Sunmi, “Gashina”

When you hear “Gashina,” you probably think of a certain wildly popular dance move parodied by countless idols. While the brilliant choreography is indeed Best of 2017 material, there’s so much more to this hit than pointing finger guns and seductively swaying side to side. Sunmi has always been sexy as a soloist, but this time she’s showing off her wild side too. The artsy yet relatable music video shows her incoherently cycling through all the stages of being dumped, from carelessly sipping her milkshake to dancing like a maniac and lying on a mountain of clothes.  It basically gives new meaning to the term “hot mess.” Most break-up songs like to feed on the feelings of misery and despair (see: the four other similar songs in this post). “Gashina,” on the other hand, takes charge as Sunmi confronts the lover that abandoned her. Behind its rock sound and intriguing hook lies a powerful break-up anthem. Getting dumped sucks, but we need fierce songs like these to remind us of our own self worth.

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13. Seohyun, “Don’t Say No”

We just watched Sunmi storm away from her lover, but Seohyun is begging hers for a reconciliation. While “Gashina” is the reaction we should all have after getting dumped, “Don’t Say No” is probably a more accurate representation of how we usually feel. Its soulful mix of pop and R&B is the perfect background for this kind of situation. There’s just kind of something classic about the sound that anyone will like. The pleading lyrics are incredibly compelling – especially with Seohyun’s sweet voice – but it’s not all wistful longing. Those words take on a chilling meaning when she goes full-on black widow in her beautifully dark music video. Blending nails into a drink and disguising chains as pasta? Yikes! Seohyun fought really hard to move away from the “girl with a guitar” image for her solo debut. I’m grateful her song has more early Ariana Grande vibes instead of early Taylor Swift (though I like both!).

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12. WINNER, “Fool”

Everyone knows “Really Really” was the smash hit that put WINNER back on the map. It was definitely a contender for 2017’s Song of the Year, but my infatuation with it faded quickly because my playlist is filled with catchy dance tracks.  It’s honestly a shame that “Fool” didn’t get as much attention as “Really Really,” because it’s amazing.  Sometimes the most beautiful ballads are the ones with a stripped down sound. The song is remarkably powerful and evocative, and the choreography is gentle yet moving. However, the music video is what really does it. It’s a heart-wrenching rollercoaster of emotions that explores all forms of regret.  It tackles a very serious topic without being too dramatic, and the realization that the members were the ones who sabotaged their relationships will give you very mixed feelings.  We all love WINNER’s new dance tunes, but I’m also crossing my fingers for more music like “Fool.”

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11. VIXX, “Shangri-La”

You know how I wrote in my disclaimer that sometimes my biases were tiebreakers?  The only reason VIXX didn’t make my Top 10 is because I don’t have a fixed bias who could sway my heart. They were seriously this close, but I’ll put my silliness aside and say that “Shangri-La” is wonderful.  This “East Asian fantasy” concept feels like a treat for the five senses, even if it’s really just affecting your eyes and ears. Seriously, every single thing about this comeback is downright gorgeous. The music is sensual and seductive, the fan choreography is eye-catching, and the music video is spell-binding. I could keep going on and on, but I honestly think it’s better to check out “Shangri-La” yourself (if you haven’t already). VIXX’s ability to transport us to another world has only gotten stronger and more detailed with time, proving they’re truly the concept kings.

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VIDEO SOURCES: Youtube, Cube Entertainment (CLC), DreamT Entertainment (Girl’s Day), DSP Media (K.A.R.D), Fantagio Entertainment (ASTRO), Happy Face Entertainment (Dreamcatcher), Jellyfish Entertainment (VIXX), MAKEUS Entertainment (Sunmi), Pledis Entertainment (SEVENTEEN), SM Entertainment (Seohyun), and YG Entertainment (WINNER)

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