I started this blog in August as a way to express my opinions about Kpop to an audience that understands what I’m talking about, as well as to document my feelings about Kpop over time in a tangible way. However, no blog would be complete without lists of things they like in any given year, which is why I’m writing this post up now.
2016 was a weird year in Kpop because we got a lot of really really good releases, but most felt average at best and lazy at worst. One thing I noticed is a downturn in quality from a lot of the big groups over the past few years and many of the rookies stepping up to the plate. It was also a sad year because we saw the losses of Rainbow, KARA, 4Minute, and 2NE1, all of which were felt heavily among the Kpop community (especially 2NE1).
But we’re not here to drone on about all the sad stuff. We’re here to talk about what was good in Kpop this year!
Since I didn’t start blogging until late in the year, there is probably a lot of Kpop I didn’t listen to because I didn’t care or didn’t know it was released, so sorry if I leave some songs out.
The rules are as follows:
- The song must be a feature track with a music video that came out sometime during 2016, or had some presence on a music show.
- Anything from SM Station won’t be featured because I only paid attention to one Station release (Hyoyeon’s “Mystery”) and all else was ignored.
- Foreign releases by Kpop idols are also up for consideration.
- How much a song charts or how popular a song is does not automatically include it in the list.
- OSTs are things I don’t pay attention to that much so they don’t count either.
Most of the songs listed here are songs that I either played a lot throughout the year (for better or for worse), or songs whose own merits put them higher or lower on the list.
The other thing I would like to note is just because these are my opinions does not mean your music taste is any worse than mine. I don’t claim to have any musical background or any higher opinion than your average fan. Hell, you might think my taste in music is complete shit, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get along as Kpop fans.
Okay, I think I’ve done enough explaining for an introduction. Now, onwards to the list!
- Brave Girls – “High Heels” (June 26th, 2016)
A song I previously dismissed, this was the song that made me realize that Brave Girls is a group to keep tabs on. “Deepened” was a really good mid-tempo single that essentially re-debuted the group, but “High Heels” was the better song solely because it’s upbeat and fun.
Perfect for the summer, the starts with a chant at the beginning, and then it launches into your by-the-numbers pop track. The instrumental is hard to discern beyond a funk guitar and some synth-drums, but the peppy vocals more than make up for it. I also have a thing for bright, ridiculous music videos, and the girls deliver by wearing high heels in convenient (and inconvenient) situations.
- ASTRO – “Confession” (November 9th, 2016)
ASTRO is easily my favorite new group this year because of their upbeat songs and “fresh” image. When fall came around and everyone was releasing their slower songs, ASTRO released “Confession,” which reminds me a lot of “Be Mine” by INFINITE but with the drama and angst replaced with something off a teenage boy’s high school love letter. It’s a sweet song, and with a fun music video about the boys accompanying a lonely high school girl who draws them into being, and eventually falling in love with her. It helped break up the slow winter months, and that’s why it finds its place on the list.
- I.O.I. “Very Very Very” (October 16th, 2016)
Their best effort (and their last), this song got a lot of comparisons to “Gee” by SNSD (which I didn’t understand because to me it sounds nothing like it) when it first came out. When I played it for my sister, she told me that the chorus sounded a lot like “Gobble gobble gobble,” and after that I couldn’t get that part out of my head.
But either way what we have here is a really catchy song that at the very least gets inspiration from SNSD and does it way better than they did. Yes, I know “Gee” was a massive contributor to the Hallyu wave, but I can’t remember the last time I listened to “Gee” and I can tell you right now “Very Very Very” got more replays from me than “Gee” ever did, so there.
- Laboum “Winter Story” (December 1st, 2016)
The only remotely-Christmasy track on this list, Laboum’s “Winter Story” finds its place here over “Shooting Love” and “Journey to Atlantis” earlier this year because “Shooting Love” does pep to a fault, and I barely listened to “Journey to Atlantis.”
Also “Winter Story” reminds me a lot of a time when Sweetune was still relevant and Kpop was much more innocent, and it makes me happy to see that again.
(Also I still don’t know who produced this track so if someone could just inform me about that, that would be great).
- B1A4 – “A Lie” (November 27th, 2016)
What a bittersweet release. B1A4 had been silent all year in the release front until this past month when “A Lie” came out, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite releases they’ve ever had. There’s something about how the instrumental and the vocals complement each other in a way that only B1A4 can do. Not to mention the way the song makes you wanna snuggle up with your significant other.
Speaking of snuggles, can we talk about how in the music video we actually get to see snuggles? You know, not the weird tentative holding hands or occasional arm-around-the-shoulders, but stuff like dancing in the kitchen, hugging, cuddling, looking up at fields, running and laughing and taking pictures and all that lovely shit? Like do you know how refreshing that is?
It’s a shame the members’ relationships end as the song draws to a close, but at least you can feel the heartbreak and emptiness of that fact. For once we see relationships that don’t feel forced or acted, but actually existed and fell apart as relationships do. Fucking awesome, man.
- Red Velvet – “Russian Roulette” (September 26th, 2016)
Inspired by none other than Tom and Jerry cartoons, this was not only a quirky and fun red concept, but it had an interesting music video that portrays many different cartoon situations in live action.
Oh yeah, and the song was pretty great too.
- Rainbow – “Whoo” (February 14th, 2016)
The very last single we’ll ever get from the ill-fated DSP group, at least we can say that Rainbow went out with a bang. Or should I say, “whoo?”
- ASTRO – “Breathless” (June 30th, 2016)
This was the song that cemented how much I liked ASTRO this year. This song is light and airy and fun, which is why it fits well with the summer (and is really catchy). On top of that, it pulls an “only in Kpop” when the boys take on the persona of soda bottles being manipulated by a crazy girl with a duck. It’s funny, it represents my favorite season, and I love it.
- GFRIEND – “Navillera” (July 10th, 2016)
I’ve been following GFRIEND since “Glass Bead,” and as “Glass Bead” gained comparisons from “Into the New World” by Girls’ Generation, “Navillera” got comparisons to INFINITE’s “The Chaser.” While the instrumental and drive is very similar to “The Chaser,” GFRIEND gives it a flirty twist by adding their signature synth-driven sound along with it. It sounds like a guitar-laden rehash of their other songs, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- Ladies Code – “Galaxy” (February 23rd, 2016)
Their long-awaited comeback after a fatal car accident took the lives of EunB and RiSe in 2014, the song fits the tone with its somber synths and clicks of finality in the instrumental, the voices which come off powerful yet haunting. This, on top of its music video with ever-present references to what could have been and the three members themselves, it was a comeback necessary to Ladies’ Code’s transition as a group post-tragedy.
- EXID – “L.I.E.” (May 31st, 2016)
Sexually charged (just like everything EXID’s come out with for the past few years) this song is sexy and awesome, but finds its place on the list because of its dog-whistle concept that just barely steps over the line in South Korea’s conservative culture.
- Nu’est – “Overcome” (February 16th, 2016)
Ad-libbed, glitchy, and complete with a dubstep instrumental, this is the closest thing Nu’est has done to their debut single, “Face.” Also, it came out at a time I was in a creative writing class and needed to write something about some crisis a lover was having (or something like that…my memories are pretty vague from that time). It’s also the better song they released this year when “Love Paint” was average at best and boring at worst.
- SUNNY GIRLS – “Taxi” (November 26th, 2016)
This isn’t even an official group, and it doesn’t even have an official music video, but it does have a performance. I found this in the comments of an article I was reading earlier this year, and I loved it almost immediately. It’s too bad that it was never released as a single for a girl group this year, but I guess we’re stuck with watching this gem as a performance-only thing. Aww well, at least the girls lip-synced the hell out of this so we can still hear a good recorded version.
- VIXX – “Dynamite” (April 19th, 2016)
The first in their ambitious project of three singles this year based on Greek gods, “Dynamite” is an upbeat dance track that even my boyfriend liked (and he’s usually pretty “meh” about most Kpop releases). It brings the eighties vibes in the synths and instrumental, but really it’s the vocals that do most of the work in driving this song. “The Closer” and “Fantasy” barely held a candle to this jam.
- Oh My Girl – “Windy Day” (May 25th, 2016)
With one of the most unexpected drops this year, “Windy Day” cemented Oh My Girl as a group to watch after I discovered “Liar Liar” earlier in the year. The Middle-Eastern inspired track and light vocals complement each other really well, and if you take a look at the performances you can see that Oh My Girl brought their A-game in the dance department. It was unfortunate this song was followed up with a cover from an old girl-group song, but it did nothing to diminish my love for this song.
Also, I hope y’all noticed the “deer in the headlights” references in the music video and if you didn’t you’ve made me very sad.
- Red Velvet – “One of These Nights” (March 16th, 2016)
This song is what I call “tear-stained” because the instrumental and the vocals remind me of someone being sad on a rainy day. However, instead of it coming out whiny and pathetic (like many Kpop ballads), it comes off wistful and melancholic. For a girl who likes to write short stories in her free time, this music video was perfect for inspiration.
Not to mention, have you seen those sets? They’re a stage-designers dream with the way they change and move and morph into so many different settings and ideas. I think the music video is going for a dream-sequence effect, from the 80s-looking filter to the way everything melds into each other as scenes transition.
I’m sorry, I just love this comeback. Carry on.
- Taemin – “Press Your Number” (February 22nd, 2016)
Winning the award for “most confusing music video” this year, Taemin’s comeback was a very worthy successor to “Danger.” Penned by Bruno Mars (when really all SM Entertainment did was get the rights to an old sexy song Bruno Mars never released and get someone else to write Korean lyrics), the funk in here is done right and so is the drama. I love a good dramatic release when I get it in Kpop, and this gave me my fix this year.
Also, don’t forget to look at the rest of the album because it’s pretty great all on its own.
- Fiestar – “Apple Pie” (May 30th, 2016)
An arguably average release from the girls, one reason it’s here is because I had to go on a trip to New York this year and I found this song somewhere around that time, and it inspired me to make my own apple pie. The other reason is because it’s a pure Kpop song at its finest. It’s one of those songs that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t mess around with the formula much. Yezi’s rap is also pretty on point too.
Oh yeah, and the video is visually stunning and exciting and perfect for the summer.
- TWICE – “TT” (October 23rd, 2016)
Unlike most of the Kpop fandom, I hated “Cheer Up” this year. It was a bit too much for me as far as pep and the vocal shrieks in the chorus didn’t help things. In fact, for the most part I was unsure about why TWICE was even that popular beyond the fact they’re from JYP Entertainment.
Then I listened to “TT,” and I saw what people were so hyped about.
Part of it had to do with the Halloween concept that used their whole “we’re gonna take on characters made popular by [insert something here]” concept to great effect. The other part was the fact the dance-club instrumental was so simple that it meshed well with the girls’ voices. So that’s cool.
- B.A.P. – “Skydive” (November 6th, 2016)
Ever since their scandal with TS Entertainment in 2014, B.A.P. dropped off my radar entirely, so I hadn’t heard much of anything from them since then. I thought for sure they would just end up being Kpop has-beens that nobody would give a shit about again. I think I was vaguely aware that B.A.P. was releasing stuff after the scandal, but for some reason I never sat down to listen to them until I had to sit down and watch “Skydive” to review it.
And holy shit.
I didn’t realize I missed how aggressive B.A.P. could be until the chorus smacked me in the face, and after that I realized why other boy bands trying to do aggressive concepts can just never pull it off – because B.A.P. is the fucking master of it.
The only problem I had with this comeback was actually the music video, which was a bit too violent for my tastes, but I’ll link it here anyway so you can see what I mean. However, I doubt you’ll deny that this song kicks some serious ass.
- EXO – “Lotto” (August 17th, 2016)
I know that this song is gonna end up on a lot of “worst” lists, but for some reason I can’t help but love it, even though it copies Western music from 2008-2010 that’s died and never come back for a reason. You’d think for a song that sounds straight from my middle school days I’d actually hate the shit out of this but I…just…can’t. It’s like that problematic favorite song you have on your playlist because it’s a guilty pleasure that you get embarrassed about when you have the aux cord and this song shows up. It just happens to be on my top 5.
- AOA – “Give Me the Love” (April 20th, 2016) **Japanese single, only like group version without Takanori Nishikawa because he annoyed me**
I can’t even remember where I found this song or why I found this one over many other Japanese releases from other artists this year, but this was the one that stuck, and I adore it. The only thing is I like the version with only AOA in it better than the one where Takanori Nishikawa is present. His voice just…I don’t know, it’s grating with the other girls because his is a hell of a lot more powerful than AOA’s ever are and it destroys balance? Not to mention the actual music video for this has a plotline about racing that I don’t care about and it’s more fun to watch the girls dance in a garage than watch a plotted music video I’m not invested in.
Also, the girls look fine as hell here and I love it.
- BLACKPINK – “Playing With Fire” (October 31st, 2016)
Most people are writing off BLACKPINK as a 2NE1 2.0 that no one should give a shit about, and if their singles “Whistle” and “Boombayah” were the only ones they came out with this year, I’d believe you.
But no. Just a few months after those singles, they came out with another double-release with “Stay” and “Playing With Fire,” and both those singles were far more listenable than their two previous tracks. However, out of the two I love “Playing With Fire” the most.
There was something about the fact no gimmicks or crazy stuff was done with the song – it was just pop goodness in its purest form (even if it was playing with the tropical house trend that got into 1/3 songs in Kpop this year). Also, it doesn’t sound quite as much like 2NE1 out of the four tracks we’ve seen (which is such a good thing oh my freaking god). Just from this single alone I am willing to bet that 2017 may be their year.
Or, you know, they’ll start releasing stinkers, which would really suck because I know a lot of people in the Internet community who would love nothing more than to watch BLACKPINK burn (baby burn) and prove people like me who like BLACKPINK so totally wrong.
- Stellar – “Sting” (January 17th, 2016)
Stellar has been one of my favorite girl groups since “Study” way back in 2013, but they really blew me away with how controversial they quickly became with “Marionette.” They had two releases this year, but “Sting” was the one I liked the most. Maybe it’s because I have a thing for just about anything written by Monotree, but I think it mainly has to do with the pretty synths that drive the song, and also how visually stunning the music video is. I thought for sure when I was making this list this would end up being my #1, but I was sorely mistaken.
So what was my #1 pick this year? For anyone who knows me personally, this won’t come as a surprise…
- Oh My Girl – “Liar Liar” (March 27th, 2016)
If I could tell you how many replays I had for this song, you’d probably be surprised. I’ve noticed this song hasn’t shown up on too many “favorites” lists and a lot of that has to do with how grating the child-like vocals sound. The other reason has to do with the fact Oh My Girl did so well with “Closer” that people were surprised to find them doing a comeback with a decidedly childish song.
However, the reason this song finds its place here is because of how infectious everything about it is. It was the song that inspired me to keep up with Kpop when I was in a bad slump with it, and it also inspired me to start looking at groups I otherwise wrote off as nothing special. After this song, Oh My Girl quickly climbed up as one of my favorite rookies of the moment, and I see this song having standing power as the years go by as a personal favorite.
And that’s it from me. I hope you guys have a happy New Year’s Eve and New Year, and may 2017 overall just be a better year for all of us. In the meantime, I’m gonna gear up for doing some new posts beyond my music reviews this year and the incoming onslaught of new comebacks and debuts in the first week of Janurary (we’re talking thirteen in total. Clearly everyone was waiting for the Christmas season to end to start releasing interesting stuff again). Until next time, have a safe and happy New Year’s!