Just a small selection of some of my favourite kpop songs and MVs from this year. The selection is broader than the standard Kpop “Idol” music and also includes K-hip hop, K-indie and K-rock.
*where possible/available I have included MV’s with english substitles
1. G.Dragon – Crooked
And here we are at no#1. G.Dragon starts and end this list, not only because he is one of my favourite Korean performers but because Crooked is my favourite song of his Coup D’Etat album. I love everything about this song and MV. I love that it is a sad song disguised as a more cheerful song – its indicative of the whole song, telling the tale of someone trying to pretend they are okay after a breakup, trying to have fun but not succeeding. The MV is set in London and has a great feel too it. It’s funny, amusing and sad at the same time. I particularly like G.Dragon’s costuming in the MV and also the location choices are great. Definitely at the top of my list for favourite kpop tunes and MV this year.
2. MFBTY/Drunken Tiger – Sweet Dream
MFBTY’s Sweet Dream has been one of my favourite songs all year. A collaborative project between Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy, I love both the song and the MV. Yoon Mi-rae’s voice is beautiful and I love how it weaved through the song and bring the whole song together. The video clip is not your normal MV and has a lot of great imagery and fun too it. Although I had heard some of Drunken Tiger’s material before, it was this song that really got me listening to them as well as other work by Yoon Mi-Rae and Bizzy. The song is featured on Drunken Tiger’s new album, The Cure, which is fabulous and like Lee Hyori’s Monochrome is one I have been listening too non-stop.
3. LeeHi -Rose
I fell in love with LeeHi’s voice the moment I heard it. Not only is her voice gorgeous and something completely unusual for the kpop world, the sultry jazziness of it is just spectacular. It’s hard to believe when you hear Leehi sing that she is just 16 years old (or was when she released her album earlier in the year). I live most of the songs off her album, but Rose is beautiful and suits the sultry nature of her voice. The MV is stunningly luscious, while full of romantic imagery doesn’t overwhelm the young singer.
4. Kim Hyun Joong – Unbreakable (featuring Jay Park)
Kim Hyun Joong is definitely one of my favourite male kpop singers. I loved his Japanese releases earlier in the year and was keenly awaiting his Korean comeback. Unbreakable certainly didn’t disappoint. There is so much to love about this song and video. I love the beat of the song, the hip hop elements and the feature by Jay Park. The dancing is terrific and I love that its something a bit different for KHJ. The MV is also beautiful and does a fantastic job of fusing Western and Asian cultural elements and imagery. The black and white of the clip also adds to making the clip look more sumptuous and gives it a very classic feel.
5. Junsu/Xia – 11 AM
Junsu makes the list twice! I have been raving about this song since it came out. I absolutely love, love, love it. I love the way in which it is stripped back to an accapella for the first half of the song and in the second half there is just a very simply piano accompaniment. The songs is gorgeous and shows cases just how good a vocalist Junsu really is. I also love the MV, which was shot in long live take.
6. Junsu/Xia – Incredible
My favourite kpop “dance” song released for 2013, Incredible by Junsu (aka Xia) from JYJ. A fun dance track, upbeat and catchy. Great for summer and putting you in a good mood 🙂 The MV is bright, colourful and a lot of fun as well.
7. B.A.P – One Shot
Another fairly new kpop group, which has also only been around for just under two years. While definitely a kpop “Idol” group, their music style is also influenced by hip hop and rap. One Shot is effectively a song about youth and making choices. The MV for the song show cases the group’s singing, rapping, dancing and acting ability. It is also one of the “surprise” videos of the year, so make sure you watch it through to the very end!
8. EXO – Growl
Despite only being on the kpop scene for a year and half, EXO, has already climbed to the top of the kpop world. Comprised of 12 Korean and Chinese members, Exo released several tracks in 2013 but Growl is by far their most successful release. I am more fond of the beat and the musical style of the song, than I am of the lyrics. In particular, I like that it has as hip hop beat to it, which feels sparse but addictive. I also love the choreography used in the MV, as well as the look of the MV itself, which was shot in one long take.
9. Jaurim – Twenty-five, Twenty-one
Jaurim is without a doubt my number one favourite Korean indie group. And Kim Yoon-ah without a doubt is my favourite female Korean singer. I just love her voice, range and ability. Jaurim is known for their tight musical arrangement, melodic sound and gorgeous lyrics. Goodbye Grief is their 9th full length studio album and Twenty-five, Twenty-one is one of their sadder songs. Dealing with desire and longing for love lost, the full emotional impact and depth of the song is conveyed beautifully with Yoon-ah’s soaring vocals and the song has all the melodic and musical qualities fans have come to expect from Jaurim. Beautiful, sad and heartfelt.
10. Nell – Ocean of Light
And here is no#11 – my second favourite Korean indie band ever, Nell. I just adore Nell and I just adore Kim Jong-wan’s stunning voice. Nell is known for having a more arthouse sound, with psychedelic overtones. Their songs not only explore issues of love, friendship and alienation, but also regularly explored darker topics such as depression, anger, suicide. However, “Ocean of Light” is one of their more upbeat/uplifting tracks but still brings with it both Nell’s trade mark electronica and emotional intensity.
11. Trouble Maker – Now
To paraphrase Dorothy Gale: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the [KPOP] rainbow!” Oh yes!! TroubleMaker – aka Hyuna (from 4 minutes) and Hyunseung (from Beast) – pulled out all stops with NOW breaking out of the usual kpop mould. This was actually the first song I had heard from TroubleMaker and I really loved it for a whole range of reasons – the first being that this is the first “sub-unit” of kpop performers I have come across which is a permanent pairing of a male and female performer and as such it gives a whole new dynamic to not only the song and music, but the performance as well. Secondly, I love this particular song, as well as the MV for it. The song is basically about a couple who are in a destructive relationship in a downward spiral, with this clearly reflected in the MV. The MV incorporates a whole lot of images (heavy drinking, smoking, sex scenes and inter racial sexual relations) which are not the usual fare for kpop videos. This has lead to debate as to whether or not kpop is becoming to “Americanised” in order to break into the US market. I don’t think this is necessarily the case, but NOW definitely pushes the boundaries of what is the norm in kpop.
12. 2NE1 – Missing You
2NE1 is probably my favourite of the female kpop “idol” groups. Out of the three songs released by the group this year, this is my favourite. A pretty ballad about heartbreak and trying to overcome lost love. What I really love about the song is the harmonies, as well as the haunting melodic feeling too it. While its not my favourite 2NE1 song ever, it is one I can happily listen too over and over, as it showcases beautifully the voices of CL, Bom, Dara and Minzy.
13 . Lee Hyori – Miss Korea
No# 13 is the Kpop diva, Lee Hyori with “Miss Korea” – a song tackling the issue of the self-esteem, plastic surgery, the beauty industry and the social pressure on girls and woman to attain an unattainable beauty image. The song title no doubt draws on reports about the widespread practice of Miss Korea contestants going under the knife to achieve a particular look and also from the fact that South Korea has one of the highest rates of plastic surgery per population in the world (while the US has the highest number of plastic surgery procedures).
In the song, Hyori addresses the issue of self-esteem and challenges the idea that women need to go under the knife to be beautiful. I love the MV, which not only includes the imaging of Hyori being surrounded by surgical instruments but also includes two well-know Korean drag performers, clearly also challenging the conservativism in Korea around LGBTI issues. Miss Korea is Hyori’s first single in 3 years and the lead track off her Monochrome album, which I haven’t stopped listening too since I got it due to the wonderful musical diversity of the album.
14. G.Dragon – Who You
Coming in at No# 14 is kpop’s boy wonder himself – G.Dragon – with “Who You?” from his 3rd solo album, Coup D’etat. I love the “feel good” feel of the song and MV (although the song is actually a breakup song). The reason for the “feel good” feeling of the MV is because the video was conceived as a “thankyou” gift to G.Dragon’s fans and is a compilation of professionally shot footage as well as video footage shot by 1000 of G.Dragon’s fans who were invited especially for the MV production. I like the conception of the video, particularly the whole “glass box” and how it relates to “celebrity” (something he also explores in the Coup D’Etat MV). And I love how all the names of the fans are listed at the end of the MV!