2014 in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh

2014 was quite the roller coaster year in K-pop. Here, I present Ahjummas Anon’s year in review.

2014

You may wonder why some popular or chart-dominating songs are curiously absent from my top picks. The only reason I can give is that my choices are completely and 100% subjective, based purely on my own opinions. Does that make this post biased? Hell yeah, it does. I’m not even trying to front like it isn’t. I am not claiming to represent anyone else’s opinions but my own. I did solicit suggestions from friends and twitter followers, but all of my commentary is my own honest opinion. Obviously, as with any opinion piece, you’re welcome to disagree, but popularity or chart position was never a factor in any of my picks. If it’s a popularity contest you seek, I suggest fan-voted year-end lists instead.

I am linking, not embedding youtube videos since the embeds will significantly slow the loading of this page.

Best songs of the year

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  • T-ara – “Sugar Free” Regardless of T-ara’s personal issues, they can be counted on to release bops, and “Sugar Free” is no exception. It’s a club banger that will make you want to rush out and grab the entire mini-album consisting only of remixes.
  • B1A4 – “Lonely” Early in the year, B1A4 released this midtempo ballad-with-a-beat which was surprisingly happy-sounding song considering the lyrics are about… well, loneliness. The concept is apparently GQMFs with some suave-as-hale choreo featuring neckties (amusingly, B1A4 promoted at the same time as Rainbow Blaxx, who also had necktie choreo) as well as CNU increasingly getting his Magic Mike-esque moves on as promotions progressed.
  • Orange Caramel – “Catallena” Orange Caramel has somehow mastered that delicate balance of being delightfully tacky and awesomely obnoxious without being cloying. So they are everything I love about K-pop.
  • VIXX – “Error” Nobody does horror, sci-fi, and manpain like they do, and they went extra hard with “Error.” Jellyfish is putting that increased budget to good use here.
  • Ha:tfelt – “Ain’t Nobody” The solo debut of Wonder Girls’ Yenny, consistently and criminally neglected by all these year-end lists, deserves to be #1 here. If you disagree, please go and repent your K-pop taste sins.

Worst songs of the year

I feel secondhand embarrassment just having this photo on my blog.
I feel secondhand embarrassment just having this photo on my blog.
  • DGNA The Boss – “Rilla Go!” Imagine being really, really high and watching a music video except at some point you forget you’re watching a music video and that you’re not actually high. Yeah, it’s like that.
  • TTS – “Holler” I know I’m committing sacrilege by including anything by SNSD on this side of the list, but I couldn’t live with myself if I pretended to like “Holler.” It’s not even an amusing clusterfuck like “Rilla Go!”, it’s just bad in an utterly lazy, uninspired way. Well, I guess some of the stage outfits were amusing clusterfucks.
  • Got7 – “A” The first time I saw this song being performed, I had to mute when I couldn’t stand it anymore and play the superior “A” over the video (I recommend doing this, as it syncs up oddly well and hilariously in some parts).
  • Hyomin – “Nice Body” A dull, uninspired body-shaming anthem with an aesthetic shamelessly ganking Miley Cyrus’s “23” music video. Contrary to song’s refrain “you do deserve it,” I don’t think anyone deserves this.
  • Zico – “Tough Cookie” Last and definitely not least is “Tough Cookie” by Block B’s Zico, which might not only be the most embarrassing K-pop song and video released in 2014 but possibly the most embarrassing song and video ever created by a human. Not only does Zico use charming homophobic and misogynist slurs in the lyrics, but he also blatantly recycles tropes of mainstream US rap with no understanding of their cultural significance or origins. The only thing more depressing than the fact that this song and video were conceived, green-lighted, recorded, and unleashed upon an unsuspecting public is that there are people out there who think this is “real hip-hop.”

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Best debuts

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  • Akdong Musician – “200%” I was debating whether to include them here since I don’t really consider them K-pop, but they’re too cute not to include, so here you go.
  • LU:KUS – “So Into U” As a fan of the now-defunct X-5, I was checking for this group featuring a few of their members. Their debut did not disappoint. It brought all of the fabulous scifi theatricality I love so much about K-pop.
  • Shannon – “Daybreak Rain” Wikipedia actually lists a different song as her debut, but this is the first of her songs that I’ve seen promoted on music shows, so I’m including it here. A power ballad featuring strong vocals, it’s definitely one of the best things to come out of CCM this year.
  • Purfles – “1, 2, 3″ This underrated group showcases strong vocals and dance skills in well-made and well-executed, if not entirely original, debut song and video. The concept was sassy and sexy without being overbearing, which made them a breath of fresh air in the current K-pop scene.
  • Winner – “Empty” Thanks to YG’s “Win TV” reality show, Winner’s debut was among the most highly-anticipated—as well as most postponed. Troll on, YG. “Empty” collected several music show awards during its first promotional cycle, which has to be some sort of record.

Worst debuts

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  • Pritz – “Sora Sora” Apparently adopting the approach of “any publicity is good publicity,” these Babymetal knockoffs caught the masses’ attention with Nazi logo imagery in their stage outfits, followed by an even messier response from their company.
  • 4L – “Move” Another nugu group who apparently subscribes to the “any publicity is good publicity” approach. They decided to one-up those prudes Stellar with gratuitous lesbianism, lingerie-esque outfits, and choreography more reminiscent of a gyno exam than anything sexy or alluring.
  • Lovelyz – “Candy Jelly Love” Debuting under the shadow of scandal (one of their members had a rumored past as a sexual deviant and did not debut with the group), they still managed to be completely underwhelming, with a debut single that felt like a rejected Apink b-side.
  • Got7 – “Girls Girls Girls” Repeat offenders Got7 may have debuted free of scandal (unless you count Jackson showing his ass), but their cringeworthy song “Girls Girls Girls” was bad enough that they didn’t need one.
  • Mad Town – “YOLO” I don’t even know how to describe this clusterfuck. Again, it’s not even an amusing clusterfuck. It’s just a mess. The band name also reminds me of Crazy Town, whose one hit, “Butterfly” looks like the epitome in creative achievement compared to this.

Best collabs/subunits

There weren’t a lot of choices for this so I’m only mentioning three.

The savior has arrived.
The savior has arrived.
  • Hi Suhyun – “I’m Different” The K-pop version of “The Boy Is Mine.” Suhyun is naturally adorable while Lee Hi comes off as slightly less cardboard than in her previous performances. Progress! The music video features Ikon’s Bobby, who would eventually launch one of the most hilarious K-pop diss track battles in… well, as long as I’ve been a K-pop fan.
  • Hyorin and Jooyoung – “Erase” I’m not really a ballad person, but this song is a joy to listen to and to watch the performances.
  • Big Byung – “Stress, Come On!” A group consisting of BTOB’s Sungjae, Got7’s Jackson (congrats, Jackson! You finally got on a “best” list!), and VIXX’s N and Hyuk, they arrive to save K-pop with this glorious debut.

Worst subunits/collabs

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Best songs by solo artists

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  • Hyosung – “Goodnight Kiss” The solo debut of Secret’s Hyosung was unexpectedly catchy and infectious.
  • Sunmi – “Full Moon” Fandom loves to rag on Brave Bros for being creatively bankrupt and making a kajillion knockoffs of the same song, but when he’s on, he’s on. And you know my love of horror concepts.
  • Ailee – “Don’t Touch Me” I’ve been critical of Ailee’s recent releases for sounding too much like Beyoncé knockoffs, and her debut, “Heaven,” remains her best song. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy her other songs, and “Don’t Touch Me” is a lot of fun.
  • Hyuna – “Red” Definitely an improvement over the lethargic “Ice Cream,” “Red” is a fun and energetic bop with a truly bizarre but highly entertaining music video. Just don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics because… yeah.
  • Ha:tfelt – “Ain’t Nobody” Yes, I am featuring it twice for “best song.” It’s that good.

Worst songs by solo artists

I could only come up with four choices here because I could find nothing else in the same league as these, and I didn’t feel right throwing in a mediocre release just to round out the top (bottom?) five.

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Best choreography

I will be linking dance versions or dance practices of the following if at all possible. If not, I will link a live performance.

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  • Winner – “Don’t Flirt” Multitalented member Seunghoon choreographed this delightful offering, which remains one of the greatest boy band choreos I’ve seen. Wiggle those flat booties, Winner.
  • EXID – “Up & Down” I really enjoyed this before the group exploded into viral popularity. Call me an EXID hipster. It’s the perfect cute/sexy/energetic combo, and even managed to get neutered on music shows. Congrats, EXID, you have arrived!
  • Sunmi – “Full Moon” Definitely one of the more original and eye-catching choreos of the year. I always enjoy chair choreo but “Full Moon” one-ups it by using a couch. Werk, Sunmi. Another casualty of music show neutering except on “Simply K-pop” which is the performance I have linked here.
  • Ha:tfelt – “Ain’t Nobody” Really standout choreo the raw, emotional punch in the gut that punctuates the music perfectly. The only reason I am knocking this down to #2 is the choreo is too intense to be performed on regular stages.
  • VIXX – “Error” VIXX always brings their A-game to dance routines, not just on a technical level (athleticism, synchronization) but an expressive one as well. While the “Error” choreo is not as intense as their previous choreos, it’s perfectly suited to the pace and tone of the song, without being so overly ambitious that it cannot be performed with live vocals.

Worst choreography

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  • 4L – “Move” Sexy was a hot trend with girl groups this year, with many trying to one-up each other. While many ifen thought this trend hit its nadir with Stellar’s “Marionette,” 4L decided to take it not so much a step further as a giant leap into the abyss of blatant attention seeking. I could not find a stage version with the uncensored choreography, and you should probably be glad of it.
  • T-ara – “Sugar Free” “Sugar Free” is a club banger, but the choreography is some of the laziest I’ve seen. Not just in T-ara’s performances, but also in its utter lack of creativity or cohesiveness. They seemed to be attempting their own version of BEG’s iconic “Abracadabra” dance but misfired badly.
  • Hyomin – “Nice Body” Here, we have awkward butt-wiggling, awkward twerking, and about every other clichéd “sexy” dance move performed with maximum awkward. There’s also a measuring tape and ballet barre being used for props, yet neither adds anything creative or otherwise visually interesting to this flat and uninspired choreo.
  • Exo – “Overdose” Tony Testa continues his reign of SM choreo terror with his laziest offering yet, which, unlike “Wolf,” lacks any real cohesion or consistency. I especially like, and by like I mean “cringe really hard at”, the cheerleader pyramid-esque thing at the beginnning.
  • Got7 – everything they do Their name repeatedly came up when I was soliciting suggestions for this post, and damn, you guys weren’t kidding. After watching all the dance practice videos in a row, they’ve all kind of melted together in my head in a viscous soup of awful. So I just linked the last one I watched.

Sleeper Jams

Bops that did not win in any other categories here but that I feel deserve special recognition.

mblaq

  • J-Min – “Shine” This is actually one of the strongest comebacks from a solo artist this year (in my opinion), but I placed it here instead of under that category since it seemed to fly under the radar among K-pop fans.
  • U-KISS – “Quit Playing” U-KISS made an attention grab with a 19+ music video (while debuting a new jailbait member to replace Dongho), which met with mixed results in ifandom. I don’t particularly care, however; the song was still a jam.
  • 100% – “Beat” They were accused of ripping off VIXX because I guess nobody else can do horror/scifi concepts now. Gotta love K-pop fen. This song and video are everything I love about K-pop (which would mean copious amounts of theatricality, manpain, and guyliner).
  • Nu’est – “Good Bye Bye” Nu’est is the perfect example of a group that had everything going for them but lost it all through exceedingly poor management. They debuted with a bang and return with a whimper… at least, judging by fandom reaction. This flawless song and video deserves way more recognition than it got.
  • MBLAQ – “Be a Man” MBLAQ has been done so dirty in so many ways it makes me sad to type this out. Here, they deliver a smooth R&B jam and one of the strongest mini-albums of the year, though it barely seemed to make a blip on the fandom radar.

Best trends

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  • Horror/scifi concepts I absolutely live for this shit and I’m not even remotely trying to be objective here. One of my favorite things about K-pop is its theatricality, a trait sorely missing in current western pop. Scifi and horror were huge this year, with VIXX as their kings. Long may they reign.
  • SMExodus As you will see in the scandal section, departures from SM groups are very much the “in” thing. Exo’s Kris started it all, followed by F(x)’s Sulli and his bandmate, Luhan. Fly free, Dragon. Fly free.

Worst trends

No, this is not a horror concept.
No, this is not a horror concept.
  • Faux hip-hop concepts I am generally leery of faux hip-hop idol groups and/or idols because they tend to have only a shallow, surface understanding of the hip-hop genre, and inevitably show their ass at some point (remember Bobby comparing the hip-hop lifestyle to poor personal hygiene? Good times). At best, faux hip-hop idol groups/idols are mildly embarrassing; at worst, they are full of ignorance and cultural appropriation (see also: Zico).
  • OTT sexy concepts Before the liberal feminists come at me, I have no problem with sexy concepts. I like sexy concepts. What I don’t like is this trend of nugu girl groups consistently trying to one-up each other on skin-showing or envelope-pushing. It’s tacky, and many of the girls don’t seem entirely comfortable with it, and that’s really the opposite of sexy. Yes, I know it works (AoA, anyone?) but it’s still not something I enjoy seeing.

Scumbag of the year

No photo because I imagine the horror concepts scarred y’all enough.

  • Kim Hyunjoong He is accused by a former girlfriend of beating her, complete with photos, chat logs, and other proof. He is rewarded with loyal fangirls and a tour in Japan. Though many ifen justifiably despise him, it doesn’t seem to be affecting his career much. The only real consequence he shall reap for his actions is being crowned Scumbag of the Year on a blog no one reads. But hey, it’s something, right?
  • Runner-up: Zico No, he’s not an actual criminal like KHJ. But given his track record of cultural appropriation and racist/sexist lyrics, his persistence in doing so despite valiant efforts from fans to educate his messy ass, and general douchebaggy behavior, he deserves special recognition. Congrats, Zico.

Scandals of the year

2014 was the year for K-pop scandals. This list is by no means comprehensive, but I’ve selected the ones that brought maximum amusement/entertainment (from a fandom perspective).

mockingjaykris

  • The Fall of the House of Exo It all began with Kris, the mockingjay, when he peaced out and slapped SM with a lawsuit. Much wank was made in the fandom, and a gulf opened between fen who supported him and who considered him a dirty rotten traitor didn’t. This gulf became even more acrimonious when Luhan followed his former leader’s example, with fans wanking furiously while others like myself enjoyed a nice dose of schadenfreude. I imagine non-Exo fans must’ve had a field day.
  • F(x)odus F(x) was having a great year, having released one of the strongest singles (“Red Light”) and albums of the year. Suddenly Sulli announced that she was taking a break from the group. Promotions were abruptly suspended and F(x) has been on hiatus ever since.
  • Jessica booted from SNSD It was Jessica herself who spilled the beans on her weibo that she’d been ousted from the nation’s girl group. SM was quick to do damage control, and the whole fandom exploded in wank, mostly between fans who supported Jessica and fans who believed SM’s side of the story.
  • Oreogate Ahh, dating scandals. Only in K-pop. This one is particularly noteworthy since it includes members of groups with two of the most wanktacular fandoms in all of K-Pop—Baekhyun of Exo and Taeyeon of SNSD. So named because apparently one of their “secret messages” via social media included Oreo cookies??? Whatever the reason, I’m hungry now.
  • Red Velvet’s inauspicious debut In the midst of SM’s woes with Exo and F(x), Red Velvet made their debut. Controversy quickly followed, when Japanese media reported 9/11 and World War II imagery in their music video. SM quickly edited the video and did damage control. The fandom jury’s still out on whether an intern just got canned or this was a deliberate attempt to drum up attention. Either way, it brought much amusement (and doesn’t seem to have hurt RV much).
  • Honorable mention: the diss battle of DOOM Ikon’s Bobby fired the first shots by dissing idol rappers, which prompted VIXX’s Ravi (one of the groups allegedly being dissed) to fire back with a diss track of his own (although it has to be one of the most polite diss tracks ever made). MIB’s Sims got in on the action, and then everything seemed to die down. Nonetheless, it made for some quality entertainment to close out the year.

There were other scandals, but those ones weren’t funny, so I didn’t feature them. They include but are not limited to: BAP suing their company, MBLAQ splitting up (those poor suckers really cannot catch a break), 2NE1’s Bom in a drug scandal, Bumkey in a drug scandal, 9Muses bleeding members, Hello Venus breaking with Pledis, and the Lovelyz scandal mentioned in their debut section.

In Memoriam

lc

The greatest tragedy to occur in 2014 is without a doubt the car accident that claimed the lives of Rise and EunB of rookie group Ladies’ Code. The accident made waves within the K-pop community, idols and fans alike. Fans showed their support by bringing the group’s song “I’m Fine, Thank You” to #1 on the charts. Most idols expressed their condolences, though Zico’s brother chose to show his ass instead. Charming family. Many thinkpieces were written while fans questioned the unsafe measures taken to accommodate idols’ packed schedules. At the end of the day, of one thing we can be certain: we lost two beautiful and talented young women far before their time.

Ahjummas Anonymous

Sadly, I was extremely sporadic in updating this blog over 2014, and for that I apologize. One of my goals for 2015 is to be more active in the future, and to post a wider range of material (I’ve mostly only provided recaps of my faves’ latest releases, or other videos I find exceptionally funny/noteworthy. Those things take a long time to write, yo!). I also post the occasional think piece, so I’m hoping to post more of those as well. I hope you all had a better year than SM did, and here’s to 2015!

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