It’s that time again!
In terms of sheer crazysauce, 2014 was a tough act to follow. In 2015, we didn’t see any prominent groups self-destruct in a mushroom cloud of wank, nor was there any massive scandal that took down a fan favorite. Musically, 2015 wasn’t the most exciting year, either. Though many high-profile groups had comebacks, they all seemed to play it safe; ironically, it was the rookie and mid-tier groups that brought the bops.
But you know, maybe it’s OK that 2015 was so low-key. We all needed a rest after 2014, and who knows–maybe it’s just the refractory period before 2016 comes out swinging.
On with the hits and misses of 2015. I’m going to link the music videos rather than embed them, since some of us have whack Internet or whack browsers or just hate pages full of fuckin’ embedded youtube videos that I open in a new tab anyway so I can fullscreen this shit because who really wants to watch videos on a 560x315px iframe?
This isn’t going to be ~*musical analysis*~ or anything like that because I really know fuck all about the music industry or making music; it’s just my personal opinions, and everyone should read my personal opinions.
Bops of the Year
It’s safe to say girl groups dominated the year, so not surprisingly, they’re going to dominate this list as well.
Ifans seemed to hate this delightful clusterfuck but I think we’ve established that I rarely agree with popular fan opinions. “Ring My Bell” joins 4minute’s “Volume Up,” EXID’s “Up and Down” and Red Velvet’s “Ice Cream Cake” in the sense that the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink nature of the song actually works, setting it apart from more conventional K-pop songs without being weird for the sake of being weird. The only real critique I have is the overcrowded back track, but the melody flows nicely from the chorus into the “ring ring my bell” chant/hook without the aural blue balls or aural whiplash of less cohesive efforts. I also love the aesthetic of the video, which juxtaposes the super-saturated neon-sign-in-video-form coloring so popular in K-pop right now with black-and-white to create added visual interest. You even can see it in the still I’ve chosen, how the bright nail and hair colors pop against the b/w costumes and background. Finally, the choreo gets a lot of shit for being goofy, but Girl’s Day have always specialized in goofy choreo (did y’all collectively forget the “Expectation” boob rub and the “Something” I-gotta-pee-real-bad bounce?) and this is just the kind of funny and memorable variety fodder it was probably meant for. And this is officially the longest blurb I’ve written for any song in this post, but without the full-length recap treatment this is my only medium to defend this oft-maligned bop so there you go.
In the lyrics and music video, IU criticizes the infantilized ahjussi fap bait image foisted on her by her label, but fans were too dense to get it and decided to start shit instead (btw, I’m not referring to the Zeze controversy; I’m talking only about this particular song). If you are not a complete ignoramus and understand basic symbolism, you might enjoy this coming-of-age bop, particularly if you understand the lyrics (or are capable of turning on the subtitles).
Oh My Girl follows up a capable debut with a stunning, dreamlike mid-tempo ballad-with-a-beat. Since they are a rookie group and thus still applying actual effort, the fairytale-inspired music video and balletic zodiac-formation choreo combine in a concept that is more ethereal and beautiful than creeptastic ahjussi-baity.
Ga-in is back and is provocative as ever in “Paradise Lost.” Those who had to read Milton’s epic poem of the same name will enjoy this song, which is a lot more entertaining. The religious imagery, snakelike choreo, and swelling organ riffs anchor the song and music video as one of the most theatrical and visually stunning K-pop releases in years.
I debated putting this in the “sleeper bops” section because everyone ignored it in favor the aural shits Top 3 groups were taking at the time, but I put it here instead bc it needs to be recognized. Everything about this electropop bop is flawlessly constructed and I don’t give a shit that it isn’t Sweetune because it’s that damn good.
SHINee – “View”, F(x) – “4 Walls”, AoA – “Heart Attack”, Shinhwa – “Sniper”, Lim Kim – “Awoo”
Duds of the Year
This is a separate category from disappointments because, well, to quote Harry S. Plinkett in his Revenge of the Sith review, it’s kind of hard to be disappointed when your expectations are right next to dinosaur bones. So why am I listing these releases if I knew they were going to suck anyway? Well, like the Plinkett RotS review, this is an autopsy. These songs killed K-pop.
To be honest I only listened to this song once, but after my ears tried to euthanize themselves I decided I wasn’t repeating the experiment. On the bright side, at least I have a go-to video if I ever feel like self-flagellating.
This One Direction-meets-Toy Story ditty reassuring a girl with low self-esteem that a bunch of Korean boy banders think she’s “just right” is as forgettable as anything else this group puts out. I actually no longer remember what this song sounds like, so perhaps the ultimate shade is me being unable to remember enough to make fun of it.
Something about CL’s persona never rings true for me, from her Amy Dunne Cool Girl™ shtick to her appropriation of western hip-hop stereotypes to her lyrics boasting of her awesomeness but having little substance beyond that. Now, I’m not looking to K-pop for substance or I’d be up shit creek without a paddle, but the kind of image CL seems to be trying to cultivate requires a little more walking the walk and a little less talking the talk. This song is basically an audio/visual ode to informed attributes, and fans of CL hoping she has more to offer in her US debut than odes to second-rate soft drinks will not find much comfort here.
Imagine 2PM and Big Bang came together in some kind of unholy union and begat an offspring with severe developmental disorders. This song is Charles II in K-pop form.
I debated putting this song under “disappointments” because I’ve convinced myself to like microwaved shit if GG work it enough, but it’s here because if I’m honest with myself GG haven’t released anything worthwhile since “The Boys” and even my ability to like awful crap has its limits. And this song is such awful crap that “Lion Heart” actually seems almost good in contrast… unless, of course, that was the plan all along.
D-Holic – “Chewy”, Tahiti – “Skip”, Exo – “Love Me Right”
Sleeper Bops of the Year
The best groups you’re not listening to.
A year after their impressive debut “1, 2, 3,” Purfles are back with a mid-tempo, jazzy offering that oozes angst and reminds us how vocally and visually stunning this trio is. They also have these really cool magnetic break-away cuff bracelets they use in the video and live stages. Too bad only about 3 people ever listened to this.
Legend have been on fire this year, but if I had to feature one song it would be this one, mostly because it’s the one that got my attention. It has the kind of Eurotrash bubblegum pop sound sorely missing from boy band fare since hep-hap took over, with a music video reminiscent of the good ol’ days of open shirts, chocolate abs, ugly suits, and group members who are passably attractive.
A brass-driven underrated bop with a retro feel accompanied by a fittingly cheeky music video in which Bestie poke fun at all you perverts out there. The video features K-pop staples like that one retro diner everyone uses and that dude from Noel who’s apparently really good at playing creepy guys in MVs, but it does it better so you should watch it.
Fiestar have been steadily improving after a solid debut, and hit their peak thus far with “You’re Pitiful.” You know I’m a sucker for anything dark and twisty, and chair choreo! The music video features a male lead who’s a dead ringer for VIXX’s Ken, because this should clearly be everyone’s priority as well.
With a pop-rock sound reminiscent of CNBlue with an edge, I guess these guys are too post-pubescent looking for the boy group crowd but not hardcore enough for the hipsters, so they remain in a no man’s land of genre-straddling. Do not let this put you off and headbang to this angstacular, megadramatic guitar-synth hybrid of awesome, not to mention that the group members are themselves very easy on the eyes.
Stellar – “Vibrato”, Tahiti – “Phone Number”, Anda – “Touch”, Bigstar – “Moonlight Sonata”, History – “Might Just Die”, MR.MR – “Out”
Disappointments of the Year
Before people get butthurt (who am I fooling; they’ll be butthurt no matter what) I’m not saying these songs are bad, necessarily. Some of them are actually quite good, but the group has already set such a high bar for themselves you can’t go back. Of course, there are also fans who will eagerly lap up whatever poo their bias group flings at them and declare it’s gold, but I am not one of them.
This song is the perfect illustration of how very, very easily an experimental song structure that’s worked before can go so, so wrong if not executed with care. It seems that this song was trying for something new while still retaining the basic formula of “Up and Down” and “Ah Yeah” and flopped pretty badly on both ends. The result is a jumbled mess of discordant verses and raps, with a pre-chorus that builds up to an anticlimactic chant of “Pink Hot Pink Hot Pink” over a James Brown sample. Not EXID’s finest hour.
Though I really liked “Roll Deep” at first, the shine wears off pretty quickly. It’s catchy enough with the ’90s throwback beat, but compared to the trashy fun of “Red” and the infectiousness of “Bubble Pop,” it just doesn’t live up to Hyuna’s past releases. There’s nothing here we haven’t heard and seen before from her, and was honestly better the first time. That being said, this release should tide over diehard Hyuna fans until she (hopefully) releases something better.
B1A4 have failed to wow me with any of their comebacks since “Lonely,” which is a shame, because when they’re on, they’re on. “Sweet Girl” is their blandest offering yet, drawing on a ’70s R&B influence (clearly, that decade was not kind to K-pop this year. T-ara, you created a monster). At least the MV was cute, aside from the part when Baro thought he was in GTOP’s “Baby Goodnight” MV.
2) Big Bang – everything they’ve released
Everyone’s being mega-dramatic about how terrible everything on the MADE album is but honestly, it’s not that bad… it’s just not great. This album is only semi-shit if you listen to it after even bigger piles of shit, but then if you go back and listen to “Haru Haru” or “Last Farewell” or even “Fantastic Baby” you’re like “Hot damn, this really is shit.” On the bright side, though, at least you get Taeyang riding a horse.
I’m honestly really bummed out that I had to feature VIXX in this category, particularly given how balls-out amazing their previous releases have been. I’m going to use an analogy that probably none of you will be familiar with and say if VIXX songs were Star Trek spinoffs, and “Error” is The Next Generation, then “Chained Up” is Enterprise though at least Enterprise had a cute dog and Scott Bakula. I discuss my disappointment at length in my recap, but like Enterprise, “Chained Up” doesn’t deliver anything fans haven’t seen before and was not better the first time. Nor does it have Scott Bakula.
SISTAR – “Shake It”, Brown-Eyed Girls – “Brave New World”, T-ara – “So Crazy”
Debuts of the Year
DSP debuted a new girl group to fuck up, and it seems they’re starting early with Somin’s sudden departure. Still, they had a nice debut, although the cloying cuteness was a bit too much for me personally. Maybe it isn’t for you, though.
The artists formerly known as A-PRINCE are back with some overwrought Eurotrash drama, and you know how I love overwrought Eurotrash drama. I could do without the “naega! neaga! naega!” tribute to the divine Lil Cham, but “Storm” is a decent debut. But is it really a debut when this group has already been through two iterations? Here’s hoping third time’s the charm for these korean wolves.
Though I didn’t care for the song, I objectively found this to be a really professional, well-done debut with standout vocals and choreo, and I enjoyed their follow-up, “Me Gustas Tu,” quite a bit.
Youthful, cute girl groups seemed to be the trend this year, but Oh My Girl managed to set themselves apart with “Cupid.” The song is relentlessly catchy with its marching drumbeat and “Hey, Cupid has shot my heart!” chant that’s fun to yell along to in the car when you’re stuck in traffic and don’t even care if people think you’re insane, because if you live where I do, I can guarantee they’ve seen weirder.
Seventeen proved themselves to be the breath of fresh air K-pop badly needed in the barren wasteland of boy band releases this year. “Adore U” is one of the strongest debuts to grace K-pop in aeons (considering that Seventeen have been holed up in Pledis’s basement for years, they’ve had plenty of time to practice) and was composed/choreographed by the group themselves—a rare feat in K-pop, particularly when the result doesn’t sound like audio/visual diarrhea.
Up10tion – “So Dangerous”, Twice – “Ooh Ahh”, Playback – “Playback”, The Ark – “The Light”
Debut Duds of the Year
After all the hype about this group, the most shocking thing about this video and song is how unremarkable it is. If you’re going to be shitty, at least have the decency to be entertainingly shitty.
I got really excited when I heard this group’s name, but their debut let me down. I could handle a budget MV with ugly styling if the song were at least a bop, but it was just boring, with a cloyingly repetitive chorus and no unicorns anywhere.
I wouldn’t even know what the fuck this was if someone hadn’t linked me to it, and now I hate them.
What happens when you put together a group that desperately wants to be VIXX, but unlike VIXX, can’t sing for shit? This is what happens. At least they ain’t ugly?
Brave sound decided to ignore their far-superior boy group to launch this aptly-titled mess, which has already lost a member. That didn’t take long.
No runners-up because clearly I didn’t watch enough shitty nugu debuts this year.
Exo Traitors Roundup
It was with a spirit of great anticipation that fans awaited the Exo traitors’ first solo releases, and well… here are the highlights.
Luhan wants to feel you up ninth-grade style in this autotuned attempt at fucking music, complete with awkward moaning and poor spelling. Actually, you know what? This shit rules.
I’m just gonna let this screencap speak for itself.
Tao unleashed the full effect of his tacky delightfulness in this glorious ode to freedom. This video even has a fuckin’ tiger.
Concepts of the Year
One of my favorite aspects of K-pop is its theatricality. Nowhere else in popular music do you see such dramatic and immersive concepts surrounding a musical release. Of course, this isn’t to say K-pop can’t also be budget and half-assed as fuck, but when groups actually put in an effort, the results can be epic.
In spite of all their issues, Pledis has always presented acts with unique and eye-catching concepts. In her trot solo debut, After School and Orange Caramel’s Lizzy is digitally superimposed into an old Korean movie in which she plays a damsel in distress. The contrast between the movie scenes and the lyrics of the song is hilariously ironic.
This song flopped so hard the group only promoted for two weeks, which is disappointing, because it delivered the dark horror concept I’ve been wanting a girl group to take on for a long time. Though conceptually, the song aimed higher than it actually achieved, it had some really great ideas that make it worth a place on this list.
Oh My Girl achieved #3 Bop of the Year status with their song, but the concept is also deserving of recognition, featuring some of the most complex and difficult K-pop choreo (trust me, I tried it) to grace the stage. Particularly impressive given that this all comes from a rookie group.
Idol groups, take note—this is how you do retro. The Wonder Girls do Jem and the Holograms more justice than the flop movie by effectively recreating the 80s in their title track and its music video, right down the “WTV” knockoff of the MTV logo.
The #2 Bop of the Year brings a refreshing concept to K-pop that only Ga-in could pull off—dragging religious misogyny and still being an awesome pop song at the same time. The choreo is stunningly intense, far more so than your typical K-pop choreo (I also tried it).
LR – “Beautiful Liar”, Taeyeon – “I”, Fiestar – “You’re Pitiful”
Concept Fails of the Year
5) All those faux hip-hop boy groups
Has the market not reached saturation point yet? Will K-pop fans never tire of American predominantly black hip-hop imagery being used as code for rebellion/badassery by people with little knowledge or understanding of it? Considering that these groups keep multiplying like clueless and offensive rabbits, I guess not.
OK, so I was pretty hard on the song in my review. Well, I changed my mind. The song is actually quite well-constructed and executed, it’s the video and choreo that were fail on arrival. Apparently Stellar’s company has decided that exploitation is a concept now. Keeping it classy, I see (I would like to emphasize that I mean the company, not the group members themselves).
After the 90s-throwback bop that was “Call Me Baby,” LMR just felt like a dull, rejected SHINee B-side (sorry, SHINee). However, the Friday Night Lights-meets tumblr aesthetic was such bizarre and extensive fail, it’s almost a win. The slapdash American football outfits plus soccer field plus baseball caps might be the most beautiful clusterfuck I have ever witnessed since Girl’s Day’s “Ring My Bell.”
OK that’s not the song title but it was something nonsensical and I don’t give enough of a shit to look it up. But other than the title it’s not the song that’s a fail, but the music video. We’ve got drugging, kidnapping, sexual harassment, and transphobia (two of the group members are disguised as men and harassed by women) all being played for laughs. The most fun since a Law and Order: SVU episode!
CL continues to be a parody of herself in a video full of culturally offensive sound and fury, signifying nothing.
JYP – “Who’s Your Mama”, Baby Boo – “Boo Boo Boo”
Dirtbag of the Year
YG, JYP, Rap Monster (BTS)
Scandals of the Year
5) The IU witch hunt
Generally speaking, I don’t like to use the term “witch hunt” as it’s often employed by butthurt stans every time people fail to properly verbally fellate their oppas, but in this case I believe it has merit. The release of IU’s album “Chat-shire” has been steeped in scandal, from plagiarism accusations to Lolita themes and sexualization of a fictional child. Though IU and her team issued an apology and explained themselves, and the Korean publisher of Zeze retracted their earlier statements condemning the song, both knetz and inetz alike continue doing the most.
4) Meanwhile, Super Junior’s “Devil” MV actually does sexualize a child
Super Junior’s “Devil” is actually one of their stronger songs in recent years, in the sense that I actually would voluntarily listen to it more than once, and the music video would’ve been fun if not for the fact that the lead actress/love interest was revealed to be 14 years old at the time of filming. Oop. Also, before butthurt ELFs come at me, I’m not saying SuJu are themselves responsible for the casting or trying to point the finger of a blame; I’m merely commenting on the music video itself.
3) U-KISS the wedding/father-dols
U-KISS might have had a meh Korean comeback early this year, but refused to disappear into the darkness without dropping two marriage/maybe-baby doozies on us. I know now I made the right decision in stanning these guys.
2) Truedy/Unpretty Rapstar
Unpretty Rapstar‘s first season was a perfect storm of reality TV trash: entertaining contestants with a good balance of scripted drama and plausible deniability. Its second season, however, squandered its charm with a bloated cast and forced drama that made the skewed results plain to see. Add the fact that several contestants were already signed to MNET, and the entire thing was almost as insultingly obvious of a farce as its winner, Truedy. In a rare show of fandom unity, both knetz and inetz quickly turned against her for a variety of reasons. Though most translated knetizen comments focused on Truedy’s crappy attitude and lack of skill, UR contestant Gilme spoke inetizens’ minds when she dragged Truedy’s Rachel Dolezal cosplay act.
1) Tao leaves Exo
The relative lack of drama surrounding Luhan’s departure from Exo following Kris the mockingjay might’ve left us with wank blue balls, but never fear—Tao brought the droms and then some when he became the third member to jump ship. But see, Tao doesn’t simply walk out of Exo—he made it into an epic saga.
Oh My Girl detained at LAX, Suzy and Lee Minho stalked by Dispatch
All Good Things…
And thus concludeth the Ahjummas Anon 2015 in review post. I hope you nerds enjoyed my commentary and are not too butthurt if I failed to mention your faves or put them on a “worst” list. But you know what they say… one fangirl’s trash is anther fangirl’s treasure. Unless it’s KHJ, in which case he’s just trash.
Here’s hoping 2016 brings more lulz, scandals, and pops. And remember to check out the Ahjummas Anon K-pop 2015 mix!!!