Oh, 2010. How I managed to let Kpop mindfuck me in every way imaginable is beyond me.
I think it’s been an interesting year in Korean pop music to say the very least. And by interesting, I mean a frustrating one. This was not a strong year in the ‘pop’ side of the Korean music industry or ANY pop industry for that matter. Kpop really took a nose dive in the deep end by the end of Spring/the beginnings of the Summer. In fact, it got so bad, that I even considered compiling a list of top Kpop FAILS of 2010. If I have the time to spare, I might actually do so.
Instead of setting trends like last year, Kpop idols tried way too hard to continue those trends and ended up following one another in what I like to think of as a giant circle of ‘wtf?’-ery that is still occurring right to the very end. Even big shots failed to measure up to last year’s hits (Super Junior, Girls Generation, FT Island, just to name a few), but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a lot of what was being cooked up in the crack house – this blog is obviously still alive and functioning for that very reason. Long story short, this year has been fun, laughable and occasionally epic.
On to my end of year list! The way I’m going to do this is simple:
- List the top songs that were released this year (2010) month by month, starting with January and ending with December. And if the title wasn’t clear enough, these are my top Korean pop songs – as in these songs either made a certain impression on me this year or they were replayed to death, sent through the nine circles of hell and back.
- Each month will feature 5 songs a piece, of which had to have been released (as part of an album, digital release, OST or promotional single) within that month*. For instance, I won’t insert a “To Anyone” (2NE1) song in my top 5 songs of November. However, I may choose to include 2NE1’s “It Hurts” in my October list since it was officially debuted as a promo song on October 31 on SBS Inkigayo. Not to say I didn’t listen to earlier/later songs outside of its month, because hell yeah I did. This is just to keep them nice and tidy for you guys.
- My list will be divided into 3 parts – or – Phases, as I’m calling them, and will be posted four months at a time with a brief description of each song and a playlist with every track in that specific Phase at the end of the post.
- Within each Phase will be links to songs that were insanely popular but did not make it on my personal list of top songs of 2010. The purpose for that is to give this ‘end of the year’ special a sense of fulfillment by highlighting every spot in Kpop that is worth noting. These songs are taken from music charts of 2010 (which may or may not include songs from last year that charted in the top ten)
*different songs from the same artist(s) and/or album(s) are allowed to be mentioned; only two mentions per artist/group/album are allowed in the entire special with the exception of solo material/projects from a group (i.e. Kyuhyun/Super Junior, Taeyang/TOP/BigBang); same restriction applies to the solo artist(s).
Note: If you’re new to this blog or recently started reading, there is very little ‘idol’ action going on here. I strive to at least shed light on the better Korean pop music and I’m always on the look out for the highest quality listening experience that the Korea pop industry has to offer, and trust me it’s out there. You will hear what I’m talking about once you hit the play button at the end of this Phase. That said, most of these are pop songs. I sprinkled in those phenomenal indie songs I discovered this year, but I don’t want this list to spew all over the place, so facepalms in advance if I later discover I left something out. You can always leave your personal picks in the comments section below. Actually, I encourage you to do so.
Anyway, shall we get this shit rolling?
(Just as an FYI: Phase 1 is loaded with slow to mid tempo songs. And playing the songs located at the bottom while you skim through this post is recommended ^^)
Gloomy 30s – “Change“
As you’ll hear below, I became obsessed with the ‘Chuno’ OST. So much so, that TWO songs from Chuno appear in this particular top 5. (Sue me!) It’s theatrical, explosive and features a mind-blowing orchestration. It also gives you an idea of what I was watching in January. For the record, this drama wasn’t bad, either. If you’re going to over do it, OVER DO IT and this absolutely went there.
4Men – “I Can’t”
This song is one of my favorites from this group, who are also one of my favorites in Korea. It’s strong, emotional and a really gorgeous song. 4Men have that special quality in their singing that comes off powerful, but never (ever) forced or over done. Graceful would be an accurate word to describe this group’s vocal delivery.
Trax – “Let You Go“
I think Trax nailed it with this song. It isn’t the cheeseball I would expect coming from an SME artist, and at the time I hadn’t a clue of how severe SME could get (I find that out a little later in the year.) One thing’s for sure, though – SM Entertainment have good instincts when scouting talent (i.e. Jay, the lead vocalist). Well, at least 70% of the time. Jay really brings this song to life for me, especially at the climax, where it explodes into the peaceful pop-ballad it’s meant to be.
CN Blue – “I will…forget you…“
This song alone crushes CN Blue’s up tempo pop-rock title tracks to a pulp. It was an unexpected pleasure when I heard this song for the first time. I remember thinking: “Damn, these guys sound awesome.” It’s arguably the bands prettiest song ever. It’s calm, ridiculously melodic and at the time, it stood out in all the right ways from everything going on in Kpop. To make things better, my favorite singer in the group sings most of it. A+ middle 8.
Yim Jae Beom – “Stigma“
This is the other ‘Chuno’ song I mentioned before. Unlike the slower songs thus far, this one is powerful in the way that it is strong and feels like it’s forcing itself onto the listener. It sounds like there is an underlying story to be told and Yim Jae Beom narrates this amazing song with the fluidity and briskness it requires to get the message across. The orchestration is such a complimenting factor to the whole thing, too. It’s perfect.
Big Songs This Month:
Min Kyung Hoon – “It’s Love Because It Hurts“
Min Kyung Hoon has one of my favorite Korean male singing voices. I even like his freaky vibrato. The whole package just works for me and this song did a wonderful job of showing off everything I now appreciate from him, as well as his former band BUZZ.
Big Bang – “Lollipop 2“
When I first heard this song I thought: “…not as good as last year’s…” but after several listens, I couldn’t stop spinning it. Big Bang (along with the YG Entertainment team) are geniuses at making the most melodic and killer beats in Kpop and this is no exception. Additionally, I remember Big Bang being as absent as a sickly kid in grade school, so when they came out with this number, I was ALL over it. The verses are my favorite.
2NE1 – “Follow Me”
Auto-tune had already been shoved in my face long before I discovered Kpop, but 2010 sure binged on it like an American. When 2NE1 pulled this song out of their asses, I was a little iffy about the whole thing (from the ghetto English to the repetitive chorus from hell), but it sure slithered its way onto repeat regardless. In time, I figured out what I liked about this release: 2NE1 clearly identify with a certain style and that alone deserves respect, plus the beat is addicting. Prrrah!
U-KISS – “Spinning“
Much like “Follow Me”, I disregarded the processing and focused on the structure and technical aspects of U-Kiss’ February single. Having spawned from Brave Sound, of course it was going to be the catchiest shit in town. Much like MBLAQ, this group is full of average singers (not even!), but what they do have is a strong stage presence and their music is a fucking trip. Really, it’s like being on drugs and then hopping on the nearest Six Flags’ roller coaster. I’m all for really noisy up tempo songs and I don’t think it gets any noisier than U-kiss.
IU – “Fifth Finger“
IU is one of best singers in the Korean pop industry. Aside from her atrocious “Marshmellow” mishap last year, she got back on track to singing betters songs…such as this one. I don’t care what anyone says, I really like the subtle indie sound she was going for in this song. It’s not overstated and it reminds me a lot of Yozoh. That, my friends, is a huge compliment.
Big Songs This Month:
SNSD pwned left and right, as well as most idols in the previous list
Outsider – “Acquaintance“
I never gave enough of a fuck about rap before I ventured into Korean music, but that’s one of the highlights of 2010 for me – how much of it I was exposed to through Kpop. Now, pop-rap (Super Junior, DBSK, etc.) is laughable, but most of it is pleasant. Outsider, in particular, won me over and over and over. Not necessarily because he raps at warp speed, but by all of the elements incorporated in his music. I love the strings and the familiar wind-up sound woven through out “Acquaintance”.
After School – “Bang!“
While After School failed to reach the stars like they did with last year’s epic single, “Because of You”, “Bang!” wasn’t all that bad. It was pretty badass for a girl group, actually. To this day, I still listen to the middle 8 of this song because, basically, it’s brilliance beyond words. The verses, too, are stellar and aside from the creepy man-talk, this one’s a definite highlight for After School as a group. And the fact that they played their own mother-effing drums during promotions really goes without saying.
One Way – “Magic“
Ne-yo meets Usher meets Taeyang – that’s what One Way did with “Magic” and you know what, it worked. It was one of my favorite songs of February and the group’s perfect debut single. It really put them on the map in Korea. It showcased that they have the appropriate vocals to carry this song from point A to point B, but also exhibits the rap that they started with during their humble beginnings. The subtle instrumental is gold (as is their English). Damn, I love hearing this again…
Epik High – “Run”
Need I even get into why Epik High is on this list? Honestly, I would include their entire Epilogue album in here if I could, because it reached into every nook and cranny of my musical preferences. I didn’t even know what to do with myself when I first heard it. It’s stupid perfect. The entire Epik High team are geniuses in their own right and all I have for them is love and admiration. Sad to see where things went this year…
Gil Hak Mi – “Dream“
I gave this last spot a lot of thought. It was a tough fight between “Dream” and “Super Soul” (the lead single off her debut EP), but I ultimately went with the song I praised wayyy back when I reviewed the album. “Super Soul” is still an awesome song and it’s got all kinds of soul in it, but this one correlates perfectly with my taste in music. It’s ambient, airy and carefree. I love it.
Big Songs This Month:
also, see previous list
Rain – “Love Song“
(While Rain’s EP “Back To Basic” was leaked on March 29/30, I will note that it was delayed to April 7, making it eligible to fall under April’s top 5) I’m going to be honest, the music video to this song crushed the really nice vision I had of it. I would have never expected a grown man grinding and shit, taking his shirt off during a slow song of all things – WAIT – this is Rain… anyway, I really like the phrasing. It has a really engaging beat and the strings are an added dose of pretty to what is now a filthy after thought. Damn you, sexual marketing! Overall, a great song from a veteran in Kpop.
Min Kyung Hoon – “It’s Alright”
“May I have an order of Min Kyung Hoon with a side salad, please?” Between February’s release and this one, “It’s Alright” tops it in my book. I love both, but Sir Min done killed me with this song. It’s perfection. What else can I say? To rock and ballad lovers alike, I hope you enjoy this song because it’s one of the best things I had the pleasure of listening to this year. Oh, and this is Min Kyung Hoon’s last appearance in the entire Top Kpop Songs of 2010 special. ::waves and cries::
Lee Hyori – “Swing“
Lee Hyori’s best song of 2010, in my honest opinion. Ignoring the fact that most of H-logic was plagiarized, I thought she did the whole ‘semi-depressed, gonna hum you my plight’ thing perfectly through this song. For a pop star, Lee Hyori wowed me with this meaningful number of hers and made me appreciate her just a little more than I had before. Definitely a keeper. Now, go write your own music and fingers crossed you have a proper comeback next year!
Gummy – “There is No Love”
While I really started feeling this one after April, I had to stick it in here since it debuted in this month. I adore this song when Gummy sings it live. She is such a sophisticated artist, which I guess comes with years of experience in the industry and you can really hear her precise technique and control with this one. Right around this time, too, is when I started coming to terms with my enjoyment of R&B music (Thanks, Gummy?). The style has really grown on me since.
E.Via – “Shake“
Not so guilty pleasure alert! If anything, the energy E.Via brings to Kpop is both refreshing and absurd! I love it. If any one female is going to make great club/dance/coochie popping music, it’s this HBIC right here. This is a great work out song, let me tell you…and closing this phase with this song should be indicative of what’s to come in soon.
Big Songs This Month:
Think of it as getting through the slow songs now before really jumping into the ‘holy crap this is crazy’ -ness of what will appear in Phase 2 | May – August. Arguably the most intense Phase of the three and definitely the funnest.
Expect Phase 2 next week with Phase 3 | September – December two weeks from now, along with ANOTHER rundown known as “My Top Kpop MVs of 2010“, which will feature my top favorite music videos of the year.
And who knows, you might even see the top Fails of 2010…that should be fun.
See you next week!