The year is coming to an end, folks, and in true celebratory fashion, McRoth’s Residence is here to present its third annual “Top Kpop Songs Of 2011”!
Below is a list of 25 Top Kpop Songs (with reviews), written by yours truly (McRoth), plus contributing writers drowningn00b and lolpenny. That’s it! We sat through the rules, and now it’s time to enjoy the songs that we at McRoth’s Residence thought were some of the best of the year 2011.
QUICK REMINDER: These 25 songs span from July to December. For the 25 songs chosen for January – June, please follow the link to the Top Kpop Songs Of 2011: Mid Year Roundup, where you’ll find 2NE1, B2st, DBSK, SISTAR19, and many many more!
A PINK – MY MY
Let the nostalgia commence. A Pink – the gentle, perky girl group with an affinity for old-school Kpop – wandered into the music scene like innocent kittens this year. While everybody else was preoccupied with ripping each other off, A Pink was busy taking cues from 90s girl groups and resuscitating decade-old styles. So far, their effort have paid off. “My My”, from their “Snow Pink” EP, is not just an explosion of cuteness, but a song that carries the same sweet melodies, the classic beat, and simple hook that pervaded Kpop in the 90s/2000s. It’s slightly derivative, but hey – if it worked then, who’s to say it won’t work now? – McRoth
BLOCK B – HALO
Whether Korean hip-hop is your thing or not, there’s no denying that Block B’s sensational foray into Kpop was one of the most exciting things to happen this year. “Halo” (from Block B’s repackaged album “New Kids On The Block”) wasn’t really a single, but it did the best job of encompassing every single thing that Block B brought to Kpop in one sitting: strong vocals, mad flow, and a kickass attitude. It’s a classic hip-hop banger that allows Block B to drop sick lines and single-handedly prove that Korean pop music doesn’t have to be all fluff and glamour. They’re bridging the gap between rap and pop in away that is both fun and musically compelling. Not everyone can do that in their first year in Kpop, and because of that, they’ve won my respect. – McRoth
BROWN EYED GIRLS – SIXTH SENSE
A best-of list wouldn’t be a best-of list without Brown Eyed Girls, no? This year, Brown Eyed Girls returned with the exquisitely lethal album, “Sixth Sense”. Considering that they drew influence from new corners of the musical realm beyond that of electro-pop, Korea had no idea (and no chance at that) to run from the handing-of-its-own-ass that it would endure.
“Sixth Sense” (the title track) is armed with a full serving of jazz, a bit of swing, and a pounding orchestration that blend together beautifully. Standing next to the pitiful tunes of their colleagues, “Sixth Sense” is almost over indulgent. But what would a Brown Eyed Girls single be without an excess of brilliance? – McRoth
CHOCOLAT – I LIKE IT
If they hadn’t made it about how bi-racial they are, Chocolat could have come across a little more likable during their debut period. Why? Because these ladies are actually talented singers and may have a good chance at not sucking down the road. In fact, that’s precisely what happened this week when they dropped their first official mini-album and comeback single, “I Like It”.
Where “Syndrome” lacked star power and appeal, “I Like It” makes up for it ten fold. It basically sounds exactly how it should for an elite girl group: sassy, catchy, and epic. Think early Pussycat Dolls sans the pussy pops. – McRoth
Of course, I already knew D-NA were gifted singers, but the way they came together in “Lady” was nearly masterful. This song is so nice, that it’s a great step forward in being as transcending as, say, Dong Bang Shin Ki. I know, mouthful, but their voices, exemplary use of harmonies, and overall unity is – dare I say it – a lot better than when DBSK debuted. All they need are the right songs, and they’re well on their way. – McRoth
FT ISLAND – EVEN YOUR TEARS
It’s a fact: Lee Hongki’s immense vocal talent has the power to crush my soul. But to my surprise, it was the vocal lead of Lee Jae Jin in “Even Your Tears” from FT Island’s remake EP “Memory In FT Island” that won big points with me (the fact that Jae Jin is my secret lover may or may not have influenced this decision).
“Even Your Tears” captured the exact emotional threads that I was missing from FT Island in the last couple of years. The angsty tearjerkers like the ones found in FT Island’s earliest work were starting to disappear, but “Even Your Tears” was perfectly sweet and welcoming enough to bring me back to Five Treasure Island. Speaking of islands, this song is a great example of how well FT Island have learned to incorporate their Japanese sound into their Korean music. They’ve been in Japan for hell-know-how long, and it was a matter of time before it started affecting how they would approach Kpop. Nicely done, boys. – McRoth
G.NA – BANANA
G.NA and Swings belong together. On their first collaboration, “Supa Solo”, G.NA first displayed the fierce concept, but she hadn’t built the foundation to make it authentic. Time has helped her in that regard, and “Banana” is the fabulous result of the growing confidence G.NA has in herself. Since her debut, she’s had to deal with criticism over her breasts, lackluster Korean-speaking ability, and general G.NA haters on the internet, and she’s putting all of that on the back burner. Rather than make a diss track, this is all about brushing it off and doing her own thing. The lower register throughout “Banana” conveys a sense of control and sex that’s just for her. She ain’t bringing the boys, but dressing slutty and dancing suggestively because she wants to lose control. The beat is just right for booty shaking, the hook works and Swings’ brings the fire to top it all off. “Banana” is an awesome self-boasting track for the clubs. [Note: all sex references are used in the sex-positive sense.] – drowningn00b
GIRLS’ GENERATION – MR. TAXI (KOREAN VERSION)
Although it wasn’t their big Korean comeback song, Mr. Taxi is infinitely better than The Boys in that it doesn’t try to be epic. It just is. The Boys is inarguably a good song and served its purpose, reasserting Girls’ Generation’s total dominance over the K-pop scene. But in that is also found its weakness. The Boys tries very, very hard to be an anthem of illustrious proportions but only kind of succeeds. Since it was originally a Japanese single, Mr. Taxi was not created in that mold and is thus allowed to flourish separately from the SM trademark. It is mature without being pretentious and addictive without being banal and that’s really all a good pop song needs. – lolpenny
HUH GAK – HELLO
I’m very new to Huh Gak, but upon my first listen of “Hello” from his first mini album (appropriately titled “First Story”), I was pleasantly surprised and kind of all over it. Main reason – Huh Gak’s velvety smooth voice. He’s like a chocolate fondue fountain and I just want to dip my – wait. That came out wrong.
“Hello” does Huh Gak justice, in that it’s one helluva ballad. Yet, never does he lose the spotlight. The instrumental is nice, but it’s only there to add drama to Huh Gak’s already power vocals. By the climax, he’s slaying everything with bold phrases, sweeping melodies, and chilling vocals. *shivers/replays* – McRoth
INFINITE – PARADISE
Infinite is easily one of the best boy bands of 2011. Infinite have grown so much in only a year. To hear how they’ve taken the sound they began with to where they are now makes me excited to hear where Infinite will go next. Proud parent, right here.
So, clearly it was difficult deciding on one Infinite song, especially when they released two that were phenomenal candidates to fit the bill: “Be Mine” and “Paradise”. Obviously, I chose the latter. My decision was deeply influenced by the fact that Infinite channeled an era (the 80s) and actually made it their own and relevant to today’s Kpop listener. It was a risk, but it worked. And now that Infinite understand their musical identity, it’s only a matter of time before they release that one song to launch them into the big leagues – McRoth
IU – 벽지무늬
A perfect example of why I think IU is better off with nothing more than her voice and a simple instrumental. The gently subdued form of this song gives both IU and the dreamy orchestra behind her an opportunity to swell as one and as separates. What’s really special about this beauty is that it captures all of the motifs and colors of IU’s comeback album (“Last Fantasy”) without over-exaggerating any of it. It’s delicate, yet very sophisticated, which was basically the point of this entire album – to function as a checkpoint from where IU can begin to grow. Or as Korea calls it, a “coming of age”. – McRoth
JYJ – THE BOY’S LETTER
I can’t say that I was a big fan of JYJ’s 2011 material, specifically because I don’t think they’ve quite found their footing yet as independent artists working for themselves as opposed to artist working under a big label. I can’t imagine it being an easy transition. Considering where they’ve come from, dude I’d be slightly disoriented too.
That being said, this is Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu – the voices of a generation. If anything, they do more good than bad, and of all their 2011 songs, “The Boy’s Letter” was damn near perfection. It’s a stunning ballad, nearly magical, and the fact that Yoochun actually sounds good gives me goosebumps. I love hearing these guys sing songs that soar, and this one definitely hit the spot. Now, if they could only figure out a perfect up-tempo track, then I think I could die happy. – McRoth
KIM BUM SOO – 희나리
By now, readers of this blog shouldn’t be surprised that I love Kim Bum Soo. The fact that he’s an exceptional vocal talent and has the ability to sing every emotion are just two reasons. Because of this, Mr. Kim regularly sings melodramatic ballads and mid-tempos, which is all fine and good, but it has left him kind of type-casted. “I Am A Singer” (a musical competition show) gave him the platform to experiment beyond that. For example, he turned CN Blue’s “I Am A Loner” into a jazz-tap ditty. His most courageous cover, however, was for the 1985 ballad “Wet Firewood”, originally sung by Jang Mo Goo. The original was plaintive and melancholy, but Kim Bum Soo’s cover was all about the music.
It starts with a quiet acoustic guitar and then completely changes at the 2 minute mark. The track goes electronic, becoming a trance/progressive dance song with heavy bass ripping into your ears. The best bit is when Kim Bum Soo hits one of the highest notes I’ve ever heard him go for. That he had the balls to do this raises my respect for him, but to have done it this well made this one of the most exciting “I Am A Singer” performances ever. – drowningn00b
MBLAQ – MONA LISA
If this wasn’t a year of growth, then I don’t know what it was. Case in point, MBLAQ. I’ve questioned this boy band’s place in Korean pop music more times than I can remember. With a poor back catalogue and limited talent, these five needed a musical miracle to even puncture my interest.
However, 2011 proved to be pivotal for MBLAQ, because this year they finally broke into their own as a boy band and actually released music worth a few accolades.
In addition to their full-length album, “BLAQStyle”, the group’s rise reached a whole new altitude with the artsy single “Mona Lisa”. MBLAQ took the Latin vibes of their debut and melted them with the proper elements to produce a song filled with movement, dynamics, and sensuality. After all, MBLAQ strive to be the suave romantics, and with this song, they can finally claim that title with pride. – McRoth
MISS A – GOOD-BYE BABY
I don’t know about you, but I think JYP knows exactly what he’s doing with his girl groups. This year, the bastard released two fabulous albums – A Class and Wonder World – and managed to give each its space and styles to reflect the greater aspects of Miss A and Wonder Girls, respectively.
“Good-bye Baby” is probably the best single to date to capture the spunk, sass, and charisma of Miss A in one hearing. It veered from the electro-pop, and instead stayed true to the JYP R&B/dance-pop sound that we’ve come to know. What really sells this song though, is the simple melodies. It doesn’t try to clobber a catchy hook into your head because it doesn’t have to. Plus it translates perfectly to the stage. If you know Miss A, then you know the kind of show-stopping girl group they are. – McRoth
ORANGE CARAMEL – SHANGHAI ROMANCE
Admittedly my guilty pleasure in the bunch, “Shanghai Romance” differs ever-so-slightly from its predecessors just enough to cause my heart to pulsate with joy. It’s kind of embarrassing, guys.
The thing is, though, I knew there was something in Orange Caramel’s music that secretly tickled my brain, but until now they’ve failed miserably at fully convincing me that I wasn’t just going crazy. Thankfully, “Shanghai Romance” embraces the 90s J-pop style that Orange Caramel seem to go for while still incorporating a ‘Shanghai’ zest to actually work. It’s cute, catchy, and simple, and that’s pretty much all I want from a good Orange Caramel single. – McRoth
SUPER JUNIOR – SUPERMAN
If there was one Super Junior song to make it on the list, it had to be “Superman”. Super Junior didn’t give me many options this year, especially considering the underwhelming effects of “Mr. Simple”. “Superman”, however, was an exception. It was almost baffling how well Super Junior pulled it off. 3+ minutes of rap and stuff – you serious? Dead.
The thing about boy bands of this magnitude is that they’re designed for the most epic of epic pop song. “Superman” may be slightly ridiculous, borderline cheesy if I really think about it, but more than anything it has the grandiosity that is tailor made for pop. When Super Junior are given songs that bring out the best in them such as this one, that’s when you’ll see me jumping for joy. – McRoth
T-ARA – ROLY POLY
It’s common knowledge that retro concepts are a staple in K-pop’s repertoire. With few aberrations, every girl group has incorporated some facet of Donna Summers into their music and T-ara is no exception. What’s different about “Roly Poly” is how thoroughly the girls embraced the age of disco. Instead of vague parallels they tried to recreate the genre entirely not only with the song but the dance and aesthetic concept as well. The price of that authenticity is that Roly Poly is extremely derivative but like all good T-ara songs it makes up for the lack of originality with sheer catchy-ness. – lolpenny
TABLO – THANKFUL BREATH
This may not be the highlight track from Tablo’s “Fever’s End”, but boy is it the prettiest. It’s the one track on the entire album that isn’t down in the dumps. Thus, I like it loads.
“Thankful Breath” is classic Tablo. It’s as equally emotive as it is musically brilliant, just like Tablo’s entire repertoire. The acoustic arrangement gives it that “echoing inside a trendy coffee shop” effect, only it’s rap so the coffee shop just became ten times trendier. – McRoth
TROUBLE MAKER – TROUBLE MAKER
I put it to you: songs which include whistle solos are ten times better than their non-whistle solo counterparts. With this criteria alone, Trouble Maker is a fantastic song. The question that remains is whether or not it holds any value once stripped of the vener of publicity stunts and abject sexuality. The answer, undoubtably, is yes. Trouble Maker is a more-than-competent side project for these two and Hyuna’s outlandish persona is tempered by Hyun Seung’s reserved finesse. The result pays homage to the funkier side of the 80s while weaving 4minute’s club-pop hooks with B2st’s classy badassery. Sure, the Michael Jackson cops don’t exactly fill a musical void but this is Korea where innovative imitation is nine tenths of the law. – lolpenny
U-KISS – NEVERLAND
U-KISS’ rocky musical journey aside, “Neverland” finally showcased how well this boy band and electronica interact. Like any U-KISS single, “Neverland” is glitchy, over-processed, and filled to the brim with synths. What marks this single as a page turn in the boy band’s career is a considerable improvement of taste level.
“Neverland” is explosive when it needs to be and bows out when it doesn’t. It’s basically the U-KISS single I’ve always wanted, except this time they’ve shown growth, maturity, and promise. If they continue this streak, I might actually start stanning them. Watch out. – McRoth
VERBAL JINT – YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL
The post-break up moment is a topic ripe for songs. Everyone that goes through one knows the general emotions that go with the experience, but the interpretations of it are memorable when the expression is specific. For “You Look Beautiful”, Verbal Jint did just that. He took that larger concept and made a track about what is essentially a 10-second experience.
Story: After time has passed since his break-up, VJ’s character runs into his ex-girlfriend on the street at a stop light, who’s happily arm-and-arm with a new boyfriend.
VJ, in an interview with K-Populous, mentioned that he writes songs that aren’t bigger than life, and he did it beautifully. A spare piano line at the beginning is melancholy, while the drum beats and the double time keyboard hints at an anger and resentment that has yet to make its exit. This track is exceptional, with great rap flow by VJ and a story so specific, yet universal. “You Look Beautiful” is an achievement in emotional musicality. Being the lead single to an equally exceptional hip-hop record (‘Go Easy’), this is just the tip of VJ’s iceberg of talent. – drowningn00b
WHEESUNG – THE GUYS ARE COMING
Most times I fail to acknowledge Wheesung, and quite honestly, I don’t know why that is because the man has a gorgeous timbre. So gorgeous, that when I listened to his 2011 comeback single, “The Guys Are Coming” (that’s what she said), I practically melted on the spot.
“The Guys Are Coming” takes Wheesung’s strengths – his immense chest voice and a vocal consistency – combines them with a spacious instrumental, sturdy melodies, and produces a classy mid-tempo tearjerker that will make you swoon. – McRoth
WONDER GIRLS – ME, IN
One of the many glorious songs off the Wonder Girls’ highly anticipated comeback album (“Wonder World”) that stands as one of my favorites of the year is “Me, In”. In anthem-like fashion, the Wonder Girls’ “Me, In” serves pop-rock, with a side of badass female vocals. In fact, that’s the best bit of this song – hearing the leading vocalists in the Wonder Girls slay with alluring melodies and explosive ad-libs.
The pace of “Me, In”, the production – it all flows seamlessly. But the icing on the cake has to be the fact that Yeeun arranged and composed this beauty. I know! Why she’s still a part of this group is beyond me. – McRoth
YOON MI RAE (TASHA) – GET IT IN (ENGLISH VERSION)
Yoon Mi Rae is a hip-hop genius. This year, she stayed true to her music and released an absolute monster of a single that brought forth not only her mad flow, but pieces of electronic elements to sock it to the masses.
“Get It In” begins as a powerful rap anthem, progresses with force, and ends smeared all over the dancefloor in a glitchy electronic finish. If Yoon Mi Rae achieved anything with this song, it was to effectively remind everybody exactly why she is Korea’s treasured hip-hop queen. Best recognize. – McRoth
> “Top Kpop Songs Of 2011” playlist available on YouTube (Here)
> McRoth’s Residence is now on Tumblr – follow me here
> TOP KPOP MVs OF 2011 (coming soon)
> POLL RESULTS: Best Album Of 2011 (12/19/11)
> POLL RESULTS: Best Mini-Album Of 2011 (12/23/11)
> McRoth’s Residence: Best Album and Best Mini-Album of 2011 (12/23/11)