2014 is just around the corner, so we’re counting down the Top 10 Songs of 2013, as well as many other great songs. Join us as we take a look back at some of my favorite songs from the past year!
10.) Drunken Tiger, Yoon Mirae, & Bizzy (MFBTY) – “Sweet Dream”
Korean hip-hop legend and New York native Drunken Tiger (AKA Tiger JK) got together with his wife, Korean-American rapper and singer Yoon Mirae (AKA T or Tasha), and their good friend Korean-Australian Bizzy. The trio lives in the same town in Korea and were already recording and producing together, so the next logical step was to start recording songs together, and thus the project group My Fans Are Better Than Yours was born.
Bizzy and Tiger JK have been working together for decades now, and all three members are K-pop industry veterans. Having already established themselves, and each having unique rapping and singing styles, MFBTY became a vehicle for the three to go a little more experimental with their sound. They came up with “Sweet Dream”, a catchy mix of melody and rapping with a killer music video.
9.) Cho Yong Pil – “HELLO (feat. Verbal Jint)”
This year, Cho Yong Pil came back with his nineteenth studio album to take his place as the rightful King of K-Pop. Having started with music in the late 1960s, he emerged as a popular trot singer in South Korea in the early 1980s, and has been enjoying his wide commercial success since then. The man is 63 years old, but he proved he can still rock out with “Hello.”
8.) T-ara N4 – “전원 일기 / (Jeonwon Diary) Countryside Life”
It’s not easy being the hardest working group in K-Pop. In one of the most fast-paced markets in the world, groups have to constantly promote new singles just to stay relevant. On top of exhausting schedules, being shuffled from one performance to the next, rarely eating, and late-night rehearsals, the past couple of years for T-ara have been controversy after controversy. After an ominous letter from their CEO announcing the arrival of two new members, Ahreum and Dani, and reminding everyone just how quickly they could be replaced, the public could sense tension and perhaps even bullying within the group. K-Pop artists and agencies have a lot to lose, and so not a lot of information about drama within T-ara was available to the public; diehard fans and “netizens” speculated the girls were actively bullying Hwayoung, a member who joined the group in 2010, years after the girls started training together. Any way, after a number of incidents Hwayoung was forced out of the group in the summer of 2012; the CEO claims it was due to complaints from many staff members, and not because nobody liked her and she was being bullied.
While newer member Ahreum officially began promoting with the group in the fall of 2012, this past year saw her breakdown and departure from T-ara “to pursue a solo career.” It began with rumors of being possessed by a spirit – Korean people are traditionally very superstitious and believe in spirits – and continued with strange postings on social media, but maybe it began when Ahreum joined T-ara; the extreme stress of being the most overworked group in K-Pop certainly got to her.
It’s somewhat ironic that Ahreum was a member of the subgroup T-ara N4, who sang “Countryside Life”, the dance pop hit that has more to offer than a catchy beat. Yes, this is an amazing song to dance to, but even more than that, it expresses the longing to get away from city life, cell phones, and nagging, and live simply and unbothered in the country. The song manages to work in lyrics like “why you hating” and “mind your own business” in the catchiest way possible; anyone can relate to wanting to be left alone, but not everyone can do it in style.
7.) MELT-BANANA – “Candy Gun”
Melt-Banana is a group out of Japan making some of the most unique and indescribable music out there. At the core of the group, Yako Onuki and Ichirou Agata have been making music together for over two decades, and after a shuffling cast of bassist and drummers, they’ve stripped down to a two-piece while their music gets more complex. Known for their fast-paced, sometimes choppy, sometimes frantic, and sometimes just plain weird music, this year Melt-Banana released Fetch, their first album in six years, and their most accessible and widely received.
To be honest, in the past I had a hard time listening to Melt-Banana. Their music is certainly not for everyone, but something in Fetch intrigued me and kept calling me back to listen to it again and again. Each time you listen to the album, you pick up new bits and pieces that you hadn’t heard before; the many layers are impossible to digest in a single listen, or at regular volumes. After becoming thoroughly obsessed with the album, the next logical step was to see the live show again, this time with a new appreciation for the band.
This fall saw Melt-Banana’s 2 do what 2 fetch tour, and we were able to do an interview with Yako while the two were on the road. While I was curious to see how such a complex sound would translate to a live show with just two members, Yako and Agata were busy hauling around a literal wall of sound – speakers to fill up every bit of space on stage, each thoughtfully connected to a specific range of frequencies, in order to provide the best and clearest sound. Sound delivery aside, Yako has the most amazing tool in her hand: a remote that deceivingly looks more like a Simon Says game than anything. However, the remote is pressure, speed, and direction sensitive, responding to Yako’s every movement, resulting in a very organic control of the duo’s live sound. While I would love to recommend Melt-Banana’s live show to everyone, I know this music is not for everyone, and the live show is for even fewer. On a tee-shirt I picked up, the band’s stage setup is sketched out, including 137 dB blasting from the speakers; that’s 7 decibels over the threshold for pain, and I don’t need to tell you what that means.
6.) IU – “분홍신 / Red Shoes”
As always, IU is back with a beautiful and complex album that sets her apart from other K-pop singers. Her third full length album Modern Times is inspired by a mess of themes including the roaring twenties, Charlie Chaplin, and musicals while integrating her signature fairytale sound. One of the reasons I love IU is because she is able to flawlessly integrate a developed orchestral sound into a dance track. “Red Shoes” sounds like George Gershwin, ragtime, and Moulin Rouge, all with a little K-pop flair tossed in, which also sounds like the recipe for a hit.
K-pop has transformed the music video from something to look at to pieces of art; short films in which stars can show off their acting and maybe a little dancing. “Red Shoes” does not disappoint, check it out for yourself.
5.) Lee Hi – “One-Sided Love”
If you’ve never heard of K-Pop Star, think K-Pop meets American Idol, but instead of some B or C-list celebrities as your judges, you’ve got two of three men responsible for the past ten years of chart toppers and Beyoncé. On its judging panel, K-Pop Star boasts Yang Hyun Seok, who started off in Seo Taiji and Boys, the group that started K-Pop as we know it today, and is now CEO of YG Entertainment (home to Big Bang, 2NE1, Psy, etc.); Park Jin Young (AKA JYP): a singer, dancer, hit producer, and CEO of JYP Entertainment (home to 2PM, the Wonder Girls, Miss A, etc.); and BoA, one of the first K-Pop stars to ride the Korean Hallyu Wave. This is why I pay more attention to K-Pop Star than any of the other many reality television music competitions.
Although Lee Hi was actually the runner up of K-Pop Star’s first season, she ended up being the bigger star; this is in part due to signing with YG Entertainment, and in part due to her incredible voice. At only 17 years old, Lee has a beautiful, soulful, and mature voice. Typically in K-Pop, a talent will train for several years before being able to debut, and while Lee Hi only had months before she started seeing her name at the top of the charts, she can transition from pop to jazz to ballad and back again with ease. From her debut two-part album First Love, “One-Sided Love” is a showcase of Hi’s amazing voice, have a listen for yourself.
4.) Telefly – “구름 / Cloud”
Electric Muse is a small indie label based out of Seoul, South Korea, and it’s also home to a diverse range of artists, including some of my favorite Korean indie artists. Although I never got that into Telefly’s debut full-length Ultimate Psychedelic from 2011, after listening to the Avalokitesvara EP I found myself listening to “Cloud” again and again.
3.) Baechigi – “걱정마쇼 / Don’t Worry (feat. Woo Haemi & Loptimist)”
This year I found myself listening to this song over and over again. The gypsy-inspired guitar thing made somewhat of a comeback this year in K-Pop, but Baechigi did it best, by far. This song combines a danceable beat, a catchy chorus, and rhythmic raps, some of my favorite things; it doesn’t hurt that Baechigi’s raps flow effortlessly. Aside from a title like “Don’t Worry”, you don’t need to understand the lyrics to pick up on the carefree and fun nature of the song, check it out for yourself!
2.) G-Dragon – “Niliria (feat. Missy Elliott)”
G-Dragon, my favorite member of my favorite K-pop guy group Big Bang, gifted us with a second full-length solo album this fall. As much as I love Big Bang, G-Dragon is the musical genius of the group and I can never wait for him to put out new material; as a solo artist he’s able to experiment a little push his music further, as K-pop groups always have a certain image and style to uphold.
For the most part, there are two people behind this album: G-Dragon and Teddy, YG Entertainment’s head producer, hit machine, and former 1TYM leader. I’m intrigued by traditional Korean folk music; there’s nothing that sounds quite like it, and it definitely sounds like it came from a place that no longer exists. Whoever had the idea to rap over an old Korean folk song is genius. The result is a modern and surprisingly danceable track.
1.) 2NE1 – “그리워해요 / Missing You”
It’s been over four years since 2NE1 debuted, and in that time they’ve showed us they’re not just another K-Pop girl group; they’re strong, independent, fierce women who are here to take over the world. After a highly anticipated debut – the girls were promoted as “the female Big Bang”, some pretty big shoes to fill – they have not disappointed, steadily releasing hits in both South Korea and Japan, even being named MTV Iggy’s “Best Band in the World” and doing a world tour in 2012.
After killing it earlier this year with the reggae dance hit “Falling In Love”, they’re back with a more mature concept, giving us the beautiful song “Missing You” and a beautiful music video to match.
Geeks – “FLY”
f(x) – “미행 (그림자) / Shadow”
SHINee – “Dazzling Girl”
Brown Eyed Girls – “Kill Bill”
Dynamic Duo – “슛 골인 / Shoot – Goal In”
Kara – “둘 중에 하나 / Runaway”
EE – “Gaweebaweevo”
Roy Kim – “Love Love Love”
Jaurim – “이카루스 / Icarus”
EXO – “咆哮 / Growl”
LOVE X STEREO – “Fly Over”
Davichi – “오늘따라 보고싶어서 그래 / Missing You Today”
K.Will – “러브블러썸 / Love Blossom”
Ailee – “U & I”
Crying Nut – “5분 세탁 / Five Minute Laundry”