It’s time for my end-of-year awards!
Ah, 2011—the year of disco, accordion, and whistling in Kpop. This year I look back on some of my favorites (and not-so-favorites). These are obviously just my opinions, so please feel free to link me to great songs/MVs I’ve missed. I need some new music. :)
The award for Succeeding Despite Controversy goes to…
YG Entertainment in general. My God, what was it—at least three major scandals? BIGBANG’s Daesung was involved in a car accident in which a man sadly died, BIGBANG’s G-Dragon tested positive for marijuana, 2NE1’s animated music video “Hate You” was accused of being anti-Japanese due to some unfortunate coincidences to the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, YG forbid plastic surgery from its new girl group (thereby implying that members in its other groups may have had plastic surgery)…all in all it looked like it would be nothing short of a disastrous year for the company.
And yet both BIGBANG and 2NE1’s output this year was incredible, with special nods to BIGBANG’s “Love Song” and 2NE1’s “I Am The Best.” These songs helped garner the groups international attention, culminating in BIGBANG taking home MTV’s “Best Worldwide Act” award and 2NE1 receiving MTV IGGY’s “Best New Band in the World,” amongst other awards. Korea and Japan may care about controversy, but it seems the international community is generally willing to overlook it as long as you are producing great music.
I have a post in the works on the music videos of “billion-dollar babies” 2NE1, so I won’t go on about them here, but let’s just say it was a very impressive year.
The award for Biggest Letdown goes to…
(Oh, how it pains me to say it) SM Entertainment in general. Superb promotion, excellent groups, but their music videos had lots of room for improvement. Both Super Junior’s “Mr. Simple” and SNSD’s “The Boys” released amazing photo teasers before their comebacks. SuJu’s had bright, bold colors and an unusual circus-esque feel.
SNSD’s were even more enthralling with a fantasy/fairy tale theme.
Speculation ran wild with excitement at what the new music videos would entail…and then the teasers were released. It quickly became clear that we were in for a year of the same old stuff from SM: sterile backgrounds, no storyline, random clothing, random visual effects, disjointed songs that didn’t match anything, etc. The dances were cool, I’ll give them that, and I found the songs eventually catchy enough to buy, but there was certainly nothing there to “blow my mind.” I felt that they had the potential to do something new and different but instead stuck with a more expensive version of the old.
Furthermore, SHINee, my heart and joy, absolutely stagnated by busily remaking their amazing Korean music videos into cringe-worthy Japanese ones—including “Replay,” my least favorite of their MVs. And while I have personally contributed the majority of the 28 million views on the Korean version of “Lucifer,” I couldn’t watch the Japanese version more than a few times before shuddering.
f(x) impressed me mildly with “Danger” and less so with “Hot Summer,” but I’d prefer if they were given original content instead of covering other people’s hits.
And I’ll go ahead on the obligatory DBSK rant, because in general neither HoMin’s songs in TVXQ nor JYJ’s new songs are as good as DBSK’s output was to me. It seems like both groups are still musically adjusting to the separation. I love both sets of guys, but JYJ’s stuff is almost too emotional, brimming with the melodrama, while on the other end of the spectrum TVXQ’s seems like it has less substance, almost soulless even when they’re singing ballads. Still, I guess I should count myself lucky that everybody still gets to perform and share their works—and get experience composing things, too!
The award for Most Successful Comeback goes to…
KARA. KARA did what I held out hope that DBSK could do, and KARA did it well. They emerged intact from their group-dividing lawsuit with the fun and extremely catchy song “STEP” that showcased what’s best about them as a group. Plus they’re apparently doing well in Japan.
U-KISS. After dropping members Alexander and Kibum for no apparent reason and not explaining it well (or really at all) to devoted fans, I thought U-KISS was done. They’d been having trouble being recognized before, so I assumed this would be the end of one of my favorite groups. Boy, was I wrong. Okay, so I wasn’t a fan of “0330,” but “Neverland” and “Tick Tack” were delights, pouring on the synth but maintaining an edgy tone with awesome dance moves. It makes me feel like U-KISS hasn’t changed so much as matured. And they seem to finally be getting some recognition for their efforts.
My Favorite Song of the Year:
MBLAQ’s “Mona Lisa.” Man, I love that accordion. I love how all the different sections come together on this song. “Baby, say yes.”
Infinite’s “BTD (Before the Dawn).” For me, this song came out of nowhere and rocketed Infinite to the top of my “must-watch” list. That key-change, highlighted by the scorpion move, is just phenomenal.
My Favorite Music Video of the Year:
Sunny Hill’s “Midnight Circus.” It defies meaning or interpretation, really, but still does the best things a music video can do: it awes with visual splendor and goes perfectly with the music and theme, definitively setting the tone and making the song it’s promoting unforgettable.
Secret’s blue-haired (at the time) Song Jieun’s solo music video, “Going Crazy.” I’ll admit that I have what is probably an unhealthy interest in all things macabre, but the mystery and creeping horror of this music video—and the moment you realize you’re cheering her on—is just fascinating in its simplicity and in the implied backstory. It’s creepy in the best of ways.
My Worries for 2012:
I worry that in its rush to appeal to the world, with increasing levels of foreign involvement in the composing and production process, Kpop might lose what makes it so special and amazing. I worry that groups are overtaxing themselves with too much simultaneous promotion across the world instead of focusing on one market. Please note that I am not talking about concert venues here, as I selfishly want Kpop artists to come and do lots of concerts in America and Canada and be wildly successful. I mean the artists/companies who keep flitting between one country and another (often Japan and Korea, but sometimes it’s other countries) instead of just staying in one spot, taking the time to learn the culture/some of the language before moving on to another country. And I also worry that there will be too many new groups debuting, because in 2011 it was insane how many rookie groups there were. But I suppose having too much content is a rather pleasant problem.
Some of My Goals for 2012:
Just off the top of my head, I would like: to get to know more artists in general, especially indie hip-hop ones; to be able to review ballads better, starting with differentiating them better from one another; to follow more of Star Empire’s artists (i.e. ZE:A, Nine Muses, Jewelry) and learn their names better; and to hopefully get the time to actually finish a drama and review it.
Here’s all of Star Empire for their “Shooting Star” MV. I can pick out individual people, like Seo In Young, but I’d like to confidently know all the artists.
Boyfriend’s trite summary of the Kpop music videos he’s seen this year:
“Car repair shops in Korea must have made a fortune.”
Happy New Year, everyone!
Since this is primarily a music video blog, I’m very curious to know: which MV did you like best this year? (Or song, if you’d prefer?) Did you think it was a good year for Kpop?
P.S. See my top 10 dances of the year here if you’re interested. :)