unexpected choreography

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Takkun and E~suke danced to Solar System Disco (original choreography)

Andrew’s Top 10 Kpop Songs of 2016

Hello all, and welcome to my second annual Top 10 Kpop Songs list! This is a series I decided to start exactly one year ago where, on New Years Day, I go through the kpop releases of the previous year and compile my 10 favorite, which I then list in order with a short write-up. In the first edition of this series, I believe a record-breaking three (3) people read my list, so I’ve decided to post it at a more reasonable hour, hoping for a few more readers this year. As with last year, I have limited myself to only songs with music videos (which are linked in the title of the song), and we begin with number 10…

10. Pledis Girlz - We

Let me tell you, folks, there was quite a fight for the 10th spot on my list (you can see my considerations when I list the honorable mentions at the bottom of this post), but a number of factors led to Pledis Girlz taking this spot. First and foremost of those factors is that this song is self-produced, which is not something you can often say about groups at all, much less pre-debut groups. What impresses me most about this song is how they managed to take a fairly run-of-the-mill concept and turn it into something catchy, engaging, pleasant on the ears, and memorable. It was the only song of this style (innocent concept, whatever you might call it) considered for my list, because the quality of it and the interest level are just head and shoulders above that of other groups with a similar concept. I haven’t stopped listening to or thinking about this song since it was released, and frankly it just makes me happy to listen to, and that is why it comes in at number ten on my list.

9. LABOUM - Shooting Love

I would be remiss not to include this absolutely masterpiece in my Top 10. LABOUM’s Shooting Love is everything good and fun about Kpop, all wrapped up in one song. Little bit of cute; little bit of sexy; incredibly fun choreography; unexpected but somehow perfect rap break; unbelievably catchy (PYONG!~ PYONG!~); fantastic vocals. This is the song that solidified my love for LABOUM (after a bit of shakiness with Sugar Sugar last year), and so it has earned a spot at number nine.

8. Cosmic Girls (WJSN) - Secret

There’s nothing I love more than the sound of a group coming into its own. To my sensibilities, that is exactly what WJSN did with Secret. Their debut with Mo Mo Mo felt a little uninspired and didn’t quite match any of what I had expected with their name and their teasers. It felt a bit generic and safe. Secret, however, delivered on every aspect I felt was lacking in this group. They gave me a visual and aural journey through a fantasy land, with sounds and imagery that just felt downright, well, cosmic. While WJSN did not really lack in quality vocalists at debut, the addition of Yeonjung to the group made them come together; she was the glue that made it all work, allowing everyone else to slide into their roles, musically, and forming an altogether great experience.

7. SEVENTEEN - Pretty U

We have our first boy group appearance! I’ll be honest, this song made a terrible first impression on me. The audio on both versions of the MV is more than a little off, and it felt flat and impactless. However, all it took was one live performance and I was in love. SEVENTEEN has released nothing but quality jams since their debut, and I love them all, but this is far and away my favorite. This is another song that is simply fun: it’s upbeat, catchy, has choreography that I’m still not over, and amazing vocals. The rap breaks are incorporated beautifully (especially at the end), and despite having 13 members, no member feels like they don’t fit. It’s just a wonderful job all around, but it comes in a bit higher than the other songs on this list because it is self-produced and self-choreographed. Judging by the representatives on this list, self-production is the trend at Pledis Entertainment, and I’ll be more than happy if they continue that with both SEVENTEEN and Pledis Girlz.

6. Dalshabet - Someone like U

Easily the longest-lasting song in my Top 10, Dalshabet’s Someone like U was released on January 4th, 2016, and comes in at number six. When you heard “Come over here… Dalshabet… Brave Sound drop it” you just knew this song was gonna be a jam, and when that beat kicked in, we were all in for a real treat. Dalshabet were seemingly in dire straits, having just lost more members and leaving them as only a four member outfit. However, they came back with a vengeance, starting 2016 out with the top 80′s-inspired jam of the year, surprising everyone with an undeniable groove, great choreography, and a fierce rap verse from the lead vocalist. This song will be on my playlists for years to come, and it would be my top underappreciated jam of the year, if it weren’t for…

5. Brave Girls - Deepened

The Kpop world had not previously seen anything like Brave Girls’ Deepened, and unfortunately, it isn’t likely to see it again, considering its complete lack of commercial success and the group’s near-immediate change to a more public-friendly concept. Brave Girls, formerly a five member group active between 2011-13 (and honestly on the brink of mainstream popularity at the time), went on a three year hiatus that saw the departure of all but two original members. In 2016, five new members were added to form a new unit, and they released Deepened. Frankly, pile all of the superlatives on this song, because I find no fault with it. The main vocalist has a powerful and unique voice, the choreography is powerful, and the rap is powerful and honestly far above most girl group raps in recent memory in flow, tone, delivery, you name it. This is exactly the kind of hard-hitting, darker style that Kpop lacks, and it filled an area of my listening repertoire that had been begging for attention for a long time. Deepened begins the top half of my list, coming in at number five.

4. MAMAMOO - Décalcomanie

“MAMAMOO is coming back for you” DAMN RIGHT THEY ARE! In my opinion, this is MAMAMOO’s best release since Piano Man. I’ve always liked this more mature sound from them, and I was ecstatic to see them return to it. In fact, this is my favorite song of theirs. Yes, I do love all of their other releases, no doubt, but this one was special. Every part of this song is perfect, and it comes together in glorious fashion. Particular standouts to me are Hwasa’s vocals (which I think are better in this song than they’ve ever been) and Moonbyul for real playing the low part of harmonies noticeably. I talked earlier about loving when a group comes into their own, but MAMAMOO came into their own long ago: this is a group hitting its stride and moving full-steam ahead.

3. I.O.I - Whatta Man

Did you ever expect a Kpop group to sample Salt ‘N’ Pepa or Linda Lyndell? Didn’t think so. Neither did anybody else, but then it happened. I had a lot of questions about this unit of IOI, because all of the main vocals of the group were missing. I thought, well, what kind of song can they do with just rappers, dancers, and some decent vocals? They punched my skepticism right in the mouth the second the beat of this song dropped. This is my favorite concept of the year from any group. Everything about this song is hard-hitting, from the outfits, to the choreography, to the beat (even the switch to reggae for that one section), to the rap verses, to those high notes in the chorus that Pinky was absolutely nailing… everything! It only feels right to include IOI in my Top 10 Kpop Songs of 2016, since they’re only a year-long project group, but they absolutely earned a spot in the top three with Whatta Man.

2. BLACKPINK - Playing With Fire

YG’s long-awaited new girl group finally debuted in 2016, and they arrived with a bang… or should I say a BOOM(bayah)? I’m sorry. Despite being rookies with four total songs to their name, they released a track that fiercely competed to by my song of the year. I loved all their releases, and while comparisons to 2NE1 were inevitable, this track is really the one that made me stop paying attention to those comparisons. Playing With Fire, to me, was BLACKPINK showing off a style and sound all their own. Each member showed off their distinct charms and abilities to perfection in this song, and it came together to form a whole product that is undeniably brilliant. These power rookies knew the quickest path to my heart, and they took advantage of that to the tune of spot number two on my list.

1. Block B - Toy

The group I had come to know and love as that group that alternated between hard and fun and put on great stages regardless showed me and new side of themselves with this release, and I loved it to an extent I didn’t know I could. I did not know Block B could pull off a mature song in this way, but they did it flawlessly. This song came out in April, and eight months later I cease to be amazed at the perfect composition of this song. I have to give Zico so much credit for this, as the song is composed and produced by him: this is the perfect example of selfless composing. There are groups where the members that composes the music shows him/herself off the most and doesn’t quite balance everything out properly, but not so with Zico. Line distribution in this song is amazing; everybody gets their time to shine and show off their talents, and Zico even wrote in a dual rap verse instead of just giving himself the whole verse. You can tell Zico knows precisely all of the strengths of his members, and he composed this song with them all in mind. Every member shone individually, but this song shines the brightest as a whole composition: it comes together with absolute perfection. All of this is why Block B’s Toy is my Song of the Year for 2016.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end! If you’ve made it this far, truly, I thank you and love you. I was very proud of this when I did my first Top 10 Kpop Songs list last year at this time, and I am no less proud of it now. I put a lot of thought into this post, and it means so much to me that you’ve read it this far. I hope to continue this tradition next year, as well, and hey, maybe I’ll even write up a couple more Top 10 style posts throughout the year instead of having it be an once-a-year deal. As I finish this up, it is still January 1st, so I wish you all a Happy New Year, and here’s to another great year of Kpop!

Honorable Mentions

Ladies’ Code - The Rain, BtoB - I’ll Be Your Man, Sam Kim - No Sense (ft. Crush), WINNER - Baby Baby, GFriend - Rough, Red Velvet - Russian Roulette, Oh My Girl - Windy Day, Wonder Girls - Why So Lonely, VIXX - Dynamite