Music

The Best K-Pop of 2015

Scott Interrante

At the end of 2015, the Korean pop scene looks hopeful in a way it hasn’t in previous years.

Towards the end of 2014, it seemed inevitable that K-pop was going to change, or at least go through some major shifts in how it was produced, what it sounded and looked like, and who was making it. Fans were calling it the "K-pocalypse". And, to a certain extent, the beginning of 2015 seemed to suggest that the industry was moving in a darker, more reflective direction that could have yielded interesting results from newer artists bucking against the system. Ultimately, that is not what happened, as many major, veteran groups returned in 2015 and made everyone forget about the problems of last year. To be fair, though, the music these artists put out was great, and the newer artists that debuted joined the veterans in pushing K-pop forward rather than tearing it down and starting over. At the end of 2015, the scene looks hopeful in a way it hasn’t in previous years.

 
Artist: Gain

Song: “Apple (ft. Jay Park)”

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/g/gain-album-2015-200x200.jpg

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List Number: 15

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Gain
“Apple (ft. Jay Park)”

Brown Eyed Girls’ Gain has always been known to flirt with controversial topics in her solo music, primarily having to do with female sexuality. On Hawwah, she explores the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden from a particularly feminist perspective, with “Apple” specifically confronting Original Sin. Over a sample-filled, jazzy dance beat, Gain’s breathy vocals portray Eve eating the apple as a woman embracing pleasure and temptation on her own terms. The darker “Paradise Lost”, released simultaneously as a single, may be the better-produced, more interesting track, but “Apple” stands out as more fun and memorable.

 
Artist: Big Bang

Song: “Loser”

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List Number: 14

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Big Bang
“Loser"

It has been essentially three years since Big Bang properly released music, though, through their individual solo careers, they’ve remained one of—if not the—most popular boy band in K-pop. So when they announced that they would be putting out new music this year, expectations were high. Released two songs at a time each month throughout the summer, MADE was ultimately a bit of a letdown. The first track of the set, though, “Loser”, stands out, despite its laid-back, mid-tempo presentation. The self-deprecating lyrics are surprising for a group as popular as Big Bang, but the immaculate production and catchy hook make the song particularly successful.

 
Artist: Apink

Song: “Remember”

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List Number: 13

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Apink
“Remember"

Much of the appeal of K-pop, outside of the saturated colors and high-precision choreography, is the complexity of the music itself, or at least its willingness to experiment with structure and harmony in ways far beyond mainstream Western pop. Apink’s “Remember” is a perfect example of this. As a follow up to last year’s smash “LUV”, which was admittedly fairly straightforward, “Remember” stands out even more for its odd two-part, two-key chorus and blending of ‘90s house and wistful pop ballad melodies. Throughout the song, Apink pleads, “Do you remember?” but never receive an answer. The constant key changes build anxiety as the frustration grows while waiting for a response that will never come. This kind of interplay between the music and lyrics distinguishes “Remember” as an expertly crafted pop song.

 
Artist: MFBTY

Song: “Bang Bang Diggy Bang”

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List Number: 12

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MFBTY
“Bang Bang Diggy Bang"

MFBTY—or “My Fans Better Than Yours”—is a super group of three major South Korean rappers: Bizzy, Tiger JK, and Yoon Mi-rae. The album that resulted from their collaboration, however, is surprisingly pop-oriented. It’s an eclectic collection of varying styles and influences, but all focused into fun, dance records. The lead single, “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” pulls from Hindustani music, building the beat around tabla rhythms. Tiger JK told PopMatters, “I stumbled onto some Konnakol, the Indian art of performing percussion syllables vocally, almost like scat singing…What got me really intrigued is that I found words that were similar to Korean, and it made perfect sense. [I heard phrases that mean] “bob your head” and “jump around.” So we just took the part that sounded Korean and started it from there.” The result is an exciting dance track that acts as a great introduction to the super group’s collaboration.

 
Artist: Wonder Girls

Song: “I Feel You”

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List Number: 11

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Wonder Girls
“I Feel You"

Like Big Bang, it’s been a long time since Wonder Girls have put out music together. With Sumni on indefinite hiatus from the group and Sunye leaving the group, followed by Sohee earlier this year, it felt likely that they would never release music again. But rather than letting the project die, Wonder Girls came back with one of the most impressive K-pop albums of all time. Reboot is one of the few K-pop albums to adhere to a cohesive sonic palette, something typically avoided by groups in favor of stylistic eclecticism. The album explores ‘80s synth pop of the cheesiest variety. “I Feel You” is filled with big synth hooks and bigger gated drums. Though ‘80s revival is currently common in Western pop, Wonder Girls were the first to fully commit to the style in K-pop. The result is a truly charming piece of pop that easily rivals their previous classics.

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