Welcome to Kpopalypse’s 30 favourite k-pop songs of 2017! Let’s take a look at the songs that Kpopalypse enjoyed the most in 2017!
People keep asking me how I felt about 2017 as a year in k-pop, song-quality wise. The answer is – it honestly wasn’t great. The twin snakes Hwasnake and Hyosnake may have been finally purged from the Korean pop music industry, but the other twin snakes of R&B and tropical shithouse still managed to conspire to ruin much of what was fun and exciting in Korea’s idol pop music scene. However even in these dark times there were still songwriters and groups who managed to either work with existing trends successfully, or forge a completely different path to greatness, and here are the results – my favourite songs from 2017! Please enjoy this list!
A quick run-down of the eligibility criteria for those of you unfamiliar with Kpopalypse lists and how they work, not that anyone in a rush to complain about my writing ever reads these preambles:
- Songs are from 1st January 2017 to 31st December 2017, this list was published on 31st December 2017 but may appear earlier for some readers due to timezones.
- Feature tracks only (released with a music video, or featured on live stages) – I don’t consider non-featured album tracks because to do a completely fair list with album tracks included I’d have to listen to every album track by every group over the entire year to make a definitive list that meets Kpopalypse standards and I just don’t have time/money/patience for this.
- OST songs are not eligible, although I did cover two that I really liked in my 2017 honourable mentions list, which includes more songs that just missed out on inclusion in this post.
- Any song specifically made for a sporting or festive event is not eligible. Christmas songs have their own list each year, and sport songs are best ignored completely for the good of humanity.
- These are just my personal opinions on what songs I liked the most, factors like chart success, cultural relevance, fandom popularity and even attractiveness don’t factor into this list.
- People from other countries trying to enter k-pop are eligible, as are k-pop people attempting “overseas advancement”.
- Sometimes I miss the days of 2012 when precisely 20 people clicked on my blog for the entire year (and most of those clicks were probably me). I could put up a list like this and nobody gave a fuck, it was great. Nowadays if I dare to post an opinion and if it’s not all sunshine and lollipops everybody loses their shit (even about this list, let alone the worst-of list!). You are entitled to disagree, I’m not saying my opinions are better than yours or anyone else’s, because they are not. I have an extensive musical and technical audio background but this doesn’t mean that I’m “more right”, because liking and disliking music is really a matter of brain chemistry and socialisation which obviously varies wildly from one individual to the next. People like different things and that’s fine. My lists are just what I think about music and should be consumed for entertainment purposes only, and maybe also for you to discover or be reminded about some songs you might like (or not). Most of all, the opinions I have on song preference certainly shouldn’t ever be considered an “authority” of any sort.
- Some people have a problem with the tone that I write with. That’s fine, you’re allowed to have a problem with it, you fucking crybaby. Why the people who hate my writing style continue to torture themselves by reading my utter bullshit however is absolutely beyond my understanding. There are plenty of other blogs out there who write in a tone that you should find more agreeable. In the meantime, Kpopalypse blog is not going to change, and you know this, so why are you really here?
- On the other hand, if this list is bothering you with its incredible sunny positivity (improbable but technically possible), you may wish to check out the worst songs of 2017 list for your yearly dose of cynicism, bitterness and shit music.
That’s enough of the preamble, let’s get on with the favourites list!
Kpopalypse’s 30 favourite k-pop songs of 2017
30. Bolbbalgan4 – Fix Me
There were plenty of musical surprises for me in 2017 and here’s the first one. A group that I never thought would ever compose anything of worth was Bolbbalgan4 (aka Bolbbalgan Puberty aka Bolbbalgan Sachungi, etc etc) who have in previous years always been the epitome of boring “indie” coffee-shop crap as surely as 10cm or Urban Zakapa. That all changed when Bolbbalgan4 released their “Red Diary” album and it surprised me by having some pretty good songs on it, even if every single song on that album is essentially the same fucking three notes sung in slightly different orders with different speed keyboards and guitar in the background. Best of all the songs on that mini-album is “Fix Me” which encapsulates everything good about the newer, perkier Bolbbalgan4, with bright melodies and a pleasing harmonic texture complete with some bell-shit doing a counterpoint which is smooth enough to not wake Korea’s office shut-ins during their after-hours nap while still conveying enough urgency to technically be classified as a piece of music rather than a collection of ambient drones. These girls know exactly what the fuck they’re doing (especially that shorter woman who is the brains behind all the songwriting), and even managed to look the part to astonishing effect with the white uniforms and knowing, shit-eating grins that just scream “we know about your nurse fetish, we promise to pretend to love you, now buy our song you fucking incel“. No wonder Bolbbalgan4 got so fucking huge in Korea and beat out your precious oppars for all those stupid awards nobody with a life gives a fuck about.
29. Odd Eye Circle (Loona) – Loonatic
The majority of the songs from all Loona-related projects performed way above average in 2017. I’m not sure why this is, but I wonder if maybe the agency’s parent company having access to all those weapons means that they’re able to freely extort songwriters out of their best material. Who cares though as long as it works, and it certainly worked for Odd Eye Circle who were given one of k-pop’s more unusual songs. The all-English language is not normal for k-pop, but what’s even more strange about “Loonatic” is that the vocals are buried back in the mix somewhat, allowing layers of guitar, keyboards and drums to take over the sonic field. The effect starts off subtle but after about a minute of listening “Loonatic” comes across almost like a sped-up, poppified My Bloody Valentine, especially once you add the quirky mispronunciations – “we’re getting closer” in the chorus sounds just like “where chemicals are” (try unhearing this now) which perhaps is a reference to their agency’s stashed WMDs, or maybe just a reference to whatever drugs were being consumed in the studio at the time. Whatever they were, I think Odd Eye Circle should share them around a bit, as I wouldn’t mind hearing a few other groups venture in this musical direction.
28. Akdong Musician – Dinosaur
AKMU’s Chanhyuk fooled us all with his fucking nerd-act, cosplaying as the sensitive quirky shy kid and then flipping the tables, enlisting in the South Korean army and joining the hardcore crazy motherfucking marines unit. This guy who is pretending at the start of this video he can’t even ride a fucking bicycle is probably breaking North Korean necks while smoking cigars and bench-pressing car bodies as I write this. Meanwhile Suhyun suddenly transformed from the ugliest girl in k-pop to the most attractive, which I actually predicted, but it was still a shock to see it happen so quickly, and I’m really happy that she did it all without the help of the Gangnam fairy because fuck that shit. AKMU themselves also flipped the musical tables, augmenting their acoustic sound with tropical house but unlike everyone else who attempted this style, they amped up the drum machine program and let Suhyun actually sing the part that would normally be give to some toot-toot squirt-squirt machine to do. Normally that would be unwelcome because the one solitary benefit of the tropical shithouse style is that the incessant keyboard solos provide a bit of a break in the singing, but here it works just fine anyway because we actually have a catchy walking-on-air melody for the solo part that doesn’t just sound like the usual random tinkering “let’s just play any note fuck it” that most groups do. It’s incredible what a songwriter can do with even the most hackneyed of genres if they spend more than five minutes writing the thing. Anyway thanks to “Dinosaur” AKMU have now completely redeemed themselves from their shit early songs and all is forgiven. Chanhyuk please don’t kick my ass with your 1337 marine skillz when you get back from Pohang kthx.
27. Yoona – When The Wind Blows
Did I say 2017 was a year of musical surprises? “When The Wind Blows” is not only a ballad, but a ballad by SM Entertainment who are notoriously bad at ballads, and what’s more it’s an acoustic-guitar driven ballad, featuring Yoona of all people, who is officially the most boring woman currently active in k-pop according to Kpopalypse. Mathematically, this should be the dullest k-pop song ever created, and yet somehow it’s on the favourites list. How did this occur? Well that open-string acoustic guitar riff that’s driving the song is all-killer no-filler, both busy enough to carry the song and be interesting just on its own yet subtle enough not to overtake anything else, so that’s a good start. Secondly is Yoona herself, who obviously can barely sing her way out of a fucking paper bag, so her vocals are expertly tweaked, layered and harmonised by the engineer, and delivered with plenty of space between the lines to let Yoona compose herself between phrases and let the backing track do the talking. (If you think I’m full of shit, ask yourself why there are no live versions of the full song anywhere.) Add in a bit of dynamics and a double-time beat as the song progresses and you have a recipe for k-pop ballad success. It’s honestly as musically beautiful as Yoona’s face is boring, and that’s high praise indeed.
26. A.C.E – Callin’
New leg-fetish-friendly boy group A.C.E dropped two very similar-sounding songs in 2017, “Callin'” and “Cactus“. Both are quality punchy upbeat songs which feature odd gabber techno breakdowns and they’re very similar in a lot of ways but “Callin'” is the better one because of a slightly superior chorus and less tropical shithouse influence. The countermelody provided by the 8-bit synth pads in the chorus really make this song work and even if the rest of it was a bit shit it’d probably still have rated fairly highly for me just for the interest that those great keyboard riffs provide. Did I also mention that thirsty Kpopalypse readers with a preference for male eye candy (which is a lot of you) thought that the A.C.E boys were thicc enough to get recognition as prime fap material, with two of them positioning high in my best legs poll for 2017 and beating out long-time favourites despite the fact that hardly anybody even knows who they are? Let’s hope that A.C.E continue to do well in 2018 because there really weren’t enough boy groups bringing the hard dance tracks this year, and also if they disband I think all my readers who begged for a “best legs” list will cry tears of blood.
25. Nada – Trippin’
If k-pop artists are going to do that fucking shit yolo swig sweg swag crap, at least they should do it like Nada does it here. While clearly using trap as the starting point, “Trippin'” soon morphs until it sounds like nothing else anywhere, including nothing else by producer Jared Lee Gosselin, who launches Nada right off the edge of CL and Keith Ape’s turf and almost into Squarepusher territory. This is a song that is 100% carried by the sonic choices and production, whatever Nada is saying over the top doesn’t really matter as long as it sounds tough enough to mesh with the backing track, which it surely does. If anything this type of song would fit CL even better than it fits Nada, who comes off just the tiniest fraction too underweight and twerk-friendly for the material, but it doesn’t really end up mattering much when that fucking amazing drop comes slicing in and melts everything around it. This is Kpopalypse’s “big speaker” recommendation for 2017 and I strongly suggest that you turn this up as loud as possible for maximum effect.
24. Loona 1/3 – Love & Live
We didn’t really get the killer outstanding track from Lovelyz in 2017 that I was hoping we might, however it didn’t end up mattering as Loona 1/3 (the first third of already-debuted girls that will eventually make up the twelve-piece girl group Loona) came out with a song that has Lovelyz’ sonic signature written all over it. “Love & Live” doesn’t have a chord structure or breakdown as artful and compelling as “Ah-Choo” but it’s still clearly written in the same spirit and will do nicely until Lovelyz rediscover their form. It’s also worth noting that while “Love & Live” isn’t a song for a specific sporting event, the music video does contain sport content (the dreaded relay race, every childhood sport-hater’s nightmare) which means I should be heavily biased against it due to PTSD from getting shat on by relay teams in high school who were pissed off that I couldn’t hand over the baton correctly but the song was good enough to allow me to ignore this and it won me over anyway. (Hey relay team, I threw the baton in the creek FYI.)
23. Jerastar – The Dream In Dreams
I was having a conversation the other day about k-pop, because some people were asking me why I like it, which is a fairly natural thing for people to ask given that I hardly fit the typical k-pop fan demographic. My answer for complete k-pop noobs is that while Sturgeon’s Law applies to k-pop as it does to everything else in the creative realm, when k-pop is good it’s often because it’s getting the best elements out of pop songs that worked in the past and reinventing them with snappier production and melodic sensibility into something new. The vocal style here was criticised by k-pop’s hordes of technique-obsessed idiots with this song came out, but the signing is heavily reminiscent of 1980s Kate Bush and that’s no doubt completely deliberate. It fits perfectly over the backing track which is pure 1980s western guitar pop with the same type of sounds but more subtle and carefully layered than the often dull and effects-drenched originals from back in the day. The overall effect is even better than the 1980s originals it’s imitating, and since I started listening to k-pop I don’t actually miss my old 7-inch collection at all, not that it was much of a collection anyway, I think I only had one, because when 7″ singles were in vogue I was too young and poor to buy them. One day my mother asked me what song I wanted on 7″ and I picked Animotion’s “Obsession“, which in retrospect isn’t too bad a song I guess but “The Dream In Dreams” is a hell of a lot better than that. Fuck, I had no taste when I was a kid.
22. Uza – Suitable
“Suitable” unfortunately doesn’t have a music video at all, and that’s a shame because it’s so great and more people should really be listening to this song. Hence, I’ve included the studio version from Uza’s official channel, plus a live version for those of you who struggle with short attention spans and looking at a static screen on YouTube. If you wanted to, you could press play on both and try to syncronise the visual in the second clip with the audio in the first clip and get a “music video” of sorts that way. Anyway onto the song itself and it’s another great, subtle minimalist piece that really turned heads when I played it on the Kpopalypse radio show. It probably wouldn’t stick out in the usual western “progressive music” playlists that most of my radio peers do, but when surrounded by k-pop’s constant high-production barrage (which is what my show is made up of most weeks more often than not), this kind of stripped back moody synth-driven track really stands out as something special. Uza is a pretty cool multi-instrumentalist and singer who is way better on average than whatever bullshit most k-pop fans probably listen to and could I reckon use your support so maybe you should follow her YouTube channel and Twitter page to enhance the quality of your life, or you could even buy the motherfucking song, it’s only a dollar, that’s cheaper than a fucking chocolate bar these days so why not follow my example and give Uza some cash, do it caonimas.
21. April – Take My Hand
Then there are songs where the production is overblown as fuck but they work anyway so it’s okay. There’s so much musically going on in April’s “Take My Hand” that it takes about ten listens just to even hear everything. There’s not a single moment beyond the 20 second mark where there aren’t at least two (but usually three or four) countermelodies all happening at once. The harmony starts off pretty basic but soon we’re into constantly shifting chords and modulations with even more layered instruments, and it starts to become a thing of wonder that the producers managed to squeeze all of this into a pop song structure and actually make it work. For a genre that is mainly aimed at tweens it’s a lot of effort to go to, and it probably happens because these companies realise that there’s a few music nerds like me who also listen to this shit. People who criticise pop music have the perception that there’s nothing to it, and there’s all these jokey videos out there showing people “look how easy it is to write a pop song” and sure – it’s actually dead easy to write a pop song, but it’s really hard to write a pop song that doesn’t suck. Why do you think so many people struggle to do it well. I might rip shit on a lot of people in my reviews but think about how there’s a huge industry that’s been around for decades devoted to getting this type of stuff exactly right and they still manage to fuck it up over 90% of the time. Whoever wrote this for April is a fucking genius and could probably solve global warming in a week if they wanted.
20. B.I.G – 1,2,3
People think my lists are trolling sometimes but I promise you they’re not – I want to see all your favourite groups here as much as you do, it’s not my fault that they don’t have a song to save themselves lately. With all the hype coming out of BTS, I would have expected a song of this quality to emerge from them eventually but no, the best thing BTS could squeeze out this year was a limp, paper-thin copy of Block B Bastarz. On the other hand we get this great song from B.I.G, a group have put out some absolutely gobsmackingly terrible shit over the last few years and certainly the very last boy group that I expected to turn up in this list. But that’s the thing about my favourite songs lists, they defy even my own expectations all the time because I’m interested in one thing and one thing only – song quality. The way the k-pop system works, almost any group can be given a good song at any time, and there’s nothing stopping any one of your faves from potentially getting in this list. If B.I.G had started off their career with this type of punchy, upbeat catchy number instead of all that horrible trend-riding yolo crap they did years ago, then I would have been less surprised about “1,2,3” being excellent, but then I’m all for surprises as long as they’re positive. I’m not quite sure about that falsetto-ish vocal in the chorus and would have preferred to hear something a bit meatier there, but I’m not really one for caring about vocal choice too much and the song works well enough anyway regardless of how they’re singing it. In fact I would be cool with a death metal growl version and someone should totally do a cover of it like that and send it to me.
19. Twice – Signal
Most of Twice’s hit songs so far have been written by Black Eyed Pilseung, but for “Signal” JYP took the reigns instead and the result surprised a lot of people but is kind of what you would expect if you know how he prefers to write songs. JYP has always been in favour of sparse and slightly retro production and Signal bops along with the same kind of bouncy textures that pushed a lot of the Wonder Girls’ better songs to greatness… once it gets going. The first 30 seconds or so of the song is a bit of a waste of time, but that’s okay – once all the crap is over and done with it doesn’t really intrude again to any great extent until the very finish, and the main body of the song is largely left alone to jjirit jjirit in peace. All the online complainers and the resulting “fan rearrangement” missed the point, actually making the song far worse by moving the annoying intro stuff into a post-second chorus breakdown, homogenising the structure and breaking the flow of the song right when it should be peaking. The song is far better the way it was originally written and in the end the chart success of “Signal” had the final word. “Signal” is Twice’s “Gee” moment, a quirky k-pop anomaly that works brilliantly despite its own glaring flaws due to having enough catchiness to get over the line and then some, and arguably the kind of song that only a Big 3 label can really get away with, because only they have enough promotional muscle to let one-eyed k-pop fans even notice that cool shit like this actually exists at all.
18. Chaboom – Lord Of The Flies
Korean rap track of the year goes to this person who I’ve never heard of and most likely neither have you, unless you remember this song from Kpopalypse roundup earlier this year. The bleak-sounding ambient droning is fantastic, but more importantly Chaboom didn’t forget the beat, which rocks instead of being pussy trap garbage like everything else in hip-hop now. I have a theory about why decent hip-hop beats have fallen sharply out of vogue in the last fifteen years, I think it’s because so many people now listen to rap music on tiny phone and laptop speakers that aren’t capable of reproducing the beat properly anyway, so to them it doesn’t matter. I have no idea what Chaboom is saying over the top (“Kpopalypse is a faggot bitch”, maybe) but it’s obviously some “real life shit” as he says at the start because he’s nearly as fucking old as I am and he’s not even dressed for the occasion, in fact the entire cast seems to have turned up to this video in their daggy weekend op-shop casual wear. Also instead of the cool sports cars and SUVs other rappers pose against as if they own them when they’re obviously just rentals, these guys all have the same 1980/1990s shitboxes that they no doubt drive every day to their boring jobs packing boxes on shelves and changing coffee machine filters. It has to be a thankless task in Korea actually making real hip-hop music, let’s show Chaboom lots of love and support so he can afford to get the timing belt changed on that Hyundai stationwagon.
17. Nine Muses – Remember
Remember when the only relevant nine-member girl group in k-pop lost a bunch of members and we were all worried about their future? Remember all the media speculation at the time, and our collective sense of relief when they then kept keeping on and we still got some good tracks out of them? Well, here they are again with another great song and I’m not sure how many members they’re down to now, they might perhaps hit negative numbers soon with the way that they’re going, but “Remember” would be a great song to remember them by if they do indeed fall apart soon. The most notable aspect of this song is that Nine Muses actually get the tempo changes right here, an aspect that songwriters for certain other once-nine-member groups have always struggled with. It’s hard to imagine this song went over all that well commercially, or even that this was the intention – surely the brains behind this group have given up completely trying to crack the charts by now and are just content with giving these girls whatever the fuck is they want them to do as long as they look good enough in the videos to pick up the odd bit of modelling work. Not giving a fuck about the commercial potential of a song is often how the best music is made anyway so maybe that’s why this song is so much better than anything any other once-nine-member girl groups have put out in half a decade.
16. Gfriend – Summer Rain
At the start it’s not exactly clear what’s musically going to happen in “Summer Rain”, but as soon as that umbrella hits the ground and the beat kicks in, the statement is made – “we’re in Gfriend territory bitches” – and you pretty much know exactly how the song is going to sound after that. Gfriend clearly aren’t planning to mix up their formula a great deal from now on, and in a k-pop world where most groups are doing trend-riding garbage, a bit of deliberately regressive songwriting to balance everything out is in fact just what the doctor ordered. You can’t really say it’s “Girls’ Generation’s sound” either though, because Girls’ Generation never really touched on anything quite this overtly melancholy, at least not as an upbeat feature track instead of some album filler junk. Gfriend are using that early SNSD template over and over without a doubt, but they’re pushing it in slightly different directions each time, including some directions that SNSD themselves never really bothered with. The result is worthwhile in the same way that “Seasons In The Abyss” doesn’t quite sound like “Dead Skin Mask” but they’re still both fuckin’ Slayer so it’s okay, and likewise this song doesn’t quite sound like “Love Whisper” but both songs are great and “Summer Rain” is that little bit better just because there’s a little bit more going on that’s interesting. I like innovation in pop and I think it should be encouraged, but I’ll still take a not very adventurous good song over an innovative bad song any day. There’s nothing wrong with ordering a pizza and actually getting a pizza.
15. Sonamoo – I (Knew It)
Speaking of being completely regressive, Sonamoo’s songwriters have basically taken miss A’s “Good Bye Baby“, changed the words, altered the rhythm, fancied up the melody and added a bit of a flamenco feel to it. If you’re not sure about this, try listening to one song directly after the other and see if you notice anything. It’s not something to get up in arms about, and in fact if anything it should be commended as I’m all for groups doing reworks and trying to improve on a formula, especially if the result is songs as good as this one. I’m undecided about whether I like Sonamoo’s result more or less than the miss A song but they’re both fucking good songs in their own right so I don’t really give a crap anyway. Sonamoo have always been one of k-pop’s forgotten B-list groups and it’s good to hear them finally do a song that isn’t total bullshit, so I’d be absolutely cool if they did this same kind of makeover to a few more k-pop Golden Age classics instead of whatever bullshit their agency usually makes them do. Or maybe now that miss A are no longer around we can change Sonamoo’s name to miss B and JYP can write “Touch” part 2 for them, I’d be completely cool with that.
14. Rania – Breathe Heavy
“Breathe Heavy” has a lot musically in common with some of the other “surprise” entries on this list, but I’d be lying if I said that I was surprised that I liked this. Rania having good songs is actually no surprise to me at all, as their track record for decent material is actually far better than most groups. The common elements that the song has with some of this list’s other entries are space in the mix, and an instrumental that drives the song rather than the vocal lines. The chorus is actually the worst part of the song, but is really nothing much other than a segue into that fantastic sample-pitched riff, which is made from similar building blocks to tropical house but is lower, slower and meatier, almost a doom metal riff without the guitars. The result comes off like a darker (and better) version of Hyomin’s “Sketch“, as well as one of k-pop’s very rare decent downtempo songs.
13. UV & Shindong – Marry Man
“Marry Man” is definitely the best song to come from UV since “Itaewon Freedom“, and features similar retro style and melodic smarts. “Marry Man” also features Shindong, who has never looked fatter, or more iconic. Just like the original Piggy Dolls who were filmed binging on pizza as part of their debut concept, Shindong knows he’s a fatass and is ready and willing to laugh at himself, flaunting it all the way through the video, with gut-bumping dance moves and that silly breakdown where he falls on his ass. What this says about the politics of k-pop, health and body image and whether it’s a good or a bad thing I’ve got no fucking idea, but then I don’t care really because if you take away all the comedic fatty stuff the song is still some quality synth pop. Besides, some of you people proved that you are into a bit of chunk and probably got off on this video, so it’s good to know that Kpopalypse isn’t the only k-pop fan with chubby-chaser tendencies. At least I’ll finally have some good visuals to use for the next objectification survey when Shindong inevitably charts high again.
12. Elris – We, First
The latest group to try and be Apink and actually do it a lot better than Apink ever managed is Elris, and their debut song “We, First” is packed with so many great melodies that it’s impossible to pick a favourite. It’s easy to pick a favourite girl though, Hyeseong looks dorky as fuck and even has those fucked-up Japanese adult video teeth, and for anyone who thinks that’s an inappropriate thought to have about a group like this, check the fucking lyrics and then tell me with a straight face that this is definitely not a song about overcoming first-time nerves when entering the JAV industry. They’ve certainly left it open enough to interpretation, no doubt deliberately. Anyway back to the song and it’s as generic as can be but like Gfriend, Apink and a ton of other groups who also try this type of “innocent” (ahem) song, cookie-cutter doesn’t necessarily mean bad, especially in 2017 where the trends have been very much against this type of tune. After some pointless intro wank, at the one-minute mark the song explodes with colour and melody and nothing about it from that point on is bad. For some reason I have a reputation for being against these “cute, innocent” songs in k-pop but that’s bullshit, in fact I really like it when it’s done right, and “We, First” is done about as right as they come.
11. Momoland – Wonderful Love
Momoland’s song is maybe just a little less dog-whistley than what Elris brought to the table this year, but it’s also a little more good, featuring a fantastic anthemic chorus that isn’t leaving your head anytime soon after you hear it. I wasn’t so sure about this song at first, but it definitely grew on me, the real clincher being when I found myself signing the chorus melody to myself ages after listening to it without even being able to remember what song it actually was or who sung it. There I was, spending nearly a fucking month sifting through tons of k-pop tracks thinking to myself “what the fuck was that song?” and pulling out both of the last two hairs on my head I had left. That’s always the sign of a great song and I felt pretty good when I found the damn thing again. If you’re in a similar situation and you have a song stuck in your head from earlier this year and you don’t know what the fuck it is, maybe have a listen because this song is probably it.
10. Shannon Williams – Hello
The problem with having a pop song sung by such a technically perfect vocalist as Shannon Williams is that only maybe three people living today can successfully sing along to the melody that she’s presenting. If Shannon was playing this song outdoors in some huge 10,000 seater stadium like the ones T-ara play at in Mongolia, and decided to do a “let’s stop the music and let the crowd sing along to the chorus on their own” moment, it would just be one big fucking failboat – the crowd chants would quickly devolve into a mess as nobody could do it. What this means is that for a R&B-influenced song such as Shannon’s “Hello” to work as a “catchy” pop song, the part that hooks you in needs to be moved to somewhere else besides the vocal. The songwriter has thus cleverly moved the real focus of the song away from the vocals and onto the bass guitar, letting the pulsing eighth-note rhythm drive the important parts of the song, and also deliberately giving the bass the odd unexpected non-root note to play in order to contrast the melody and grab the ear. Suddenly it doesn’t matter that much what Shannon sings over the top as long as it’s in key, just like it doesn’t matter that much that she’s rocking an awful third-album Britney Spears-esque look here that just doesn’t suit her whatsoever because
she still has great tiNOPE NOPE NOPE MUST NOT THINK THE BAD THOUGHTS. Did I mention that Shannon seems like a really nice person and I’m sure she’d have a lot of interesting things to say if she ever wanted to do an interview with Kpopalypse, in the meantime I think that you should support this great song, yes you should.
9. Teen Top – Love Is
And the boy band song of 2017 is motherfucking TEEN TOP, seriously, who the fuck picked that at the start of the year outside of the group’s own one-eyed fandom? Certainly not me – Teen Top have been complete rubbish through at least 90% of their relatively long career with their only other song approaching even half-decent being 2012’s Bravesound-produced “To You” (and even that was made redundant by Bravesound writing a better version of the same song for Speed a few months later). Never mind the past though, “Love Is” kills all the boy group competition for 2017 with a punchy backing track, a Roly Poly chord progression (that’s i-VI-III-VII for you music theory nerds) and sensible pop-song backings with an absolute bare minimum of trendy bullshit. Even the somewhat questionable vocal overdubs near the end of the track can’t ruin this great song. You’ve got to hand it to Teen Top for persistence and high determination levels, they will probably never be an A-list group at this point unless they start suckling at the teat of one of those crappy boy-band reject competition shows (and for all I know they’re doing that already because I don’t follow that bullshit), but honestly I couldn’t give any fucks about anything like that, because those shows for some reason never generate any songs quite as good as this.
8. Gfriend – Fingertip
Gfriend finally throw off their “debut SNSD sound” shackles for good. Okay, just kidding, they didn’t really. “Fingertip” actually follows the usual Gfriend arrangement and structure to the letter, with all the usual instrumental breaks and vocal segues happening at their usual times, the only thing that’s really changed here is a bit more of a commitment to guitar and keyboard riffs to drive the song. It sure makes a hell of a difference to the final product though, with Gfriend nearly reaching Dreamcatcher levels of heaviness. It also has the side-effect of making the group look fantastically awkward, it’s not possible to look at someone like Eunha deliver this sort of pop-metal thing with her cute bob and prissy look without feeling like I’m watching Taylor Swift playing guitar in Cannibal Corpse. Of course Taylor Swift playing guitar in Cannibal Corpse would be as awesome for me as it would be annoying for everyone else, so it’s little surprise that Gfriend never went back to this particular sound even though I loved it, but that’s okay, what they normally do isn’t as far removed from this as it appears anyway.
7. Rania – Beep Beep Beep
Unless one-time African-American member Alexandra Reid ever consents to Kpopalypse Interview, we’ll probably never know the whole truth about how heavily Rania’s label Dr. Music fucked her over, or exactly how unfair their treatment of her was during her brief time in the group. However the fact that they retitled the group “Black Pearl Rania” (no I’m not joking, that is what the BP in the title actually meant) doesn’t bode well, as it stinks of “oh my god look it’s a black person, my oh my how exotic” superficial tokenism that seems at least as horrible as Chocolat’s agency’s bizarre marketing plan of having an all-biracial group and then trying their hardest to bully the cultural individuality out of them. However strange their agency might be about all sorts of decisions (not just Alex-related) and regardless of what skullduggery went on behind the scenes, at least they consistently got Rania’s music right, most of the time. Rania are no strangers to Kpopalypse’s yearly top 30 lists, and while “Beep Beep Beep” admittedly wastes a lot of its running length doing not much of worth, it also has a seriously explosive chorus driven by some fantastic ABBA-influenced close-harmony vocal parts that completely redeem all the other crap the song gets up to. If I were Alex I’d be livid as hell – not about getting my rap parts chopped out of this, but about getting completely cut out of one of the truly great choruses in k-pop. At least they could have let her hit a fucking tambourine or something, fuck.
6. Dreamcatcher – Good Night
Dreamcatcher used to be a group called Minx, and Minx were an excellent group who had a great version of Dal Shabet’s “Love Shake” as well as “Why Did You Come To My Home?” which were both fantastic songs. When I heard about Minx adding more members and changing their sound completely, I was worried – would it work? Why fix what isn’t broken? I needn’t have worried as Dreamcatcher turned out to be some kind of heavy metal/pop hybrid that I would call j-pop inspired if only j-pop actually ever did anything this good, which they never do. “Good Night” is heavy with the guitars but equally heavy with the catchiness, layered backings and pop concessions, creating a song that has enough guitar and drum pyrotechnics to give the metalheads a knowing nod but probably isn’t going to alienate any pure pop fans too much. Having said that part of the appeal of Dreamcatcher right now is that nobody else in k-pop is doing this sound, and while I doubt Dreamcatcher is going to be starting any trends, I hope they stick with their current path and don’t add another six members and turn into a brass big band next year. The girls are down with the current concept too, so who knows, maybe that k-pop/death metal concept we’re all craving is a lot closer than we think. I guess if the current Dreamcatcher is possible in the ultra-conservative ultra-timid world of k-pop, so is probably just about anything.
5. Oh My Girl – Coloring Book
There’s a specific style of k-pop music production which I don’t actually have a proper name for yet, but that I loosely refer to as “screechy bullshit”. Songs that fit this category include the first few songs that Twice came out with, T-ara’s “Yayaya“, LaBoum’s “Shooting Love“, every feature track by Pristin so far, and quite a few others, including some previous songs by Oh My Girl, and they all pretty much have the same issues. The reason why is that the usual k-pop electronic backings aren’t actually the best type of accompaniment to a bunch of young girls gathered around a microphone in a circle all screaming their tits off in time to the beat, because the instruments tend to get swallowed up by all the chanting, so the result always seems to be missing something. “Yayaya” tried to solve the issue by amping up the backing wall-of-noise electro textures to industrial-strength levels, but failed to produce a compelling result as the pop song melody all went out the window. “Coloring Book” fixes the problem correctly by using a brass band as loud and rambunctious as the girls themselves, which also allows the melody to stay pretty much intact while the song rockets along at a fast pace, because you can’t really do much with a brass instrument that isn’t melodic. The result is like Royal Crown Revue did cocaine and helium at the same time, and if that sounds like an awesome time to you, it sounds like an awesome time to me too. Also, I want to see some drum covers of this, all you k-pop loving drummers out there, get to work!
4. S.I.S – I’ve Got A Feeling
I don’t know who the fuck these nugus are and you can tell nobody else does either because all the comments on the video on YouTube are about some random guy who is in it and not the girls, but they have one girl in the group who is super-cute. Someone told me a while back that I prefer “chipmunk” faces and I’d never thought about it before it was mentioned to me, but I’m definitely guilty as charged. The super-cutey in this group is Gaeul who has even more chipmunk-face than peak-era Orange Caramel Raina, and I know what you’re thinking but she’s actually 67 years old apparently so fuck off, all you whiners trying to strawman me as some kind of pedo just because I like girly pop music probably secretly fap to NCT Dream anyway. Anyway onto the song and it’s bloody brilliant, a simple anthemic four-chord wonder with a huge, soaring chorus that is just about as good as any chorus gets in k-pop, made even more effective by the dynamic contrast it has with the verses. Playing the quiet-verse loud-chorus card worked for Nirvana and The Pixies for all those years and it works here too. I’m sure someone will baulk at that comparison, but it’s all pop music at heart, and it doesn’t get that much better than this (although the next three songs down obviously do).
3. Bonusbaby – If I Become An Adult
Bonusbaby’s debut song “Urikuri” sounded like a fucking horrid j-disaster, because it had a basically uninteresting-as-fuck melody that Japanese pop songs always have coupled with a backing track that was about 15783 dB in volume lower than the actual singing, it was mixed so poorly that it might as well have been acapella. Fortunately the people behind this group managed to rectify both problems in time for their follow-up song “If I Become An Adult”, which is the same type of song but such a vast improvement over “Urikuri” both technically and musically that it doesn’t even sound like it’s coming from the same group of people. If you haven’t heard this song before, get ready for some great keyboard action, fast rhythm and melody plus harmony with more twists and turns than a Yoochun court case, while still remaining resolutely commercial pop as fuck. The end result sits somewhere between After School Blue’s “Wonder Boy” and Year 7 Class 1’s “Oppa Virus” in terms of both sonic aptitude and general tone, and that’s a good place for any song to be. The only thing that they didn’t get right is the visuals, the girls and backdrops look good enough but what the fuck is that dancing, seriously this has to be one of the most awkward dance routines in all of k-pop, it’s not as bad as A-Force’s Nazi goose step but it’s not that much better either. Let’s hope they see some success in 2018 and can afford an actual choreographer so they’re not forced to do a routine based on their grandmother’s line-dancing classes next time.
So. The next two songs I really liked. A lot. In fact, I would say that both of these songs are better than any #1 on any Kpopalypse list between 2012 and 2016. Because of this, I’m going to spend a roughly equal amount of time raving on about both of them. However, one is better than the other. Here’s #2:
2. Twice – Knock Knock
That’s right fuckheads, it’s fucking Twice. If you were expecting this, then well picked, but if you weren’t then I’m actually as surprised as you. Why is this song here? What gives? Am I just doing it for popularity because Twice is the biggest girl group in k-pop right now? Definitely not – as regular long-time readers will know, every #1 winner over the past five years has been either a B-list group or a complete nugu and I have no problem handing out accolades and general praise to people nobody has ever heard of if I think they’re deserved. I don’t give a fuck about how popular or unpopular Twice are, and I also don’t give a fuck how popular (or unpopular) I am. While approval from others is definitely nice and I do appreciate each and every one of my readers (even the haters), I write because I enjoy writing and that’s that, so how you’re going to react to Twice doing so well this year (or anything else about my writing, for that matter) ultimately means nothing to me. The list of the people who hate me grows every day and I have simply no fucks to give – the bottom line is that Twice just had a great fucking song this year. That’s all there is.
So let’s talk about that song, and the attributes that make it so special. Firstly, the song is fast, a positive that can’t be underestimated when every second comeback these days is mid-paced tropical shithouse or slow boring R&B crap. The “knock knock” refrain is cute and catchy, and is utilised in a few different ways, like dare I say it classical music where they’ll get a theme and do variations, but unlike classical music, the song actually sounds like fun, like the girls are having a good time. Remember fun, that thing you use to have with k-pop before you became a boring cunt and spent more time stanning your faves and caring about what some shit website thinks (maybe this one, but hopefully not) than actually listening to the music? Whether Twice are really having any fun or not, I don’t fucking know, they could be hating every second of this for all I know, but if it’s an illusion, which is likely, then it’s an illusion that remains intact. Next, the song has those Coldplayish guitars in it, but they’re not doing Coldplayish type of things but are instead working in the background helping the song to actually rock and adding extra melody and harmony in really cool ways that are not boring. There’s also that bell thing doing a second melody through the chorus so that’s pretty cool. The extended instrumental section before the breakdown is even cool, even though it unfortunately isn’t in the version on the album. And then, of course, there’s the singing. Any person who has ever complained about Twice’s vocals is a worthless vocalfaggot and should exit stage left out of k-pop right fucking now and reflect and return with a less fucktarded image. This is pop music and Twice’s vocals are perfect for pop music.
To break the last point down further for those who don’t understand, and also because there’s no such thing as too much Shannon Williams content on Kpopalypse blog, here’s the excerpt from the show where JYP lectured Shannon about her excessive reliance on technique. Relevant part is from 10 minutes in.
Shannon is crying because she’s no dummy, she gets it. She understands exactly what JYP is trying to tell her – that her trained technique is putting a barrier between her connecting emotionally with the song. Technique is only useful if it’s a means to an end, and if that end isn’t being achieved then it’s time to throw the technique away. Shannon of course has trouble doing this because she’s been so meticulously trained that perfect singing is now her comfort zone, so she struggles to shake it at times when it’s not appropriate. What JYP is telling her is that in pop music, perfect singing technique is not only unnecessary, it’s actually often an impediment to the song’s function. People who care overly about singing technique and spreading the ideology that singing “correctly” is good and anything else is “bad” are therefore actually doing damage to the music we all love.
I’ll leave this review with the above vocal/piano-only version of the fantastic “Knock Knock”. The song retains most of the characteristics that make it great in this version, and the wayward singing is part of the charm. When I listen to this recording, I feel like I’m right there, playing the piano with the girls around me, singing – the casual fun vibe and “hey it doesn’t really matter if we don’t hit the notes quite right as long as we convey the feel of the song” attitude is what it’s all about. The emotion of music that comes from a singer getting in touch with the feel of a song is part of what makes music worth listening to, and the correct feeling for “Knock Knock” isn’t “let’s be perfect” or “look how good I am at singing” but “let’s have fun“. That’s why there’s pillow-fights and snowball-fights in the video, and random yelling structured into the song. The quick-and-dirty piano/vocal above is capturing this too, partly because it’s so quick and dirty (but also because it’s a great song with so much of this fun element injected into it anyway), and as a result is probably ideologically the most important audio recording ever created by any k-pop artist over the last ten years. Any people who are addicted to “correct” singing should listen to the above recording daily until they finally are able to extract the fucking tampon out of their ass and get a clue.
So, if “Knock Knock” is #2, who is #1? Well, it’s…
1. Yves (Loona) – New
Wow, did Loona projects knock it right out of the park in 2017 or what. The Loona machine chugged along at a rapid pace in 2017 churning out all sorts of tracks, and they really didn’t have a single utter shit song with any of it. At worst the songs were competent but flawed, like the upbeat but too-screechy “Girl Front“, but when they hit gold, they really hit it. Twice may be the new Girls’ Generation, sweeping sales, awards and popularity contests, but Loona are the new T-ara in terms of song quality, and “New” is quite simply the best k-pop song since “Roly Poly“. So, why is the song so good?
It took a little while for me to figure out why I liked “New” so much. At first I thought perhaps it was the production lifting up an otherwise-average song, and there’s no doubt that the production here is masterful. “New” is a song driven by sparse, punchy 1980s style keyboard stabs in a short nu-metal style polyrhythm, with a few (but not too many) extra retro keyboard trimmings on top. I’d say that it sounds very 1980s but honestly it doesn’t quite, because this type of chord rhythm wasn’t really in vogue until the 1990s, by which time the actual 1980s sounds used in the song were actually very much out of fashion. I think it’s better that we get this song in 2017 where the songwriters can combine the 1980s textures with the 1990s rhythm in a way that never would have happened back then, and this is one of the reasons why k-pop does so much better than pop music from other countries overall (when it gets it right), it’s willing to mix and match retro elements from different eras more willingly than most western self-consciously “retro” experiments. Furthermore, any producer back in the 1980s would have swallowed up those chord progressions with way too much fucking reverb and bullshit because that was the trend of the day, so even if it did occur to them to use this type of rhythm it would have sounded like mush anyway probably. So there’s one reason for “New” being such a great song, but honestly 99% of k-pop is produced well these days, including almost every song on my worst list this year, so I thought to myself that it has to be more than that.
I started looking at the video for clues. Could it be that I was just attracted to the Sulli-esque charms of Yves and the video’s visual style? Well, the video is extremely well put together and her being pretty certainly doesn’t hurt, but then I could say all the same things about Chuu’s “Heart Attack” which has all of these elements plus even better production than “New” but I don’t like “Heart Attack” much at all. However I did notice something – in “New”, nothing is ever still. The camera in “New” is always deliberately in motion, speeding up during the climaxes and slowing down during quieter moments, but it never stops at any time. (This is actually a very common technique in music video making, the erratic tracking of NCT127’s “Cherry Bomb” and the constant circular swirling in Lovelyz’ “Destiny” are examples where constant physical movement of the camera is used specifically to complement the feel that the song itself is trying to get across.) The video also mirrors the lyrical themes of progression and self-mastery (with the apple being either a Biblical reference, or a reference to Newton, but representing knowledge and discovery in either case), and the visuals of “New” are always in forward motion. This is all well and good, but does it make the song any better? No, not really – but the video and the song certainly seemed thematically in-sync so I wondered if there was a way that the song musically fit into the theme of the rest of the package.
I got out an instrument and started analysing the harmony for “New” – it didn’t take long. The song has only four chords, and these are Am, Dm, Bb, F – this never changes. The backing becomes louder and softer, rhythm and melody are given greater or less emphasis, but the harmony is completely static. So using traditional music theory functional harmony which would determine the start of the four-chord sequence as the root of the song, that would translate to i-iv-bII-VI… which mathematically means the song is tonally in “A phrygian” mode? The melody fits this as well, however the song doesn’t even remotely have the flamenco-esque “modal” sound that is present in obvious phrygian-raised-3rd pieces such as Dick Dale & The Del Tones’ “Misirlou” or any number of thrash metal guitar solos. So if it’s not phrygian, what is it – minor or major? Perhaps the Am is an anacrusis (or hangover from the end of the previous four) and the Dm is the start of the sequence, meaning that in functional harmony the song is i-vi-III-v, but that doesn’t quite fit either, the song’s melody has a joyous sound which is much more in keeping with major tonality than minor. Now if we’re talking major scales, then this would mean that the true chord progression is iii-vi-IV-I, so in other words the root chord or the “home base” of the song is the F major which is the last chord in the sequence of four chords. I can’t think of another example off the top of my head in any commercial pop music anywhere that fucks with a four chord structure in this way by making you wait for the key harmony for the first three chords (I’m not talking about intros, I’m talking about simple chords in the body of the song). As a result, because the song takes that fucking long to resolve (a three chord wait before the root chord hits for the first time is an eternity in any pop song sequence, let alone one where those four chords are literally all there is) the song constantly feels like it’s on a forward journey. This harmonic movement actually forms the conceptual basis of the song itself which is then also manifested further by the churning rhythms, a melody that also rarely resolves by skating around the root more often than not, and also is then reflected lyrically as well as thematically with the music video. “New” actually surprised me by genuinely living up to its name and being a new, fresh sound – there simply isn’t another k-pop song remotely like this anywhere right now.
Please now enjoy this video compilation of the top 30 courtesy of k-pop YouTuber and dedicated caonima isaymyeolchigr:
Thank you all for reading this list, hopefully you found something to enjoy! Or if not, hopefully you at least found something to self-righteously complain about on your social media of choice! Kpopalypse will return with more posts in 2018!