Honourable and dishonourable mentions for 2021

It’s nearly the end of the year, and the best and worst songs of 2021 will be released soon!  In the meantime, welcome to the “honourable and dishonourable mentions” post – all the songs that didn’t quite get into the Kpopalypse end of year lists for 2021!

The following are all songs that were good, but not quite good enough to get into my 30 favourites list for 2021 (which will be published on 31st December).  There is also, below this, an equal amount of “dishonourable mentions”, songs that were quite bad, but not bad enough to hit my worst 30 songs of the year.  Please note:

  • Songs are sorted alphabetically by artist, not by order of preference
  • This list is feature tracks only, either with an MV, or that were promoted on music shows or released as a single
  • OST songs, songs for sporting events and Christmas songs are not eligible
  • This list is pure personal preference only, it does not factor in chart success, popularity, cultural relevance etc
  • Your opinions may (and probably will) differ, and that’s okay – my opinion is not important
  • If this post makes you mad, you definitely deserve it, sucks to be you dipshit

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

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Brave Girls – After We Ride

We should all be thankful to Brave Girls for finally living up to their debut hype from 1947 and releasing a really very good song, I knew they had it in them.   However, I’ll be honest with you – “After We Ride” very nearly didn’t make it on this list at all.  It’s definitely a song with flaws, the main one being the overbearing vocal layering which makes it a difficult listen at times.  Still, it gains points for being a great song that gets down to the point of producing melody and keeping the pace up without stupid drops, raps or other bullshit, and you’ll find this is a common theme for songs on these list, as I continue to revisit this theme and crap on about how awful trap breakdowns and misguided mid-song style-switching have scuttled the song-quality hopes of over 50% of all the year’s k-pop feature tracks.  Who would have thought ten years ago that the songwriter of A-Force’s “Wonder Woman” would be one coming through to help save 2021?

Cignature – Boyfriend

K-pop tends to subscribe to the production philosophy of “more is more“, so hearing something that sounds sparse is always a strange, jolting experience.  However unlike Rainbow’s “Black Swan“, which just sounded sparse but had a bunch of sneakily hidden detail, Cignature’s “Boyfriend” actually is sparse, with a ton of absolute emptiness all over the mix.  “Boyfriend” only contains the bare minimum elements that are needed to make the song work, and nothing more – the best moments of the song aren’t the climactic chorus all-ins, but the parts where the textures are pared right down to a vocal, a bassline, and almost nothing else at all.  Of course sparseness alone doesn’t make a song, and it wouldn’t work if the song’s melody wasn’t decently catchy, and fortunately the melody here is exactly what the song needs, and the song has the right chord changes at the right times to make it all happen (I always look forward to that I-iii on every fourth “boyfriend”).  It’s a good thing because otherwise “Boyfriend” would probably just end up in the worst lists like all of Cignature’s other botched songs.

Dreamcatcher – Eclipse

Dreamcatcher continue on their failed destiny of straddling the line somewhere between pop and metal, and at this point it’s quite clear that they’re never going to hit the right balance of heaviness and pop sensibility – if Happyface can’t get it right after this many cracks at it, they probably never will.   We still have all the usual problems like guitars too far back in the mix, too much space taken up with lame vocalising etc, but their core concept is so genius and the basic building blocks of the songs are so consistently correct and present that even when they continually fuck up their entire conceptual formula they still sound consistently better on average than just about any group out there in k-pop.  No doubt they’ll probably continue to find their way into these lists year after year as long as they continue to exist, and this consistency is definitely appreciated in a year where most of k-pop’s top musical performers didn’t do well.  Bonus incompetent-but-still-got-it budget-conscious points for cobbling together a cheap video out of some crap anime and some lame behind-the-scenes photoshoot footage.

E’Last – Dark Dream

…and now the excitement of writing my yearly list wanes as I have to talk about the first boy group to make it on… ugh, smelly boys, yuck.  K-pop boy groups actually had a pretty good year in k-pop overall, with their songs averaging a lot better quality than girl groups, however when they did well they tended to pitch “somewhat above average” overall rather than “blowing me away” so there are still less standout tracks that would make it into lists like these – don’t expect a completely boy-group dominated top 30.  “Dark Dream” is an exception and it’s mainly due to the lush orchestration which is really well crafted and adds a ton of dynamics and musical interest to the track as the arranger layers up instruments and adds countermelodies everywhere.  The vocals are just generic boy group boys doing generic boy group things but it’s the backings which take it to the next level, someone really went to town here and the effort shows, harking back to the glory days of bombastic k-pop boy group productions like BAP’s “One Shot” and EXO’s “Mama“.  Now that’s something I never thought I’d feel nostalgia for, but it’s been that kind of a year I guess.

F.Hero & Milli ft. Changbin – Mirror Mirror

Of course Lisa from Blackpink’s rubbish solo songs fucking suck flat-out and everybody knows it, and you already know I’m going to take a bit fat highly-deserved dump on them this year, but you know what burns me the most about YG’s management of Blackpink and Lisa in particular?  It’s the fact that Lisa is Thai but she never gets to do anything in her own language.  I’m sure that Lisa has a ton of fans in Thailand that would be extremely grateful if YG let her drop just one measly syllable of her native language into a song sometime, but oh no – Korean and English all the way.  It’s a real shame because Thai rappers sound absolutely fantastic, it’s a perfect language for rap music just due to the sound of the language itself, and if you don’t believe me just listen to F.Hero and Milli here making a somewhat average backing track sound way better than it has any right to.  Of course Stray Kids’ Changbin crashes the party with some light-speed Korean rap thing and his interlude is very welcome (and it’s just as well he turned up too, or “Mirror Mirror” wouldn’t be eligible to even be listed here), but it’s definitely Milli’s and F.Hero’s song.  Anyway I think I’ll now go and search up a bunch of Milli stuff and report back later so you can hear just how far YG have been missing the mark with Lisa all this time.  โอ้ยเสว!

KittiB – A.D.H.D

KittiB has been one the most disappointing rappers in all of Korea, because she was handed the perfect oppar-tunity to gain mega rap credentials and she pussied out in the most pathetic fashion possible.  I can’t remember exactly what it is Black Nut said about her in some song of his a while back and I don’t care anyway, I’m sure it was something truly fucked because Black Nut is even more of a misogynist than I am, but the point is that instead of suing him she should have written a killer diss rap response in the best hip-hop tradition that could have completely buried him and made him a cultural joke forever.  Obviously this didn’t happen and it’s a real shame, but when I heard “A.D.H.D” it finally became clear why.  You see, despite what we’ve been led to believe in the past, KittiB isn’t a rapper at all, so I’ve been judging her by the wrong standard – the reason why she didn’t write a response to Black Nut is because that’s not even her territory.  KittiB is a pop singer and this is a pop song, and unlike everything she’s ever done with a vague pretense of “rap” attached to it, this song is actually really good, jam-packed with great singable tunes, an amazing chorus, and no weak spots where suddenly everything drops to half-time, those annoying triplet fast hi-hats emerge and she tries to convince you that she’s Yoloswag420, which is exactly what you would expect from “a rapper” so it’s even more shocking that it doesn’t happen here.  Instead we get just a straight top-tier pop song from start to finish, with no bullshit – who would have expected it?  Keep doing the pop thing KittiB because you’re great at it, spend your court winnings wisely and don’t pay any attention to those mean rappers, ‘sticks and stones’ and all that.

Koyote – Expression

Koyote are old bastards like Kpopalypse who have been in this k-pop game forever, they deserve your respect as they’re veterans who know their shit.  Normally they’re pranking around doing weak-ass “novelty” songs that are listenable enough but instantly forgettable, I’m not sure why they’re into that sort of thing so much but who am I to deride someone’s life choices.  However in 2021 times have changed and Koyote must be as saddened by the current state of k-pop as I am, so they’ve decide that enough shit music is enough and have come back with this banging track which sounds like an offcut from T-ara’s “Absolute First Album” a.k.a The Best K-pop Album To Exist Ever For All Time That’s Right Cunt Yes It Is (hereafter abbreviated as TBKPATEEFATTRCYII).  Of course “Expression” is not quite up there with those songs, but it’s not too far off either and I certainly appreciate the effort, I’ll be sure to high-five these three the next time I see them at bingo night.

ONF – Beautiful Beautiful

A lot of the lame trends in k-pop are actually starting to navigate past their peak, which means we’re gradually getting actual songs back now.  That’s not to say that shouty bullshit can’t sometimes work, but when everyone is doing it, it’s boring.  Enter ONF with “Beautiful Beautiful”, a song that doesn’t follow any specific trendy format from the last few years and is a lot better because of this fact.  Even the a capella breakdown is actually cool and enhances the song, because it’s a nice little break from the wall of sound that’s happening through the rest of the track.  Enjoy this while you can before the next bullshit nu-school trend takes over and sends pop music straight on another path to nowhere.

Professor Lee’s Band – Honey, I didn’t buy this, I swear…

As a musician, I know quite a lot of other musicians, and a common affliction of the musically inclined is GAS, which is Gear Acquisition Syndrome, something which I’m not immune to myself.  Nobody needs 50 guitars on their wall, but I would certainly like it, so if I have disposable income that’s generally what I want to buy, and I can relate to the plight of someone who feels compelled to buy things they already have way too many of.  So I find the predicament of the protagonist in “Honey I Didn’t Buy This, I Swear…” to be very relatable, and this song is a very, very rare example of Korean humour that actually hits the mark for me instead of leaning on “brocolli lolz funny dance random” type stuff.  Aside from the hilarious lyrics and concept it’s just a great song anyway, with well-written instrumentation right across the board, transitioning smoothly from ska to punk to interludes and back in a way that makes narrative sense and doesn’t sound clunky or forced while still delivering a memorable tune.  I see that this song and video seems to be released or backed by Gunpla Lab for who I expect the predicament in the video is very real, so some advice for all you people with GAS and partners if you’re reading:

  • If you buy something new also try to sell something old, it’ll free up more space as well as provide more cashflow, if you can be seen to be managing cashflow well while not cluttering up the place, new purchases will be more easily forgiven.
  • Partners tend to count boxes as a greater infraction on living space than the things that come inside boxes – a guitar can look cool on a wall but a guitar case from the point of view of a non-guitarist is just an annoying box that needs to be stored, so try to get away with owning as few boxes as possible
  • Rather than hiding your GAS, be honest about it.  Consult with affected parties before the purchase and even let them have a say in it if possible.  For instance, I show my partner every guitar I buy before I get it, and I get her opinion on colour options etc.  If they feel like they have a stake in the purchase, they’ll see it as collaborative rather than selfish.  It can actually bring you closer together rather than tearing you apart!

Thank me for saving your relationship later.

PRSNT – All Night Long

One of the reasons I started doing annual prediction posts was because I read what a certain revenge porn site (that supposedly “woke” kpop fans still visit, while they remain completely scared of this place, go figure) had to say in 2012 about the possibilities of 2013, and knew that I could definitely do a better job than some random misogynists and blackmailers.  Of course one of their big predictions would be that T-ara would fall apart that year, something that only a site run by an idiot would have predicted.  Of course T-ara are still going strong nine years later and had a comeback just the other week, in the meantime the big girl-group favourite of the-site-that-shall-not-be-named at that time was 4minute, who wasted very little time in disintegrating a few years later as fairly obvious internal factors tore the group apart.  Anyway, ex-4minute Jiyoon’s song here sounds quite a bit like the better 4minute tracks in their heyday, the ones where they weren’t annoyingly trend-riding all the way through as a substitute for actual songwriting, so it’s definitely worthy of a place here.  Jiyoon also looks the most comfortable and happy that she’s looked ever, it’s amazing how someone’s appearance can completely change for the better when they’re not chained to a wall and fed dry biscuits and made to do handstands seven hours a day, or whatever the fuck it is that Cube Entertainment makes their artists do between comebacks.  I guess we won’t know what really goes on behind the scenes at Cube until Sorn does Kpopalypse Interview, but until such a time let’s all be happy for Jiyoon and be grateful she escaped their clutches before they made her do another bullshit line-dancing song.

Reddy & Swerwy – Tag

Gosh it must really suck being Swervy, given that she’s the only person on her label who can consistently rap well or write songs with any level of demonstrated competence, she must wake up every day feeling like the North Korean refugee girl in Squid Game who was the only one with a brain that didn’t do dumb shit every ten seconds.  Her back must surely hurt from hard-carrying her friends through the hip-hop world with her superior rap craft and charisma, and if that seems hard to fathom or like I’m exaggerating don’t take my word for it, just listen to this track instantly step up from just average to insanely good as soon as Swervy takes over microphone duties.  Waiting for a full Swervy album featuring no guest appearances from any other rappers at all, thanks – now that’s a rare example of a Korean pop album I actually would bother to listen to.  

Seori & Warren Hue – Warriors

It always makes me sad when a label who are responsible for so much garbage music release something genuinely excellent, because it just makes me wonder what happened the other 99% of the time.  Still, I’m not going to question it too much, I’ll just be grateful for the crumbs.  I don’t know if that breakdown is part of the song itself or just the drama video, but either way the track is still great mainly just because the only person at 88rising who knows what an actual hip-hop beat is supposed to sound like finally came back from sick leave.  Let’s make sure that the label keep that person healthy and happy, he or she should constantly clean all surfaces plus wear a mask every day and not one of those cloth ones but a big chunky one with the vents like the cybergoths wear.  Here’s their address, if you’re feeling charitable send them a bottle of hand sanitiser with my name on it.  And yeah I’m aware this is for an OST song and shouldn’t be here at all but I’ve been shitting on 88rising for like 7 straight years for introducing the world to Keith Ape and several other shit artists so let’s give them a little encouragement for doing the right thing for once and ripping off WuTang instead of Soulja Boy.

Silkybois – Bomaye

And then there’s people who can make music that sucks kind of work anyway.  “Bomaye” has no beat worth a damn (and would probably sound better with the drums and bass removed entirely) but one hell of a mood thanks to the piano track which perfectly matches the general tone.  To appreciate that tone just a little bit more it’s worth checking out an uncensored version (well, actually just “less censored”) which also has some helpful footnotes so you can properly understand Black Nut’s lines, so here you go:

Black Nut has actually been really musically weak lately, doing lots of lame pussy R&B shit that sucks dicks and which nobody cares about, so I was really happy when he just decided to go the other way for once and embrace his inner fuckhead with Silkybois, and of course his asshole-charisma shines and carries the track when he’s rapping about what he knows, the other guy isn’t too bad but is completely outshined and it feels like he’s just there to pad out the track length.  Everyone hates Black Nut anyway so he might as well just own it.  This is why I don’t “tone down” my language or do “work safe” versions of some of my posts, like people occasionally ask me to, I appreciate such concerns come from a good place, but seriously, fuck doing lame pandering shit.  It doesn’t matter what I do anyway, in k-pop Internet culture these days “cancellation” is forever, so I’m not going to step back and try to explain myself or justify anything.  I’m not here for popularity, I’m here to do exactly what I want, no more and no less (and me segueing into talking about my own writing during a positive review of a Black Nut song, of all things, should make that crystal clear).  You either are smart and “get it” or you’re dumb and you don’t.  Bridge the gap of understanding in your own good time, if you could be bothered.  Or don’t, see if I care. 

Sunmi – Tail

Not the best Sunmi song ever, but then Sunmi has had such a run of consistently great songs over the years that even her not performing at her peak is still going to wind up in honourable mentions half the time.  Do I need to say anything else here?  Not really, we all know Sunmi is great and always gets the good songs, whether it’s her personal preference for better music or internal favouritism I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter to me anyway as long as the result is good, which it is, so let’s just move on.

UZA – Finder

Sometimes you just want to chill with a nice synth pop song, and UZA has you covered this year better than most.  Of course there’s literally thousands of songs like this coming out of Korea each year but the factor that separates a song like “Finder” out from most of them is the writing.  Korean pop so often goes for a laid-back vibe but the writing is anything but, with constant overcrowding of cliched elements and far too much vocal and instrumental showing off, like they’re constantly trying to prove to you how good they are at being mellow and groovy.  However the stress of seeing someone constantly try to let you know that they’re the very best at what they do completely rubs up against any kind of “relaxing vibe” and that’s why so much of this music just bombs straight out of the gate.  UZA’s track is not like that, it’s genuinely mellow and chill with UZA not even singing half the time, she’s more interested in letting the machines do the work and making sure that you notice the horses in the music video.  Please notice the horses for UZA.

Vanillare – Remedy

One of the best rock songs I’ve heard in ages, the verse of “Remedy” sounds like what Green Day would use for a chorus, but when the song gets to its actual chorus it becomes way better than anything they ever came up with.  Also, Green Day don’t rip out amazing guitar solos on headless 7-string guitars with angled frets, so they can get fucked.

If you’d like a video compilation of the honourable mentions, owner of k-pop database dbkpop and occasional Youtuber isaymyeolchigr has got you covered!

BONUS SONGS

Torture is fun

Loona & Cocomong – Yum Yum

Emotional labour is that thing that customer service workers do when they have to be super nice to you even though you’re being such an insufferable cunt, and k-pop idols have to do it too – a lot.   Much like urea in Australia, in the k-pop world emotional labour is a premium resource that there’s often not a lot of to go around, because demand is so high but in the mentally draining inner world of k-pop idols, supply is short.  This is why Chuu gets constant work and most of the other Loona girls do not, that particular type of perpetual aegyo fountain is very rare.  However Blockberry can’t contract out Chuu all the time, she naturally gets booked out, so if the endorsement company doesn’t want to pony up the premium rate for a Chuu, then they get budget-price Chuu-lite to sing along with their children’s CGI avatar of choice.  In the emotional labour stakes, Yeojin and Gowon both do quite well here, with Choerry clearly struggling a little more, and Kim Lip (the blonde one, in case you’re not Loona-versant) so far out of her comfort zone that Loona’s one-eyed fans who normally uncritically eat up everything their label does actually managed to notice something was wrong and feel sorry for her.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, Blockberry have used deliberate esotericism when building Loona’s image and cultivated a love of “reading between the lines” among the group’s fanbase, I guess in the k-pop world where people want to keep literally everything a secret that’s really coming to bite them in the ass right now.  Still, I can’t deny the song is catchy as all hell and trying to read the girls’ obtuse facial expressions is definitely adequate visual entertainment that keeps me from looking at that weird kidney bean thing, I reckon I’m definitely enjoying the entire package a lot more than Kim Lip is.

So is killing

Rockit Girl – We Go To The Front

The problem with old military songs isn’t that they’re bad songs, it’s that the original arrangements all suck, because they’re written as big singalongs with plodding marching bands.  When you write a military song, you don’t want too many soldiers being punished for not being able to keep up, you have to think of the Private Pyles in the unit who might have issues with fast rhythm, or the experienced vets struggling with deafness for combat fatigue or sitting too close to machine guns during drills in the DMZ.  This makes sitting through South Korean military song “We Go To The Front” in its original form frankly a chore, it’s a song that dearly needs a swift military-grade steel-capped boot up the ass.  Enter Rockit Girl, who have the solution, which is crank the guitars up to the max and outsource the signing to Leeseul who will definitely find a way to make the unit pay attention.  The combination works really well, but the best parts of the song actually aren’t the singing parts, but the interludes where the song diverts into Megadeth style riffing and double-kick drumming.  This is the kind of heavy that Korea’s musicians typically are way too scared to go anywhere near, but clearly we can put our faith in Rockit Girl to stand up strong in the war against shit music and turn their heaviness against the enemy.  Rockit Girl, Kpopalypse salutes you.

Korean rock is getting there

Rolling Quartz – Blaze

A song that appeared in the dying days of 2020 and missed the cutoff for the previous years’ lists, “Blaze” makes it into 2021 list eligibility instead, hopefully I’m not the only one who remembers that far back.  The song really could have done with some heavier and more present guitars, for a twin-guitar hard rock/metal song the mix sounds surprisingly barren, with the six-string guitars feeling like a shadow behind the bass guitar, drums and vocals at all times except during the (great) guitar solos.  Still, that’s the only thing drastically wrong with what is otherwise a pretty cool tune carried by some very Iron Maiden style riffing and a fantastic singer who actually has the power to cut through and be heard above her band.  Hold “Blaze” up against similar music coming from Japan in recent years and it sounds relatively anemic (J-pop might be a complete dumpster fire of hot garbage nobody should ever even give a second thought to, but J-metal is a different story and is world class right now) but all the elements of a great song by a great band are correct and present, they just need to turn the guitars up a little louder next time.

Now hold on because it’s time to move onto the…


DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS

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Bernard Park – Bad Influence

Okay so who the fuck told Koreans that falsetto was sexy?  Sure, the castratos back in the day certainly got a bit of action but that was only because contraception in the 18th century wasn’t a very sophisticated game.  Nobody wants to hear that my-balls-have-been-removed voice, and we especially don’t want to hear it when someone is trying to be “sexy” or “sultry” or something.  Whatever happened to Barry White, Isaac Hayes and the golden era of soul with deep male voices?  Anyway whoever perpetuated the lie across the Korean peninsula that getting kicked in your nutsack before a vocal session was somehow the mode of production of great art, certainly was a “bad influence” and maybe that’s what the song’s about, I’m not sure because I just can’t even get through these lyrics, especially in the second half when he starts cranking out the vocal improvs and going even higher.  Good lord, stop that – you’re going to break something that you might need later in life, Bernard.

BOL4 – Space

Listening to post-breakup BOL4 content (or whatever the ex-member’s new project is, I forget) is a bit like experiencing a musical version of Simon’s Eat Your Kimchi content from after v-logging duo Simon and Martina got divorced.  Sure, they may have not been getting along for a really long time possibly, but they kept up the public image of together-happiness so well and for so long that it’s hard not to think about that together-happiness as an integral part of “their brand”, and without it something just feels weird and it just makes it impossible for me to fully get on board with the new stuff.  It’s not a value judgement, I hope Simon and Martina are both okay, and I hope the two members of BOL4 are okay too, but I can’t listen to the extreme dreariness of BOL4’s “Space” without wanting to drive a skewer through my ears any more than I can sit through Simon talk about his new book club without wanting to shove my head into a toilet bowl and flush it just to stop the creeping feeling that I’m about to descend into a coma.  In both cases, I respect your right to make the content that suits you but this is definitely not what I signed up for and can we have something a bit more fun please.

BTS – Permission to Dance

Honestly, BTS fans get a bad rap.  Most people who I know that are into this group are actually pretty intelligent, well-spoken individuals who don’t do any of that harassment, cyberbullying, doxxing etc that ARMYs have become notorious for.  It’s definitely a case of the minority ruining everything for the silent majority who just want to enjoy the group and aren’t even aware of all the other things that are going on.  You could really tell this was the case when “Permission To Dance” dropped, because something a little new and different started happening right across the BTS fandom that had never really happened before, at least not to the same extent – a bunch of ARMYs started complaining, quite vocally, about the group becoming musically bland and losing their identity, compromising too much of their previous creative vision in their quest for the almighty American dollar.  While I don’t necessarily agree with that view as I thought they were only slightly less boring before, just the fact that a lot of fans are even noticing song quality and musical direction at all instead of just blindly lapping everything up as usual is really cool, because it’s proof that they’re really not quite as hive-minded as you might think.  Of course the more extreme element of the fandom moved immediately to suppress this newfound introspection, but by then it was too late – everybody knew.  I hope that BTS continue to make more garbage waste-of-time useless drivel like this so more of their fanbase can be encouraged to think critically about what they’re hearing and perhaps grow on a personal level, because some of them sure need it.

Cheetah ft. Jamie – Villain

I’ve worked on several studio sessions with vocalists who can sing really well but have no actual sense of pitch.  That’s a weird thing for non-musicians to understand perhaps, because surely the mechanics of being able to sing and being able to pitch a note correctly would come hand in hand, right?  Well… you’d be surprised.  Sometimes I’d roll the tape (it literally was still tape until a lot more recently than you’d think) and the vocalist would then do their thing over the backing, with perfect “stability“, “resonance“, “projection” and all those other things that k-pop’s legions of idiotic brain-dead self-appointed vocal experts love… but in the completely wrong pitch register, oops.  I’m not talking about “oh, I hit that note a little flat there” (that’s a pretty normal thing for even the very best vocalists), but I mean an entire vocal line being three tones out.  The worst thing about it is that the vocalist couldn’t even tell so they’d really give the performance 100% of their energy and commitment not realising that at the other end of the control booth it sounded like IceJJFish.  That sounds a bit like what’s happening to Jamie’s parts in “Villain”.  The song actually starts off pretty well with that rumbling bassline and Cheetah’s parts are tolerable I guess but once the actual singing starts the note choice is the most random and awful thing ever.  It might not even be Jamie’s fault – I genuinely wonder if the backing track was originally in a different key and pitch-shifted later but they forgot to take the vocals with it, or maybe Jamie was given a beat in her headphones but no pitched instruments so she didn’t know what key it was supposed to be in and just made a guesstimate of what might potentially fit over it.  It’s hard to figure out what else could have made a song like “Villain” slip through the quality control gate, but the alternative possibility, that they actually wanted it to sound exactly like this, just seems far too surreal to even contemplate.

CL – Wish You Were Here

Listening to CL’s latest song is like reading about that recent climate summit where all the world leaders flew around the globe to get together (instead of doing a relatively eco-friendly Zoom meeting, go figure) and shake hands and give each other COVID and all “agree” that “gosh we sure hope this climate thing works out for everybody, maybe we’ll probably take some mild half-hearted action in 30 years”, even going so far as to throw some coins in a fucking fountain, implying that the results are all down to wishful thinking and external forces they can’t control.  You’re the world leaders, you’re in control you overpaid ass-munching dickfaces, now stop licking each other’s assholes and do what we pay our taxes for instead of hand-balling your global responsibilities off to the mystical fountain fairy.  Same for CL – don’t release some weak-as-piss ballad song with a video leaning on your fading 2NE1 nostalgia value as if that entire era of your output is done and dusted, you’re now the one in the driver’s seat, you’ve got the power (finally), just write something that sounds as good as “Hate You” or “Fire” and then we don’t even need lame fucking nostalgia.  Oh wait, you didn’t actually write anything in those songs, because that “independent woman” schtick you had lumbered on you in 2NE1 was always a complete lie and you were just getting your hand held at every stage?  Never mind, forget I said anything, just do your best I guess.

HeyGirls – I Cook

Lower-tier groups sure can come up with some odd musical combinations, and whoever wrote the backing track for “Recipe” seemingly thought they were making some kind of weird-ass cyber techno dance party strangeness.  The vocal writer had different ideas however, and the result is one hell of a combination.  Eclectic combinations can be good though, after all The Sex Pistols got their sound thanks to original bass player Glen Matlock’s very melodic major-scale riffs colliding with the very different ideas of the other three members, and “Recipe” kind of works for the same reason.  Even if the “I cook!  I got that recipe!” part is complete unlistenable, and in fact so is any part of the song where the girls are singing, which is pretty much all of it.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that for shit songs that should be thrown in the garbage and forgotten about, this isn’t too bad.

Hi Cutie – Gray Area

There’s an Australian film called “Bliss” that came out in the 1980s and it’s really quite boring and dull (because it’s based on an even more boring and dull book) so you probably shouldn’t watch it, but there’s one great scene in it where a woman gathers a bunch of oil company executives in a room and burns them to death with their own petrol products, just because she wants to suicide with maximum style points.  Looking at the scene at 0:29 in “Gray Area” gave me serious flashbacks to that scene in that film, I hope the girls in Hi Cutie aren’t being pushed too far by their agency because some of them look positively miserable here while singing this screechy, badly mixed “latin” garbage and I can’t help but wonder what’s in those jerry cans.  We all know Kim Lip has it tough right now but I reckon she’s feeling good compared to the girls of Hi Cutie, some of whom look absolutely mentally unbalanced here.  I hope they don’t start pouring out the petrol and burning themselves and everyone else to death, girls I know it might seem like a really good idea right now, but that’s the same nugu film set that tons of groups have recorded videos in, and someone needs to give these struggling artists shelter and a decent feed, so can you please not and just get some counselling or something.

Hyuna – I’m Not Cool

It’s great that PSY’s P-Nation label exists and that he took both Hyuna and Dawn on board, and I have no idea about the inner operations of that label and how much better it really is than generic slave-driving k-pop agency X, but I really like it that these artists seemingly have a space to do what they want without having to worry about being cancelled by their own clueless former bosses.  What a shame that the musical quality control department isn’t up and running at P Nation yet, because everything both of them have done since joining has been trash, especially this annoying noisy mess of whiny synths, generic rhythms and Hyuna chanting various nonsense instead of actually singing anything.  They somehow even fucked her appearance up, there’s a couple scenes here where she looks good in corsets but everything else she’s wearing is just disturbing and clearly designed more for visual shock-and-awe rather than something you’d actually enjoy looking at without needing an eye bath.  At least according to the lyrics she’s practising social distancing so let’s all return the favour and stay at least 1.5 meters away from this song.  

Lisa – Lalisa

So as I was saying, I really recommend “Pakkorn“, which is pretty cool and has a cute video, also this live appearance with “Pakkorn” and “Supdang” has a neat interview at the start where Milli explains the song a bit, now that’s helpful plus she has charisma and is fun to watch giving interview.  I don’t like “Supdang” quite as much, too slow and trap-like plus the singing doesn’t add anything, but I’ve heard worse.  “Not Yet!” isn’t earth-shattering but it’s a cute pop thing which is a nice change of pace from the rap stuff, but the best Milli song I’ve found is “To The Max” which nails the old-school party dance-rap thing in a way that k-pop so far definitely hasn’t ever.  Milli has also done tons of other collabs which vary in quality greatly, the best one of those is probably “Ta-taek” which has a similar sort of appeal to “Mirror Mirror”, and the worst is definitely “Nu Tum Aeng” which has a backing track that is so bad I don’t think even R.A The Rugged Man could save it (and he’s known for saving just about anything).  Overall her hit-miss ratio is reasonable, and so you should probably drop her label’s YouTube a follow at the very least, plus she can definitely cut it live which is a bonus too because we know how much Korean pop cheats in the live arena, and… sorry, what?  You were expecting me to write about what?  Lisa who?  Is that her name, really?  What group is she in again?  Oh, them, riiight, okay I’m back on track now.  Yeah, that song’s not very good, I’m pretty sure.  I mean it was ages since I even last listened to it, I’ve been listening to Milli all this time, just put it in dishonourable mentions for now I guess so we can all move on.  Maybe I’ll write a proper thing about Lisa later, but probably not, I mean time is short, I’ve got a lot of reviews to write.  Next.    

Mino – Love In Da Car

A late entrant to da dishonourable mentions list for this year, I couldn’t leave out this horrible generic trap trash, which beats out most of da other trap garbage this year for suckitude just thanks to da moronic concept for idiots (sex in da car is overhyped, seriously that shit is awkward, unless you have absolutely no choice just keep it in your pants until you get a chance to use da bed like a normal person) and comically awful vocal delivery.  I love it how da producers flat-out run out of ideas halfway through so just start putting car noises in da track, that’s a sign of lazy songwriting even more extreme than Leonard Cohen singing about his own chord progressions.  I did come away with some extra knowledge however, I actually learned that da word “skrt” has a Korean pronunciation as well as an English pronunciation, I’m sure that information will come in handy one day if I get cornered in a Korean back-alley and have to prove I’m hip to da latest cool streetwise Korean lingo so people don’t try to do da live-harvest on my organs. 

Minzy – Teamo

I did a double-take when I first heard about this song because I thought the title was “Teemo” which would have been quite fitting as everyone who plays League Of Legends hates that annoying little rodent with the invisible mushrooms just as much as k-pop fans hate how the ‘latin” trend has derailed so many promising girl group comebacks this year.

NCT Dream – Hello Future

I actually really love what SM have been doing with the NCT groups, basically using them as a platform for all sorts of musical boundary-pushing, they are actually, quite literally, “paving the way” in exactly the way that the exceptionally musically conservative BTS sure fucking isn’t and never has been.  The thing is though that heading into uncharted territory carries extreme risks so the formula for NCT is very “high risk high reward” – the chances of hitting both gold and complete shit are significantly increased when you’re out on the fringes of what’s considered musically normal.  “Hello Future” isn’t the most extreme thing the NCT project have done musically by a long shot (those songs are generally reserved for NCT 127) but it’s certainly one of the most jarring, and nothing in this package really fits together all that well, especially that noise that sounds like a broken didgeridoo dirging its way throughout most of the piece.  Still, you’ve got to admire the effort in trying to sell the next generation of young pop listeners weird free sample CD library offcuts, those discs would just wind up in the trash otherwise.

Pluma feat. Chillin Homie – Freaky

I actually put a song by Chillin Home (what kind of a fucking name is that, fuck, what a lazy piece of shit) in my favourites list last year and that was clearly a mistake because now the kid obviously thinks his shit doesn’t stink and now has a free pass to just do whatever.  I don’t even know which parts of this song feature him, and I don’t care, his name is on it so he can take the blame for it as well as whoever this “Pluma” dickhead is.  Clearly inspired by similar trash songs by Justin Beiber and containing similar musical problems, it’s clear that “Freaky” is everything that’s wrong with music and society in general in 2021 and let’s just leave it at that. 

Solia – Dream

A potential Kpopalypse Nugu Alert contribution that seemingly went viral and started clocking up way too much web traffic for the wrong reasons, you know that a group really has a bomb on their hands where even in the engagement-farming world of k-pop the agency actually deems it necessary to turn off both the comments and third-party embedding.  There are moments where “Dream” is decent, but it all sort of comes undone by the severe lack of polish and the somewhat wonky implementation of lame trends (half-time rap breakdowns, tropical shithouse tooting).  At least it has a few different ideas in there as well, even if they don’t work, and it sure must suck to be this obviously impoverished, so hats off to Solia for trying and I hope that OneHallyu or 4chan or whoever wasn’t too mean to them, let’s hope they gain their CGI angel wings and ascend into the charts one day (just not with this particular song, thanks).

Soyeon – Interview

My first thought when checking out “Interview” was “hang on, is this really the new song from T-ara’s Soyeon and not one of the many other Soyeons that infect k-pop?”  However it turns out that it definitely is her, and all I can say is what the fuck happened.  Clearly working with all those great music producers over the years creating incredible bops for T-ara didn’t dent her own personal music taste one bit, which seems stuck in ultra-slow ultra-generic ballad land.  My second thought was “hang on, is this really the music video?”  Seriously, if you were going to choose anything at all, why this?  Is there some sort of joke here that I’m not in on?  Even just pointing the camera randomly at an object inside a room would have been preferable.  And I’ve got nothing against the guy in it either, I mean I loved a fairly similar video idea from Hexagonal Water, but that song was cool and this isn’t, plus the idea definitely does not match the music of “Interview” at all.  Maybe they just couldn’t be fucked thinking of anything better, as clearly neither could the songwriter.  Perhaps they have the right idea and we should all stop giving a fuck.

Tri.be – Rub-a-dum

Anyone who ever went to school in a developed country has probably been traumatised by the horror that is primary/elementary school music lessons.  As a music teacher you’d think I’d be pro-music teaching in schools, but schools don’t do it correctly.  Rather than teaching you shit that you actually might want to know like the guitar lead intro to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck“, they give you a godforsaken device called a “recorder” and make you toot out endless nursery rhymes, presumably in an attempt to make music seem unappealing so as few students as possible bother to persist all the way through to their underfunded higher education music programs.  I’ve still got my recorder from school days and I suck just as badly now on it as I did in grade school, and seemingly so do the girls of Tri.be who are seen in several scenes here holding and playing these accursed instruments.  Of course, the recorder sound on the song itself is probably just a machine-generated approximation, but it’s still enough to trigger some serious PTSD, and while the result isn’t quite as bad as miss A’s “Breathe“, it’s certainly in the same general category of tuneless garbage that your ears should stay away from.

BONUS SONGS

Zu zu zu zu the fuck outta here

Aespa – Savage

If you listen to “Savage” and stop the video at precisely one minute in, you might reasonably come away thinking that you’ve heard one of the best songs of the year.  With super-cool textures that actually make good on the promise of Aespa’s wacky “non-specified traditional future pan-global Korean wilderness” concept giving way to a catchy pre-chorus, it’s definitely one of the most outstanding first minutes in k-pop that I’ve heard in a while.  So why don’t I do exactly that, yes, that’s a very good idea isn’t it.  We won’t be talking about anything that happens in this song after 1:00 because I stopped the video playback at that point, already convinced of the potential for Aespa world domination.  Gosh, what a great song, what a great group, SM Entertainment sure know what they’re doing oh boy oh yes.  I trust Aespa to deliver just fine on the rest of the song after that point, I’m sure we won’t get anything like (just for example, completely hypothetically) some stupid chorus with lame chanting, one horrible screechy melodic line and an idiotic monosyllabic catchphrase that completely wrecks the flow of everything and is a massive anti-climax, these girls seem to have a lot of integrity and they wouldn’t do something like that to me and I feel no need to check up on them, I trust them.  I’m completely certain that we won’t get any dubstep drops either, I mean dubstep is last decade’s trend, nobody does that nonsense anymore.  Go Aespa!

Youtube Kids is my best friend, is YouTube Kids your best friend?

NCT Dream x Pinkfong – Dinosaurs A to Z

Not that long ago, YouTube came up with probably the best idea that they’ve ever had since YouTube began: “YouTube Kids“.  Tons of creators complained about YouTube Kids when YouTube introduced it, and the reason why is because one of the big changes for creators was that if your content was deemed to be aimed at children YouTube would no longer let you monetise it.  A few of the complaints were valid, mainly from people who were making content that kind of straddles the line between “for kids” and “not” and who were definitely stuck in a tricky situation, but the fact is that the change was absolutely necessary regardless.  The reason why is that before the change, tons of people were pumping out a shit-ton of “children’s content” that was at best lazy and low-effort Skinner-box manipulation and at worst outright harmful to the mental health of children with lazy good for nothing parents, in the hope that the YouTube algorithm would pick up that content during people’s autoplay sessions and they could mine children for advertiser revenue.  There’s a great video on this if you want to know more about how it worked, you should definitely watch all of it if you haven’t and are interested in this topic, but although YouTube never directly stated this, it was obvious to me as soon as it appeared that YouTube Kids was created specifically to directly address the issue of lazy content creators using other people’s children as a revenue farm.  So now when you watch this bullshit k-pop collaboration between SM Entertainment and the people who made that terrifying “baby shark” song, you can at least rest assured that nobody made any money from your clicks.  One small step to a better world.

If you wanna purple, every wanna purple

woo!ah! – Purple

Here’s another song where everything goes oh-so-wrong in the chorus in typical cringeworthy half-time breakdown fashion, except that unlike Aespa’s track, the parts leading up to the chorus here weren’t exactly fantastic either.  Still, I appreciate this song existing because terrible English use is getting rarer and rarer in today’s k-pop songs, as more and more of the A-tier and B-tier agencies cave to international audience expectations and gradually learn what the hell they’re doing with the English language.  I actually kind of miss the days of questionable English usage just because it signaled a more naive, less globally-focused era for k-pop, so I am definitely ready to make purple, leave it to a group as bizarrely named as “woo!ah!” to cater to my special needs, I guess.


That’s all for the honourable and dishonourable mentions for 2021! The end of year 30 favourite songs and 30 worst songs lists are coming soon!

15 thoughts on “Honourable and dishonourable mentions for 2021

  1. I added one song from your honorable mentions (E’last) and one song from your dishonorable mentions (HEY GIRLS) to my playlist. Very unfortunate, I have to start to pay more attention to your dishonorable mentions now, in case your description makes me want to hear the song out. Incidentally, I also love Purple.

    And yes, I do remember Rolling Quartz. Great track, and I did do a double take when I saw it mentioned because I remember it was from 2020.

  2. Oh no Lisa’s Lalisa and æspa’s Savage are in your dishonourable list. I thought for sure they would be in your worst of the year (they are in mine). Oh boy I cannot WAIT to see what absolute drivel is going to be in your worst kpop songs of this year list.

  3. Okay so I was in your Twitch stream and didn’t have an account to comment (I didn’t want to create one bc there was a very inappropriate gay man in there) Anyways, I’ll just say what I wanted to starting with the honorable mentions..

    – Brave Girls was literally my #1 pick and the fact that it barely made it in here oofness but its still a personal anthem for me because I have drinking habits y’know what I mean?!
    – Did not expect those specific girl group songs here, and the boy group ones I did expect just higher in the top 30 list #boygroupstan just kidding haha we all know that fupa owners reign supreme #girlgroupenjoyer
    – Not really a fan of rap (unless its my bias in a post-chorus trap breakdown heehee) but these were passable enough to my ears and I can finally play something at a social party that is simply hip with the kids!! Wow
    – The female soloists (KittiB, PRSNT, UZA, Sunmi) really showed up and did their thing. It felt like I was in a JAV and they were just squirting at me with musical ideas and knowledge :0 there’s definitely something in the water of 2021 for sure
    – Rock music is at its best when it brings out your inner misogynist and it makes you wanna kill people. Professor Lee’s Band makes me feel all that AND while laughing at the same time. See how music brings all together? Also, Vanillare reminds me of a western band from the 2000s, I wanna say Fall Out Boy but it just fell out of my mind … boy
    – I expected Oh My Girl’s “Boggle Boggle” to be here, not… whatever Loona’s do-it-for-the-children’s-hospital song was.. okay then, it’s there..

    As for the dishonourable mentions, I’m not gonna say much but just a few things..

    – I walked out during the stream when BTS was mentioned, so definitely surprised to say the least to see them right now on this list. I thought it was upbeat enough and didn’t have any unnecessary parts, but I do agree it’s not memorable for me to even defend them.
    – Tri.Be always brings out the guilty pleasure bops and I live and die and resurrect (Islam anyone?). Like yeah, they’re never gonna be original. They’re never gonna be successful. They’re never gonna be unproblematic. Okay, let’s just leave it at that.
    – Woo!ah!’s “Purple” is definitely the ugly jealous stepsister to Cignature’s “Boyfriend”. I know from personal experience you cut those people out from your life, because they take and take and they constantly try to pull you down to your level. The jealousy that emits from them does not ever justify the actions towards you, remember that. Sorry that got too deep, I safely hope you all have a merry Christmas and a New Years too if u celebrate! Love you guys, text or call me bye

  4. Here’s some more terrible English from this year just for you (and others who read this):
    Yunho’s Thank U
    Gratata’s Hot Issue
    Castle Jun’s Christmas in 13th Month (found this gem from your Christmas list)
    N. Flying’s Sober

    I agree that there’s less and less, but they definitely still exist!

    Aside from that, I agreed with basically everything on here except Tri.be’s Rub-a-dum which I enjoyed this year.

  5. Unfortunately Solia won’t be getting their wings, they disbanded shortly after (or before by some accounts) the release of that song.

  6. I played a ton of Legends of Runeterra this year and reflexively cringed when you mentioned Teemo. They kept the stupid mushrooms that pop up after he seeds your deck and it makes me sad. Likening him to the Latin trend is pretty accurate, I also reflexively cringe when it shows up in girl group songs.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one confused by the aespa hype…I loved Joohoney from Monsta X giving them a harder edge when he fanboys to them. So I watched my favorite dance cover group cover them to see if I liked them…but still, I don’t see it. Or hear it. Happy to see Sunmi get on the good side of this year, I loved that song.

    Can’t wait to see your top/bottom 30 list. Onwards and upwards!

  7. What’s so wrong about the phrase “Let’s make purple”? Admitted, I’m not a native English speaker but don’t you combine colors to make a new one, like in this case red and blue to make purple?
    Anyway, Boyfriend is awesome. Lisa, Hyuna and aespa with their terrible noise got waaaaay more credit than they deserve.
    I usually hate groups that souns like Tri.be but fuck are they a guilty pleasure… especially Would U Run.

  8. ITZY is not in dishonourable, so hoping they will be in the worst songs. They were complete trash this year. Also thought bts should be in worst songs list given that they ‘represent kpop’ to the world with such bland piece of shit songs, so their crimes are much bigger.

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