Best Of 2011: Korean Music

January 14, 2012 at 12:03 am | Posted in ~Special | 8 Comments
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I can’t say Korea had a ton of great release last year because it didn’t. There were far more mediocre releases than standout ones but as the year slowly went on some artists pulled through and put out fantastic albums. This isn’t to say that K-pop sucked, it’s just that it takes more than a catchy hit to win me over which only a few artists were able to do. On the bright side, K-pop gained a lot of international attention. More Korean artists are working with American producers and some are even plotting an American debut. This is not a surprise as K-pop is dominated by very catchy electropop music that would be right at home in America. Some Korean artists found success in Japan, despite the controversy surrounding it. Overall, K-pop didn’t have many albums that I would consider amazing but the ones that I loved were excellent and went beyond all expectations. These are the artists that put out something truly unique and enjoyable, artists that set trends rather than followed them.

Best Discoveries

Ji Sun

Ji Sun was an artist that was recommended to me by 4lvy. I listened to her debut album, The Mermaid… Comes Back Home, before but I couldn’t remember anything about it. After my talk with him, I went and listened to the album again hoping that it would quench my thirst for new K-pop material. It certainly did and I’m so grateful for the recommendation because I have another K-pop artist to love. Her high, powerful voice is so refreshing. The blend of electropop with deep, heartfelt melodies results in beautiful material that is emotional and infectious. She does it all as she delivers fresh ballads, elegant mid-tempos and exciting up-tempos. The Mermaid… Comes Back Home, He Doesn’t Love You and Goodbye Heart are the album highlights. Her voice on these tracks is absolutely stunning. I ventured into her Loveholic material and I didn’t enjoy it as much as her solo material. Her debut is brighter, more animated and so much more fun than her Loveholic material.

Ibadi

I’m a huge fan of Clazziquai Project and when I discovered that Horan, one of the lead singers, had a side project under the group Ibadi, I had to listen to them. This occurred last year but it wasn’t until this year that their music clicked with me. They’re an acoustic-based group that dabbles in folk music. It’s unlike anything that you usually hear in Korea and that was a really big part of why I started loving them. Horan’s voice is beautiful and soothing just like their somber music. There are so many layers and textures to her voice. Getting to hear her explore her vocal range is exciting and every song displays her voice in such a gorgeous way. Flowing Afternoon Forest and Nostalgia, from Story Of Us, are gorgeous songs. The latter is an atmospheric ballad with vocals that send chills down your spine. They released their second album near the end of 2011 and it’s just as amazing as their first. Their releases are fantastic and I highly recommend them if you want to listen to something other than electropop.

IU

IU is an artist that I tried to get into before with her mini-album, Real, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t impressed by it. When she released her second album, Last Fantasy, she had a lot of people talking about how amazing it was. Turns out they were right and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It gets much better with repeated listens and now I’m really interested in checking out her older releases. You And I is cute but it’s not overly sugary like most cute idol songs are. It’s mature and deep which is something that most cute songs lack. Secrets is a killer track, building up constantly until the very end where everything comes together. Check out the album if you haven’t already because it’s one of the best releases from last year.

Best Cover

Brown Eyed Girls – SIXTH SENSE

The cover for SIXTH SENSE is flawless. They’re clad in incredibly hot and fierce leather outfits that demonstrate how comfortable they are with their sexuality. They look absolutely beautiful. These aren’t little girls trying to be sexy, these are women who are confident and in control of their sexuality. They do it tastefully and classy which isn’t something you always see. It could have been better if there wasn’t so much empty space but other than that it’s an excellent cover. It gives off a sense of mystery and their aggressive look matches the music.

Runner-up: 2NE1 – 2NE1 2nd Mini Album

Best Single

Brown Eyed Girls – Sixth Sense

There isn’t a song that came out in Korea that matches the audacity, power, and originality of Sixth Sense. Brown Eyed Girls didn’t try to recreate the success of Abracadabra, they sought to outdo it and they did. This song effortlessly blends jazz, soul, electropop and disco elements into a musical masterpiece. Each member puts their all into it and it’s the most impressive vocal performance of the year. There’s no other girl group that has the vocal power that this quartet has. Hitting crazy belts and a co-operative whistle notes is not easy to accomplish but they do it like it was a simple task. The rap is so perfect, so mature and its sophistication added depth to it. Sixth Sense is a musical experience like no other. It takes all of you senses and explodes them into a euphoric state. They combine the catchiness of K-pop with a truly different sound, a sound that no one else in Korea has explored. That, in itself, is what makes this song so remarkable

Runner-up: 2NE1 – I Am The Best

Best Video

Brown Eyed Girls – Sixth Sense

 

Brown Eyed Girls slay once again, this time with their phenomenal music video. The theme of resistance and revolution is executed well, in a way that grabs your attention instantly. Each member represents a different aspect of resistance, each of them constrained and being watched. It’s very intense, wild and conveys the feeling of a massive rebellion. The visuals are breathtaking. The scenes where they’re tied down has a vulnerable beauty and it’s empowering watching them break free at the end. The scenes where they’re clad in army uniforms show their stronger side and their will to fight. The semi-splits that Narsha does is insane. I was left speechless when I first saw it and even had to replay it. The final scene where the fight takes place is epic. It represents the climax of the song and all the energy that explodes from the chorus is captured in that scene. This video is fierce beyond belief and there’s nothing else that comes close to it. This is, without a doubt, a piece of art.

Runner-up: 2NE1 – I Am The Best

Best Mini-Album

2NE1 – 2NE1 2nd Mini Album

Of course, 2NE1 manages to finds their way onto another end of the year list and this time with their second mini album, 2NE1 2nd Mini Album. This album led them to accumulate a large number of new fans and gained the attention of many westerners. Their popularity expanded again and their reign over Korea doesn’t seem to be losing steam. I Am The Best brought their sound to the next level and it’s catchiness is impossible to resist. I’m sure many fans were ecstatic that they minimized their use of vocoder and their voices got to shine on tracks like Loneliness and UGLY. They can rap, sing and put on spectacular performances. They bring the energy like no other girl group and they always prove why they deserve to be on top. 2NE1 is planning on bringing their hot style over to America and have been in the studio with will.i.am. It’s going to be exciting to see if they can make it over here. Regardless of what happens, I’m positive that they’ll release great material.

Runner-up: None

Best Album

Brown Eyed Girls – SIXTH SENSE

SIXTH SENSE is not only the best Korean release but one of the best releases of 2011 period. The sheer force of this album is remarkable. They made it even better by repacking it with the melancholic Cleansing Cream which left many dazzled by its radiance. The album is a throwback to jazz and it’s a delicious journey. Their vocals harmonize in ways that they never managed to do with their previous albums. An Inconvenient Truth is goose bump-inducing and the way their voices melt into each other is like magic. I’ve already said enough about Sixth Sense and Hot Shot brings the jazz into a club atmosphere that will force you to groove along to it. The concept is on-point, visually and musically. They wanted fans to experience music in a new way and brought songs that teased every sense of the body. This isn’t just an auditory experience. It’s a sensual journey that should not be missed. They may have taken quite a long time to release this but it was worth it in the end. It’s not an inflated tracklist that gets lost with filler. It’s precise and to the point. Every song has a purpose and meaning.

Runner-up: Ibadi – Voyage

Best Artist

Brown Eyed Girls

Brown Eyed Girls dominated and slayed like no other girl group. They’re vocal powerhouses and they showed off every aspect of their voices with their new record. They hit notes I never knew they could, gave some of the best live performances ever and released the best videos of the year. This group is a force to be reckoned with. The members are older than most idols in Korea but it’s refreshing. There’s a maturity that other girl groups lack and a sexuality that others simply cannot emulate. Each member brings something to the table and they’re all equally talented. It’s rare to find a girl group where every member pulls their weight. There are countless girl groups where some members are overshadowed. That’s not the case for Brown Eyed Girls. Sure, Narsha and Ga-In are my favourite but Jea and Miryo are just as amazing. They’re confidence on stage demands attention and their music is nothing short of amazing.

Runner-up: 2NE1

There’s not much variety but these were the most memorable releases in Korea last year. 2NE1 and Brown Eyed Girls simply cannot be touched. IU and Ibadi released fantastic albums and they’re great alternatives to the electropop craze. I don’t really mind that there weren’t more albums that I loved because the ones I did more than make up for it. I’m excited to see what 2012 brings and there are already some comebacks that I cannot wait for. I really want to add more Korean reviews to my blog this year. I’ve been neglecting it for far too long. I’m hoping to resume reviewing Clazziquai Project and hopefully getting to popular acts like Girls’ Generation. I’ll definitely be reviewing Ivy’s discography and I’m really excited to get them done.

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8 Comments »

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  1. i very much agree with pretty much everything you posted 🙂 i am a huge huge huge BEG fan, and also a Blackjack, so this post is in my favor 😀

    • Thanks for commenting! Brown Eyed Girls and 2NE1 are the best girl groups I’ve listened to. There’s something about them that makes them stand out from the rest. They’re always releasing quality music unlike many other groups. I’m so excited for 2NE1’s English album and Ga-In’s solo album!

      • yess! that’s really something to look forward to this year :)) BEG and 2NE1 both have different styles of music.. that’s why i can appreciate both of them without comparing them too much 😀

      • I agree! They’re so different not just from each other but from other groups as well. They always bring fresh and exciting concepts along with their music. Miryo’s solo material is going to be released next month and I’m curious to see how it’ll turn out. She’s never been the sole focus of a track so it’s going to be very interesting.

  2. You should listen to Ji Sun’s collabs with Epik High! All of them are great!

    One, Paris, Pieces of You ♥

    I wish she did more songs like these ones!

    • Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll check them out soon and I’ll let you know what I think of them :).

  3. Nice post, You really like BEG a lot!

    • Thanks! Yeah, they were pretty much the only group that blew me away last year :p.


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