Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Zaku's Top 50 Songs of 2017, #25 - 1

I was slacking on finishing the rest of my list due to a combination of laziness, sickness, and work, but at least I finished right?!

Prevously: Top 50 - 26

Without further ado, here is the remainder of my top 50 list of 2017!

25. AOA - Excuse Me

Right from the start, ChoA's dreamy vocals draw you into this song and the equally dreamy synth progression keeps you there to hang on her every word. A pounding, insistent bass line combined with the "Ex-cuse~ me cuse me" provides maximum earwormy pleasure. You might call me crazy for rating this song so high despite the almost cringeworthy dubstep breakdown for Jimin's rap in the pentultimate buildup to the song's climax, but I think it's more of a testament to how really damn catchy this song ended up being even with that awful rap. ChoA definitely is a big part of that for me. It's going to be really damn hard to replace the impact she had on this group (some, including me, would say she carried the hell out of the vocals by herself).

24. CLC - Hobgoblin

I'm pretty sure CLC's look and vibe started off as some kind of cutesy oppa pop group to cash in on the wild success of trending groups like A-Pink or GFriend. Now that PoMinit is officially deadinski and Cube still has a ton of their unreleased material left, CLC is officially re-lighting the torch and carrying on in their forebears' stead. They've got all of the pieces that made the original Pominit great: borderline trashy streetwear fits, gritty electronic instrumentals, and a nasally rapper who may or may not be stealing Hyuna vibes. The reinvention WORKS goddamn it, and CLC may as well be a newer, better version of themselves.

23. GFriend - Fingertip

Speaking of re-invention, I'm honestly just as surprised as you are to find a GFriend song so high. Previously, I thought they were just your run of the mill cookiecutter oppa pop group, but wow did they really turn things around in my eyes. A real gem of an instrumental track backs up this genuinely song that shows off a far more interesting side of GFriend than previously shown. It's a slowed down eurobeat-inspired feel that definitely sounds a lot fresher than their usual fare. I really sincerely hope they have turned the corner on this oppa pop stuff.

22. Wanna One - Energetic

Wanna One is a fresh debut formed from that Produce 101 (102?) stuff, something that initially gave me pause. How good could a group formed from the collective desperation of young boys to make it big through a reality elimination TV show really be? The answer is: surprisingly good. With a nice little blend of trop house vibes and some more funkadelic synth, the song bops along at a nice little clip. The vocals shine clearly and cleanly, which makes the song even more of a summer jam.

21. Hello Venus - Mysterious

I didn't think I would enjoy HELLO VENUS's "Mysterious" as much as I did, but it's a surprisingly earwormy track on multiple levels. The "Mysterious mysterious~ So curious, so curious" hook is bright and catchy, and the whistled aural hook is very very easy to bop to. The rest of the electro-swingey instrumental is fun to listen to as well.

20. VIXX - Shangri La

I am 1000% here for any KPop group that tries to incorporate fresh sounds and stand out from the pack. VIXX does this with the gorgeous stylings of Shangri La. Like taking a portal from the frozen wastelands of tired trends, this song takes you on a smooth journey with futurebass a la Flume, Odesza, or even Marshmello. The instrumental is intricately layered with synth, quirky little vocal effects, and very East Asian string movements. The chorus here is especially effective, not because it's some crazy earwormy gimmick, but it carries enough punch to satisfy you from the pre-chorus buildups but not in an overwhelming way that ruins the softer aesthetic of the piece as a whole. Please, sweet heavenly KPop gods, please let futurebass be a thing in the future. Side note, fan dances for men are HOT fire. Traditional gender norms say what?

19. UP10TION - Going Crazy

If you, like me, were missing Infinite (comeback WHEN?) before they officially returned in 2018 here, UP10TION filled that void in a big way. With very similar vibes and aesthetics, Going Crazy is a slick track that carries itself well from start to finish. From the first few slow-jam-ish notes, the song picks up steam and keeps on trucking all the rest of the way through.

18. EXID - DDD

To be honest, the only two songs I know from EXID are 1) their meteoric rise to fame hit Up & Down and 2) the followup remix Ah Yeah. A quick read of their Wikipedia article to catch up on what they've done since (pretty much nothing, Hot Pink kinda sucked, Lie was meh, and the Chinese tracks were bland) had me ready for this new track to wow. Their other track in 2017 sure sucked, but DDD is a return to form for them. With big bass and help from a sampling of Missy Elliott‘s “WTF, the song's instrumental is real catchy. LE's rapping is a pleasure as always, and the various parts of the song flow well together even though they could have easily been different vibes and different songs altogether. As an aside, should this song be DDDD or Dur Dur Dur Dur?

17. MiSO - KKPP

Honestly speaking, I literally had no clue who MiSO was or where she came from before doing this deep dive, but I am really glad I took the time to give some nugus a chance. Apparently, she is a member of Girls Girls, but from what they've released so far, she seems way better off on her own. "KKPP" is a goddamn banger of the highest quality. With one of the hardest hitting instrumentals of this list, the song feels like a fist full of pussypoppin, bootyshaking, rambunctious fun to the face. MiSO definitely has HyunA vibes all over the track but that is definitely not a bad thing here. Off topic side bar: does she look a lot like Heize to anyone else??

16. Yezi - Anck Su Namun

Jesus Christ does this song slap. Yezi's had a damn solid track record so far with some really hard hitting stuff so far, but Anck Su Namum really takes the cake here. An Egyptian aesthetic combined with some DJ SNAKE/Major Lazer trap beats is an extremely compelling combo, and Yezi's rapping kills it as usual. Literally summoning The Mummy vibes here, the progression of the track is complex and never quite repeats itself the same way through. FRESH TO DEATH, JUST SLAY ME QUEEN.

15. CNBlue - Between Us

Taking a more EDM-ey feel to their song than their usual pop rock, CN Blue mixes things up in a pretty interesting way. Opening with a blare of electro and sick drops, you'd think this song was from a different group entirely if it wasn't for Yonghwa's vocals. Then you'd think this song was more of a ballad CN Blue would usually put out as B-side filler, but the bridge kicks things into a gear I found way more fun to listen to and Yonghwa doesn't take his foot off the pedal. I kinda wish Jonghyun took a more prominent role in their big title tracks as his voice sounds just as silky smooth as ever, but I guess the Yong sells more. 

14. Super Junior - Black Suit

The last time Super Junior was relevant to me was probably Bonamana (or Sorry Sorry 2.0.). Despite being in contention for the best male Kpop group and with almost the most insane fandom ever in ELFs, they kind of fell off a cliff for me ever since. It does this old head a world of good seeing them return to form with "Black Suit." First things first, I cannot praise the big swing instrumental enough. The brassy notes absolutely slap hard, and a pounding electronic undercurrent really makes the song what it is. The chorus is one of the most fun bits of music in KPop this year, and thought the rest of the song is not quite at that level, it just makes the chorus stand out that much more.

13. Teen Top - Love Is

Probably one of the more underrated gems I found in the process of putting together this list, Teen Top's "Love Is" is a real jam thanks to its strong vocal performance from Niel and a pounding electronic/piano beat. I've always been a fan of the Daishi Dance-esque production style, and though "Love Is" skews toward a harder electro than that kind of music, it's still a fresh sound. Niel's solo debut probably gave him the stones to take over the group in a big way, and the song feels dominated by his vocals. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since he has the power and range to pull it off. With falsettos and strong vocal runs galore, he really puts the team on his back for this one. 

12. Seventeen - Clap

The first time I saw or heard of Seventeen, I thought they were going to be a shitty gimmick band with nothing really to make them stand out. For the longest time, that was the case. But with the release of some strong title tracks this year, they've proven they should be a group that is worth paying attention to. Right off the bat, "Clap" and its bombastic pop rock instrumental is a treat to listen to. Anthemic in all the right ways, the song blares pure fun and replayability from every pore.

11. Giriboy - The Graduate

Giriboy's "The Graduate" stands out from the rest of his vocalist/rapper collab buddies because of the way the vocals and the rap blend well together. All too often it feels like the song would be better off as one or the other, but Giriboy's flow and the vocals mesh on both a lyrical and aural level. The futurebass instrumentals (think Flume or Odesza) lend everything a spacey feel that I hope sparks a fresh trend with instrumental styles in the future.

10. A.C.E. - Callin'

You THOUGHT by the way this song opened up that it would be just another run of the mill trop house banger, but NOPE. There's a hint of things to come when the bridge starts, a series of escalating synths that eventually crescendos into the chorus. And what a chorus it is. A.C.E. blows the lid off your previous theory by diving into one of the fastest BPM bops this side of the musical spectrum. I've never seen or heard of anyone doing hardstyle in KPop, so A.C.E. has to be the first and only ones so far. It's a fresh angle of EDM from the kind everyone else is doing so I'm hyped for them. Cactus from them is also a pretty damn good song if you want more from them now.

9. Epik High - Love Story

It feels like an eternity ago, but Epik High's last album was only 3 years ago with Shoebox releasing in 2014. In the pop world (and especially for KPop) it may very well have been an eternity, but the wait was well worth it for the next album in We've Done Something Wonderful. I absolutely adore the title track "Love Story" most of all. Maybe it's just me being really into this style of music lately, but the lo-fi hip hop instrumental really is an amazing aural treat. IU really elevates this song to the next level with her dreamy vocals. 

8. KARD - You in Me

After literally every other co-ed KPop group flopped like hell, I didn't really expect KARD to do as well as they did. They've shown some real staying power thanks to strong title tracks, and "You in Me" is definitely one of their best showings to date. With one of the best trop house styled tracks of the year, "You in Me" is a sultry little mid-tempo that hits all the right notes for a summer jam. My prayers were finally answered after all this time of screaming "FREE SOMIN" to literally everyone.

7. BTS - DNA

It's almost scary to include any BTS song anywhere these days because it seems like the batshit ARMY army is ever present to screech about their oppa's superiority, but "DNA" is a strong showing that deserves recognition. A fresh fusion of acoustic guitar and some trop house motifs makes DNA a lot more unique than most of the summer-themed songs released this year. The bridge does a good job of building up the song to its chorus which REALLY kills it by veering off into a more future step direction rather than fall into the same trop house tropes as the rest of their contemporaries.

6. BLACKPINK - As If It's Your Last

Now that 2NE1 is officially dead, BLACKPINK is poised to snatch everything that 2NE1 once did or stood for, and "As If Your Last" is probably one of the best examples to illustrate that with. The main vocalist has a very Park Bom-esque timbre, the rapper sounds a little like CL, and the instrumentals sound straight off the To Anyone album. That isn't to say BLACKPINK is a complete knockoff or derivative of 2NE1. No, in fact, I'd argue that they're a distillation of what made that early 2NE1 sound so great -- fun electronic tracks that were a complete repudiation of the boring oppa pop bubblegum stuff all of the girl groups were doing at the time. This sound is what 2NE1 could have been today had they not imploded and/or sucked up so much of the tryhard sweggity swag image their fans put on them.

5. LOOΠΔ/Kim Lip - Eclipse

Like several other groups on this chart, it was hard to narrow down just one track from LOONA I liked the best. Although they haven't officially debuted yet, their series of pre-release solo-ish tracks were all mostly good. Kim Lip's is the best of the bunch thanks to what I thought was a fresh set of vocals and instrumentals. I can't say it enough, but in a world of extremely derivative pop songs, anything that deviates from the common trends is already a plus in my book. Kim Lip's "Eclipse" is a nifty little mid-tempo that is built on a synthwave instrumental that enhances the dreamy airy quality of her vocals in the best of ways.

4. BoA - Camo

For fear of sounding like an edgy old head, I sometimes feel like younger KPop fans these days don't really have an appreciation for the older generation of idols. With a lot of the revival groups sounding pretty crusty, it would be easy to think all that shit back then sucked ass. BoA is  here to show you young bloods the way things are supposed to be. The Original Unnie's "Camo" song is an absolutely sultry and sexy track that really should be the blueprint for "mature, sophisticated" concepts. An understated instrumental that is almost entirely comprised of a throbbing, industrial bassline sets a minimalist stage for BoA's vocals to shine through. And boy do they shine -- a unique point of the song is that there aren't really any aural bells and whistles here. No rapping or embellishing vocal runs, just even-keeled singing all throughout. You'd think that'd be boring, but like the insistent bass, the song just pushes through into your brain the way it wants to.

3. Sunmi - Gashina

Of all the people I thought would have had a successful solo career post-Wonder Girls, Sunmi was probably the last one I would have guessed. After sweeping the charts and hearts of fans everywhere and inspiring a legion of copycat soloists jacking her sound (24 Hours era), Sunmi is poised to strike gold again with "Gashina." For all the complaints that Teddy gets, he proves that he still has the chops to make good shit when he actually cares. The instrumental takes the best of the summer trop house trends and turns it into a banger in all the best ways. The chorus slaps like no other and Sunmi's vocals ring through bright and clean throughout. The bridge and pre-chorus build up is one of my favorite parts of the whole song, and the way that it sets up the chorus so well is well worth the brief moments of empty silence used for anticipation. The MV is also FUCKING ICONIC.

2. Dream Catcher - Good Night

It was really fucking hard to choose a song I liked best from Dreamcatcher because almost all of the stuff they released in the year was amazing. Ultimately I had to go with "Good Night" because it is absolutely the cream of the crop. With a darker, edgier vibe than most (read: 99%) other girl groups in the biz today, Dreamcatcher kicks the shit out of all other challengers with a hardhitting rock track with a very J-rock feel. It would not sound out of place if it was used as an anime opening theme, and that should definitely not be a knock against it. My only gripe is that I wished it was longer so I could have listened to it for longer. Clocking in at a brisk 2:52, the track certainly does not drag or feel like it was long at all.

1. WINNER - Really Really

With a song that pretty much dominated the airwaves since its release, WINNER's Really Really is both an encapsulation of the year's trends and a glorious perfection of them. Trop house fever infected KPop's boy bands since as far back as Fall 2016 (BTS's Blood Sweat Tears, unless someone can find something earlier) and it's been a part of 2017 ever since. However, when I say Winner perfects the trop house formula that's given a lot of groups success so far, it's because they did it with such pure fun and joy that's probably unrivaled by any other song in this list. Their follow up song Island was similarly fun, and it was a tough choice between them. What gives Really Really the edge is a bombastic chorus that's both catchy and anthemic. The bass booms, the trop trops, and everything just clicks.

My favorite part is probably the build up to the chorus where everything builds up to what you think is a huge drop before everything cuts out to silence. All is quiet for one beat, two beats, then -- "neol joahae" slams the instrumental home. The delayed satisfaction just makes the chorus's anthemic qualities all that much better.


  1. Solid list. Though didn't "Oh NaNa" come out in 2016?

  2. Oh My Girl, Gfriend and Dreamcatcher have been constantly pumping out GREAT songs. OMG's new song is easily my current no. 1 in 2018

  3. Nice list, Zaku. It's pretty cool how there's multiple genres in here.


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