Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Zaku's Top 50 Songs of 2017, #50 - 26

It's been a long time since I've actively sought out KPop songs to listen to, so you'll have to excuse me for taking a while to get back into the true swing of things. I think I've done an admirable job digesting over a year's worth of content over the span of the last couple of days. That said, there's probably huge gaping holes in my Kpop knowledge still but what's new TBH...?

Without further ado, here's my look back on 2017.

HONORABLE MENTION: T-ara - What's My Name?

First things first, let's pour one out for all the homies of yesteryear who won't be joining us in 2018. Sad to say that includes 6-ara. From the legends who were once in position to overtake SNSD as the Nation's Top Girl Group to this sad state of affairs, it's quite the journey they've been on. Almost accordingly, their song feels like a similar journey. The slower verses and bridges are reminiscent of their debut sound where the more vibrant and interesting chorus, hints of the year's favorite trop house vibes included (more on this throughout the list), feel more at home with the bigger bolder electronic sounds that catapaulted them into the mainstream stardom they enjoyed at their peak.

Very fitting considering the story their MV follows. An imperfect song to be sure, but one filled with feels nonetheless.

HONORABLE MENTION: Seohyun - Don't Say No

I would be a shitty Seohyun fan if I didn't even make an effort to include her solo debut in this list somewhere. Taking cues from disco vibes and fusing that with a sultry RnB jam, Seohyun bursts into solodom with the maturity and sophistication I've been screaming she had from the top of my lungs for years. She really gets an opportunity to flex her vocal power and range here, which may or may not surprise long-time fans since she's been in the top three of SNSD vocalists for a while.

50. SNSD - Holiday

It almost feels like blasphemy to rate an SNSD song this low but the former Nation's Top Girl Group just hasn't been the same in ages. Still, after several boring (or even outright bad songs), Holiday is definitely a step in the right direction. There are those who might burn me alive for preferring this title track to "All Night" but I feel like the more summery feels of Holiday were a more fun effort from them. Holiday hits all the right notes for, well, a holiday with the big-stage feel of the chorus to the light upbeat instrumental. I think it deserves a place here for being a summer song that doesn't dive into any of the trop house fever everyone else seems to have caught.

PLUS Seohyun wrote this, so suck it.

49. iKON - B-Day

Even by YG standards, the way iKON gets treated by the company and the victim complex of their fans makes them feel like an afterthought. Not quite ugly stepchild level but more like forgotten middle child. Along the same metaphor, B-Day starts off slow with guitar riffs but begins to builds up deliciously during the pre-chorus bridge, then blasts the hell off for the chorus. At first I wasn't quite sure how to feel about it, but the more I listen to it, the more I find myself grooving to the surprisingly catchy sample of Owen Wilson's Wow. Plus anyone serving up goddamn BEE MOVIE LOOKS absolutely deserves mention here.

48. Taemin - Move

I'll be the first to confess I'm not much of a Shamwow fan since I only really followed SHINee to make fun of their rabidly thirsty and borderline insane fanbase (BTS Army or Armies or whatever the hell they call themselves really owe a lot of their delu-lu to their ideological forebears but you'll never hear them admit it outloud). I didn't really care much for his previous solo efforts, mostly due to the circlejerking of his fanbase (sorry Taemin), but after my long hiatus from KPop I had no choice but to deep-dive back into the thick of things and listen to everything.

I was very pleasantly surprised by his latest work. Gotta confess, I almost turned off the track because it opened as a tryhard ballad but when the electronic beat kicked in with Taemin's first snap, my attention was piqued. I was absolutely enthralled by the sultry mid-tempo deep synth. Very darkwave/futurewave-ey feel.

47. Brave Girls - Rollin'

I can't remember when the last time I checked for Brave Girls was, but it was probably never. I distinctly remember thinking how shitty it was for Brave Brothers' own girl group to have such shitty songs (at least from a cursory glance through their discography), so thankfully Rollin' is a vast departure from that crappy oppa-pop they were doing before.

This is a more "mature" sound from them (with the more sultry choreography to go with it) that hits all the trendy trop-house notes KPop has found itself in love with these days but in a more subdued way that isn't quite as in your face about it. The chorus is definitely anthemic and something you can easily find yourself singing along to at the top of your lungs in an off-key screech.

46. April - Mayday

April was a group I distinctly remember as firmly in the tired oppa-pop sound I tuned out of when I was still following KPop, especially after the only member I knew (Somin) left. While Mayday isn't quite the 180° turn away from oppa-pop other girlgroups have successfully made, it's definitely an interesting pivot made using a fun electronic instrumental and some much more interesting build-ups and chord progressions. It's light and sweet without being too saccharine, and the chorus is a ton of fun to listen to.

45. IU - Palette

Long time readers will know how distinctly unfond of slower ballads and similar types of songs I am, so I'm just as surprised as you are how much I found myself enjoying Palette. A simple backing track lays a clean palette (heh) for IU's airy vocals to shine here, until it picks up the pace more towards the chorus which hits all of my existential crises at once. All same-age chingus at 25 can definitely relate, and I found myself sobbin' like an entitled millennial when IU started to croon "I got this, I'm 25" at me. G-Dragon is also a surprisingly good fit for the track by keeping it nice, simple, and more lyrical like he excels at instead of the swaggy bombast his fans eat up and his critics loathe.

44. Akdong Musician - Dinosaur

Of all people to come out with a summer bop this year, I was least of all expecting it from Akdong Musician. The quirky sibling duo takes a very interesting detour from their usual coffeehouse-ish sound and indie vibes for a more mainstream crossover in Dinosaur. Sure, they did choose to use some trop-house beats here, but they take a very unique spin on it by opting to use SuHyun's vocals in place of the usual electronic trills you'd normally hear in a summer bop like this. The oo-oooh~s hit all the right notes.

43. Got7 - Never Ever

In a summer year dominated by trop house title tracks, anyone that deviates from that in any way is like a breath of fresh air. Got7 opt for a more softer RnB feel in their verses that builds up into a more bombastic electronic synth-laden chorus. The typically clean JYP production values are in full swing here as ever. All in all, a very solid outing for Got7.

42. Zico - Artist

I was very ready to write off this song solely for the fact that the MV opens up with this meme-laden "outfit" from hell, but thankfully I've been either inoculated to the worst of swagfag excesses (please don't try to breed the supervirus equivalent of a swagfag) or my professional demeanor protects me from reacting too negatively.

In any case, this song uses some sleek funky beats to keep your attention through all the questionable fashion and hair choices made by Zico in the MV. Zico's flow is a rollercoaster of fun and the simple hook is earwormy in the best of ways. Zico's sung bridges are very nice too.

41. PSY - Love

Psy's been the king of meme songs ever since Gangnam Style rocked the world, so it's easy to forget there's more musicality to him if you've not been familiar with his music before supermemestardom. Love is one of those feel-good summer anthems you just can't help but bop to. Buoyed by the omnipresent trop house instrumental, Psy crafts a simple yet very effective tune. Taeyang also lends his vocals to the bridge and harmonizes with Psy during the chorus, a more than welcome addition to the track that definitely elevates the song to the next level.

40. gugudan - A Girl Like Me

I almost sound like a broken record here, but I just have to repeat again how much I dislike oppa-pop (and it's male equivalent, noona-pop). It's cheap, lazy music that's as empty and unpleasant as eating a big cloud of cotton candy for dinner. Literally anyone could do it, and the success of the genre rests on the collective virgin/lolita complexes of the world. But not explicitly of course.

gugudan feels like proof of my theory that girl groups are way better when they ditch that trash and go for literally any other concept. These girls debuted last year as part of the Produce 101 shit in 2016 with a color-by-numbers oppa pop song that sucked, and now here they are in my Top 50! (Please allow me to entertain the fantasy that my opinion means anything.) A Girl Like Me is a more sophisticated sound from them that uses more a more exciting uptempo electronic beat (without TROP HOUSE BTW) to still get that oppa-poppish message across to avoid completely alienating the fanbase that's gotten them this far.

39. Twice - Knock Knock

After that little rant on the evils of oppa pop, it must seem hypocritical of me to include Twice's Knock Knock let alone rank it at 38. HOWEVER, I have to say the JYP production (I miss the JYP Whisper...) is more of bubblegum poprock than oppa pop. There are those who might call it semantics, but I still think there's a significant difference.

At any rate, it's an upbeat and fun little track that gives you the best of brainless aegyo stuff without giving you the cancer that is oppa pop. The chorus is probably the most fun I've had with a bubblegum pop track in a while.

38. Red Velvet - Peek a Boo

Few things are more attention grabbing than when an MV opens with your group literally standing on a porch with a crossbow. Luckily the song is just as good as the MV promises.

Although there are hints of some by-now familiar tropical tropes in the instrumental, a pounding bass and a strangely intriguing whistle makes it more memorable and easy to listen to. It feels like each part of the song differs enough from the typical song structure in ways that make this song stand up to repeated listen. "Peek-a-peek-a-boo" is also one hell of an earworm (Pikachu say what?).

37. Sonamoo - I Think I Love U

I'm always a sucker for songs that stand out in unique ways and I Think I Love U certainly does that with its use of a fun, upbeat instrumental that uses some interesting guitar riffs to turn Sonamoo's direction away from basic oppa pop to some lighter bubblegum stuff instead. Like I said about Twice's Knock Knock, oppa pop is the devil and bubblegum pop is much more fun and aurally interesting.

36. BAP - Wake Me Up

I'm a sucker for strong beats and simple production, and BAP's Wake Me Up definitely delivers in that regard. I remembered them as some horrible swaggety hip hop group in years past, so to see them come out with a track like this is a pleasant surprise. The vocals flow without pretense and the raps are serviceable enough to keep your attention without jarring you out of the nice groove the rest of the song puts you in.

35. Juniel - Last Carnival

Juniel is one of those gals that deserve more attention from an international audience for being the whole solo package of being hot and being able to sing well, but she's been kind of pigeonholed as some kind of indie coffeehouse ballad-ey guitar girl until now. Adopting a sizzling hot straight bang cut and some smoky-eye, Juniel breaks out of that tired rut and adopts an edgier look and sound for your pleasure.

That isn't to say that she completely ditches her original vibes. A funky fresh beat with a slick bass guitar line holds your attention for her soft crooning to take center stage. It's the best of her vocal prowess with a much more interesting instrumental. The end result is a FAR more compelling release than literally anything else she's done so far.

34. Heize - Don't Know You

I'll admit, the biggest reason I know/check for Heize is because of her stint on Unpretty Rapstar. Hipster hip hop enthusiasts probably will scream in agony at my disgusting mainstream attention, but the show proved she's both not unpretty nor a rap star. That isn't to say she's a hopeless artist. Unlike some of her showmates (COUGH TRUEDY COUGH), she's managed to carve out a following due to some strong vocal pipes.

Like another of her showmates, Heize can rap and sing competently enough, but unlike that same showmate, a combination of great production and an awareness of what works for her has buoyed her post-show success (suck on that, Jessi). Don't Know You is a nice mid-tempo jam with admittedly less rapping and more singing, but Heize pulls it off well. Definitely coffeehouse vibes here, but the raps keep it from getting stale. It's like a one-woman version of the vocalist+rapper on a mellow lo-fi beat combo that was unfortunately too popular for a while, but Heize makes it work since it's her voice the whole time that blends more easily as a result.

33. Loco - Too Much

As another mellow lo-fi hip hop track, Loco stands out due to a slick combination of producer Gray's jazzy beats, a surprisingly good singing voice and sleek flow from the main rapper himself, and the amazing feature of young phenom Dean. Dean doesn't overwhelm the track by singing a verse by himself. He integrates himself into some lower key vocal runs and harmonizations in the bridges and choruses leading up to his part. He even raps a bar or two before really getting into his sung lines.

Featuring vocalists on rap tracks would do well to follow this lead.


Okay, I literally had no idea that these B.I.G. fellas were a thing until literally a few weeks ago and I was pretty shocked to see that they had released 5 other singles before this one. Raise your hand if you knew they've been around since goddamn 2014. Interestingly enough, they debuted with "Hello" which was a completely and irredeemably garbage song only thinly disguised as either a Korea #1 circlejerk or tourism promotional song.

The second time around, the aptly named "Hello Hello" (aka Hello 2.0) is a vastly superior song to the point where you might even think they were released by two different groups. The pounding beat slaps the HELL out of your skeptical mind and grips its attention all the way through. You might think this is going to be a hardcore rap banger but this is actually a really goddamn good mid-tempo mostly-vocal song instead of the other way around. The rap is nothing to tweet about but certainly not jarring or horrible enough to ruin the vibe here. Did I mention how much I like the instrumental for this song?

31. HyunA - Babe

Hyuna's reached an interesting point in her career where we've got a pretty good grasp of her capability as an artist in both a performance sense and in a conceptual sense. There is definitely room to argue that she's captured the attention of the nation primarily as a sensual suck-your-dick off vixen with big bombastic anthems, but I think she's managed to show off a different side of her with "Babe."

The song has some interesting fake-outs with trop house vibes in the verses and other parts of the song, but it's really the marimba instrumental and softer vocal quality that holds your attention more. The chorus especially feels like it's about to build itself up into a fully trop-housey banger, but it jukes and goes in a far more interesting direction with the synth I think you'll all enjoy more. Not sure if this is the right place to note this but I have to say the new wave of female idol rappers emulate one of two schools of rap: the nasally Hyuna style or the try-hard-to-be-hard CL style. ICONIC.

30. Block B - Shall We Dance

I feel like it's breaking my internal rule of one song per artist to be included on this list to have both a Zico track and a Block B track but oh well.

Rather than go for a trop house styled song (LIKE SO MANY GODDAMN OTHER PEOPLE), Block B opt for a throbbing deep house bass line and minimal instrumental to ground their track. It stands the hell out thanks to the competent vocalists in Block B and Zico carrying the song pretty hard with his rap/singtalking/everything else, but what really sets this song apart from everything else is the Santana-esque electric guitar riffs used in the chorus. It's also a fairly short song, so everything feels written in a way to make you WANT more replays if only to keep that chorus on repeat and party on like a damn fool. What's Garth doing out of the garage without Wayne though??

29. Primary - On

In my opinion, Primary is one of those artists/producers that just barely straddles the line between indie and mainstream thanks to an accessible production style that turns out fresh tracks with easy crossover appeal. "On" is one of those clean jazzy and funky fresh tracks that does not get old at all, even after multiple listens. The two vocalists chosen for the song keep things simple to keep you grooving to the instrumental itself rather than be the focus of the song, until the catchy chorus kicks in. That's when they get to flex a little to show you why they got picked.

28. BtoB - Movie

Like many other groups in this year-end review, BTOB was not really a group on my radar before today. I can't really be assed to do a deep dive into their discography just to write up the background filler material that'll preface the real review of the song and reasons for placing it this high, so I'm just going to assume their songs either all sucked or were completely boring to me.

Luckily enough, BTOB's "Movie" is a super fun track that uses some funky pop rock/piano instrumentals to stand out from the crowd. Slick production and a fast-paced mix up between the sung verses, rap breaks, and upbeat choruses make the song really enjoyable to listen to.

27. Girl's Day - I'll Be Yours

After a string of disappointing releases, Girl's Day return to form with a more than great title track in "I'll Be Yours." Big brassy instruments lends the song a fun swing vibe that escalates in bombastic fashion in the chorus and gives the song some fun interludes throughout. Line distribution is also noteworthy in the sense that it was as even as it's ever been, which is a pleasant surprise (unless you're Yura who gets 2 rap breaks in the song which forces her to do more work on the mic than she's probably used to doing in a while). Minah's vocal wanking is present as always, but this time it gets a little raw, which is a nice little burst of interesting, before the song ends.

26. MONSTA X - Beautiful

Yet another entry in my "Who the hell were these guys before this article" list, MONSTA X's Beautiful is a high octane track that opens heavy in the bass and electronica before veering into interesting territory in the bridge and chorus. You'd think this kind of song would be a fully swaggerific anthem, but the momentum generated in the rap break downshifts briefly before amping into a mid-tempo crooning that holds your attention with the "So beautiful~" lines. It's a aurally complex song that doesn't overwhelm your ears by doing too much.

NEXT UP: #25-1


  1. I'm amazed you found 50 songs worth mentioning this year.

  2. I had fun reading this since I like a lot of the tracks you listed, looking forward to the rest of the list. Kudos for managing to listen to a year's worth of K-Pop in a few days.

    As much as I love Seohyun though, DSN was a little hard for me to digest and I prefer Magic over it any day.

  3. Honestly magic and bad love should be been this title track to seohyun and it amazing that the song that seohyun didn't write majority of people hated it. Also fuck sm


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