Here at McRoth’s Residence, I like to end the year with a special blog post known as the ‘Top Kpop Songs of The Year‘. For the blog’s third annual roundup, I decided to split the special in two parts. The first, entitled the Mid Year Roundup will cover Kpop songs that were released between January and June of 2011. The second, which will be prepared at the end of the year, will feature songs released between July and December. Simple stuff, y’all.
Here’s how we’ve broken things down -
> Nineteen (19) of these songs were chosen by me (McRoth), and three (3) a piece by contributing writers drowningn00b and lolpenny. That’s 25 songs, plus the 25 for the second half of 2011, and the grand total is 50 top kpop songs of the year. Whew!
> The rules:
- Kpop songs are chosen by us (the writers) based on either their notability, catchy-ness, and/or any other aspect of interest that would render them ‘top song’ material in Korean pop music.
- Unlike last year’s ‘Top Kpop Songs of The Year‘, this list won’t be categorized by month. Instead, all 25 songs will be listed alphabetically, and in no particular order.
- Songs are eligible if:
- they were released by a Kpop idol, group, artist, and/or other popular musician between January and June 2011
- they were a part of a Korean pop album, mini-album, digital release, OST or other promotional single (Japanese material from a Korean artist does not qualify)
- only one (1) mention per artist/group/album is allowed in this special with the exception of solo material and/or projects from a group (i.e. PARK BOM/2NE1, SEUNGRI/BIGBANG); same restrictions apply to the solo artist(s). This means that sub-units and solo artists count as one ‘mention’ in addition to their proper mother-group.
Each accompanying picture links to its specific song/MV on my channel on YouTube. Wait, what?YES! McRoth’s Residence is now on YouTube. I know it’s not a big deal, but for those who want to listen to the list, I’ve collected every song into a Playlist, which you will find on my channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/mcrothsresidence).
2NE1 – Lonely
I know I’m not alone in saying that after a year of auto-tune, grinding synths, and sirens that it was about time to give it all a rest for a while. I mean, you absolutely have to give big props to Teddy for chiseling out some awesome songs for 2NE1. The man has his style, and sticks to it, and even better is that 2NE1 know exactly how to execute them to their full potential. But it wasn’t until the release of “Lonely” that we got what we asked for (which is a non-autotuned, non-dancepop song), as well as new insight as to what YG Entertainment has to offer, other than ‘digital sounds’ from their ‘digital world’. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing 2NE1 take it down a notch and just sing their little hearts out. It’s the most emotional they have ever been, and that speaks in volumes. I would have loved it if there wasn’t so much reverb on their voices, but dude – it’s just vocals, a guitar, and, like, some strings. *applauds*
4MEN – Puzzle
I love 4Men, and will take their music to my grave. Each member has an incredible voice, and listening to all three together…*faints*….”Puzzle” just had to make it onto the list, because not only is it a great little ditty, but each member sounds absolutely amazing on it. The song itself is a mid-tempo, and 4men are normally stuck singing really moody ballads, so this was a refreshing fit for them as a unit. Favorite part of the song? Every second I got to hear Young Jae growl at me with his enamoring lower register. I have a thing for the bass singers in groups, and deep voices in general, so, er, he pretty much killed me here. As did all of the harmonies. The HARMONIES! Seriously, how often do you hear these things called ~ harmonies ~ in Kpop? Not very often, if you ask moi…
4MINUTE – Mirror Mirror
Um, okay. This song is not exactly on here because of any musicality merits or outstanding performance from 4minute. Let’s face it, those words will never apply to these five bombshells in Kpop, but I have something to confess: this song won’t leave me alone, and because of its persistence, has become my largest guilty pleasure this year. I know, I KNOW! Should I seek help, people? Is this like, a legit problem I should get checked? Because, holy mother of god, I can’t stop playing it. Like, I played it about seven times during my process of picking songs for this list. I blame a certain someone who happened to spend the time ‘remastering’ “Mirror, Mirror”. The finished cut eliminates all the wrong things about the song, and in the end, is damn sup-e-ri-or to the original. If you’re curious, click here to download certain someone‘s edited version of “Mirror, Mirror”. The one that should actually be on this list. And let me just tell you, you will replay it and replay it and replay it and replay it and…
AFTER SCHOOL – Shampoo
After School and I have a love/hate relationship in that I love their music but hate that even in a group of eight, Kahi still manages to stand front and center. ‘Shampoo’ is a step forward for the group if only because the previously ignored members get a chance to stand out. Jungah, the lead vocalist, finally takes her place as the lead vocalist for the first time since their 2009 debut and we get to hear Nana rap which was just adorable. Calm piano melodies seem to be a trend this year in K-pop and After School is hardly the first to try it but there is an edge, an attitude to After School that puts ‘Shampoo’ above the rest. — lolpenny
B1A4 – OK
I have no shame in admitting that I give in to the ‘cuteness’ of some of these boy-bands from time to time, and B1A4 is one I have flocked to like a whacky 12 year old school-girl with a lollipop stuck in her hair, squealing through my trembling lips: “OMO!” and “OPPAAAA!”, as my knees quiver and my arms flap like a bird’s. I mean, the verses and chorus are so fun and energetic, that McWoth wants to w-ide on his scooter howling “I wuv youuuuu-UUU-uuu-UU-UUU-UUUU” down the street, on my way to the local Party City, in search of streamers, feather boas, and rattling what’s-its to throw a cute-ass party… OK, who are you and what the hell did you do with McRoth?
B2ST – Fiction
B2ST was never on my radar until late last year, when they, quite out of the blue, began releasing decent music. I kind of had this bitter stance from the get-go when it came to B2ST. Something about their music didn’t really click with me. I’m not sure if it was the unimaginative nature of their debut, or the lack of uniqueness in their music, but I tore into them for it, and didn’t let go of the pessimism until this year. When they dropped ‘Fiction & Fact’. And finally proved their worth with some of the best pop music this year, and, truthfully, from a boy-band in a long time. This album and this song is the culmination of musical growth, and what artistic development is all about. I love it to bits.
BIGBANG – Tonight
Buh-buh-Big. BANG came back this year, and although my little review was perceived as a downer (thanks, disturbingly obsessed fans, for that), I actually LIKED their comeback material. Sure, it was no 2007-2008 Big Bang, but you have to admit, the quality and prettiness of their 2011 music was very much there and very much alive. They gave in to their electronic tendencies and embraced this ‘minimalistic’ approach that frequents Western pop music. Big Bang are living in the now, and the now is pretty damn good as far as these five go (well, not for Daesung, but let’s not even go there). Like “Tonight”. This song is not a loud club-banger, but it energizes you like one. The chorus is one of my favorites from Big Bang, and just hearing them together on one song feels right. I can’t say the same for their 2011 mini album as a whole, because it felt less unified and more chopped up for five soloists (which isn’t a bad thing, mo’fo’, just a criticism/observation), but this song on its own was a highlight for me. Clearly, YG Entertainment is heading in a new direction, and you know what – I think I want in.
DALMATIAN – Real Eyes
This song is pure gold. If I hadn’t looked twice, I would have believed this to be a song from a veteran Kpop group rather than from mother-freaking rookies. Forget their strange band name, Dalmatian have done with this song what not many have achieved, and that’s to put their seniors to shame. The way they intertwined singing with rap into this pop-jazz arrangement is quite masterful for a group of this caliber. It’s nothing I haven’t heard, but just the sheer clarity and effortlessness of their approach is commendable and worth acknowledging, especially now that there are more rookie groups than I can keep up with.
DBSK – Keep Your Head Down
Hang on to your knickers, ladies. Wae? Well, because you’re about to listen to THE epic song of 2011…epic-sounding, that is. Obviously, SM Entertainment invested plenty a pretty penny into Dong Bang Shin Ki’s return to the Korean music scene this year, and how could they have a proper comeback without laying down one of the busiest songs, with beats off the Richter, hair-raising singing, and Yunho’s raps? “Keep Your Head Down” delivers on all those fronts, even serving us a classic Changmin high-note to boot. The whole package is epic and it was designed to be pervasively loud. But you know how in some games – specifically in RPGs – there are those power skills that have a cooldown? Yeah, DBSK’s “KYHD” is SO overboard on the production, that the best way to enjoy it is by not replaying it on a frequent basis. It’s just too much to stomach, and too indulgent for the ears. So once you have your serving of “KYHD”, take a break, and come back to it later. Trust me, It’ll sound as epic as the first time.
IU – Cruel Fairy Tales
Okay, how freaking avant-garde is this song? Taking warm and fuzzy subjects like fairy tales and turning them on their head is hardly a new concept. It’s been done to death everywhere from music, to film, to literature. But having the “Nation’s Little Sister” sing this macabre ballad was simply genius. And it doesn’t hurt that the song is pretty good either. The structure is perfectly balanced. IU’s sweet innocents is partnered with the operatic vocal accents in a way that is both beautiful and heart-wrenching. The idyllic melody is offset by the metallic clang of the downbeats expressing the emotion of the song without ever saying a word. But beyond all that, “Cruel Fairy Tales” is a waltz. When was the last time you heard a pop song that wasn’t in 4/4 time? Exactly. — lolpenny
KIM BO KYUNG – Brand New Day
I always need those songs to just chill to, and Kim Bo Kyung is my go-to girl of 2011 for them. I fell in love with her voice when I first heard this song. Her voice is sort of rough around the edges, but that’s what gives Ms. Kim her charm. Even more charming is listening to her stretch that broad vocal range of hers to its fullness without a sign of hesitation. She leaps around her octaves like nothing, and belts her voice all over this song, but hardly ever sounds like she’s shouting or about to break. Kim Bo Kyung’s “Brand New Day” is a warm, laid-back song, and it’s musically impressive. Yet it’s completely subtle and controlled, too. All I need is a hammock and I’m good to go.
KIM BUM SOO (FEAT. TAEYEON of GIRL’S GENERATION) - 달라
The heartbreak song of the year so far. The song’s instrumentals are classically-arranged ballad pop, with everything placed just right to tug at your heart strings. But the reason this song stands out is in the vocals. Taeyeon, the best of the idol singers, shows the power of her talent and her ability to hit you where it hurts. One of SM Entertainment’s strongest assets, Taeyeon is in excellent form alongside veteran singer, Kim Bum Soo. A vocal powerhouse, he has amazing range and sings to superb effect. “달라” is the marriage of perfect execution of both song construction and vocal talent. Love gone wrong has not sounded so good this year. — drowningn00b
KIM HYUNG JUN (of SS501) – oH!aH!
It twinkles, it glows, it sparkles, it blows…my freaking mind! That’s what I think of this song in a nutshell. To elaborate, I think what really draws me in and keeps me hinged on this song is the lightness of the synths and the beeps. The lightness of the entire track, actually. Something tells me producers found it hard to place Kim Hyung Jun under the ‘bad-boy’ style, wherein he’d be required to sing in a throaty, rugged fashion, which just doesn’t fit his singing. KHJ is all nasal, and I doubt he can take us to the streets without forcing a nose bleed first. The easy-going feel and softness of this song suits him perfectly; and honestly, it’s such a gentle pop song compared to what you hear these days, that it stands out in all the right ways. I love that the rap section doesn’t constitute the climax, but instead takes its place in the second verse, where it transitions beautifully into the pre-chorus.
LEE HAE RI (of DAVICHI) – 때난사는거야
Pop diva singers are few and far between, but Davichi’s Lee Hae Ri did me proud with this song. I feel like she was going for a particular sombre tone with this song, given the arrangement and key, but it’s more of Lee Hae Ri just saying: “Hey, I have a killer voice, let me rub it in your faces.” Which is so diva of her to do you know, and that’s why this song tickles my fancy. She attacks every note dead-on, and soars over the orchestration like a boss. The orchestral arrangement is fit to Lee Hae Ri and never overpowers her. And how could it, when she’s spearheading this sucker with one power note after another? Just let her do her thing, and magic will soon follow.
LIM JEONG HEE (FEAT. HYUNA of 4MINUTE) – Golden Lady
Who doesn’t love a female empowerment song? Especially one so well sung? Lim Jeong Hee, aka “street diva”, sings especially well and brings her talent to this pop-rock tune. A song about putting one’s self first in a relationship (mainly a woman), “Golden Lady” came out at the peak of spring, making it the ideal song to shake off the winter blues. Although it can be a bit loud at times, Ms. Diva keeps her voice front and center. Hyuna adds the necessary spice to round out the feeling of this “f*^k off” track for women. — drowningn00b
M&D – Close Your Mouth
When I heard Super Junior’s Heechul and TRAX’s Jungmo were releasing a song together I was sure that SM Entertainment had extracted the idea directly from my fangirl brain. I was ecstatic. And ‘Close Your Mouth’ is better than I could have hoped. Heechul provided the vocal portion of the song and his processed voice fit together nicely with the screaming synths. And who else is snarky enough to pull off a song that basically tells people to STFU. The other half of the group, Jungmo plays not only an epic guitar but the drums and bass as well. His rock elements and the heavy electronic beats combine to make a song that is high energy and just plain fun. In fact, I hope this is an avenue Super Junior as a collective unit explores in the near future. It’s a great mix of their early singles like ‘Don’t Don’ and their current electronica style. — lolpenny
MISS A – Love Alone
It’s not an illusion, and I’m telling you right now. Miss A aren’t really on my list of favorite girl groups, because nothing they’ve released has provided me with satisfying results, but I think they’re climbing up the ladder. When I look at Miss A, I think youthful, sweet, and soft, and they weren’t really living up to this mold I had squished them into with such songs like “Good Girl, Bad Girl” and “Breathe”. But something hit a right chord with me when I listened to this song for the first time. It wasn’t an instant hit, but after a few plays, it made sense. This song exemplifies all the things I want Miss A to sound like, and to hear it happen gives me hope that they’ll continue playing to their strengths as a girl group. The story alone is very ‘young-adult dilemma’ through song, and Miss A delivered it with the sincerity it aught to be told. Plus, it’s sung in English. Yay.
NAVI – Fascinating
Navi hardly goes wrong with her songs, and that’s thanks to her knowledge of her voice, the style that fits her, and her song choices. Case in point: “Fascinating”. This song is very Navi, in that it allows her to sound her best, which is when she’s belting high notes left and right. She does these minor melismas during the choruses – when she’s really into it – and they simply chill me to the freaking core. This song doesn’t follow a perfect line from beginning to end, which is why it’s so engaging. The chord progressions and arrangement aren’t mind-blowing, but the way in which Navi journeys through every note is compelling and so nice to listen to. I’m glad to see her on these weekly music shows, because people should really appreciate great music when it’s all up in their faces.
ONE WAY (FEAT. JUN. K OF 2PM) – Rainy Days
Rainy Days must be a hype phrase of 2011 or something, because how many songs have been released this year with that exact title (or variants of it)? Like, a bunch. And interesting enough, all of them have had this drowsy, down-in-the-dumps vibe that is fit for – you guessed it! – a rainy day. But if any group managed to swallow that bitter pill and experienced the catharsis of success in my book, it would be One Way, Kpop’s very own masterminds of the R&B and hip-hop hybrid. No, really, One Way have kept R&B alive in Kpop, and have done a damn fierce job of it. Where boy-bands are clicking their heels to electronica, One Way are doing what suits them and what feels natural, musically. Rainy Days brings out the emotions from within and places them gently over a simple beat. And accompanied by the soundscape of actual rain, this song just thrives. Bonus points go to them for including 2PM’s Junsu, who’s in his element and showcasing that sexy voice of his properly.
PARK BOM (of 2NE1) – Don’t Cry
Why is that Park Bom’s solo songs are always winners? I mean, give the girl a full-length solo album already. It’s bound to be amazing, provided Teddy doesn’t force her to shout to the four winds like he does in most 2NE1′s songs. Park Bom’s voice is perfectly fine for a recording studio, and if you ask me, that’s where it belongs. It’s a controlled space for her, and when a singer is comfortable, it reflects well in their singing. It’s no surprise that YG artists love using her as a featured singer. Not only is her timbre appealing and recognizable, but she’s good at giving the allusion that she’s an amazing singer. Which she kind of is, and kind of isn’t. Like I said, her voice is best utilized for recording because she’s at the mercy of her producers, who can clean out all imperfections and make her sound as lovely as she sounds here and in all of her work. But the moment you throw her onto a stage, and flick a mic in her hand, she’s a deer in headlights, and her singing is revealed to be quite poor for the amount of time she’s invested in this business. But it’s okay Bommie *pat pat* as long as that voice is used to generate these nice singles, I’ll be happy.
PARK, JAY (FEAT. DOK2) – Level 1000
Jay Park has always made it known that he was fan of rap music, doing covers of popular American rap songs on his previous YouTube account. So when news came of his new EP, I wondered how much he learned from those covers to create his own spin on the genre. And he did it big. Hands down, Jay Park brought the hotness on this track. His rap style is nasty, and his flow is one of the best, if not the best, among k-pop artists. And not to be left behind, Dok2 makes a strong appearance here. Not only can the man rap something fierce, but his beats are on point. This is one track to blast in your car with a snarl on your face. — drowningn00b
PARK JUNG MIN (of SS501) – Not Alone
Two members of SS501 on the TKSO2011? What is this, the end of the world? - While I haven’t been that impressed by anything SS501 has released, ever, I have to admit that these solo endeavors have produced some great pop tunes for my little heart to jive to. I’m a sucker for awesome orchestrations, and this one, albeit a simple one, works wonders in a bewildering way. It adds drama to the song where need be, and then it kind of staccatos in parallels to the beat when Park Jung Min calms the hell down, and then opens up in broad strokes when the chorus reaches its peaks. The orchestration is playing several roles in this song, and not just sitting there sounding pretty. This song is semi-anthemic and partially a march. A pop march that I’m more than willing to stamp to, snare drum in tow.
SEUNGRI (of BIG BANG) – What Can I Do
Another artists who faced the wrath of my vicious reviews, Seungri (Big Bang singer, and maknae), dropped a mini album this year that I ruthlessly tore into, and I just have this to say regarding that review: if there’s one editorial I’d go back and rewrite, it would be that one. It wasn’t so much my points, but the tone and way in which I addressed them that I’m not too satisfied with anymore. And after listening to the album some more, I feel differently about it. This song in particular is actually really good. It may not have been the pop that I had envisioned for Seungri, but in a way, it has convinced me otherwise. Throughout different points in this song, I hear a youthfulness, and playfulness to Seungri’s singing that he sells like hot cakes. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and that carefree attitude is felt in and out of his music. I wanted to hear grown-up music from Seungri before, but now I see that it makes sense for him to approach music as a young adult, and this song is perfectly crafted for that audience.
SISTAR19 – Ma Boy
How could I have gone a whole list of top kpop songs without including Hyorin, 2011′s favorite female singer. She’s really something else in Kpop, with those pipes of hers. She has good range, the ability to reach power notes that the masses love to hear, and, now, an unmistakable timbre. Hyorin goes for Kpop songs at their jugular, and turns them inside out. Where Kpop starlets whisper songs under a backing track, this chick overpowers every song as if her mic was down, and while she ends up shouting most of the time, there’s no denying the fact that Hyorin gives it her ALL and then some. But something inside me loves the moments in this song when she’s fully controlled and not sounding strained (see: verses, and interjections). Oh and then there’s the rapper – Hi, how are you doing? Nice body waves.
Untouchable (FEAT. OH JINSUK) – You You
It’s funny that it would be a relatively unpopular group among Kpop media – Untouchable – to release a POP song that absolutely trumped all others. Untouchable applied all that is pop music (specifically its composition and appeal) and slapped it into submission by ridding it of its demons and embracing simple melodies, a worthy hook, and a super-duper cool beat. Even funnier is that they decided to include a catchy hook a la – repetitive gibberish, except *GASP* this ISN’T gibberish. “I’ve got YOUUU, YOUUU!” they say, and guess what – It actually makes so much sense! It integrates the title of the song, but in the best way for pop-eaters and trolls to devour. It’s like they served me my favorite dessert, but secretly tweaked the recipe so to enhance my pleasure. And you know what, this is tastier.
There you have it! And here’s one final treat. It’s my personal pick for BEST ALBUM of 2011 (So Far). Yeah, It is none other than ‘FICTION & FACT’ by B2ST. I swear I disliked them one year ago…But given their growth in all aspects of pop performance and song, they’ve more than won my admiration and attention as a fan. (And I may or may not have actually purchased their album.)
This album is hands down the most cohesive and fabulous thing released this year. Where other top Kpop stars delivered awesome singles, but crumbled with their B-side material, B2ST served great tracks from point A to point B. The whole thing made so much sense and gave B2ST a set of arms (not those arms) that other pop-tarts should be afraid of. B2ST are no longer rookies in my book, and from this point on, I won’t look at them as such. They’re spearheading this new generation into the future with high quality music worth exalting and drooling over. Am I alone in this? For even more gushing, please read my album review over at allkpop.com.
That’s it. If you have your own top kpop songs so far this year, share them below! And don’t forget to: