My 17 Favorite K-pop songs of Winter 2017: 10-1

If you missed where I revealed 17-11 and also where I laid out the very shaky rules (summary: I don’t care about sales, popularity, or your mediocre faves, I only care about how I feel (so selfish, I know)) then you can find that here. Otherwise, let’s get to the Top 10!

10. GFriend, “Fingertip”

GFriend’s brand of super earnest girl pop became more and more frenetic, peaking with “Rough”. Artistically, the formula was bound to break so they pulled back for the wonderful “Navillera” and promoted the b-side “Gone with the Wind”, which instantly became my favorite GFriend song.

There was really no need to shake things up. And yet, for no explicable reason, they decided to go pure neo-80’s maximalism with “Fingertip”.

I actually did not like Fingertip on first listen. Sensory overload maybe? What hooked me though was the instrumental at the end of the music video.

“Fingertip” is a cacophony of power chords piled on top of synths and some guitar blaring in the background because you know GFriend needs their guitar solo. It’s the female version of “The Chaser” (but not as much of a masterpiece). With a mismatching visual concept and a rather challenging production, “Fingertip” on first listen takes a second to sort out. The song actually rewards an audio only debut. Without the visuals and the music video’s intro and outro, you can better figure out what you are hearing. It’s initial release was jarring, but if you forgive GFriend for going so off brand and are willing to allow extraneous cultural perceptions to melt away, you can enjoy a synthed out power anthem of epic proportions.

9. Gugudan, “A Girl Like Me”

There isn’t much to be said about Gugudan’s “A Girl Like Me”. It’s a great reflection on the evolution of superproductions in k-pop. Girl groups were once competing for how many genres and bridges could be thrown into a single song and how fast you could drive it off a cliff. Girls Day won. It was glorious. We’ll hopefully talk about it some other time. Anyway… afterwards, the superproductions settled into something more consistent but still confident.

However, at a time when k-pop has so much going on artistically (albeit with varying levels of success), a straight up power pop jam will only go so far. Ultimately, “A Girl Like Me” feels a little late to the party. Other girl groups have been finding greater revelations in layering their tone and themes. Number 8 provides an example.

8.AOA, “Excuse Me”

It’s almost difficult to remember that AOA is the same group that released the masterful “Miniskirt”. Their sound became quite reductive as they rose in popularity.

But with “Excuse Me”, AOA accomplished something admirable. They were cute and womanly at the same time. They turned a 20th century version of Sherlock Holmes’s study into a pop art installation stage. The song will probably diminish more and more in my esteem as the year goes on, but I’m happy to acknowledge it here and now.

7. CLC, “Meow Meow”

CLC have been on my radar since their debut. Last year, “No Oh Oh” proved they had the ability to create consistently great songs. Somehow, where most groups who have not broken through would begin to show the wear and tear of not having a hit, CLC still continue to make top shelf music.

I passed on CLC’s “Hobgoblin”, an attempt to be heirs to 4minute. It felt desperate. Granted, they are. But Crystyle turned out to be a confident album that was unapologetic in its ease and loyalty to the music of the early aughts. The album felt more concerned with pop craft than landing a hit. It was the Korean equivalent of Austin Mahone’s too-good-for-the-US-so-of-course-it-flopped “The Secret”.

I chose “Meow Meow” to represent the girls on this list because Island/tropical jams are a primary weakness and CLC have released the best so far. Where the boy groups try too hard to bro out the sound for a power super production that will conquer through sheer aggressiveness, CLC truly committed to the groove creating a cool and yet slinkily cute hook that goes straight to your hips.

6. Melody Day, “Kiss on the Lips”

Melody Day were supposed to be the group that emphasized vocals, but I guess they were not as obnoxious as Mamamoo to assault their way into popularity. Well it seems they have made an alternative play for true idol status with a song meant for the beach to be danced to while holding a coconut with a straw in it.

“Kiss on the Lips” had wonderfully intricate armography, a vocal that at times purrs and at times chimes. The music feels as if an actual band is jamming in Hawaiian shirts.

Melody Day edged out CLC because “Kiss on the Lips” was their title track and it sounds so acoustic, a nice change. It stayed in my mind more.

5. I (feat. Tiger JK), “I Wish”

If k-pop is trying to revive pop soloists, and I exemplifies the effort, then bring it on. I goes full BoA in concept and sound, and it’s a triumph. The track is perfectly calibrated with energetic transitions between its too-cool-for-school verses and has a chorus that is filled with earnest teen spirit. The flourishes of strings and the instrumental bridges never allow your ear to get bored.

The only issue is the name. I is not SEO friendly.

4. Brave Girls, “Rollin”

WHY IS THIS SONG SO HIGH? There is nothing technically special about “Rollin”. The vocals are kind of typical in their amateurishly harsh belting. The music production has nothing refreshing in terms of hooks.

But it doesn’t matter. If you love a genre of entertainment, then you don’t only love it when it’s artistic and innovative. “Rollin” is freakishly addictive, the most listenable song of the season. The choreo is sexy and fun, but most importantly, the girls always look like they are having a blast performing. No plastic tryhard faces. Just charming smiles and some grown women who actually have hips to roll.

The cheap effects with the burning planet and glowing eyes just put me over. Had to link the music video. “Rollin” is the high fructose corn syrup of pop. Cheap, sugary, addictive and will probably kill you. I spent so much time listening to this song on repeat my head felt hollow.

3. NCT Dream, “My First and Last”

NCT Dream are the rare group to stay on brand. “Chewing Gum” and “My First and Last” are electro-bops that are somehow brilliant in how they lack levels. They combine a deadpan electro-production with boyish vocals to create a very unique and artful interpretation of boyish innocence, crunchy with chime.

The music video and choreography remain as fresh as ever. In MF&L they compete over a teacher they have a crush on, pay homage to Michael Jackson’s style while still feeling authentic to themselves (no amateurs playing dress up hear, they can really wear costumes), and they converted cardboard boxes into working go-carts. It all works flawlessly.

If NCT Dream keep this up and graduate to mini-albums, they could become a serious cult classic.

2. Suzy, “Yes No Maybe”

Suzy’s “Yes No Maybe” is so good that it gives Fei’s “Fantasy” a run for its money (but Fei wins because her visual work was iconic). It’s also so good that no visual could do it justice (but also because her choreo reminded me of how superior it would be if Miss A did it. That part where she gets on the floor was weak when compared to Miss A’s “Hush”). However, most importantly, it is so good that it made me forgive Suzy for breaking up Miss A, for forcing the members to go separate ways just to have a chance to create music they could actually promote. (And yet Fei’s promos stumbled with a controversy.)

“Yes No Maybe” is an instant classic, a lush dance song where Suzy’s soulful yet light vocal sweep over a grounded and yet driven beat. And like songs of yore, it actually makes you want to listen to the album, and listen to the album you should.

1. Twice, “Knock Knock”

What can be said that has not already been said?

Twice are icons.
And Twice deserves to be icons.

Ever since “TT”, Twice have shown a mastery over pop performance and craft. They’ve created their own unique brand of electro-pop that is fun, indie-esque, and full of personality. Their performances brilliantly personify their song’s concept and are always filled with complex formations, smiles, and charming expressions. They create great songs that bring true joy while never sacrificing professionalism.

I got nothin’ else to say. Just listen and feel happiness.

And damn Music Bank for not allowing embedding.

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