I started out by re-listening (while grading coursework) to the playlists I made in 2017. Of course some songs never made it onto a playlist, or I may have been concentrating and never heard the song as it went past me. But just that listening took a long time. Then at the end I realized that I was missing representation from some groups or singers I really like and then I actually went back to their releases for the year and found which was the best and decided if it made the list. So this project actually took almost three weeks.
So welcome to a REALLY long list. The entire list is also accompanied by a YouTube playlist (of course). But you could just read down here and watch things you aren't familiar with. The further down the list you go, the more music you'll be unfamiliar with, because I start with the major hit groups and solo acts. That is because the list has mainstream K-pop at the top, and we get into the Independent music, even some underground music, further down the list.
The section headings are also links that take you directly to that place in the list, in case you want to scroll past one group, but listen to all of another section.
Block B "Shall We Dance"
Oh yes, we've got a mishmash of cultural elements in true bricoleur K-pop style, some soft-appropriation (soft as in they're just going for an aesthetic without being particularly offensive), but the song is fun, the hook is catchy, and I guess I'll miss the boys when they enlist.
I actually really like this song, it hits all the right points for me-- the "wooo-hooo" background is particularly pleasing. Nothing here is that original, but I still feel it may be BAP's best song yet. The video I'm less interested in, but I like the sound a lot. But "Wake Me Up" a BAP release from March was also quite excellent, not quite enough to get on the playlist, but enough to get a mention here!
Black 6ix "Please"
To me this is a stereotype of a new hopeful boy group -- the song evokes early B2ST.
BTS is particularly hot right now, and with their reliably good releases it is not hard to see why. They even get two songs on the list because Come Back Home sounds absolutely fabulous even if some fans complained because they couldn't see enough of the handsome faces of the boys. However, this song is just a remake-- BTS and Seo Taiji collaborated to do a twenty-fifth anniversary reboot of this song. The sad thing is that before this song many so-called fans didn't know who Seo Taiji was. Just the leader of the first K-pop group that created the model of K-pop we still see today... (this is the original Come Back Home).
EXO "Ko Ko Bop" TOP TEN
This is the first of my top ten for the year selections. Why does this song get the honors and not a song by a group I like more? Because I am honestly able to listen to this song on a loop for a ridiculously long time. I like the Alice in Wonderland acid trip video and the music feels like a warm summer day.
Winner "Really Really"
This is Winner's best release to date.
GOT7 "Never Ever"
Like Winner, Got7 seems to finally be living up to my expectations.
Seventeen "Don't Wanna Cry"
This group might be my favorite boy group right now (since I believe Big Bang is essentially over). On the other hand, I am enjoying BTS a ton, I just don't think they need more fans. They've got a lot of backers right now. Seventeen, though, also has some very interesting stuff they're trying, I particularly like the idea of having the three subgroups who focus on dance, hip-hop, and performance. (Trauma by the Hip-hop sub group is the best of those releases, not quite good enough for this list, though).
Wanna One "Energetic"
EPIK HIGH "Bincha" feat. Oh Hyuk
I am a sucker for one of the rare songs with some meaningful lyrics. Plus Epik High seems to only get better with age, if less "idol" than ever. Oh Hyuk's songs with his group, Hyukoh are listed below.
Just in case you are not familiar with the K-pop world, we have gender dimorphism in K-pop in a big way. Women are definitely required/encouraged to act either girly (or aegyo, an affected cuteness which is totally socially acceptable) or sexy. The idea that you wouldn't call a physically mature woman a girl has yet to hit the K-pop world, and in fact many young women debut when they are as young as fifteen or sixteen, so these are "girl groups" -- this becomes a bit awkward when they are in their late thirties like the first group (a comeback of a group that debuted in 1997), or even in their later twenties.
If you call yourself a K-pop fan and don't know who SES are, I think you don't even know what K-pop is. SES are the prototypical girl group. Here they are, twenty years later, back together. So awesome.
I may or may not have included this so that my list of girl group releases got longer. But honestly I like the nostalgia and the primary colors. This has so much of what a typical girl group video should have. I could make a checklist of common K-pop elements for a girl group and check of probably everyone of them with this video.
I had to go all the way back to January to find AOA's best song of 2017-- not everyone would agree with my assessment, some people were disappointed by the release, but I liked it, and I still do, and 20 million views can't all be guys watching their butts in short-shorts, can it? No. The retro look and dance here is good, and the song, like all good idol pop, is catchy.
Girl's Day "I'll be Yours"
Maybe I just like this video b/c a woman in a giant dress punches men^^ -- certainly I find some of the dance moves uncomfortable at best.
This is Gfriend's least annoying release in 2017 and one of my former students will kill me if I don't include at least one Gfriend song. So this is here to save my own life.
EXID "Night Rather than Day"
I like EXID. And I liked them more when they still had their best vocalist, who is missing from this release, but I still like their sound. If you give me a choice between a girl group that is sexy and a girl group that is girly (as if those should be the only choices, and clearly Mamamoo shows there are other choices), then I'm going to pick the sexy group. Neither sexy nor girly is truly empowered, but at least the sexy ones aren't pretending not to be sexualized (because those girly aegyo groups are just as sexualized but in an icky infantalized Lolita way).
Mamamoo "Aze Gag" with an honorary mention for "Yes I Am"
Now that both 2NE1 and Sistar are history (and Sistar was pretty inconsistent), and Brown Eyed Girls haven't released anything good in about 5 years, Mamamoo are my favorite currently active "girl" group. They're just plain fun.
I didn't know if I'd include this or not. 2NE1 has been my reliably favorite girl group for years, from their second release ("Lollipop" was annoying). This song is bittersweet, but it has that sound, that 2NE1 sound that I've always liked so much.
I have never been the biggest BOA fan, I like her dancing more than her singing, but I really like this song a lot-- it's in her top 5 releases ever, in my opinion.
Hyori "Black" and "Seoul" feat Killagramz TOP TEN
I have always loved Hyori, she's fun, increasingly political, and she brings the best of K-pop to the table. I think these are my two favorite songs from her entire career, from her days as one member in the idol group FIN.k.l. until the present. They both belong in the top list. U Go Girl!
Here's the video link to "Seoul," which I marginally prefer over "Black,"even though I think she should call the song "Seoul and Jeju Island" considering how much of Jeju's scenery appears. Honestly though, both could practically make the top ten.
As much as I dislike the way Hyuna embraces her status as a sexual object, I also like her. She's not exactly a "bad girl" because mainstream K-pop doesn't have bad girls (in interviews and other programs she's totally covered up, innocent as could be, the sex-object thing is depicted as her stage persona and not her real self), but she's fun. She's enjoying herself. This music video with its crappy effects worked in to make it more low brow and approachable, it's hilarious nonsense lyrics (do you not actually know how old you are?), the nasal rapping, the 70s moments... its fun. I like fun.
Seonmi [Sunmi] "Gashina"
This track surprised me -- I hadn't expected something quite so ... fierce? From Seonmi.
IU "Palette" feat. G-Dragon
Actually this might not be IU's best in 2017, she's so prolific though, it is sort of overwhelming to even choose what's the best.
Jung Yonghwa "That Girl" feat. Loco.
This is Jung Yonghwa's best work in my opinion, it's fun, it's upbeat, the rap by Loco works smoothly with the parts that Yonghwa sings. In the past Yonghwa's releases have been almost always slower ballads, or what he releases with his group CNBlue, which is also often (rock) ballad type songs.
Taemin "Move (solo performance M/V)" (M/V # 1, Duo Version M/V) TOP TEN
I cannot emphasize how many times I watched this video, and the other two official videos. Taemin's dancing is amazing (thanks to the choreography of Koharu Sugawara, the short dark haired woman who appears in the duo version video with him). This comes in as one of my top ten for the year.
Rain "The Best Present (white version M/V)" (the dark version)
This video only makes the list because no one in K-pop can pull of this R&B slow song + athletic dancing thing like Bi, and we should all bow down and worship him for his skills. Note-- this was ONE TAKE.
Actually Zico irritates me-- everything about him, including the spelling of his name (there is no Z sound in Korean, so in fact it should be Jiko not Zico). He's a serial cultural appropriator and he does it in the worst way-- like wearing the confederate flag-- but he's a prodigious talent.
Zion T. "The Song"
If there is anything this list has proved to myself, it's how much I like some humor with my K-pop. This is Zion-T's (in my opinion) most danceable and humorous release of the year, even though it came way back in January.
PSY "I Luv It"
I have to love this video. Just watch it. It's too much fun. But just so you know, the practice of embedding a translation (guiding understanding and making it impossible to view without translation), particularly a translation that does not properly capture the complexity of the video, is evil. No one should do this. Observe how Psy works to advertise travel to Korea-- this embedded product placement is obvious, but really there is PPL in a large amount of mainstream videos. Why did I pick this song for the list instead of "New Face"? Well, Yi Byeongheon (the actor) has an adorable cameo here, as does the Pineapple Pen guy.
San E "I Love Myself" feat. Hwasa of Mamamoo
San E has always been a more political rapper, but he's still mainstream idol-managed, so one never knows how much of what he raps is "him" and how much of it is a performance.
Jonghyun "Lonely" feat. Taeyeon
Honestly, this song would not have made the cut, even though I was always biased towards Jonghyun out of all the SHINee members (even though I love Taemin's dancing and Minho's eyes) because Jonghyun was an actual artist who wrote this song himself. Now, I don't want to listen to this, because it depresses me to think "what if someone understood what he needed?"
Triple H "So Fresh"
This is one of the most risque K-pop videos ever. This project group (Hyuna, Edawn, Hui) combine murder, a menage a trois, and suicide in one of the most over-the-top K-pop videos of 2017. And it gets stuck in your head like you would not believe. So I am following a song by a man who committed suicide with a K-pop song in which three stars pretend to commit suicide.
This is KARD's best release yet, and I actually found it quite singable (I even made a mild effort to memorize the lyrics).
4월호- 살아온 자 살아갈 자"
Yoon releases one song per month, always creative. this is my favorite of 2017 and I thought that at least one of his songs should be represented here. He's a singer, songwriter, radio and TV star, and has his own (minor) K-pop management agency, Mystic89 (they manage among others Uhm Junghwa who appears on this list).
Bak Jaebeom (Jay Park) "Hulk Hogan"
It's true that in general I like everything Jaebeom does, even when he's a sexually objectifying ass. (Yes, intentional play on words, since he is obviously obsessed with butts). I don't like the aesthetic of this video, which is, if I am reading it correctly, a sort of nod to the authenticity of Korean independent / formerly underground artists like Keith Ape (not that Jaebeom isn't independent, he is). But I love the sound, the unlikeliness of the subject, and just the basic Jaebeom swagger.
Gallant, Tablo, and Eric Nam "Cave Me In"
I feel guilty, but it's Gallant's voice that has me captivated here. I really appreciate that idols (albeit super non-standard idols like 'Blo) are actually making real music with non-Koreans, not just throwing random foreigners into the background in the video to show how cosmopolitan they are (I have a whole chapter in an edited book written on the topic of foreign dancing bodies in K-pop, in case you didn't realize).
Last summer someone accused me of being biased towards male groups and singers. I am now sure that's wrong.
1) there aren't many women in hip-hop and I do listen to a lot in that category
2) I don't like idol girl groups that much
However, looking at this list, in the solo female categories there are a ton of women, whether in this women-dominated alternative section, or in the idol solo acts. Even many hip-hop songs made it on the list because of the female guest vocalist (often not the rapper).
Stella Jang's "Vanishing Paycheck" TOP TEN
This is definitely in my top 10 for the year.
Oohyo "Goodbye" "Dandelion"
I think I like "Goodbye" more than "Dandelion" as the relationship seems so evocative, but with "Dandelion" there is a great chorus, and still the same soothing voice. Also the nostalgia-inducing video and the lyrics are pretty cool.
Cherry Coke "Like I Do"
Like the songs above, this is a trippy floaty art piece.
This song probably makes it on the list because of Cherry Coke's guest vocals and the dance-filled video. This and the track above just need to stay together.
Zee Bomb "Walking Last Night"
Another jazzy song with some sweet guitar work.
Seon-u Jeong-a "C A T" feat. IU
A jazzy offering by Seon-u Jeong-a, another of my favorites. This song just came out, do I like it enough to place it in the top 100, or am I just so happy to have a new song from her?
Choi Ye-geun Band "Adult"
Apparently I like some jazzy accents in my music these days. [Edit: I can't believe I didn't watch this video really before today-- and today I finally noticed that this is ONE woman playing all the parts in the band. I had pegged it for a not interesting video and mostly just listened to it before].
Yi Byeonghyeon "Bye Bye Cloud"
This whimsical jazzy little number is another that I had forgotten about until I went back to re-listen to everything.
This is not the Cifika song I want to include, but it was released in 2017, and after my friend introduced me to her music I've been so in love with her sound.
Yaeji's "The Drink I'm Sipping On" TOP TEN
This laid back, trippy, and totally not idol song was such a favorite of mine that I probably started to annoy people as I went around introducing it to everyone. It is another of my top 10 tracks for the year. Bravo to 88 Rising for giving Yaeji so much exposure. This young woman is super talented.
Coco Avenue "Eottae"
Yep, this is a duo of two African-American women. But this is K-pop (in a sort of idol pop style), and they sound great (not like EXP Edition and their mangled lyrics). I love this song.
Jessi "Don't Make Me Cry"
I don't want to like this song, because Jessi's performance of self on TV shows really turns me off, but she's got some serious pipes, and there are very few voices like hers in K-pop.
Hyuk-oh "Tomboy" and "Wanli" TOP TEN (Wanli)
Tomboy made the list just because you need to go watch this awesome video -- the art is very fun, very whimsical.
Hyukoh is actually a four man group fronted by Oh Hyuk. Oh speaks Chinese, in addition to English and Korean, and Wanli is in Chinese with a video that seems to be filmed in China. I love it. It's amazing, quirky, and so different than most Korean music. The video's aesthetics are so amazing to me that I'm sticking it on the top ten.
Captain Rock "I Don't Know" feat Cha Seung-u and Bak Jonghyeon
Just in case you thought Korea didn't make any (punk) rock! Captain Rock is Han Gyeongrok, the bassist for Crying Nut. And the video even has a cyclist!
This song is beautiful, and Yoon is a giant in the history of Korean music, yet... Korean music is so saturated right now this beautiful song dropped without an outside-Korea trace (inside of Korea it got more traction because people know who Yoon is).
Jazzmal "Ma Home" feat Sato Yukie
This is the most neglected song that has made this list. I love this song. I've shared it on FB repeatedly. But still no one has watched it. I know they aren't cute or young, but surely this shouldn't be so unknown. I know the singer has horrible hair, but I just love his deep voice!
Hey Men "Jelly"
Another neglected song-- it's barely been watched at all, even though they actually made a decent video, not just throwing up an image with an audio track.
Primary "~42" feat. Esna and Sam Kim
The video's cute and I like the Korean on the screen to make it easy to sing along.
JK Skull and Tiger JK "Here to Stay"
One of the most important points about K-pop is that it's genre flexible. This is your reggae + rap offering of the list. Actually it's a really smooth song, if the video is an annoying mash-up of posturing to demonstrate authenticity.
Honestly, I over listened to 10cm in 2010, right before they got super big and I'm totally sick of them and feel like their sound hasn't evolved at all, but this is the better of their 2017 releases.
Dauri "Why?" feat. U-il
A sappy breakup song for you, right before the comedy pieces below.
This song gets onto the list for the dubious honor of being bizarre and trying WAY too hard to be an idol pop song. Don't miss the part where they tell you the blood type of each of the girls on the screen.
Charlie and Shinba "Good Zombie"
This is another humorous video, this time indeed we have good (and very misunderstood) zombies. It's fun, it's funny, and it incorporates a ton of intertextual humor.
I have always liked Dumbfoundead's music. I am not entirely happy with his more commercial turn this year as can be seen in this song, "Hyung" and "Every Last Drop" and "Rocketman" -- I still think he's really talented, though, and I wish him the best with his BornCtzn label.
Bizzy "What up Hyung?" feat. YDG
If you listen to this song with only one ear attuned to it, you'll think you're listening to Tiger JK. All in the family, right?
Sway D "올라가" feat Superbee and Gortexx
This is a clever, visually captivating video, and none of your friends have seen it.
Goretexx, Han Yohan, Black Nut "Silky Bois"
Behwy and Yang Sehyeong "Manse!"
I wanted a Behwy song on this list, because I really admire his skills, but I don't like much of what he's done in 2017, except this. It's actually part of an "Infinite Challenge" challenge, and it's teaching the audience the history of An Junggeon (Korea's penultimate martyr and hero). I even downloaded this, so it really does belong on this list of best of 2017. Turn on the subtitles if you don't know Korean.
G2 "Bang" feat. Bago, Los, Dumbfoundead
Okay, honestly this is on the list because of Bago's vocals. Amazing. She needs to be in every video (okay that'd be over doing it, but I love her voice).
Young Cream "Better Know" feat. J-Boog
To me this video represents a lot of things that were done right-- it's a really beautiful collaboration between two people who sound good. It brings together cultures without cultural appropriation BS. It's got a steady line of gayageum all through the track-- the only thing that could be better is the video.
Wutan "808" feat Don Mills
Don Mills "Mr. Trap Hwang"
I work well to this song, the beat works well for me, I guess. But I also like the strings (acoustic maybe yanggeum really low in the background.
Code Kunst "Fire Water"
I think really this is just here because of the line in the chorus "fire in the water" -- love it. Actually the music, the whole thing, it's great.
Cheetah "Blurred Lines"
I don't quite know how this song escaped notice, perhaps because if a woman is in Korean hip-hop she needs to blatantly objectify herself to succeed and Cheetah doesn't.
Siyun "그 때의 너" feat. Seo Jayeong
The vocals on this song, the simple video, and the fact that no one has watched it lead me to ask you to give this charming song a chance.
GroovyRoom "Sunday" feat. Heize and Jay Park
This song was able to do quite well because Heize and Bak Jaebeom (Jay Park) were the featured artists. GroovyRoom (Bak Gyujeong and Yi Hwimin) are actually pretty well known producers who have produced songs for a lot of big names (like Hyolyn of defunct group Sistar, Heize, and One), and they have been signed to Bak Jaebeom's H1GHR Music so we should hear more releases by them, not just songs they produce.
Double K "Used to" feat. Kriz
Actually I think I mostly like this song for the singing by the guest vocalist, Kriz.
Legit Goons "Junk Drunk Love"
No one is taking themselves too seriously here, but the result sounds good.
This is super smooth and the video is amusing.
Mun Myeongjin "Lie Down" feat. Reddy
From the Tibetan vocal sample at the start of the track, the music all the way through, the neon over-saturated colors, and the smooth rap, this is one of my favorite rap releases in 2017.
Mad Clown "사랑은 지옥에서 온 개" feat. Suran
It's a simple and beautiful little video featuring Suran, really nice.
I have no idea why this video hasn't gotten more views. ACT's singing really adds so much to the song, too. Another on the list for the year is also by Reddy, "Supreme"
Bill Stax "38 Flexing"
Bill Stax (back when he was called Garion) was a favorite of mine many years ago. I still don't know why he had to change his name to another stupid combination of Western name and sounds that don't exist in Korean ('st' as well as 'x'), but the track is awesome. I love that he calls himself the father of Korean rap in the song, too.
Justhis and Paloalto "Brown Eyes View" feat. Cifika (whom you already saw above).
With Cifika's guest vocals and a video where they cruise the city I miss so much, this is just so awesome.
The singing in this song is just so sweet, and I'm a sucker for anything that includes Beenzino.
He's so young I just want to pinch his cheeks and pat him on the back and say "good for you!" He really qualifies for the description of unknown young and struggling artist, so please throw a little love his way.
Woodie Gochild "Let's Get It"
And video director August Frogs brings me yet another video with interesting hints of Korean locality, perfect for a paper I'm working on.
Keith Ape and Ski Mask the Slump God "Achoo!"
I like a good bizarre video, and this song makes me bounce around in my seat I like the beat so much... Keith Ape even washed his hair before the video shoot-- I'm impressed.
Keith Ape and Ski Mask the Slump God "Achoo!"
I like a good bizarre video, and this song makes me bounce around in my seat I like the beat so much... Keith Ape even washed his hair before the video shoot-- I'm impressed.
Hong Jinyeong, DIA, Kim Yeonja "You Are My Flower" TOP TEN
This is one of the simplest and strongest videos, ever. It's just a shot of a middle aged woman, sad, crying, drinking soju alone in a restaurant surrounded by couples and what not. It's a song of longing for an unhealthy relationship.
Trust me. Watch it. Yes, it has an unexpectedly advertisement like beginning (it makes more sense the second time you watch, and of course, if you understand Korean or have watched some Korean TV before). You just can't be in a bad mood while listening to trot (well, you can be sad, like the above).
Seo Ina "Apdiero" TOP TEN
I use this video to illustrate inter-textuality in Korean media to my students. But more than all the clever references and the humor, it's just awesome. One of my top 10 for the year, for sure.
At first I didn't like this song much because it is essentially an extended product placement for Adidas, even though I liked the sound, in general. However, I have exactly one MA student-- even though she's in her MA she decided to take my K-pop class like a regular student. This song was one of the options for the final video essay and she chose to write on it, turning in a very pithy and well-argued analysis of Dok2 (who is an independent rapper, not an idol pop star) and his finances as one of the artists by the collaboratively owned and managed 1llionaire Records. According to her analysis Dok2 is unabashedly making money and he's not going to pretend otherwise.
Day 6- "All Alone"
This isn't my favorite type of K-pop, and I don't even like their other songs, but the layered voices in this song really grew on me. I found that even though I had reacted with "meh" at first, I was listening to the song often.
It's not a complicated track, but it's fun-- upbeat.
NCT 127 "Cherry Bomb"
I didn't like this song because of the overly repetitive and essentially meaningless lyrics, then it grew on me -- I guess sometimes repetition can be a good thing^^
Uhm Junghwa "Watch Me Move"
Musically this song doesn't really have anything to say for itself. But I love that Uhm is still releasing music from time to time, and this video is trippy. She isn't pretending not to be older than all the little K-pop stars, nor is she just trying to do their thing (this feels consistent with some of her work more than a decade ago), and the visuals are trippy.
Kim Changhoon and Blackstones "My First Love, Gwangju" feat. Jeong Hongil and Yun Seong
This makes it on the list even though I cannot actually list to it too often, because of the historical lessons for those still unfamiliar with the Gwangju Massacre in May 1980.
HearIM "Snow Flower"
It was really hard for me to get past this stupid name. But the song has a gorgeous video and combines piri with guitar and piano in a not unpleasing way. I mean, I want to see more of this! Oh, also, it's totally instrumental. Which makes it the only all instrumental song on the list.