Saturday, December 26, 2015

Top 10 K-Pop Albums of 2015!

As many of you may (or may not!) know, I am not only a huge fan of Korean beauty, but also Korean music! While I do listen to a lot of solo artists and Korean indie, sadly there weren't many full albums or even mini albums released this year by the smaller/lesser known artists that I love. 
I'm making this list for fun, because 2015 has been such a big year in KPop, and because I would love to keep track of my favorites every year! I would also love it if maybe through this post I might help you find some of your new favorites songs- who knows, right?

So let's get right into my top 10!
 I've chosen either the single, or my favorite song off the album to showcase and give an overall idea of what the album sounds like, what the concept is etc!

10. Day 6- The Day
Day 6 is a rookie group under JYP Entertainment that made their debut in September, so I honestly wasn't expecting their first mini album to be on my top 10. I was really surprised and impressed by their musical talent right out of the gate. Different from the rest of my top 10, Day 6 is actually a band not just a group. They play their own instruments, take part in the song writing and production process, and are undeniably talented vocally. Another thing that impressed me about them, is that they won't perform on any weekly music show where they are not allowed to perform live. They have simply stated that they're not interested in performing with MR backing tracks, which I'm pretty sure is unheard of in Korean Pop music. While they are a "band" by definition, this album is filled with moody synths (the song, "Colors") , upbeat, punchy pop melodies (the song, Freely Free) as well as your classic rock songs like the single, "Congratulations." I absolutely love their versatility and felt like they really deserved a spot on my top 10!

"Congratulations" MV

Seventeen is yet another rookie group gracing my list this year. They're signed to Pledis Entertainment, and while they officially debuted in May of this year, the members had been a part of a TV program broadcasting their trainee days since 2013.  The ages of the 13 guys (yes, 13) in Seventeen range from 16 to 20, and I was almost positive their music was going to fall into the "too childish for me" category. Oh, how wrong I was. Here's what is so amazing about Seventeen: Despite their young ages, these guys not only write and produce a lot of their songs, but they also help with choreography, styling and concept development for their performances. For a rookie group to be so involved in the process is rare, and something I'm always drawn to when I find it.
 Their first mini album "17 Carat" was actually really impressive, however I did hear a few hiccups in terms of the rapping abilities as well as the overall production and song choices where as an album, it wouldn't have made it here on the top 10. Surprisingly, Seventeen made yet another comeback with the album, "Boys Be" in September, and it immediately became one of my most-listened to albums of the year. There are 5 songs on this album, and they range from upbeat dance pop (Mansae), to gentle ballads (When I Grow Up), all the way to and EDM/Trap style vibe with the song "OMG"- it's just full of charisma and a lot of fun. It's one of those albums I wish came out in the Summer because it has that perfect vibe for blasting in the car with the windows rolled down.

Also, let me just mention that they are one of the best dance groups in the game right now, and that's really impressive for rookies. You can see what I mean in the Mansae video!

"Mansae" MV

8. VIXX- Chained Up
VIXX is a group that I slept on for a long time. I casually listened to some of their songs, but I didn't really take notice of them until the middle of this year. Signed to Jellyfish Entertainment, VIXX usually has albums filled with dark, concept rich songs and music videos, sexy choreography and really, really impressive vocals. While they may not be one of my all-time favorite groups, I can honestly say that the vocalists in VIXX are some of the most talented in any KPop group right now. Part of the reason I'm so drawn to their music is how unique the tones are to their voices and how buttery-smooth they all seem to blend together. VIXX made a comeback in November, so I have to say that it's pretty damn good if it came out this late in the year and made my top 10. The vibe, while continuing the "dark" sound they usually have ("Chained Up"), also has some upbeat pop songs ("λΆ€μ‹œμ‹œ") as well as some slower more mature tracks ("Hot Enough.") I don't hear VIXX doing nearly enough sexy, slower tracks, but teasing us with their ability to do them flawlessly on this album has just left me wanting way more from them.

Also, while this is the single, I want to mention that my fiance really likes this song- which is why I chose it to feature here! :)

"Chained Up" MV

7. SHINee- Odd/ Married to the Music
SHINee is a long-running, well respected group nowadays, so it's no wonder that their comeback this year was absolutely flawless. Since they're on SM Entertainment, the album "Odd" was repackaged with 4 additional songs and called, "Married to the Music." Interestingly, my 2 favorite songs from the album came on the repackage: "Married to the Music" and "Chocolate." The album as a whole has a really fantastic vibe that was perfect for the Summer when it came out. While SHINee's well-known ballads and moody slow songs were peppered throughout, this album was absolutely filled with big band horns, heavy thumping beats, catchy pop hooks, and throwbacks to so many eras I don't even know where to begin,  they somehow managed to make the entire album cohesive and as always: incredibly vocally impressive. Not only did the original album give me some amazing dance tunes for my Summer playlist, the repackage gave me a visually interesting music video as well as some quirkly synth-driven bonus tracks that I absolutely love.

SHINee: Married to the Music MV

6. IU- Chat-shire

  IU is not only the lone solo artist on my Top 10 this year, she's also the only female. Now don't get me wrong, I love female vocalists and there's lots of girl groups I'm really into, but none of them really made comebacks this year that blew me away, and the female rookie groups that I've been taking notice of in 2015 still have a ways to go in terms of developing their talent and overall image. IU is a very well known and incredibly popular singer/songwriter in Korea signed to Loen Tree, however it wasn't until this year that I finally started listening to her. When I decided to listen to the single "23" from her album Chat-shire, I was immediately hooked and needed more. It's very rare for me to say this about a female artist, but there is not a single bad song on this album. My personal favorites are the single, "23" and "Red Queen" which features one of my favorite vocalists, Zion.T. I find the overall theme and vibe of this album to be very whimsical and dream-like. IU's vocals are powerful, but she tends to stay in a breathy, lighter-pitched vocal register which seems to work well for this style of music. I find that all of her songs (even from old albums) have an interesting production that makes them sound almost timeless- as if they could have been released in the 60's, or in 2040. The concepts of this album raised a few eyebrows and it became the topic of a lot of controversy this year, but I personally think that IU's songwriting is genius and she deserves a spot on this list.

"23" MV

5. GOT7- Just Right/ MAD
GOT7 is a rookie group under JYP Entertainment, although their official debut was last year. Over the course of 2015 they have slowly but surely become one of my favorites due to their insane vocal talent, amazing personalities and truly impressive choreography. Also, their visuals are top notch. I can't even deny that they're all ridiculously good-looking so it's not hard to enjoy their music videos! More importantly though, their sound is finally starting to find it's own unique voice, and it's really exciting to watch. Yes, GOT7 released 2 mini albums this year and I have them both listed under the #5 spot. It's not because I'm trying to cheat the system here- it's because I found the mini album "Just Right" more cohesive and enjoyable overall in terms of song quality, but my favorite GOT7 song released this year was actually from their second Mini album of 2015, "Mad." The first mini album, "Just Right" has a very fun and upbeat sound conceptually featuring everything from carnival-esque backing tracks to synth-driven brooding power pop. "Just Right" had one hit song after another. Honestly there isn't a "filler" song in the bunch, and that is something I'm always looking out for. While I liked their second mini album "Mad" just a little bit less, it was mostly because it had more rap on it than I typically like from GOT7. While I enjoy the vocal tone of Jackson and Mark's rapping and how it contrasts to JB and Junior's vocals, I found the hip-hop heavy songs a bit jarring within the mix and it threw off the flow of the album for me. Regardless, the best song they've released this year is "If You Do." I think it shows a really obvious growth maturity to their vocals and concept styl. To me, it shows where GOT7 is headed as they get older and continue to hone their skills and style. 

Check out the absolutely amazing choreography and detailed footwork in the chorus of this video! 

"If You Do" MV

4. B1A4- Sweet Girl
 When it comes to overall discographies, I think that B1A4 is one of my all-time favorite groups. I came to like them really quickly because of my best friend's enthusiasm for them. While they're quite popular in Korea, they still have yet to build a huge fan base internationally, which is why they're not mentioned or praised as often as their sometimes less-deserving peers. Not only do B1A4 write their own songs and help with production and concept, but they have such a special and unique style that almost sounds in some ways, more mature than other groups currently promoting. 'Sweet Girl' was their only release this year, however it was an album that left a really intense impression on me. I remember describing it to a friend like this: "It sounds like the soundtrack to a really beautiful life-long romance." The songs on this album are refreshing yet complex, and they carry a level of musicality that can't be compared to any other group right now. Sandeul's vocals in particular are simply mind-blowing, and he has been considered by professional vocal analysts as one of the most talented vocalists in Korea. Jinyoung's song-writing abilities perfectly showcase each members talents, and the genuine closeness of the members is almost palpable upon listening to their music. While this may not be their most ambitious album to date, it's one of the most cohesive and conceptual, and one that loudly stood out from the crowd this year despite it's quiet nature overall.

"Sweet Girl" MV

3. MONSTA X- Rush/ Trespass
MONSTA X is yet another rookie group that debuted in May of this year after the members participated in a televised competition to become a part of the group called "No Mercy." It was a really popular show which built them a fanbase in advance, and it also showed just how incredibly talented these guys are due to the stiff competition. Even though they're just babies in the KPop world, both of their mini albums that were released in 2015 were uniquely excellent. Their debut album, "Trespass" featured a perfect mix of hard-hitting rap and body rolling slow jams that makes for a beautiful blend of R&B and hip hop- which is really the sound MONSTA X does best. Their label, Starship Entertainment has done a fantastic job promoting them and giving them endless opportunities to shine in multiple music videos and dance practices, of which they have proven to be (along with Seventeen) rookies to watch out for in terms of their hard-hitting, perfectly in-sync choreography. When they came back again this year with "Rush" I was blown away even more by their ability to blend really intricate musicality with contrasting rapping and smooth-as-silk vocals. I love that IM and Jooheon both have very different rapping styles, and it makes for some really complex and varied tones in their songs. I'm really excited to see what these guys bring out in 2016!

"Rush" MV

2. BTS- The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt 1/ Pt 2
 Now that we're in the top 2, I'm going to have to try really, really hard not to ramble. BTS is one of those groups that is constantly underrated in terms of their talent. I have gotten a lot of eye-rolls for saying this, but I firmly believe they are following in BigBang's footsteps in terms of their talent and history. They come from a small company (BigHit Entertainment) they somehow gained a large following (especially internationally) with little fanfare and big promotion that many larger labels are capable of. They write and produce much of their own music, are regularly releasing mixtapes of their solo work, and are already doing headlining international tours. Their talent is absolutely limitless, and even though they debuted less than 3 years ago, they've already blazed a trail for themselves and grown leaps and bounds over the course of their career. As a huge fan of BTS, I have witnessed their albums start with endless potential, and slowly grow to some of the most impressive music being released in Korea. "The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt 1." brought a new style to their sound, mixing trap beats, horns, breathy vocals, heavy-hitting raps and absolutely insane choreography. This was absolutely my album of the Summer and there isn't a bad song in the bunch. 
They very recently came back with 'The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt 2" and I felt that since it's a continuation of the first album that they should be placed together here in the #2 spot. "Pt 2" is probably the most interesting and complex album I've heard all year. BTS branches out from their signature style with 'Butterfly' with it's sweeping vocals and almost ethereal and gentle sound, it shows such a maturity and growth in their song writing and production abilities. While the other songs on the album all have their strong points (my favorite happens to be the song "Dead Leaves"- highly recommended!) I think the most complex, fantastic and accessible song on the album is the single, "Run." This song manages to mix trap-style beats, Beach Boys-style melodies, 80's drum hits, hip hop influences and a pop/r&b overtone with absolute precision- something I never in a million years thought would be possible. This song just has it all and it's all so subtle that you almost don't notice it, which is truly the mark of genius when it comes to song writing and mixing in the production room. The album is not only cohesive and awesomely enough- a concept album, but it's incredibly unique from it's peers. 

"Run" MV

1. EXO- Exodus/ Love Me Right
If you know anything about me, you probably already knew what album was going to take the top spot this year. Exodus is that album that took me from "casual KPop listener" to completely and utterly obsessed with Korean pop music. EXO is one of those groups that, while coming from the biggest Entertainment company in the country (SM), still manages to have a unique and valuable take on Korean pop music. "Exodus" is only EXO's 2nd full length studio album, but they have somehow managed to become the most popular and talked-about group in all of South Korea (aside from BigBang, of course.) In just a few short years since their debut, they went from having a pretty straight-forward sound that hadn't quite found it's voice yet, to showing the world what they have to offer- which is stunningly powerful vocals, intensely delivered choreography, and truly unbeatable visuals. EXO has broken one record after another, not only by selling over a million physical copies of both their studio albums (something that hadn't been done for 12 years in Korea) but breaking international records with their single, "Call Me Baby" and charting all over the world. 

"Exodus" has a beautiful flow, and even though it features hard-hitting songs like "Transformer," it also slows things down with some beautiful ballads like "My Answer." What is showing clearly throughout this album though, is what sets EXO apart from the other powerhouse groups on their label: R&B. While their singles tend to be more pop-driven, the rest of this album is R&B through and through. Songs like "Playboy" and "Lady Luck" manage to provide a contrast in terms of tempo and musicality, however they both provide a similar style that proves EXO's songs are not only some of the most well-written in the business, but that EXO themselves are capable of delivering with such intensity and talent that it almost seems effortless.
"Exodus" was released in March and repackaged in June as "Love Me Right." The second single brought more of an upbeat dance-feel, and the added songs followed suit. The only exception being the song "Promise," which was written and composed by Lay, Chen and Chanyeol as a tribute to the 3 members they had lost in the past year as well as to their fans. It's an incredibly sad song that regardless of whether or not you understand the lyrics, has an undeniable melancholy feel that really hits the heart strings. Taking "Promise" and the added upbeat dance songs and blending them into the sexy, r&b tone of "Exodus" didn't seem like it would work at first, but it somehow added yet another layer to the album as a whole, and further displayed the versatility and outstanding talents of the members. It's obvious when you listen to this album why they are as popular as they are, and I look forward to watching them grow and mature even more as artists in 2016.

Some songs were released this year by some amazing artists, however they weren't a part of a larger album, or the album itself wasn't my favorite but the song was outstanding. Since this is a Top 10 Albums list, I wasn't able to include them, but I felt they were too good to not mention!
Phantom- "Could You Be Mine?"
Truly one of my favorite songs of 2015 right here.

 Jay Park: "Solo"
Jay has been focusing on his hip hop a lot lately, but nothing beats his R&B tracks, in my opinion.

Crush & Zion.T: "Just"
Two of the best R&B vocalists in Korea collaborating= Literal Perfection.

24K: Superfly
This song is so lit that it's going to ruin your life.

IKON: Apology
One of the most emotionally intense songs I've heard this year. Freakin' Superb.
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All thoughts and opinions in this blog post are genuine and belong to Harlot Beauty. No monetary compensation was received, although goods and/or services may have been provided and accepted for purpose of review. Post may contain affiliate or referral links.

1 comment:

  1. AHHHh awesome I didn't know you liked kpop! We have a lot of similar groups in common but I probably would have put IKON and BIGBANG on there b/c im a YG stan but I like music from all labels. Awesome reviews too btw- they were so interesting to read. You seem like you know a LOT about korean music and music in general! lol