2012 In Review: Part 10 – Label of the Year

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[2012 In Review Series]

0. Prelude – Best Album Art
1. Introduction
2. Best R&B/Soul
3. Best Rock/Alternative
4. Best Rap/Hip-hop
5. Best Dance/Electronica
6. Best Pop/Ballad
7. Best Crossover/Miscellaneous
8. Best Original Soundtrack
9. Best Collaborative Work
10. Label of the Year
11. Rookie of the Year
12. Song of the Year
13. Artist of the Year
14. Album of the Year
15. Concluding Remarks

Welcome back to our 2012 In Review series! Today we recognize the labels and agencies that made the scene go around this year. There is a partial metrics approach to selecting this category: things like the number of releases by signed artists, sales figures, average review scores, and number of artists/works selected to this humble series and similar ones elsewhere are all useful things to take into account. So there’s a little bit of that here, but my approach is also qualitative – how much intangible impact did a label have on the scene? Did it cause trends to emerge or paradigms to shift? That’s the idea.

As always, honorable mention picks are sorted by alphabetical order of names!

Label of the Year 2012

YG Entertainment

Signed artists: 1TYM, 2NE1, Big Bang, Epik High, Gummy, Jinusean, Lee Hi, Masta Wu, Perry, Psy

Notable releases: 2NE1 – single I Love You; Big Bang – 5th mini album Alive (and repackage edition); Epik High – 7th album 99; G-Dragon – 1st mini album One of a Kind; Gummy – singles from I Am A Singer 2; Lee Hidebut single 1, 2, 3, 4; Psy – 6th album 싸이6 (Psy 6th Best) Part 1 and single Gangnam Style; Se7en – mini album Se7en New Mini Album

In hellokpop’s 2012 In Review: Runner-up R&B/Soul Song for Lee Hi’s 1, 2, 3, 4; Honorable Mention R&B/Soul Song for Se7en’s 내가 노래를 못해도 (Even If I Can’t Sing); Honorable Mention Dance/Electronica Album for G-Dragon’s One of a Kind; Honorable Mention Dance/Electronica Song for Big Bang’s Bad Boy; three others to be announced

What a year for this Big Three label. It seemed like anything YG touched in 2012 turned into gold. Se7en’s comeback EP was well-received critically; Big Bang sold the second-most albums in 2012 while successfully completing a 12-country tour. 2NE1’s single was praised for continuing to push idol-music and -identity boundaries; G-Dragon’s album was praised for returning to unrelenting swagger and solidifying his musical scope. Even the rookie, Lee Hi, stormed onto the scene by topping Melon charts for 25 consecutive days and becoming the first female solo artist ever to top M! Countdown, Gaon, and Billboard K-pop charts for three weeks. If that wasn’t enough, here are two word for you: Gangnam Style. Epik High’s comeback was just about the only dud of the year, and even that’s not too concerning given that group’s stellar track record. They’ll be back big.

Aside from the commercial successes, a lot of YG’s acclaimed artistry this year can be attributed back to the company’s direction. While big labels’ micromanagement of their artists is often seen as meddlesome at best and repressive at worst, YG showed how much good that can do under the best circumstances. Lee Hi’s super debut, acclaimed for its unique interpretation of Motown-lite, wouldn’t have been possible without the agency’s repository of soul music know-how. 2NE1 does something surprising with every release (this year, it was the embracing of trance sound and a further disintegration of established member roles), which is an encouraging sign of YG’s boldness with its flagship female group as well as its comfort with diverse genres. In the meantime, Teddy, Perry, and the other in-house developers are only growing in prowess. With at least three rookie teams – a boy band, girl group, and Kang Seung-yoon as solo – set to debut and new releases coming up early for 2NE1 and Lee Hi, YG seems to have no intention of slowing down in 2013.

Label of the Year Runner-up

Fluxus Music

Signed artists: Annyeongbada (Byebye Sea), Clazziquai Project, Eastern Sidekick, Handsome People, Ibadi, Loveholics, SAZA Choi Woo-jun, Tei, Urban Zakapa, W&Whale, Winterplay, Yi Sung-yol

Notable releases: Annyeongbada – 2nd album Pink Revolution; Clazzi – 1st album Infant; Eastern Sidekick – 1st album The First; Handsome People – 1st album Are You Handsome?; SAZA Choi Woo-jun – 2nd album SAZA’s Blues; Urban Zakapa – 2nd album 02

In hellokpop’s 2012 In Review: Runner-up Collaborative Album and Honorable Mention Dance/Electronica Album for Clazzi’s Infant; Honorable Mention R&B/Soul Album for Urban Zakapa’s 02; Honorable Mention Dance/Electronica Song for Clazzi’s Love & Hate; Honorable Mention Crossover/Miscellaneous album for Handsome People’s Are You Handsome? and SAZA Choi Woo-jun’s SAZA’s Blues; Honorable Mention Crossover/Miscellaneous Song for SAZA Choi Woo-jun’s Blue Gonna Blue

Fluxus really is no longer the little label that could. Its artists, in both number and clout, have grown impressively with heavyweights and rookies alike. The versatility of this label is apparent in the wildly different genres its musicians pursue as well as the different categories that they’ve been recognized in already in the series. This is what makes Fluxus a living embodiment of what K-pop should (and likely will) look like in the near future. We’ve seen the beginning of the end of the current, five-year-old idol-dominance dynamic this year; bands and solo artists made strong commercial surges, even as existing idol groups (at least, the most successful ones) began to restructure their identities and become more artistry-oriented.

If the industry does exit the idol phase, mid-major labels will start to diversify their rosters, and I think some will start looking like Fluxus. Artists that can generate buzzes without idol-style marketing, like Fluxus’s Clazziquai and Urban Zakapa, are valuable in this new landscape. Those with old and dedicated fanbases (even if small), like Yi Sung-yol and Tei, can help push albums over MP3 sales. A rich potential for in-house collaborations and the versatility to adapt to trend changes, like Fluxus has, are also important. This label put out a ton of quality work in 2012 from its rather unique position, and turns out it was ahead of the curve all along.

Honorable Mentions

Amoeba Culture

Signed artists: Dynamic Duo, Supreme Team, Primary, Yankie, Planet Shiver, Rhythm Power, Zion.T

Notable Releases: Production and promotion support for J-Tong’s 모히칸과 맨발 (Mohawk and Bare Feet); Dynamic Duo – 6th album 6th Digilog; Primary – 1st album Primary and the Messengers LP; Rhythm Power – EP 누구 하나 빠짐없이 잘생겼다 리듬파워 (Everyone Is Handsome Rhythm Power); Simon Dominic – single 여섯시 반 (Six Thirty); Zion.T – more featured appearances than you can count

In hellokpop’s 2012 In Review: Best Rap/Hip-hop Song for Primary’s 독 (Poison); Runner-up Rap/Hip-hop Album for J-Tong’s Mohawk and Bare Feet; Runner-up Rap/Hip-hop Song for J-Tong’s 사직동 찬가 (Sajik-dong Anthem); Honorable Mention Rap/Hip-hop Album for Dynamic Duo’s 6th Digilog Part 2 and Primary’s Primary and the Messengers LP; Best Collaborative Song and Honorable Mention Rap/Hip-hop Song for J-Tong’s 개판 (Clusterf*ck); two more to be announced

Beatball Music

Signed artists: 3rd Line Butterfly, Bobbyville, The Freaks, Kirin, Look & Listen, Mukimukimanmansu, Puer Kim, Seokyo Group Sound

Notable Releases: 3rd Line Butterfly – EP Ice Cube and 4th album Dreamtalk; Kirin – debut album 그대여 이제 (You, Now) and five singles; Look & Listen – debut album Ready to Go; Mukimukimanmansu – debut album 2012; Puer Kim – debut EP Mom & Sxx and 1st album 이응 (Yieung); Seokyo Group Sound – 1st album 우리들은 (We)

In hellokpop’s 2012 In Review: Runner-up Rock/Alternative Song for 3rd Line Butterfly’s 헤어지는 날 바로 오늘 (The Day We Part, Today); Honorable Mention Dance/Electronica Song for 3rd Line Butterfly’s 스모우크핫커피리필 (Smoke Hot Coffee Refill); three others to be announced

(An aside: four of the albums you see above – by Kirin, Look & Listen, Mukimukimanmansu, and Seokyo Group Sound – were selected as Daum Music’s Album of the Month. That’s darned impressive.)

Pastel Music

Signed artists: Besweet, Belle Epoque, Bulssajo, Casker, Cloud Cuckoo Land, Donawhale, Epitone Project, Fanny Fink, Han Hee-jung, Herz Analog, Humming Urban Stereo, Instant Romantic Floor, JaeJuSoNyun, Jo Wul, Lucia, The Melody, Misty Blue, Ninaian, No Respect For Beauty, Park Jun-hyuk, Pony, Slow 6, Sumiara & Phonestuber, Sentimental Scenery, Sogyumo Acacia Band, Sweetpea, Taru, Tensi Love, Toxicbiasfleurivy, Trampauline, Urn I, YeSlow, Yozoh, Zitten

Notable Releases: Pastel 10th Anniversary projects; Besweet – EP Bitter Sweet; Casker – single Wish and 6th album 여정 (Journey); Epitone Project – 2nd album 낯선 도시에서의 하루 (A Day in a Strange City); Herz Analog – debut EP Prelude and 1st album Herz Analog; Humming Urban Stereo – 4th album Sparkle; Instant Romantic Floor – three singles; Lucia – EP Décalcomanie; No Respect For Beauty – debut album Why Perish; Pony – EP Little Apartment; Sentimental Scenery – EP There Is Nowhere Else in the World; Slow 6 – 3rd album Somewhere; Taru – four singles and EP Blah Blah; Yozoh – three singles; Zitten – EP 백야 (White Night)

In hellokpop’s 2012 In Review: Best Pop/Ballad Album for Lucia’s Décalcomanie; Runner-up Rock/Alternative Album for No Respect For Beauty’s Why Perish; Runner-up Crossover/Miscellaneous Album for Sentimental Scenery’s There Is Nowhere Else in the World; Runner-up Pop/Ballad Song for Zitten’s 백야 (White Night); Honorable Mention Rock/Alternative Song for Pony’s 안녕 (Goodbye); Honorable Mention Dance/Electronica Album for Casker’s Journey; Honorable Mention Pop/Ballad Album for Zitten’s White Night; Honorable Mention Pop/Ballad Song for Lucia’s 그대의 고요 (Your Tranquility); Honorable Mention Crossover/Miscellaneous Song for Sentimental Scenery’s View; one other to be announced

What do your picks look like for this category? Discuss with us in the comments, and join us tomorrow in Part 11 as we unveil the Rookie of the Year!

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the reviewer and not of hellokpop as a whole.

Sources: Photos – YG United, Nate, Daum Blog, Ceci, Frontier Times; Data – Gaon Charts

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