Review

2013 in Review: Day 13 – Staff Picks

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[The 2013 in Review Series]

0. Prelude – Best Album Art
1. Introduction
2. R&B and Soul
3. Rock and Alternative
4. Rap and Hip-hop
5. Dance and Electronic
6. Pop, Ballad and Folk
7. Jazz, Crossover and Other
8. Best Collaborative Work
9. Rookie of the Year
10. Song of the Year
11. Artist of the Year
12. Album of the Year
13. Staff Picks
14. Miscellanea and Loose Ends
15. Concluding Remarks

We’re people of diverse tastes here at Hellokpop. This year, we’re bringing you some of our other staff members’ year-end picks as part of the Year in Review series, and you’ll notice we have the makings of consensus in some areas and wildly different opinions in others. It’s all part of the fun of enjoying this culture with others.

The following six staff offered their picks this year:

Lycaenion, Editor and Senior Writer
CL, Writer
Joyce, Writer
Pau, Writer
Sun Lee, Writer
Xiaolong, Writer

CL wrote detailed write-ups for each pick and named runners-up, which are included as quotes. Additionally, there are several categories near the bottom that are unique to the staff picks page – they don’t appear in the main series. Now, without further ado:

General Picks

Artist of the Year

EXO

Lycaenion: Kim Jaejoong

Joyce: EXO

Pau: Cho Yong-pil (for Hello)

Sun Lee: Girls’ Generation

Xiaolong: EXO

CL: SHINee

“To sum up how active SHINee was in 2013, they released 2 full-length albums, one Japanese studio album, a repackage and an EP – an impressive and extensive list of material to keep fans happy for the next year and perhaps more. Despite their busy schedules, their performances of Dream Girl, Why So Serious and Everybody (very dance-oriented songs, particularly the latter), were consistent, energetic, charismatic, with their vocals always up to par in terms of their live singing. They just keep on reinforcing the reasons why they are one of the best K-pop groups around and why their comebacks are as anticipated as they are even if their ‘under the radar’ period are  just a few months long.  You’ll think that in between the recordings, practices, and taking into account the members’ individual activities such as musicals and TV recordings, they’ll be as energetic as a sloth on a sunny day. But that’s never the case with SHINee, with their energy, professionalism and how they enjoy themselves on stage together showcasing how they have established themselves as not just idols, but true blue artists that have immerse pride and passion in what they do and how they’re doing it for those who love and support them. It’s because of this I see a great longevity in SHINee, who I daresay are at their pinnacle of their careers. Here’s to another great year ahead!”

(Runners-up: G-Dragon, Girls’ Generation)

Album of the Year

G-Dragon - Coup d'Etat

Lycaenion: Kim Jaejoong – WWW

Joyce: G-Dragon – Coup d’Etat

Pau: Shinhwa – The Classic

Sun Lee: G-Dragon – Coup d’Etat

Xiaolong: Kim Jaejoong – WWW

CL: SHINee – Why So Serious? (The Misconceptions of Me)

“SHINee made a surprising decision to release their latest material into 2, notably known as ‘Chapters’, and Chapter 2 carried a blatantly darker undertone compared to its more upbeat, retro Chapter 1 counterpart. Chapter 2 was personally preferred, because of the way it represented how terrifyingly powerful the discorded human psyche is, and it is due to this knowledge in hand that several tracks are able to interpret their sinister air so flawlessly: for example, the aptly-named Nightmare that has the SHINee boys as vampires, and Evil with its chilling lyrics. But this gloomy veil doesn’t apply to all the songs in the album, with some complimenting the Dream component of Chapter 1 with delicate, escapist rhythms, such as those featured in the absolutely stunning Orgel and Excuse Me Miss. The creative direction of the album ties everything together, so that even the more vivid tracks such as Like A Fire have a firm position at where they stand and do not seem out of place. Their vocals are noticeably more watered down and restrained in this album (save for Why So Serious) compared to their other works, and it really opens up a space for listeners to relish the many ranges that SHINee is able to pull off.  Even for non-SHINee fans, this album may be a surprising treat to those that are willing to give it a spin. A brilliantly put-together album overall!”

(Runner-up: G-Dragon – Coup d’Etat)

Song of the Year

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Lycaenion: Brown Eyed Girls – Recipe

Joyce: Crayon Pop – 빠빠빠 (Bar Bar Bar)

Sun Lee: Girls’ Generation – I Got a Boy

Xiaolong: G-Dragon – Coup d’Etat

CL: G-Dragon – Coup d’Etat

Rookie of the Year

BTS

Joyce: Bangtan Boys (BTS)

Sun Lee: Lim Kim

Xiaolong: Bangtan Boys (BTS)

CL: EXO

“Ah EXO, the pack of wolves that have snapped up young hearts as if they were a piece of cheese! 2013 was, in short, EXO’s year. After a long-anticipated comeback with XOXO that was subsequently followed with their Growl repackage, both albums earned much accolades and fanfare, with XOXO being the first group in 12 years to hit the 1 million mark in album sales.  Some might attribute it to SM’s powerful backing and promotion of the group as well as their larger-than-life fanbase, but EXO’s charismatic performances of Growl were some of the best to ever grace music shows in the year (let’s be honest to ourselves here. Despite their constant lip-syncing,  the boys killed every other aspect of their performances) With a consistent album, sharply synchronized choreographies, appearances at global concerts as well as two sub-units of 6 to choose from, EXO dominated 2013 with full force and It looks like they’re not stopping their successful pace for anything or anyone.”

(Runner-up: VIXX)

Genre Picks

R&B and Soul

Zion.T - Red Light

Joyce: Ailee – A’s Doll House (Best R&B Album)

Sun Lee: Taeyang – Ringa Linga (Best R&B Song)

CL: Zion.T – Red Light (Best R&B and Soul Album)

“Zion.T is a man who embodies class; add on his penchant for infectious grooves and his effortlessly swoon-worthy voice, he is a force to be reckoned with. It is these complimentary elements that add on to the appeal of his already flawless production of Red Light. A great synergy lies between the experimental tracks with those in line with the R&B genre, making Red Light a ridiculously great, addictive album to listen to. One of my favorite albums of 2013! Recommended songs include the surreal yet sensual beats of Neon (Director’s Cut), the sassy quirkiness of She (Feat. Beezino) and­­ the reggae-nuanced Global Warming (Feat. YDG).”

(CL’s runners-up: Jinbo – Fantasy and John Park – Inner Child)

“It’s no secret that I love Korean hip-hop and R&B (half to death), and Jinbo is one of the greatest innovators of those genres.  With an album title like Fantasy, expect imaginative beats and vibrant harmonies with great instrumental depths that will have you reminded of all the nice, warm fuzzy things in life. (Think Candyland along the lines of an Adventure Time universe). If the opening track, Neon Pink Ocean, isn’t alluring enough for you to seek out the whole album, try equally evocative tracks like Fantasy and Be My Friend.”

Rock and Alternative

Kim Jaejoong - WWW

Lycaenion: Kim Jaejoong – WWW (Best Rock and Alternative Album)

Joyce: Lunafly – Fly To Love (Best Pop-Rock Album)

Sun Lee: Jaurim – Icarus (Best Rock and Alternative Song)

CL: Jung Joon-young – 1st Mini Album (Best Rock and Alternative Album)

“Dramatic, clean, genuine- these are the few words of choice to describe Jung Joon Young’s debut effort. His powerful, husky vocals manage to interpret the emotions of his tracks so perfectly it completely immersed me into his intense, expressive state of mind.  Ranging from the woefully wretched to the quintessential rock screams, he’s able to paint a tale without coming off as too overbearing or strained, and it makes the EP as good as it is. Skillfully applied genre transitions through tracks like Number I Know displays his ability to enhance a song’s depth through a play of various instrumentals. If you haven’t watched his N version of Spotless Mind and you’re in the mood for some artistic inspiration, I highly suggest you do so!”

(CL’s runner-up: TOXIC – Break Down)

“Type in TOXIC into Google and you’re more likely to be directed to Britney Spears or radioactive-related materials rather than this K-Rock duo, who were the winners of MBC’s “Top Band”. With a subdued edginess to their own take of the genre, TOXIC has a sound that is reminiscent of J-rock bands, but their uniqueness and versatility lies in their ability to merge aggressive riffs and rhythms with what’s crowd pleasing. The end result is an EP that blends all the goodness of everything great that is associated with the rock genre while being not too overwhelming for first-time listeners who may be unfamiliar with K-Rock territory. Try the high energy Into The Night and the riff-heavy Match.”

Rap and Hip-hop

Vasco - Exodos

Joyce: Kanto – 말만해 (What You Want) (Featuring Sunggyu) (Best Rap Song)

Sun Lee: T.O.P – Doom Dada (Best Rap and Hip-hop Song)

CL: Vasco – Guerrilla Muzik Vol.3 – Exodos (Best Rap and Hip-hop Album)

“Underground hip-hop artist Vasco is a man with a vision and a belly full of fire, and that passion extends profoundly to every track in Exodos. With a long list of collaborations with spit-fire verses laced together with his signature raw, gritty beats and intense energy, Vasco wastes no expense in his latest effort that keeps the momentum and atmosphere constantly evolving with each of his guest performers. It not only keeps things interesting, it gives each track its own distinct color and vibe, resulting in Exodos becoming a delightfully dynamic, yet effortlessly cohesive album that is a must-listen for any Korean hip-hop fan.

Lyrically, Exodus features some of the more unique, introspective lyrics I have ever encountered; highlights include a three-track segment that details a person’s descent to hell.  Dark, but brilliant stuff. Check out tracks like Rapture (featuring Crucial Star and Innovator), Requiem (ft. Evo), and the refreshingly mellow Potrait of a Young Day (ft. Zion.T and Sean2Slow).”

(CL’s runners-up: Dynamic Duo – Luckynumbers and MFBTY – 살자 (The Cure)

“What Dynamic Duo excels at is spicing their hip-hop niche up with a blend of the old and the new. Lucknumbers is no exception, with the team churning out yet another well-crafted melodic gem. Although it isn’t as self-reflective and complex as Vasco’s Exodos lyrically, Luckynumbers features creative narratives alongside rich, soulful tones, and coupled with what they know best, it’s one heck of a musical affair. Stellar tracks include Hot Wings (featuring SISTAR’s Hyorin), BAAAM (ft. UV’s Muzie) and Three Dopeboyz (ft. Zion.T).”

Dance and Electronic

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Joyce: Block B – Very Good (Best Dance-Pop Album)

Sun Lee: 2NE1 – Falling in Love (Best Dance and Electronic Song)

CL: Glen Check – Youth! (Best Dance and Electronic Album)

“Glen Check’s music is absolutely G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S, and with Youth! It’s a head-bobbing, addictive electronic dance album that reminds me a lot of Justice, a French house duo’s own work. Like the album name suggests, the album is full of energy that’ll get anyone up on their feet.  It somewhat takes off where their 80s-inspired Cliché EP left off; pumping a sizeable amount of that essence with a more spunky modern twist that speaks in volumes what want Glen Check has to offer, and what they have to offer comes in huge spades. There is a sense of universal appeal to their music, and it’s so flawless that I’ll vouch for both parts of their EP!”

(CL’s runners-up: F(x) – Pink Tape and Clazziquai Project – Blessed)

“Although Nu ABO was a solidifying statement about what sort of sound f(x) was going to delve into and present to the industry in the future, Pink Tape was the album that hit the nail on the head by being a great representation of their experimental, electronic sound. Filled with quirky, infectious beats intermixed with an interesting pool of house, dance, and synth-pop, the album’s overall vibrancy is only outmatched by its exceptional production. I love the way how the songs scream confidence in the brightest and boldest way possible, and Pink Tape is an excellent yet elegant sign of F(x)’s maturity. The tracks strike a good balance between the brashly loud and dance-worthy with more retro, classic pop sounding ones, so there’s a little something for everyone. My favorites include the perfect-for-getting-inspired minimalist track Shadow and the punchy Step, as well as the lead track Rum Pum Pum Pum.”

Pop, Ballad and Folk

Brown Eyed Girls - Black Box

Sun Lee: 2AM – 후회할거야 (Regret) (Best Ballad Song) and Sunmi – 24시간이 모자라 (24 Hours) (Best Pop Song)

CL: Brown Eyed Girls – Black Box (Best Pop, Ballad and Folk Album)

“To say that I wasn’t ecstatic for Brown Eyed Girls’ comeback would have been an understatement, with Black Box being a totally different end of the spectrum from their previous release, Sixth Sense, lacking the theatrical punch the latter had. However, the change isn’t negative in nature. Black Box not only plays to the girls’ individual strengths, it is chock-full with sensual R&B goodness while retaining the group’s modern dance-worthy synth beats, and it delivers stunningly. Tracks like Recipe are reminiscent of their signature evocative sound, while softer songs like I Want To Fly stay true to the main musical vein that run throughout the album. Overall, another great addition to BEG’s discography. Truthfully, it’s nothing ground-breaking, but the album highlights how they are handling the ever-changing and fickle world of K-pop, and most importantly, proving that they are very, very, very adept at what they do.  High points of Black Box include the fiercely retro opener After Club, Satisfaction and Recipe. The music video for Kill Bill is highly recommended as well!”

(CL’s runner-up: Lim Kim – Her Voice)

“Despite the fact that she is a relatively new to the mainstream K-pop scene as a soloist, Lim Kim’s distinct voice has already become a novelty in Korea; nonetheless, with Her Voice, she is ready to establish herself as what sort of artist she wants to be. The beauty of this EP is how soothing and comforting, and to a certain extent, whimsical the tracks are able to be with the indescribable quality of Lim Kim’s vocals. Another key component of the EP is how she plays with genres; switching from acoustic pop to jazz to Latin-influenced tunes, it’s a pleasant surprise how much life she manages to breathe into the songs she sings. Imagine reading a good book by the windowsill on a sunny morning with a hot cup of tea – that’s how mellow and feel-good her music is! The only downfall of this EP is that at certain times, production often overlays too heavily and steals attention away from her voice. Rain, Urban Green and Drunken Shrimp are some of the highlights of her EP.”

Jazz, Crossover and Other

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Sun Lee: Big Baby Driver – In the Same Storm (Best Jazz and Crossover Song)

CL: IU – Modern Times (Best Jazz and Crossover Album)

“I’m a sucker for anything related to or inspired by the Roaring Twenties, so biased I may be but Modern Times is a superb album. More or less, it sounds like the backing soundtrack of a film akin to The Great Gatsby or a grand Broadway musical; it’s ambitious, classy, atmospheric, and it’s really brings something new to the table. It signals IU’s maturity for a fact that her overzealously adorable Marshmallow and Boo days are regressed to almost nothing (The Red Shoes slides in terms of this), in place of jazzy, bossa-nova influenced music that is merged so well with IU’s pop and ballad niches that it does not become clichéd or tedious midway. IU’s skillful showmanship is just icing on the cake! Many have experimented with incorporating jazz with pop, but none have done it so exceptionally like what IU has shown us with Modern Times. Try her duet with BEG’s Ga-In, Everyone Has Secrets, the quirky Modern Times that references Charlie Chaplin, and the evocative Between The Lips (50cm).”

Other Picks

Best Comeback

Lycaenion: Brown Eyed Girls

Pau: Block B (for Very Good) and Teen Top (for 긴 생머리 그녀 (Miss Right))

Sun Lee: Sunmi

Best Mixtape

Joyce: Kanto – Young Blood

Best OST Song

Joyce: Yoon Mi-rae – Touch Love (Master’s Sun OST)

Sun Lee: Taeyeon – 그리고 하나 (And One) (That Winter the Wind Blows OST)

Best Collaborative Song

Sun Lee: Trouble Maker – 내일은 없어 (Now)

Best Music Video

Sun Lee: Girls’ Generation – I Got a Boy

CL: Brown Eyed Girls – Kill Bill

“A music video that mirrors Quentin Tarantino’s classic thriller to a point that it’s almost scary staring the 4 sensual yet fierce ladies of Brown Eyed Girls? Count me in!

BEG always keeps me on the edge on my seat with their short film-esque music videos, and Kill Bill is no exception. Featuring the group as star characters of Kill Bill, the girls mimic iconic scenes from the film so perfectly it gave me chills. JeA as the patch-wearing assassin Elle Driver was particularly sinister; and Miryo being buried alive 6 feet under and coming back living and kicking with a shotgun? Need I say more? Intersected with scenes of BEG’s signature provocative choreography, the amount of bada$$ery in this is too much for me to comprehend. A brilliant homage to one of the best and most identified movies of the 21st century.”

(CL’s runner-up: Block B – Very Good)

“What do you get when you have a smorgasbord of satire gone wild? You’ll get Block B’s personal brand of chaotic fun. Poking fun at their previous comparisons to other groups while bringing their own parodied spin to a number of pop-culture references (Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, anyone?), their more unstructured take on the K-pop MV formula pays off with many surprising solo scenes that caught me off guard with what they represented. The comic relief in Very Good is Very Very Good, especially Taeil’s featuring as a character that to me, suspiciously looks like Batman’s The Penguin. All in all, the seven members of Block B are telling the world loud and clear that they have undergone a renaissance and they are ready once more to bring their manic boldness to the music scene bigger and better than ever.”

Best Album Art

Pau: Brown Eyed Girls – Recipe

Sun Lee: G-Dragon – Coup d’Etat

Sources: Photos – EXO from YouTube, all others from Daum Music; Videos – YouTube

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