2013 in Review: Day 6 – Pop, Ballad and Folk

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Sunwoo Jungah

[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

Korean indie continues to undergo a folk music revival, and a fair amount of the indie scene’s best efforts 2013 have gone into modern folk and blues music; you’ll see that represented below. Meanwhile, we also saw standard-pop releases with potential at greatness, blending intrepid imagination and high-level performance. No matter which subgenre you looked at, pop and folk music had an answer in 2013.

Important: same as last year, the Album of the Year and Song of the Year (and their runner-ups) are not included in the genre categories. That means that, for example, there could be a pop album that isn’t being recognized on this page because it’s the album of the year. Also, note that honorable mention picks are sorted by alphabetical order of artist names.


Best Pop, Ballad and Folk Album 2013

Sunwoo Jungah - It's Okay, Dear

Sunwoo Jungah – It’s Okay, Dear

There are a few striking things about It’s Okay, Dear. Its versatility is one. Even a cursory listen through the album reveals a broad musical spectrum – jazz pop is at the core, but instruments and methods from power ballad, electronic, swing, and more can also be found. Sunwoo Jungah’s vocal prowess is another. The YG Entertainment composer wears the diverse genres well, deftly leading singalong choruses, explosively curdling the ballads, and slyly injecting humor  into the more relaxed tracks. The arrangements are yet another: tasteful and nuanced, they showcase both the sophistry of polished jazz as well as the accessibility of ballad. As a result, It’s Okay, Dear had some of the year’s most shocking moments – the outro to The Moment I Destroy You and literally every single thing about Purple Daddy, for starters – as well as deeply poignant ones. Often they were one and the same.

Runner-up Pop, Ballad and Folk Album 2013

Fromm - Arrival

Fromm – Arrival

The emergence of Fromm was one of the most promising things to come out of 2013. Her debut album mixes hefty influences from American indie pop and lyricism and emotions of Korean folk. Fromm’s rich vocals are great, and the wide palette of instruments employed both distinguishes Arrival from the sea of other indie solo releases and gives the artist exponentially more varied atmospheres to play with. Like Sunwoo Jungah, she also already has mastery over diverse styles, and painstaking attention to detail is apparent in each new thing she tries in this album. There aren’t many veteran pop singer-songwriters, let alone rookie ones, who can evoke Arrival and Don’t Play With My Heart‘s vibrant, unbridled liveliness and then give us piercing insight like that of You And I and show off imagination like that of Merry Go Round. There is technical and songwriting prowess, but it’s all powered with a warm, genuine humanity. Fromm is a key artist to watch in the coming years.

Honorable Mentions

Dringe Augh - Drooled and Slobbered

Dringe Augh – Drooled and Slobbered

Han Hee-jeong - Stranger Every Day

Han Hee-jeong – 날마다 타인 (Stranger Every Day) [read our review]

Jang Pil-soon - Soony Seven

Jang Pil-soon – Soony Seven

Kwon Soon-kwan - A Door

Kwon Soon-kwan – A Door [read our review]

Lee Arib - Tonight, Our Long Journey's Begun

Lee Arib – 이 밤, 우리들의 긴 여행이 시작되었네 (Tonight, Our Long Journey’s Begun)

Oh Ji-eun - 3

Oh Ji-eun – 3 [read our review]

Dalmoon - Where

Oksangdalbit (Dalmoon) – Where [read our review]

Park Sae-byul - High Heels

Park Sae-byul – High Heel [read our review]


Best Pop, Ballad and Folk Song 2013

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Lee Juck – 비포 선라이즈 (Before Sunrise) (Featuring Jung-in)

Anybody order a serving of the nineties? Duet ballads of this style are few and far between nowadays, and Lee Juck pulls out one that wouldn’t be out of place during his early Panic days. The nostalgia-inducing instrumentation is great, and the gut-wrenching melody is one of the best Lee’s ever written. The lyrics, inspired by the well-known 1995 film of the same name, follow an emotional strand similar to that movie’s. Think of it like the song of those characters if Before Sunset and Before Midnight never happened, if Vienna was the only rendezvous of their lives. Jung-In pours her heart into these lines alongside Lee, and it couldn’t be better: “We were young and had no clue // We couldn’t look into each other’s future // That we would be so earnest years later // Neither of us knew indeed”.

Runner-up Pop, Ballad and Folk Song 2013

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Kwon Soon-kwan – 우연일까요 (Is It A Coincidence)

Excellent instrumentation is a given with Kwon Soon-kwan, and this song was no exception. Is It A Coincidence opens slowly with a gentle guitar cadence and piano, before organically opening up to incorporate strings and brass in happy harmony. But this almost takes a back seat to the lyrics: Kwon spends most of the song asking his lover whether their relationship is by coincidence, his usual way with language coming through in a seaborne metaphor and carefully chosen examples. He tells us an indirect conclusion on that by the outro; but the song poses the question to the listener, and your answer is probably different. The song invites us to think on what coincidences actually are and how we perceive them as such, and we get to do it to a brilliant melody.

Honorable Mentions

A Bag of Manju – 봄이구나 한 순간 (Spring For a Moment)
Cactus – 다시 걷다 (Walk Again)
Cho Yong-pil – 말해볼까 (Shall I Say) [read our album review]
Dringe Augh – Finite
Fromm – 도착 (Arrival)
Fromm – 너와나의 (Yours and Mine)
Ha Dong-qn – From Mark
Han Hee-jeong – 나는 너를 본다 (I See You)
Han Hee-jeong – 바다가 (The Sea) (Featuring Kim Bomi of Jambinai)
Han Hee-jeong – 흙 (Dirt)
Hee Young – Stranger
IU – 싫은 날 (Bad Day)
Jang Pil-soon – 눈부신 세상 (Dazzling World)
John Park – Too Late [read our album review]
Jung-In – 치, (Psh,) [read our album review]
Kang A Sol – 엄마 (Mom)
Kim Beggar – 때 (Dirt)
Kim Chang-gi – 광석이에게 (To Kwang-suk)
Kim Mok-in – 지망생 (Aspirant)
Kwon Soon-kwan – One More Time
Lee Arib – 뒷일을 부탁해 (Leaving It To You)
Lee Hyori – Holly Jolly Bus
Lee Na-rae – Raining in Amsterdam
Life Plan B – 희망고문 (Hope Torture)
Lim Kim – 잘 알지도 못하면서 (Without Knowing It All) [read our album review]
Lucia – 그런 계절 (Such a Season) [read our album review]
Ode – 하루하루 (Each Day)
Oh Ji-eun – Curse Song
Oh Ji-eun – 고작 (Merely)
Oksangdalbit – 유서 (Last Will)
Oksangdalbit – 하얀 (White)
Park Sae-byul – 낙원 (Paradise)
Park Sae-byul – 사라지는 것들 (Things That Disappear)
PHILTRE – 잊혀지겠지 (Fade) (Featuring Younha)
Ravie Nuage – 향기 (Scent) [read our album review]
Rossy PP – 몽상가들 (The Dreamers) [read our album review]
Seedless Watermelon Kim Dae-jung – 불효자는 놉니다 (The Disobedient Son Plays)
SellinSellySelline – 외팔소녀 (One-Armed Girl)
Seo In-young – 헤어지자 (Let’s Break Up) [read our album review]
Shin Seung-hoon – Sorry
Shin Seol-hee – Fairytale
Sistar19 – 나도 여자인데 (A Girl in Love) [read our album review]
Sung Shi-kyung – 너에게 (To You)
Sunwoo Jungah – Purple Daddy
Sunwoo Jungah – 주인공의 노래 (The Protagonist’s Song)
Swedish Laundromat – 버려진 것들 (Abandoned Things)
Taru – 기침 (Cough) [read our album review]
Xia – Chocolate Girl [read our album review]
Yoon Jong-shin – 내일 할 일 (To-Do Tomorrow), “Repair” version (Featuring Sung Shi-kyung)
Yoon Young-bae – 위험한 세계 (Dangerous World)
Younha – 우리가 헤어진 진짜 이유 (The Real Reason We Broke Up) [read our album review]

Sources: Photos – Sunwoo Jungah and album art from Daum Music; Videos from YouTube

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