2014 in Review: Day 1 – Introduction and Best Album Art

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[The 2014 in Review Series]

1. Introduction and Best Album Art
2. R&B and Soul
3. Rock and Alternative
4. Rap and Hip-hop
5. Dance and Electronic
6. Pop and Ballad
7. Folk and Country
8. Jazz and Blues
9. Crossover and Other
10. Best Collaborative Work
11. Rookie Artist of the Year
12. Artist of the Year
13. Song of the Year
14. Album of the Year
15. Staff Picks
16. Storylines and Other Recognition
17. Concluding Remarks

Back for the holiday season is the fourth annual Hellokpop Year In Review series! It’s been an eventful year for K-pop, and almost lost in the scuffle are the loads of excellent work that was produced in 2014. If you are new to the series, the premise is simple: we recognize and highlight the best that the Korean music industry had to offer this year, across genres and categories and with no review scores attached.

Series Structure

As always, we sort the first half of the series with genre categories. There are two new ones this year: what was previously “Pop, Ballad and Folk” has been split into “Pop and Ballad” and “Folk and Country”; and “Jazz, Crossover, and Other” has turned into “Jazz and Blues” and “Crossover and Other”. Both choices reflect an overdue need to recognize Korea’s folk and jazz scenes in more detail.

We continue with general categories in the second week of the series. In addition to my picks and commentary, back for the second straight year are selections from the rest of the Hellokpop staff on Day 15. Our staff also have some unorthodox (to put it mildly) award categories as well as thoughts and commentary on 2014 prepped up for Day 16.

Notes and Figures

We restrict our attention to songs and albums released between December 1, 2013 and November 30, 2014. I logged 7,103 single releases this year, of which I reviewed 2,002 – this includes every major-release single from the past year and a large sample of indie releases. The main release tracker used was that of Daum Music.  A total of 333 albums (some under incomplete review) and 722 songs (both single cuts and otherwise) were initially chosen as candidates, and the final tally you will see in the series is 226 albums and 415 songs in the first week of the series.

You may have noticed that both final numbers are significantly larger than in previous years. This is because whereas each genre category used to feature a winner, runner-up, and honorable mentions, this year there is a subheading called “next ten out” after runner-up and before honorable mentions. This new category is just that – the next ten best songs and albums after the top two. The hope is that this new structure allows for a bit more inclusiveness (always the spirit of this series) while still recognizing the handful that truly stand out.

Disclaimer as always: the review pool was not complete by any means – not even close. Many of those singles came out of albums that were not reviewed in detail and many niche scenes were only superficially covered. I like to think that our coverage only gets better each year, but there is always room for improvement and missed releases that are deserving!

Best Album Art

Instead of having a prelude post, this year we’re just going to hit the ground running with the Best Album Art category. Here is a collection of 100 album covers that I think are 2014’s best – some of them backed up by the quality of the musical product inside and some not, but that’s no matter for today. Some of the covers below are evocative, while others are funny, and still others are grotesque, pretty, poignant, silly, or just plain weird. It’s an eclectic mix that reflects the diversity and creativity of the industry as a whole.

Some notes:

1. The list is organized in alphabetical order of artist name. (Korean names are Romanized.)
2. Many of these albums are going to be represented in some way (whether through the album, a song in the album, or the artist) in the main Year in Review series – making this a very partial sneak peek into the next two weeks.
3. There were 194 pieces of album art that I originally selected as candidates to appear here before trimming to 100. Needless to say, there are many, many more pieces of great cover art out there even beyond my initial 194. If I’ve missed or omitted any of your favorites, please share in the comments!

Gallery: Best Album Art 2014 (click for larger image)

Sources: Daum Music (album covers)

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