2014 in Review: Day 15 – Staff Picks

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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

We’re people of diverse tastes here at hellokpop. For the second straight year, we’re bringing you some of our other staff members’ 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 seven staff offered their picks this year:

CL, Writer
Grandpagyu, Writer
Hyerim Kim, Social Media Officer
Jess Lau, Assistant PR Manager
Napthesoul, Writer
Nicole “Nini” Lent, Writer/Head PR (USA)
Sun Lee, Writer

A few of these staff members also provided short justifications of their selections, as seen below. And there’s more to come – be sure to check back in tomorrow, as our staff give their thoughts on some of 2014’s happenings and recognize artists for a few additional categories not covered below!

General Picks

Album of the Year

CL: Epik High – Shoebox (Runner-up: WINNER – 2014 S/S)

Grandpagyu: WINNER – 2014 S/S

Jess: 2NE1 – Crush

Napthesoul: Taeyang – Rise

“Although I was doubtful after the release of “Ringa Linga”, Taeyang did not disappoint with his latest album, Rise. While admittedly it didn’t live up to his previous works, the album was solid from start to finish. From the anthemic intro track and poignantEyes, Nose, Lips” to the powerfulLove You To Death”, Taeyang showed his musical growth and proved his talent with the consistent quality of each song.”

Sun Lee: HA:TFELT (Ye-eun) – Me?

“This album would probably the most ambitious album of the year, but guess what: I’m glad Ye-eun wrote that 12-page letter to JYP to make this album possible! This album contains Ye-eun’s intelligence in terms of music.”

Song of the Year

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CL: Taeyang – Eyes, Nose, Lips

“Eyes, Nose, Lips is a testament to how embracing simplicity can create something stellar and tremendously memorable, and arguably it’s one of the best songs I’ve listened to in 2014. A singular piano melody leads the ballad track before hollow percussion joins in, leading into the song’s climax – it all sounds deceptively straightforward, but the clarity and emotions Taeyang manages to evoke with the best instrument of the entire song, his voice, makes an impression that you won’t soon forget.”

Grandpagyu: Infinite – Back

Hyerim: BEAST – Good Luck

Billboard took my words.”

Jess: Taeyang – Eyes, Nose, Lips

Napthesoul: Ga-in – Fxxk You (Featuring Bumkey)

Nini: Taeyang – Eyes, Nose, Lips

Sun Lee: Taeyang – Eyes, Nose, Lips

“From audition pieces to cover songs, this is indeed the song of the year – as per everyone, basically.”

Rookie Artist of the Year

Akdong Musician

CL: Mamamoo (Runner-up: WINNER)

“One can tell my absolute love and adoration for Mamamoo, one of the many girl groups that saw their debut in 2014. Their jazz-infused, retro-inspired style of music and powerful but still-titillating vocals got me hooked with their pre-debut releases (“Peppermint Chocolate” especially had me anticipating more from the group), and I was certainly not disappointed with “Mr Ambiguous” and their subsequent comeback with “Piano Man”. Their music is fun, fresh and upbeat, and the group provides a refreshing breath of air into the stagnated, generic releases that I’ve listened to in the year. According to an expert panel, MAMAMOO’s debut is one of the best of the year, and with their captivating lives and powerhouse vocals, it’s easy to see why.

Give “Hi Hi Ha Hae Ho” (featuring Geeks), “Mr Ambiguous”, and “Don’t Be Happy” (featuring Bumkey) a spin. And trust me, MAMAMOO is a group that is certainly worth your time.”

Grandpagyu: Bernard Park

Hyerim: Bobby

Jess: Akdong Musician

Napthesoul: Akdong Musician

“There wasn’t any shortage of rookies this year, but AKMU stood out to me with their aptly named album, Play. I found the brother-sister duo to be refreshing among the plethora of new idol groups, with the combination of light-hearted, bubbly tracks such as200%” andArtificial Grassand beautifully sombre songs such asMelted”.”

Sun Lee: Red Velvet and Akdong Musician

“Red Velvet might be showered with a lot controversies upon debut, but they have proven that their music can prevail. As for AKMU, I’m actually not surprised that the Big Three of the Korean entertainment world are fighting to win these two. They are musically talented and their voice is not something that you will get used to.

Artist of the Year


CL: Taeyang

Grandpagyu: Taeyang

Hyerim: BEAST

“During this year, they had two comebacks: Good Luck and Time. Reaching first place on Billboard’s K-pop chart, BEAST proved to us that they are not the ‘recycled group’. Both albums, composed by BEAST rapper Yong Jun-hyung as well as Kim Tae-joo (with one song on Good Luck composed by Lee Ki-kwang), contain pretty good songs that one can sing to or just enjoy. BEAST also showed us their abilities as entertainers through Burning the B2ST: Showtime. BEAST also used 2014 as a chance to show another side of themselves, like a true beast. For example, the “cutie” and “visual” maknae Yo-seob exposed his manly side by changing his behavior (no more aegyo!) and also his body. Personally, I believe that BEAST is a very talented and skillful group. Can’t wait for what they will bring in 2015!

Jess: IU

Napthesoul: EXO

“While EXO released only a mini album in 2014, I feel that their hard work and perseverance should be acknowledged. Despite unexpectedly losing not one but two members – one just a week before the opening of their first solo concert – EXO showed resilience and completed a wildly successful world tour, performing over 30 sell-out shows in 17 cities. Their fans, now officially EXO-L, should hotly anticipate their next release!”

Sun Lee: HA:TFELT, Sunmi, and Girls’ Generation

“I know that you might sense favoritism in it, but they have proven again that they deserve to be called the artist of the year 2014.”

Genre Picks

Album Art

CL: Illinit X 1llevn – Airborne, CRITIC – Peace Pool, and VIXX – Error

Grandpagyu: VIXX – Error

Hyerim – Akdong Musician – Time and Fallen Leaves

Jess: Kara – Day & Night

Sun Lee: Sunmi – Full Moon

“The cover may not reflect a painting but the incorporation of the title song into the cover is really appropriate. What I like best is what is inside of the album: instead of the typical photobook, they used a comic strip-like concept. Instead of normal conversation in each call-out, they used the lyrics from the songs included in this album.”

R&B and Soul


CL: Crush – Crush On You

“Listening to Crush feature on many of my favorite artists’ songs for a while had definitely piqued my interest about him, and Crush On You is further testament that he is a man who knows how to use his velvety smooth vocals. His solo debut is impressive and chock-full of brilliant artists and featured performances that work to display his range across different musical spectra and collaborations. No doubt that I have a crush on Crush On You (no pun intended)!”

(Recommended tracks: Whatever You Do (Featuring Gray), Beautiful You (Featuring Choiza), Hug Me (Featuring Gaeko), Friday Ya (Featuring Jinbo))

Runner-up: Phantom – Phantom Power

“Phantom Power is a good mix of what Phantom knows best- distinct R&B vibes and urban hip-hop beats that the trio manages to channel and carry well, and merging said genres with a few others like electronic, dance and pop to produce an album that ranks high in my iTunes when it comes to play counts. A definite highlight of the Phantom Power is each of the member’s solo tracks, which are some of this album’s best offerings. The only downside to the album is that most of its tracks consist of previously released digital singles – these are still amazingly good listens, but I was slightly let-down at the lack of new material.”

(Recommended tracks: Seoul Lonely (Featuring Ga-in), Underage Song [Kiggen’s Solo] (Featuring Hwa Sa of Mamamoo), Hang Up [Hanhae’s Solo] (Featuring San E & C-Luv), Dissonance)

Grandpagyu: Crush – Sofa (song)

Hyerim: Crush – Sometimes (song)

“Even after listening to “Sofa” and “Hug Me”, I just can’t get over “Sometimes”. It is catchy and so… fluid. The song itself is really smooth and nice to listen to. I totally fell in love with the song after listening to Baek Ye-rin’s cover. The lyrics are very meaningful as well, talking about how even after a lot of time, memories are meant to be thought of and felt through. Crush also emits a lot of emotions through his soulful voice and I can feel it, because whenever I listen to the song I end up thinking about people I miss.”

Jess: Crush – Sometimes (song)

Sun Lee: Nell – Four Times Around The Sun (song)

“Pretty surprising for an alternative band to be chosen in this category, but the smooth and melodic voice of the members accompanied with that string sound give you the feel of a very good R&B and Soul song. This will be a pretty good song to listen to if you are to drive for a three hour trip.”

Rock and Alternative

Thornapple - Abnormal Climate

CL: Thornapple – Abnormal Climate

“Thornapple are very emotional performers – and in Abnormal Climate, they bring it in spades. The arrangements are well-done, the melodies crisp and the production polished, more so than their first studio album. The sounds showcased here fall into a rather mainstream rock sound, perhaps to suit the tastes of average listeners, but the album is still full of rich and masterful instrumentals. Listening to Abnormal Climate brings you on a whirlwind ride, an album that showcases the rawness and vulnerability of human life and emotion.”

(Recommended tracks: 시퍼런 봄 (Pale Spring), 낯선 열대 (Abnormal Climate), 암실 (Darkroom), 물가의 라이온 (Lion By The Water))

Hyerim: Royal Pirates – Drawing The Line

Jess: Nell – Newton’s Apple

Sun Lee: Lunafly – Special Guy (song)

“The sweet voices of the boys accompanied by their instrument makes this song my rock and alternative song of 2014. Try to listen to it and let it echo echo in your head.”

Rap and Hip-hop

Epik High - 신발장 (Shoebox) (In collaboration with Beenzino, B.I., Bobby, Cho Won-sun of Roller Coaster, Gaeko, Jay Park, Kim Jong-wan of Nell, MYK, Taeyang, Verbal Jint, Yankie, and Younha)

CL: Epik High – Shoebox

Shoebox was everything I wanted in an Epik High comeback and more. The album has an overall sound and soul that reminds me of old-school Epik High (which made me insanely happy) and it delves into extremely personal topics, tackling inner demons with the help of clever yet satirical lyrics that Tablo shines at. Shoebox is a declaration of life and love and all of its glory and mishaps, and Tablo, DJ Tukutz and Mithra Jin have whipped up a phenomenal album that feels more like reading an open book or journal, an exciting listen with much replay value for years to come.”

(Recommended tracks: Happen Ending (Featuring Cho Won-sun), Rich (Featuring Taeyang), Spoiler, Amor Fati, Life Is Good (Featuring Jay Park), Shoebox (Featuring MYK))

Runner-up: BTS – Dark & Wild

“BTS have been very busy bees, releasing an EP (which felt more like a full-length album) and subsequently their first studio album within the same year. Although I prefer Skool Luv Affair for its catchier tracks, Dark & Wild displayed a pronounced maturity while treading on familiar territory, the topics of choice still lingering around its school-love trilogy theme but under the guise of darker perspectives. The album comes with a warning claiming that ‘Love Hurts, It Causes Anger, Jealousy, Obsession, Why Don’t U Love Me Back?’ Well, if heart-wrenching love gave me the ability to craft songs as good as some of the ones featured in Dark & Wild, I would like to sign up for a crash course for it, please.

Both rappers and vocalists have sufficient space to shine within the 14-track album, with a good balance of aggressive rapping, mellow vocals and polished productions placed together in one album that proves that BTS are more than just your average, run-of-the-mill idol group. They continue to impress, and are some of the groups I would like to watch evolve and grow in the near future.”

(Recommended tracks: Intro: What Am I To You?, Let Me Know, BTS Cypher Pt. 3: Killer (Featuring Supreme Boi), Can You Turn Off Your Cell Phone, Look Here)

Grandpagyu: Troy – Why Are We (song)

Hyerim: Epik High – Fighting Again and MC Mong – Miss Me Or Diss Me (song)

“Ah… it’s too hard to choose between these two! Epik High’s “Fighting Again” featuring Younha is just so beautiful and deep, and the lyrics are so well written. An example: “I understand twice when you misunderstand at once.” The Korean lyrics say “이해를 두 번 해도 일만 나면 오해”. “이”, the first character in “이해” (meaning “understand”), sounds the same as the number 2 in Korean. “두 번” means “twice”. “일” can mean “happening” as well as the number 1, among other things. Finally, “오해” means “misunderstanding”, but the first syllable “오” also means the number 5. So you have this arithmetic: 2 (you understand) + 2 (twice) + 1 (but one thing happens) = 5 (and you misunderstand it all).
Now, with MC Mong, I’ve been waiting. A lot. And his comeback song is pretty straightforwardly clear and strong like a slap of cold water. Did you miss him or did you diss him? And Jinsil’s voice is just harmonious for me.”

Jess: Epik High – Shoebox

Sun Lee: Verbal Jint, San E, Bumkey, Swings, Phantom, Kanto – You Make Me Feel Brand New (song)

“Wouldn’t it be nice if Korea’s best hip-hop artists were together to sing a song.”

Dance and Electronic

Girls' Generation - Mr. Mr.

CL: VIXX – Error

“VIXX have been vampires, Jekyll and Hyde, voodoo dolls and now cyborgs – it’s almost borderline ridiculous (and amazing) how well VIXX suits a myriad of supernatural and unconventional characters, both conceptually and aesthetically, and thankfully their musicality is often nothing short of expectations!

Error is an album that plays to VIXX’s strengths, with heavy, electronic, dubstep-laden beats that reflect and exaggerate the futuristic theme, which makes for a very compelling listen. I would consider it an upgrade of the genres they showcased in their previous EP, Jekyll, selecting the best parts of the latter and enhancing them into a more definitive sound in Error. I’m glad that Ravi also has had more chances to showcase his producing skills (“What You Waiting For”), since I greatly enjoyed “Secret Night” from their Voodoo album. One of my favorite VIXX eras, cemented with one of the group’s best title tracks too.”

(Recommended tracks: Steel Heart, Error, After Dark)

Runner-up: Sunmi – Full Moon

“Quite honestly, Sunmi did not stand out to me while she was part of the Wonder Girls lineup – but I was certainly intrigued by her matured image brought upon us by her solo efforts with “24 Hours”. I was also pleasantly surprised by her music, which turned out to suit my personal preferences to a fault. Full Moon derived its inspiration from the supernatural, so it was apt that most of the EP’s tracks had experimental electronica sounds that existed to try and invoke a sensualized feeling of darkness in the listener, but the EP’s attempts at trying to display emotional turmoil and intensity through this chosen sound only shone on a couple of tracks. I also enjoyed how the tracks were arranged in such a way that the songs gradually mellowed out as the EP progressed. Despite the few gripes I have with one or two tracks, Full Moon was a very solid EP with many fresh, catchy listens.”

(Recommended tracks: Who Am I (Featuring Yubin), Stopped Time (Featuring GOT7’s Jackson), If That Was You)

Special mention: Humming Urban Stereo – Reform

Hyerim: BEAST – Good Luck

Jess: Robin Hoon – Amaze Me

Sun Lee: HA:TFELT – Wherever Together and Girls’ Generation – Mr. Mr. (song)

I’ve been a fan of these two groups and I’m happy to know that they are embracing new kinds of music. Electronic sound may be new for both HA:TFELT and SNSD but they never failed me.

Pop and Ballad

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CL: Akdong Musician – Play

“If I could use a word to describe AkMu’s music, it would be “organic”. Their music often hits close to home, with sweet melodies and lyrics that tell of poignant love and brings to mind sunshine and flowers and vignette color filters. Everything about Play is clean, fresh, and uplifting, with simplistic compositions and brilliant harmonizing that gave me such a fuzzy, warm feeling inside after my first listen of the album. The vocals and lyrics are exceptionally well-done, and is a lovely debut effort for AkMu. For the listener looking for something light to suit a fine, sunny morning, Play is definitely a go-to album to amp up your positive energy.”

(Recommended tracks: Melted, On The Subway, Artificial Grass, Anyway)

Grandpagyu: Girl’s Day – I Miss You

Hyerim: BEAST – 12:30, Zia – Have You Ever Cried, and EXO – Moonlight (song)

Jess: Akdong Musician – Melted (song)

Sun Lee: AOA – Like A Cat (pop), SNSD-TTS – Only U (ballad) (song)

Once again SNSD showed that they are more than just pretty faces. Listen to this song written by Seohyun and be ready to be captivated.

Folk and Country

Sun Lee: Oohyo – Vineyard

Thanks to Krystal of f(x) I got to know this awesome artist.”

Jazz and Blues

Sun Lee: Big Baby Driver – Baby You

The fun guitar strings made it my choice of jazz music!

Crossover and Other

Jess: Seo Taiji –

Sun Lee: The Barberettes – Little Gals

Collaborative Work

CL: Soyou & Junggigo – Some

“2014 was a year where collaborations snapped up the top spots on the charts faster than you can say ‘Yippee Ki-Yay’, and arguably “Some” kick-started the succeeding hype for sweet collabs for the rest of the year. Soyou’s light vocals fuse well with Junggigo’s huskier delivery, with an ear-warming chorus that’ll have you singing along in no time. It’s a cheery, vibrant song that I’ll have to say re-energizes for whatever tasks that are left in the day, with a melody that had me bopping along in no time.”

Runner-up: Raina & San E – Midsummer’s Night Sweetness

“San E and Raina’s “Midsummer’s Night Sweetness” dominated the second half of the year, but with a musicality that leaned towards a smoother R&B sound. Raina’s near-saccharine vocals provides a good balance to San E’s softer approach to his verses in the track. Midsummer’s Night Sweetness is a comfortable, easy-listen track that is perfect as the soundtrack of a late-night drive, and one is likely to not get sick of the song as fast as one would with “Some”.”

Special mentions: M.I.B. – Let’s Talk About You (Featuring Bomi of A Pink)

Grandpagyu: Hyolyn & Jooyoung – Erase

Hyerim: Hi Suhyun – I’m Different (Featuring Bobby)

Jess: Ga-in – Fxxk You (Featuring Bumkey)

Sun Lee: SM The Ballad: SM The Ballad Vol. 2 (album), HA:TFELT – Iron Girl (Featuring Lim) (song)

“SM The Ballad: Really nice to see SM artistes in one album.

HA:TFELT & Lim: Their combination shows how artistic they are, as they both penned this song. I’m glad they did it in such audacity and in a way that brings out their musicality.

Sources: Photos – Akdong Musician from Applied Music News, Crush from Tenasia, all others from Daum Music; Videos – YouTube

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