2014 in Review: Day 6 – Pop and Ballad

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Park Hyo-shin

[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

Another characteristically strong year in pop and ballad made for some difficult decisions – particularly on the songs side. Even with folk being its own category this year, the list of deserving candidates overflowed, and this category remains the most sonically diverse of them all; you’ll find straight ballads and mainstream pop, but also all manners of niche subgenres and influences.

Important: same as the last two years, 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 all “Next Ten Out” and “Honorable Mention” picks are sorted by artist name.


Best Pop and Ballad Album 2014

Lee Jung-ah - Undertow

Lee Jung-ah – Undertow

Lee Jung-ah is very good at a lot of different things – we got that right off the bat with Undertow. The former Superstar K contestant, with the help of producer Jung Jae-il (whom we’ll be seeing again in a few days), deftly weaved the fabrics of folk, blues, ballad, rock, Celtic, gospel, and even Korean traditional music into the album. Yet this diverse platter, as colorful as it is, doesn’t merely serve as a typical debut showcase. The clashing ingredients instead help express the intermixing of turbulence and calm, of loss and joy, of consolation and gratitude, all made part of a stunning essay on life. What’s more, Undertow might also be the most virtuosic vocal performance of the year: Lee dazzles throughout, sometimes with emotional charge, sometimes with tender caress and sometimes with simple verve. She harnesses – even takes over – this instrumentally ambitious album with grace and seeming ease. We’ve witnessed the emergence of an immense talent.

Runner-up Pop and Ballad Album 2014

Lee Sora - 8

Lee Sora – 8

I’m not sure anyone expected 8 to sound like this. The many YouTube covers of “난 별” (“I’m A Star”), the sheet music for which was released by Lee Sora before the album’s release, were mostly austere and tame piano ballads. Instead, this endlessly hyped eighth album was Lee’s return to alternative rock-ballad after 16 years. But at its core, 8 is still quintessentially Lee Sora; incisive lyrics still straddle the line between edgy and observant, melodies are still simple but striking, and Lee’s singing is still rich and nuanced. There are still some unforgettable moments like the refrain of “I’m A Star” and driving riff of “I Focus”, still the painstaking attention to sound detail. It’s an old formula, sure, but Lee’s unique craftsmanship and outsourcing approach to composition have stood the test of time – and they will stand once more.

The Next Ten Out


Best Pop and Ballad Song 2014

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Park Hyo-shin – 야생화 (Wildflower)

Park Hyo-shin’s comeback was everything we could have hoped for: a self-written, emotional, and vocals-focused ballad, polished enough for an artisan and accessible enough for anyone. Park has become a better vocalist in the last four years, if that’s even possible: “Wildflower” shows off a crisp, burnt depth to his lows that wasn’t there before, completing his post-2008 transition away from the sometimes overbearing soul style of yore. The song takes deep, long breaths with its phrasing, while the beautiful lyrics lend grandeur to the austere piano track. The explosive final ninety seconds might be the finest moment of Park’s 15-year career.

Runner-up Pop and Ballad Song 2014

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Fromm – 봄맞이 가출 (A Spring Day Out)

Fromm has been busy since her universally acclaimed debut (some of that acclaim coming from this space), and “A Spring Day Out” best encapsulates those efforts. It’s not quite like anything found in Arrival (2013) – the danceable staccato rhythm and layered, falsetto-laden chorus set it apart. She’s always opened herself up to Feist comparisons in voice and style, but this one includes sounds and a narrative (after-school shenanigans straight out of a Korean schoolgirl’s diary) that put some distance there. “A Spring Day Out” is a song that’s unique in Korea today, yet also could only be made in Korea. That is worth celebrating.

The Next Ten Out

Epitone Project - 각자의 밤 (Each Other's Night)

Epitone Project – 미움 (Hate) (Featuring Son Ju-hee)

Fromm - Her Ocean

Fromm – 그녀의 바다 (In Her Sea of Happiness)

High4 & IU - Not Spring, Love, Or Cherry Blossoms

High4 & IU – 봄 사랑 벚꽃 말고 (Not Spring, Love, Or Cherry Blossoms)

Kim Jinho - 사람들 (People)

Kim Jin-ho – 사람들 (People)

Lee Jung-ah - Undertow

Lee Jung-ah – 가벼운 출발 (Light Departure)

Lee Sora - 8

Lee Sora – 난 별 (I Am A Star)

Lucia - Light & Shade Part 1

Lucia – Be Mine

Venny - Bae So-min

Venny – 떠도는 말 (Floating Words)

Yonn Hyun-sang - Pianoforte

Yoon Hyun-sang – 언제쯤이면 (When Would It Be) (Featuring IU)

Zitten - Diaspora: 흩어진 사람들 (Scattered People)

Zitten – Try

Honorable Mentions


Bily Acoustie – 소란했던 시절에 (In The Rowdy Days)
Cha Eun-joo – 다시 위로 (Console Again)
Common People – Daily Inside
Eddy Kim – 너 사용법 (The Manual)
Herz Analog – 어서오세요 여름밤 (Welcome, Summer Night)
J Rabbit – Stop & Go
Jung Joon-il – 보고싶었어요 (I Missed You)
Kim Bum-soo – Him
Kim Dong-ryul – 동행 (Accompany)
Kim Jin-ho – 사람들 (People)
Lalasweet – 너의세계 (Your World)
Lee In-hye – Arise, My Love
Lee Sang-eun – Lulu
Lucia – Light & Shade, Chapter 1
Rocoberry – Rocoberry
Sarah Fly – What A Beautiful Day
Soyoung – 상실의 기록 (Record Of Loss)
Urban Zakapa – 03
Yang Sion – 인생은 아름다워 (Life Is Beautiful)
Younha – Subsonic


Ailee – 노래가 늘었어 (Singing Got Better)
Air ManGirl – I Still (Featuring Kang Kyun-sung)
Akdong Musician – 얼음들 (Melted)
A.T – 멜랑꼴리 (Melancholy)
Babary Sisters – 전기장판 (Electric Mat)
Bae Sat-byeol – 마음으로 하는 말 (Spoken Through The Heart)
Bily Acoustie – 그 언젠가는 (Someday)
Bobby Kim – 사과 (Featuring Kim Young-keun)
Boheme – 너는 울고있다 (You Weep)
Boheme – 유년의 기억 (Memory Of Childhood)
Bubble Sisters – 여행일기 (Travel Diary)
Cheoro – 사막 (Desert)
Common People – 아무도 없다 (No One’s There)
Dalchongi – Alone
Eddy Kim – 밀당의 고수 (Push & Pull)
EXO – 12월의 기적 (Miracles In December)
god – 보통날 (Ordinary Day) (Original Version)
Go Sae-bom – 사랑이었을까 (Was It Love)
Ha Dong-qn – Run
Han Soa – 그댄 선물이죠 (You’re A Gift)
Hello Gayoung – 반대과정이론 (Opponent Process Theory)
Herz Analog – 연애상담인듯 (Like Dating Advice)
IU – 너의 의미 (Meaning Of You) (Featuring Kim Chang-wan)
IU – 금요일에 만나요 (Friday) (Featuring Jang Yi-jeong)
Jang Ji-young – 내가 듣고 싶은 노래 (The Song I Want To Hear)
J Rabbit – Round & Round
Jungkey – 내가 할 수 없는 말 (Words I Can’t Say) (Featuring Navi)
Jung Joon-il – 고백 (Confession)
Jung Yeon-seung – 낯선 (Foreign) (Featuring Oh Ji-eun)
Jun.K – No Love
Kim Bum-soo – 집 밥 (Home Meal) (Featuring Geeks, Mrs. Lee)
Kim Dong-ryul – 그게 나야 (How I Am)
Kim Na-young – 가끔 내가 (Sometimes)
Kim Sung-hyung – 1년 7일 13분 (A Year, Seven Days, Thirteen Minutes)
Lalasweet – 오월 (May)
Lee Michelle – Without You
Lee Jung-ah – I Want To See You
LeeSA – 집으로 가는 길 (The Way Home)
Lee Sang-eun – 태양은 가득히 (Sun Shining)
Lee Seung-hwan – Fall To Fly
Lee Seung-hwan – 내게만 일어나는 일 (What Only Happens To Me) (Featuring MC Meta)
Lee Seung-hwan – 비누 (Soap) (Featuring Lim Kim)
Lee Sora – 운 듯 (As If Wept)
Lucia – 데미안 (Demian) (Sentimental Scenery Remix)
Lucia – 녹여줘 (Melt Me)
Lucia – 오필리아 (Ophelia)
Major Tom – We Go
MBLAQ – 봄 여름 가을 그리고… (Spring Summer Fall And…)
Moinoi – 뒤를 조심해 (Watch Your Back)
Mystery Child – 비가 내리고 (보고싶다) (After The Rain (Miss You))
Nalja Onyong – 오지아저씨네 (Uncle Ozzy’s Place)
Oh Ji-eun – 너와 손잡고 (Holding Your Hand)
Park Hyo-shin – Happy Together
Park Ji-yoon – 유후 (Yoohoo)
Park Sae-byul – 노래할게요 (I’ll Sing) (Featuring Christian Kim)
Rocoberry – I’m Fine (Featuring Lee Bo-kyung)
Sarah Fly – 사라져 가는 것들 (Things That Disappear)
Siwa – 서두르지 않을래 (Won’t You Hurry)
Soyoung – 사라지는 나를 봐 (Watch Me As I Disappear)
Swedish Laundromat – Magical
Swedish Laundromat – Night
Sweet Sugar – 계절탓이야 (Due To The Season)
Tete – 춤추는 봄 (Dancing Spring)
Toy – 세 사람 (Three People) (Featuring Sung Si-kyung)
Twenty Years – 달세뇨 (Dal Segno) (Featuring Song Pureum)
Ubare’s Picnic – C’est La Vie (Featuring Song Woo-jin)
Urban Zakapa – Like A Bird
Yang Sion – 만약에 (If) (Featuring Lee Juck)
Yang Sion – 사랑이란걸 (Thing Called Love)
Yoon Jong-shin – Bat Girl (Featuring Younha)
Younha – 내 마음이 뭐가 돼 (Wasted)
Younha – 시간을 믿었어 (Believed In Time)
Zion.T – 양화대교 (Yanghwa BRDG)
Zitten – 망명 (Exile)

Sources: Photos – Park Hyo-shin from YouTube thumbnail and album covers from Daum Music; Videos – YouTube

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