2016 in Review: Day 14 – Staff Picks

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[2016 in Review]

1. Prelude (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 Crossover
9. Best Collaborative Work
10. Rookie Artist of the Year
11. Artist of the Year
12. Song of the Year
13. Album of the Year
14. Staff Picks
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

As is tradition, today a couple of HKP staffers offer their thoughts on the year’s best. Hellokpop writer CL and writer/Asia Region PR Seckvoon contributed to this article. Be sure to check out their selections as well as their reasoning for each pick!

Album Art

CL: Dean – 130 mood: TRBL, Lee Hi – Seoulite, Nell – C

R&B and Soul

CL: Dean – 130 mood: TRBL

Lush, captivating, and near flawless in its entirety, 130 mood: TRBL is a breathtaking experience that paints an incredibly raw and sensual picture of falling in and out of love, along with all of its facets. Dean’s phenomenally smooth vocals and prominent influences from 90s R&B beats are meshed well with subtle synth elements that further elevates his execution of the album, and juxtaposes the intimate grit in his lyrics that’s hard to miss. Dean’s album is a sleek listen and an ear-pleaser from start to finish.

Recommended Tracks: Pour Up (featuring Zico) | Bonnie & Clyde | What 2 Do (featuring Crush & Jeff Bernat) | D (Half Moon) [featuring Gaeko]

  • Runner-up: Samuel Seo – Ego Expand

    It’s hard to pin Samuel Seo’s music down into a specific genre, thanks to his signature use of eclectic, experimental beats – but there’s no mistaking the emphasis on classic soul and jazz in EGO EXPAND. Following in the footsteps of his distinctive material and direction with 2015’s FRAMEWORKS, he displaces the odd, jarring nuances in favor of a more cohesive and subdued sound infused with captivating ambient instrumentals. However, Seo doesn’t compromise his unique musicality – the dreamy, anthemic vibes of B L U E and the frantic haphazardness found in Ego Expand (100%) are still indications of his bold musical intentions.

    Recommended Tracks: Hit & Run (featuring Kim Oki) | Gifted (featuring Ja Mezz) | B L U E | Sandwich (featuring Jung In)

  • Special mention: Jonghyun – She Is

Seckvoon: Crush – Wonderlust

Crush dropped this album for his Wonderlust tour. Love all the tracks in the album, although there are just five songs. Title track “Fall” is definitely a good song to listen during rainy days, but my favorite of the album goes to “2411”.

  • Runner-up (song): Suran – Step Step

Rock and Alternative

CL: Nell – C

Listening to C is like having the most incredible journey through the cosmic galaxies, thanks to the smooth and escapist soundscapes the album has. Nell’s evocative merging of electronica and rock is gorgeously hypnotic, and is responsible for some of the band’s more ethereal arrangements. Kim Jong-wan’s vocal performances are haunting and sincere, and C also does the job of filling in the blanks they left with 2013’s synth-heavy Escaping Gravity.

Recommended Tracks: Day After Day | Dream Catcher | Home | Tinnitus | Full Moon

  • Runner-up: Thornapple – 서울병 (Seoul Sickness)

    Thornapple skillfully weaves atmospheric melodies with equal parts of bittersweet poignancy and infectious energy, entering a realm that treads between universes that are as pensive as they are quixotic. The band takes on traditional structures with unexpected rhythms with a masterful deftness, especially evident in songs like “Pomegranate’s Taste”. Even on more subdued tracks, explosive riffs and changing tempos keep the songs an exciting listen, while vocalist Yoon Sunghyun reels you in with his fantastic, soulful delivery.

    Recommended Tracks: Pomegranate’s Taste | Difficult Moon | Seoul

Rap and Hip-hop

CL: Hwaji – Zissou

I dived into Zissou with no idea of what to expect, and the album totally blew me away. Aggressive spitfire bars and hard-hitting beats may be missing, but Hwaji’s flow and rhythm is crisp, with a cool nonchalance to it that fits the album’s underlying soul elements seamlessly. The tropical, chiller vibes often found in the year’s chart-toppers seep through the foundations of Zissou, but Hwaji makes them his own thanks to his style of impeccable production. It’s easy to be absorbed into Zissou’s grasp, and it’s one of my top albums of 2016.

Recommended Tracks:  Shove Off | That’s True | Gotta Leave Seoul (featuring Deepflow, The Suite) | Gypsy Girl | UGK (featuring Paloalto)

  • Runner-up: Giriboy – 기계적인 앨범 (Mechanical Album)

    Giriboy’s flair comes in the form of his ever-shifting musical identity, and in Mechanical Album, his stellar ingenuity in the album’s arrangement and production shines through with a delicious heaping of electro-pop. That being said, it could be to his detriment as well -because there’s a noticeable lack of his ace lyricism, albeit in place of sleek and vivid instrumentals.  Still, the quirky and unpredictable beats make for a refreshing and fun listen, and showcases Giriboy’s finesse with manipulating different genres well.

    Recommended Tracks: You’re a Medical | I’m In Trouble (featuring Loco) | LO:OP (featuring Samuel Seo) | Panic

Seckvoon: (song) Heize – Don’t Come Back (Featuring Yong Jun-hyung)

I was so obsessed with this song that I searched and watched literally all the fancams of this song on YouTube. Who knows Heize could sing so well, and Jun Hyung’s rap goes so well with it.

Dance and Electronic

CL: Luna – Free Somebody

I’ve always wanted a Luna solo, and SM has graciously decided to bless us fans with her (amazing!) solo debut. A gem within SM’s slew of solo debuts and comebacks, Luna’s polished efforts with Free Somebody will give listeners a good idea on what the essence of her artistry is, along with her person. Laden with EDM-heavy compositions that dip between addictive retro beats and inserts of earnest ballads that showcase the versatile range of her powerhouse vocals, Free Somebody is vibrant and dynamic – a brilliant first album to explore the potentials of her musical colors as a soloist. A second album sometime soon, please? 😀

Recommended tracks: Free Somebody | Keep On Doin’ | I Wish | Galaxy | My Medicine

  • Runner-up: GOT7 – Flight Log: Turbulence

    Despite GOT7’s impressive number of music releases, their B-sides were often underwhelming and lackluster – but my perception of that changed with Flight Log: Turbulence. The boys were at the helm of the album’s conception and production, and they took the opportunity to lock in distinctively mature and somewhat experimental flavors that portrayed each member’s zeal to create a diverse but still unabashedly GOT7 album. The tracks featured on Turbulence are solid, refined and have good replay value. The member’s distinguishable touches also adds to the experience – JB’s penchant for sensual R&B vibes contrasts nicely with the upbeat sound Yugyeom and Mark bring to the table.

    Recommended Tracks: Skyway | BoomX3 | Prove It | Mayday | My Home | Let Me

  • Special mention: BTS – Wings

Pop and Ballad

CL: Bolbbalgan4 – Red Planet

RED PLANET ticks all the boxes of an incredible pop album, and the magic lies with how the Bolbbalgan4 girls are able to inject a refreshingly youthful and innocent quality into their songs with their delightfully sweet and warm vocals. Their organic and often whimsical instrumentals accentuate the narratives delivered in their songs without compromising on the emotional impact, which especially shines on tracks like “Hard To Love”. What’s so breath-taking about the album is how simple and honest it really is at its core.

Recommended Tracks: Galaxy | When We Fought | Hard To Love | X Song |  When I Fall In Love

  • Runner-up: Akdong Musician (AKMU) – Spring

    AKMU were finally released from the YG dungeons (after 2 years), and the adorable siblings are as uplifting and bubbly as ever. Although they retain much of their signature pure and clean sound, their title tracks “Re-Bye” and “How People Move” surprised and impressed me with the dramatic shift of their musical direction through the jazzy and brassy numbers, which they handle with a light, playful air and ease. With bright melodies and sweet harmonizing, the album’s witty yet comforting lyrics are reflective of the siblings’ own natures. Spring has certainly amped up my expectations for their next album, Winter!

    Recommended Tracks: Re-Bye | How People Move | Haughty Girl | Every Little Thing

Best Collaborative Work

CL: Zico – Bermuda Triangle (Featuring Dean, Crush)

The current holy trinity of Korean hip-hop/R&B show why they reign supreme in this collaboration – addictive trap beats backed with the trio’s unwavering swagger and style equals a killer combination. Dean’s portions of the song are also remarkably sublime.

  • Runner-up: Park Kyung – 자격지심 (Inferiority Complex) (featuring Eunha of GFriend)

    Sweetly depicted through a lyrical narrative that bounces between the perspective of a couple, “Inferiority Complex” is a lovely track that plays to Park Kyung’s hidden strength of creating enjoyable summer earworms, further complimented by Eunha’s airy and saccharine vocals. Extremely catchy and a great feel-good song for days when you need a pick-me-up.

Seckvoon: Zico – Bermuda Triangle (Featuring Dean, Crush)

Have always wanted to three of them to collaborate since they are my favorite artists. Dreams do come true.
  • Runner-up: Heize – And July (Featuring Dean, DJ Friz)

Rookie Artist of the Year

CL: Blackpink

YG’s rookie girl-group undeniably stole the scene with their fierce double title-track debut and subsequent solid comeback in the third quarter of the year. The girls are charismatic, charming and are more than capable with their live performances, but it seems that YG is holding them back in terms of public promotions, which fans have also lamented throughout the year. It would be interesting to see if the group will be able to depart from the label and comparisons of being ‘2NE1’s little sisters’ and claim a signature sound and image that’s entirely their own, because I’d love to see what else they are able to offer in 2017.

Artist of the Year


BTS has grown to become one of K-pop’s biggest global sensations within 3 years of the group’s debut, an impressive feat backed by the boys’ autonomy in producing their own music. With an artistry unique to themselves, inspired through intricate and relatable retellings of themes on youths, 2016 has been a huge year for BTS musically, including releasing some of their biggest hits to date, namely “Blood, Sweat & Tears” and “Fire”. The boys also achieved the first daesang of their careers, and their musical growth as a group is sure to only soar higher in the years to come.

Song of the Year

CL: Block B – Toy

Perhaps some might feel that this is an unexpected choice, but Toy was an unexpected yet fantastic song from Block B, a departure from the group’s signature loud and playful identity. Minimalist in structure and somber in tone, the song still remains elegant in all of its pleasantly mellow glory, with cascading synths forming the backbone of Toy’s mature tone and sound. Coupled with Zico’s addictive chorus hook, Toy is one of the year’s best title tracks in my book, and is further proof of Block B’s versatility.

Seckvoon: GFriend – Rough

Love the tempo, love the dance. A girl group that I listen to and adore.

Album of the Year

CL: Hwaji – Zissou (see above)

Seckvoon: Dean – 130 mood: TRBL

BIG BANG’s MADE full album is a great one, but for this year I have to give it to Dean. Each track in the album is a gem.

Sources: album art and all artist images from Bugs Music

Read our past series:

2015 in Review

2014 in Review

2013 in Review

2012 in Review

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