2016 in Review: Day 6 – Pop and Ballad

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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, our largest and longest category returns. Today’s “first ten out”s might be the most diverse that this category has ever looked. I’m very pleased with the quality and breadth that was represented this year.

Important: as in previous 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 “First Ten Out” and “Honorable Mention” picks are sorted by artist name.


Best Pop and Ballad Album 2016

Savina and Drones - Our Time Lies Within

Savina and Drones – 우리의 시간은 여기에 흐른다 (Our Time Lies Within)

The Korean title literally reads “our time flows here”, and the concept of “flow” is indeed an important theme in Savina and Drones’ second album. There is an entire song around the passage of time and pain (“So When It Goes”), and “Don’t Break Your Heart” sings of “lost” souls that should nevertheless keep moving on. In the album’s emotional half, it grants the inevitability of suffering and confusion, reminding listeners that such things are still ephemeral. Not the most fun message; yet Savina’s lithe voice has such searing power, the Drones craft such diverse and warm soundscapes (sometimes spectacular ones, like the bursting ending of “We Are”), and the words written with such sensitive touch, that it’s absolutely persuasive. When the band is not being so serious, they have a little fun (“Catrot”, “Bird”, the artifact sounds left in from recording), and that gives Our Time Lies Within another half that brims with vitality. Here lies an album that breathes, music that heals, time that flows.

Runner-up Pop and Ballad Album 2016

Echae Kang – Radical Paradise

Radical Paradise is endlessly inventive, each tracks the subject of some experiment or another. Violinist-singer-songwriter-extraordinaire Echae Kang (already known as one half of Echae En Route) engages with cinematic spoken word, tango, synthpop ballad, variations on the same motif, and more. Most interesting to me are the numerous things she tried based on pizzicato: plucking the violin instead of using the bow. It often shows up as rhythmic backing, like a sharper and shorter guitar line; at other times the plucks take center stage. “Something Cold” features both styles of play, and even introduces a third one (I think she is slapping the bow across the strings instead of drawing), layering all three together. The end result is breathtaking, and something I have personally never heard before. Kang also consistently crafts absorbing and satisfying melodies for the album, and that songwriting talent combined with this innovative spirit is a recipe for spectacle.

The First Ten Out


Best Pop and Ballad Song 2016

Sunwoo Jung-A – 순이 (Sooni (I’m Your Fanatic Girl))

Count the first chorus of “Sooni” among the most surprising musical moments of 2016. With the wobble bass opening up and the soft keyboard pressing away, a subdued acoustic piece abruptly turns into psychedelic hybrid pop. The track eventually incorporates both pieces into the last chorus, and it’s a glorious potpourri of jazz guitar, brass, and synths. It is to Sunwoo Jung-A’s great credit that the vocal performance is not swallowed up by such an interesting arrangement: she plays the part of a devoted unrequited lover (or fan), maintaining a chic veneer but soon admitting to the depths of her attachment. Her performance is nuanced, and an essential ingredient in this sickly-sweet concoction.

Runner-up Pop and Ballad Song 2016

Jung Joon-il – Plastic (Featuring BewhY)

It’s not really clear whether the narrator of “Plastic” is speaking to a particular recipient – a former lover, an estranged parent, a Creator, all of the above – or just crying out to an unspecified, formless world. The song also doesn’t care to crystallize what the narrator is asking for salvation from – solitude, meaninglessness, memories, all of the above – or, again, just a deep desire for escape. There are hints and I have guesses, but everything is in bits and pieces. I like this – by speaking to none of these ideas in particular, “Plastic” speaks to all of them. Jung Joon-il lays out an intensely private, personal narrative and gives desperate voice to it; BewhY adds maybe his best performance to date, bringing two verses that showcase his introspective lyricism and penchant for hard-hitting expression (“I want to inhale this thing called breath for once // The one thing I want the most, a miracle like my birth”). As the song escalates to its conclusion, the two artists trade gut punches, leaving only a stunned silence in their wake.

The First Ten Out

Bolbbalgan4 - Red Planet

Bolbbalgan4 – 싸운날 (The Day We Fought)

Davichi – 내 옆에 그대인 걸 (Beside Me)

Echae en Route - Night Drive

Echae En Route – Night Drive

Eunkyo - Understand

Eunkyo – Beautiful Mistakes

Fromm – 서로의 조각 (Pieces of You and Me) (Featuring Giriboy)

Jung Seung-hwan – 이 바보야 (The Fool)

Ju Yoon-ha - Kind

Ju Yoon-ha – 용서 (Forgiveness)*

Lee Sora – 사랑이 아니라 말하지 말아요 (Don’t Say It Isn’t Love)

Shin Seol-hee - Cinder Cone

Shin Seol-hee – 무생물 (Inanimate Object) (±0)

Stella Jang - Colors

Stella Jang – 환승입니다 (Transfer)

Honorable Mentions


Bily Acoustie – 보통의 겨울 (Average Winter)
Bolbbalgan4 – Red Planet
Cheeze – Q
Daredaa – Our Things
Eunkyo – Understand
Fromm – Erica
Geurida – 사막나비 (Desert Butterfly)
Hello Gayoung – 좋아하는 마음 (Feelings)
Jang Bum June – 장범준 2집 (Jang Bum June 2nd Album)
Jung In – Rare
Jung Joon-il – Underwater
Jung Mijo – 37년 (37 Years)
Jung Seung-hwan – 목소리 (Voice)
Kim Na-young – From the Heart
Kwak Jin-eon – 나랑 갈래 (Come With Me)
Kwon Jin-ah – 웃긴 밤 (One Strange Night)
Lucid Fall – 누군가를 위한, (For Somebody,)
Lucite Tokki – L+
Moonmoon – Life Is Beauty Full
Mystery Curtain – 수상한 커튼의 일년 (Mystery Curtain’s Year)
Oh Eun-bi – ONVA
Oh Ji Eun Seo Young Ho – 작은 마음 (Little Heart)
Park Joon-ha -달이 말라가는 저녁 (Moondry Evening)
Roy Kim – 북두칠성 (The Big Dipper)
Seenroot – 신루트의 이상한 나라 (Seenroot in Wonderland)
SoLaTi – Solatic
Soran – Cake
Subin [Dal Shabet] – 이 곳 (This Place)
Star Cooking Berg – Depart
Sunwoo Jung-A – 4×4
Sweden Laundry – 마음 (Heart)
Vanilla Acoustic – Sweet Chemistry
Yang Joo-young – 연금술사 (Alchemist)
Yu Sang-bong – From Summer


9 and the Numbers – Singapore
Ahn Ye-eun – 어쩌다보니 (Somehow)
Ailee – If You
AKMU – Re-Bye
Bada & Ryeowook – Cosmic
Blackpink – Stay
Bolbbalgan4 – 우주를 줄게 (Galaxy)
Cheeze – Mood Indigo
Crucial Star – 가을엔 (In Autumn) (Featuring Kim Na-young)
Daredaa – Our Song
Echae Kang – A Match
Echae Kang – Radical Paradise
Eunkyo – 그럼에도 (Still)
Fromm – 달의 뒤편으로 와요 (Come To The Back Side of the Moon)
Fromm – 반짝이던 안녕 (Our Sparkling Beginning)
Ga-In – Carnival (The Last Day)
Hello Gayoung – 좋아하는 마음 (Feelings)
HyunA – 나팔꽃 (Morning Glory) (Featuring Qim Isle)
Jang Pil-soon – 낡은 앞치마 (Old Apron)
Jeong Eun-ji – 하늘바라기 (Hopefully Sky) (Featuring Harim)
Jessica – Love Me the Same
JIDA – Autumn Breeze (Featuring Rachel Lim)
Jinnh – Stayed (Produced by Lyn)
Jung In – UUU
Jungkey – 바라지 않아 (I Don’t Want) (Featuring Sojung)
Ju Yoon-ha – Kind
Ju Yoon-ha – 에필로그 (Epilogue)
Kang Jin-ah – 너에게 (To You)
Kim Ju-na – Summer Dream
Kim Na-young – 너를 만나기 전 (Before Meeting You)
Kim Yoon-ah – 안녕 (Goodbye)
Koh Nayoung – 이름이 뭔데 (Whom)
Kwak Jin-eon – 나랑 갈래 (Come With Me)
Kwon Jin-ah – 끝 (The End)
Lee Aram – 어느 여름날 (One Summer Day)
Lee Jung-ah – Another Year
Lee Jung-ah – Front Porch
Lee Seung-hwan – 10억 광년의 신호 (The Signal of One Billion Light-year)
Lucia – Inner
Lucid Fall – 아직, 있다. (Still, Here.)
Lucite Tokki – Every You
Luna – Breathe
Maydoni – 나비(悲)의 꿈 (My Way)
Mercia – 이 길에서 (On This Road)
No Reply – Where Is Love (Featuring Jung Joon-il)
NY Fish – 사월의 수평선 (Horizon of April)
Oh Eun-bi – 줄다리기 (Tug of War) (Featuring Park Kyung-hwan [Jaejoo Boys]
Oksangdalbit – 걸어가자 (Let’s Walk)
Oksoo Photo Studio – 몽중몽 (Dream Within a Dream) (Featuring Echae Kang)
O.When – 오늘 (Today)
Park Hyo-shin – 숨 (Breath)
Park Ji-yoon – O
Park Won – 노력 (Try)
Pleyn – 석양 (Dusk) (Featuring Stella Jang)
Ravie Nuage – 녹턴 (Nocturne)
Red Velvet – 7월 7일 (One of These Nights)
Savina and Drones – Don’t Break Your Heart
Savina and Drones – Falling
Savina and Drones – 남겨진 곳에 (There Are)
Savina and Drones – 우리는 모두 (We Are)
Seenroot – 그 와 나 (He and I)
SellinSelliSelline – 꿈, 막다른 바다, 바람을 기다리다 (Dream, Ending Sea, Await the Wind)
Shin Yong-jae – 지구와 달 (Earth and Moon)
Singer/Songwriter Gingee – 태양 (The Sun)
Sohyang – 집으로 가는 길 (Going Home)
SoLaTi -Moondance
Subin [Dal Shabet] – 미워 (Hate)
Subin [Dal Shabet] – 이 곳 (This Place)
Sunny Hill – 집으로 가는 길 (On the Way Home)
Sunwoo Jung-A – 그러려니 (Stay Put)
Taeyeon – 11:11
Taeyeon – Starlight (Featuring Dean)
Tarin – 단 한사람 (Only One)
Tei – 따뜻했던, 그대만 (Once Warm, You)
Thomas Cook – 그래 안녕 (Goodbye)
Vanilla Acoustic – 스윗케미 (Sweet Chemistry)
W – I’m Your Desire (Featuring Horan)
Won Da-hee – Far Away (Featuring Yimgah)
Won Da-hee – 쉬운 이별 (Easy Breakup) (Featuring Flower Kim)
Yim Hye-min – 난 아직 (I’m Still) (Featuring Shin Ye-young)
Yoo Hae-in – 야생화 (Wildflower)
Yoon Han – 널 위한 노래 (Song For You)
Yoon Jong-shin – The First (Featuring Tablo)
Yoon Mi-rae – Because of You
Zico – 사랑이었다 (It Was Love) (Featuring Luna)

*Not available on YouTube.

Sources: album art from Bugs Music; Savina and Drones header image from official Facebook page

Read our past series:

2015 in Review

2014 in Review

2013 in Review

2012 in Review

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