I know I’m late, but I’m not even going to bother you with excuses. The good thing is that I’m back and I’m ready to wrap up my Top 50 countdown with you. I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 as much as I did putting it together. This has to be the most eclectic set of songs I have put together, and I’m excited for you to listen to the rest of it. Again, if you need some background about how this list works, please read my intro post here.
We good? Alright, without further delay, I bring you Part 2 of My Top Korean Songs of 2015, in collaboration with Drowningn00b of Korean Indie.
“Love You Dear,” by The Solutions
“Love You Dear,” by The Solutions, is such a jam. It’s like these guys knew I was looking for my next pop-rock fix, and brought it in all its upbeat glory with this summer anthem. “Love You Dear” captures all of the major-key goodness from The Solutions’ 2014 album “Movements” and dials up the feel-good vibes for a delightful 3 and a half minutes of fun. Think The All American Rejects circa 2005 (you know, when they were relevant), but Korean. – Arnold
“Satellite,” by Ja Mezz
One of the things I love about hip-hop is the way you can put disparate elements together and make them work. On “Satellite,” Ja Mezz and ENAN exist as two halves on this song: ENAN is the soulful singer going on about life’s hardships, while Ja Mezz goes on and on, but returning to one person with the refrain, “you’re the planet, I’m the satellite.” Both sides are different in terms of composition, but both sides take vocalizations and make beautiful sounds, from ENAN’s soft drones to Ja Mezz’s choppy waters. The rest of the album, “1/4,” vibes in this mid-tempo, electronic way, with “Satellite” as one of the most fascinating openers I’ve heard in awhile. – Drowningn00b
“Dancing With The Queen,” by Kim Jo Han
I love Kim Jo Han. And when I say I love him, I mean squealing in delight whenever he releases a new anything. Jo Han has such a fantastic voice with just enough rawness to it that I can’t not adore. His latest LP, “Once In A Lifetime,” is a R&B fan’s dream, with polished production and a full band, with “Dancing With The Queen” as my standout. The R&B ballad that oozes romance, “Dancing With The Queen” is that song that reminds you of that love that’s existed for decades and won’t stop. At over 7 minutes, the song itself almost doesn’t stop, with a long jam session that’s sublime. Get your slow dance steps ready, because this one goes out to the lovers. – Drowningn00b
“Break,” by Beenzino
I can’t recall a moment in 2015 when rapper Beenzino wasn’t taking part in a music release, either of his own or in conjunction with other musicians. In fact, Beenzino contributed to so many underground and mainstream projects this year – and is squeezing in a December tour in North America as of this typing – that if I were compiling a list of the “Best Korean Artists of 2015”, he’d be on it. Of the things Beenzino released this year, I fell most in love with his hyperactive release, “Break”. Perhaps it’s the rapper’s no-fucks-given message or the song’s relentless kick drum-driven beat; maybe it’s a combination of both, but this song is so much fun to listen to. It’s a classic mood-booster. Well, at least I can say it was, until I wasn’t able to make it to his show in Dallas this month. Now, it just makes me want to break all of the things and regret all of my life choices. – Arnold
“Night To Dawn,” by Xin Seha
Artist To Watch: Out of so many releases this year, Xin Seha’s “24Town” has stuck with me the longest. With an unabashedly 80s synth sound, Xin Seha whipped out his key-tar and created one hell of a debut record. Xin Seha channels that era’s too-cool-for-school attitude with a vocal delivery that’s low and removed, no more so than in his fabulous “Night to Dawn”. A mid-tempo dance track, Xin Seha’s voice shows up like a come-on, a whispered siren to a hedonism you might not be ready for. With a fitting fashion style and a video with drag queens, Xin Seha’s “Night to Dawn” is that walking-to-the-party song of the year. – Drowningn00b
Can I just drop in for a sec and say how much I like this? I love how vogue it is. This song is so fierce, glamorous, and down right addicting. Which is saying something, considering that it’s not technically much of an earworm by mainstream standards. But Xin Seha works it out, both in his soft vocal delivery and in his fab MV. Pose, bitch. Have your moment. – Arnold
“Farewell,” by Taeyeon
I don’t know about you, but when news hit the interwebs that Taeyeon was coming out with a solo release, I nearly fainted with excitement. Yeah, THE TAEYEON, the one who trained with famed vocal coach The One and had that utterly beautiful duet with Kim Bum Soo, “다라.” When “I” came out, the SNSD leader did not disappoint, especially with releasing one of the most gorgeous lovesick closing ballads, “Farewell.” Wrought with pain, sweeping strings and a plaintive piano, Taeyeon sings this song so well you believe she might actually have gone through this (and she did!). I might have shed a tear or eleven listening to this song, but there is no doubt in mind that with “I,” Taeyeon can exist on her own terms. – Drowningn00b
“Ahh Oop!,” by Mamamoo & eSNa
Damn, look at eSNa showing up for a second time on this list. “Ahh Oop!” is the quintessential empowerment single of the year. The fantastic voices of Mamamoo and eSNa come together to tell dudes to back the fuck up and respect their boundaries. “Ahh Oop!” stays in line with the retro trend of today, which is fine since the overall show they’ve put on is worth the praise. I love how well “Ahh Oop!” builds. It’s largely thanks to the vocal headliners, who slay every note like they would the guys they’ve aimed this towards. And yet, nowhere does Mamamoo or eSNa over sing or over reach in their performance. And if you can’t get enough, there are a couple versions of this out there, including eSNa’s explicit take, titled “Ahh Shit!” You should give it a spin, it’s pretty badass. – Arnold
“Mansae,” by SEVENTEEN
Seventeen exploded into the K-Pop stratosphere with the highly addicting “Adore U,” which I admit to almost throwing in here, had it not been for the release of the way more refined and enchanting comeback single, “Mansae”. I love the surprisingly high degree of detail in the band-ish aspects in this song. If you set aside the insanely infectious stacks (upon stacks) of melodies in this thing, you can hear a sexy-ass bassline at the heart of “Mansae”, along with some rad electric guitar elements to boot. It’s one of the most dynamic K-Pop singles of the year, and one I can’t seem to get over. Seriously. Help, I think I’ve fallen into a Seventeen rabbit hole, and I can’t get out. – Arnold
“Do You,” by Rap Monster
“I’m not pop; I’m not rock; I’m not funk; I’m not R&B or Hip-Hop,” exclaims Rap Monster in “Do You,” his cold proclamation for individuality. And I agree. He’s not any one of those genres, but rather an intricate blend of all of the above. “Do You” is by far one of Rap Monster’s strongest rap exhibitions, and if you think about it, it’s not a very complicated song. Not much is happening behind Rap Monster’s lead aside from a cool beat. The spray can effects are a sweet touch. But I believe this is a much bigger testament to Rap Monster’s talent than he probably realizes. With this, Rap Monster proves that he doesn’t need a massive production to make a statement. Just raw talent and a clear vision. Both of which he has tucked neatly beneath his wings, and I can only imagine what he has in store for 2016. – Arnold
“Love Game,” by Lim Kim
Lim Kim’s “Love Game” is one hell of a listen. The warped beat and all its rhythmic nuances alone is a trip, but it’s the welding of it and Lim Kim’s guttural vocal performance that intrigues me most. Lim Kim has this interesting indie allure about her, and she recedes into that calmer territory in other corners of her “Simple Mind” mini-album. It’s when she braves gusts of unexpected and complex productions like in “Love Game” that I’m reminded Lim Kim is here to show us so much more than just indie. – Arnold
“I Love You,” by Boni
The first post I wrote for the boss man was about my love of album-closing tracks, so it seems fitting that for my return to writing for Arnold I would top my list with yet another album-closer. In an interview with The Korea Times in 2013, Boni said she wanted to make music that fit her definition of R&B. Whatever skepticism I had toward that statement was dashed dead with her second album, “Love,” an entire record dedicated to that emotion in all its myriad ways. The record blew me away with how lovely, how effortless and how classic the music comes across. Boni’s “I Love You,” which closes “Love,” is this side of perfect. With just her and a piano, Boni quietly soars heights on this ballad, taking you with her over every dip and quiver of her voice. The track could have easily gone over the top in the vocals department, but Boni gives it just enough to make it hit home, not drown you. This is one of my favorite, if not my definitive, records of the year, and “I Love You” is one of many, many reasons why. – Drowningn00b
“I Need U,” by BTS
Clearly, rap is a thing I was really into in 2015. It’s all over my Top 50, with (spoiler alert!) more of it to come. So it only seemed fitting to give props to one of the few idol groups doing it right at the moment. BTS had a fantastic year, and to me it was all thanks to their music. The group showed up with one of the strongest mini-albums in a while, and pushed the limits of what it means to be a boy band. “I Need U” off BTS’ “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 1” (Part 2 is out, and that’s also a solid release) is by far their most experimental single. It’s gloomy, but also loud and intrepid. Dark, yet delightfully melodic. It’s brimming with sophistication, both in the song’s production and BTS’ delivery, and most of these guys haven’t even lived a quarter of their lives yet. What gives? – Arnold
“Zeitgeist,” by The KOXX
I remember listening to The KOXX in passing some time ago, thinking: “Huh. This band sounds cool.” For whatever reason, it wasn’t until this year, when the band dropped their comeback album, “The New Normal,” that every fiber of my being was sucked into The KOXX’s ultra hypnotizing universe. Their new album – which is awesome, go listen to it – has one of my favorite, and probably coolest openers ever. Right off the bat, “Zeitgeist” is ferocious. The track is merciless in its unraveling, launching from a suspiciously timid set of piano chords into a full out kaleidoscope of snares, howling vocals, and tense electric guitar riffs, all smashed together in a tightly compressed production. It’s a noisy-ass anthem if I ever heard one, and that’s what I’ve come to love about The KOXX. They refuse to edit down their chaos, making for some of the most explosive sonic experiences in Korea’s rock scene. – Arnold
“니가 하면 If You Do,” by GOT7
I had the hardest time deciding between GOT7’s “Just Right” and “If You Do”. I think both songs are special in their own way; one a departure into the colorful realms of pop, and the other a darker take with hints of old-school JYP undertones. It took a while, but I decided to go with the song I connected with best.
“If You Do” is the angsty single I always wanted to hear from GOT7, but was never quite getting. As soon as I heard it, I was instantly reminded of 2PM during their glory days post-Jay Park departure. You know, when they were giving us extreme madface in songs like “Heartbeat” and “I’ll Be Back”? Yeah, good stuff. Anyway, “If You Do” doesn’t stray far from the JYP boyband formula, but it does improve it quite nicely, thanks to the advancement in production value and the death of autotune. GOT7 have some very recognizable voices in their camp, i.e. JB and Jackson, and I love how clear and crisp they sound on this track, as well as the rest of the gang. The chorus is super catchy, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed this at work, in my car, at home, going to bed, etc etc. I may have actually thrown it in here just to replay it another several hundred times. *shrugs* – Arnold
“행 God,” by Genius Nochang
If there’s one hip-hop artist who really took me by surprise this year, Nochang is that artist. I’ll say it now, I don’t know very much about this guy. However, through his music, I can pick up that this dude has a lot going on in his head (I later found out that this goes far deeper than that, but we can talk about that later).
The first I ever heard of Nochang was earlier this year when he released that one song dedicated to CL’s ass, which lol. Once I dug a little deeper, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by his avant-guard style. Take “God” off his album, “MY NEW INSTAGRAM: Mesurechiffon”. I don’t consider this to be a typical hip-hop song, if at all. Its complexities cut deeper than a lot of what is out there right now. According to an interview with HipHopPlaya, Nochang explains that he intended “God” to transition like the turning of pages in a book, or, more similarly to the verses in texts like the Bible. The instrumental shift at the end really adds to that idea nicely. But I think it’s Nochang’s rapping that strikes me the hardest. He becomes aggressive and unhinged as the song progresses, and by the end, his performance is almost chilling to listen to. I wish I could understand the full intention behind his work here, and his work in general, because I think his storytelling is unique and worth exploring. – Arnold
“Comes and Goes,” by Hyukoh
I never knew I could like an artist as much as I have come to like Oh Hyuk. There’s something special in his husky singing that grabs me by the heart every time and flails me into his stories. “22,” Hyukoh’s 2015 EP, features clear cuts of emotion and thoughtfulness that I couldn’t put down when it was released. I still can’t.
One of my favorite songs off the EP is “Comes and Goes,” which also happened to be the lead single. Oh Hyuk’s gradual build into that scratchy singing of his on this song I think is great. There’s a moment in there where he’s really letting go, then suddenly the entire arrangement takes a step back, and we’re back to that intimate atmosphere Hyukoh is so good at creating.
“Comes and Goes” is only one track off the collection, but if I had my way, I would have thrown the EP in its entirety in this list and called it a day. Is it too late to do that? – Arnold
“Brave New World,” by Brown Eyed Girls
This list would not be complete without the reigning ladies of Brown Eyed Girls. Given the nature of k-pop releases, a new Brown Eyed Girls anything is an event. If you like them or not (and why the hell not?!), the world seems to stop whenever they come back, and “Basic” was no different. The lead single, “Brave New World,” saw the return of BEG dance, this time in all their disco gloriousness. A slick bassline, trippy effects sprinkled throughout and one of my favorite Miryo breaks ever, “Brave New World” continues Brown Eyed Girls’ place in music doing fantastic pop music for everyone, regardless of age. “Why am I so serious, why don’t you be curious, babe?” Exactly, JeA. Exactly. – drowningn00b
The Brown Eyed Girls conceived the unimaginable: an “Abracadabra” and “Sixth Sense” hybrid. I hear elements of both songs in “Brave New World,” and yet it feels totally fresh and new. What I appreciate about Brown Eyed Girls is that they know who they are and aren’t afraid to push the envelope. They know what styles trigger the best out of them, like the super Michael Jackson throwback vibes in this song, and masterfully pick away at that to produce a completely unique experience all their own. I admit that it took me a minute to get with this song, but now I can’t seem to get enough. – Arnold
“A Song Between Us,” by Echae en Route
Artist To Watch: As I was sorting my list, I found myself ranking Echae en Route’s “A Song Between Us” pretty high. I mean, look at where it ended up in my final Top 50. For that reason alone, I like to consider it the little song that could.
This timid ditty, while as cafe indie as they come, has an effortless quality about it. Comprised of violinist Kang Echae and bassist Kwon Oh-Kyung of The Solutions, the two musicians use their instruments to share an elegant conversation in “A Song Between Us”. At times Echae Kang harmonizes so beautifully with the bass (particularly starting at 2:30 in the studio version), that I could swear she is singing with someone. That’s the magic in the simplicity of Echae en Route’s music. It’s literally two sets of sounds with zero exaggeration or bells and whistles, but the duo still manage to paint incredibly vivid landscapes of music. I give a big thanks to my friend Kristin for introducing me to this jazzy little band, because they definitely deserve the attention. – Arnold
“Buckubucku (Feat. EE, Rap Monster, Dino-J),” by MFBTY
The reigning family in hip-hop came back in a big way this year. Yoon Mi Rae, Bizzy and Tiger JK, aka MFBTY, channeled all their rage and anger from their personal lives, flipped it, and went all happy for the extraordinary “Welcome to WondaLand.” Full of different genres, a ridiculous number of collaborators and an appearance from baby Jordan, “WondaLand” was the hip-hop escapist record of the year. On the untranslatable, “Buckubucku,” a sick beat with so much going on that matches it’s featured roster, I was initially overwhelmed by how massive the track felt. MFBTY, however, in their talented hands, made THE hip-hop track of the year with “Buckubucku,” a track so hot metaphors for heat can’t come close. – Drowningn00b
Everything about this song gets me turnt, and I think that’s all I really need to say here. From Yoon Mi Rae’s reminder to everyone that she’s the baddest one in the game (“boss bitch, self made, you hoes is trained; as long as I’m around, Queen T, it’ll never change,” and WHAT), to Tiger JK’s tempo shifting final leg of the song, “Buckubucku” is yet another example of MFBTY’s genius in churning out some of the most memorable hip-hop tunes in Korea. – Arnold
“4Walls,” by f(x)
I’m not sure how the fuck this happened, but it did. Somehow, after shedding the unnecessary Sulli skin, and after the fantastic run of records beginning with Pink Tape and Red, SOMEHOW, f(x) topped themselves AGAIN with “4 Walls!” How is this possible?! An electronic song so well done your speakers shimmer, “4 Walls” is THE kpop electronic song ever. A brilliant synth riff that loops on the high side with a bass kick that hits on just the right side of awesome before all coming to a head on that bridge and climax point, “4 Walls,” both the single and the record itself, managed to bring back the 90s electronic dance sound and make it fresh. f(x) keeps getting better and better, even if they say words like “mysteric.” These girls are SM Entertainment’s brilliant stars, going their own way regardless of expectations and fan demands. Rock on \m/ – Drowningn00b
There’s a groovy, sort of sequenced quality to the beat in “4Walls” that, after repeated listens, has hooked itself to my brain and stayed there. I didn’t care for this song at first, but something about watching f(x) performing it made me go back and give it another chance. It’s a decision I’m glad I made, because I can’t imagine it not existing along side the likes of “Airplane” in my music library. While I think f(x) have been given far stronger and far more important songs to croon to, “4Walls” feels unique in that I think it’s a stepping stone to new musical territories for projects to come. f(x) aren’t so much linking themselves to a style related to their past, but opening themselves to a future filled with promise and change. They did lose a member, after all. And I believe it’s going to be their sophomore cuts post-Sulli and “4Walls” that we’ll really see who f(x) were meant to be. – Arnold
“Red Dress,” by Red Velvet
Red Velvet’s debut album “The Red” could best be summed up with the electrifying b-side track, “Red Dress.” While I was very tempted to drop “Dumb Dumb” up in here, there was something about RV’s vocals on that particular song that I wasn’t crazy about. “Red Dress,” on the other hand, captures the exact same energy of the album’s lead single, as well as the clean vocal delivery I was looking for, producing one of the most exceptional pieces of work in Korean pop music to date.
I never imagined a rookie girl group like Red Velvet was capable of accomplishing such musical perfection, but SM really channeled all of their energy into giving them the best they’ve got after the group’s shaky debut last year. While I absolutely love the R&B twists and turns that can be found sprinkled throughout Red Velvet’s music (“Automatic” found some love in my Honorable Mentions), I think it’s when they are focused on shifting into a glistening pop role that brings out their full potential. Just listen to how fucking amazing Wendy and Seulgi sound in this thing. The beat drop at the choruses is unexpected and down right boss af. Only SM could get away with making five girls flip from swimming in playful tinkering details to surfing a rattling trap beat. And what’s great is that they pull it off so well. It’s insane how well they’ve established a style, but it does make me curious to see how they build on it in the months to come. – Arnold
“너와나,” by Jeon In Kwon, Zion.T, Yoon Mirae, Tiger JK, Kang Seung Won, Seoul Electric Band, Galaxy Express, Goonam, and Grape T
And the award for most featured artists on a song goes to “너와나”, spearheaded by the incomparable Jeon In Kwon. This gut-wrenching ballad is a masterful fusion of the skin and bones of Korean music in one breathtaking song. When I first saw the long list of contributors before listening to this, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it was going to sound amazing. But even then I wasn’t fully prepared for how well “너와나” actually turned out.
Every artist in this song’s credits shines in their own unique way, while never once sacrificing the harmony tying them together. Yoon Mi Rae in particular has never sounded more ethereal and this vulnerable before. I don’t even want to continue explaining everyone’s parts in this (Galaxy Express and Tiger JK bring it, though), because you should really take all 5 and a half minutes to experience this for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it. – Arnold
“View,” by SHINee
At this point, SHINee can do no wrong. Even their weakest cuts are lowkey hits to me, but this year, they weren’t about that life. They came to slay, and slay they did. “View” is the overwhelming favorite of 2015, and with good reason.
As I spelled out in my “Odd” review, this song is quite simple by production standards. There really aren’t crazy synths at play or complicated vocal demands from SHINee. The real magic happens in the melodies, and you know K-Pop is nothing without a good hook. The chorus is beyond memorable and makes me what to literally drop everything I’m doing and start dancing. If anything, I respect the fact that this is a true banger without leeching off cheap tricks to achieve the same results. SHINee sound amazing, too. I’ve always been one of the few who believe that Onew needs to be on up-tempo tracks for the rest of his life, and “View” is yet another example of how effing glorious he is at it. His bit before the second chorus is one of my favorite parts of this song. What I like even better though, is the bold move to omit a rap section. It may have rendered Minho pretty useless, but the integrity of “View” is never lost or interrupted because of that smart decision. Way to go, team. – Arnold
“You,” by G.Soul
Artist To Watch: If anyone deserves the Cinderella metaphor in k-pop, its G-Soul. By now you know the story, and if not, where have you been? This kid can sing the fuck out of a song, and all three of his EPs (“Coming Home,” “Love Me Again,” and “Dirty”) are testament to G.Soul’s incredible vocal talent. None, however, highlights, underlines, puts-it-in-bold-and-capitalizes it more than “You,” a traditional pop ballad that could not have been more perfect for G.Soul’s grand entrance to the k-pop ball. I even entertained the stupid idea the voice was fake or manipulated, but his many appearances and the acoustic version of “You” proved me wrong. If G.Soul isn’t given all the rookie awards, the game is rigged man, because 2015 was his year, hands down. – Drowningn00b
What can I say. It’s been a long time coming for G.Soul. I said it back in January: “There have been very few songs in Korea that have given me spine-tingly vibes, but this did it for me.” G.Soul’s “You” is a very soothing song that sets his voice center stage amid a restrained instrumental. The dude is an impressive singer, and I think he chose the perfect single to showcase exactly how powerful he can be, both technically and emotionally. G.Soul’s singing soars and ascends in so many unique ways across “You”. There’s heart in this song and you feel it with every run and key change. In terms of sheer power, there’s nothing quite like that first transition into the chorus, when G.Soul plunges into a space of weightless and boundless beauty. “You” is an uplifting experience through and through, and I feel obliged to thank JYP for allowing G.Soul the right to finally grace listeners, old and new, with his gift for music. Please just don’t ever hide him again! – Arnold
“Gondry (Feat. Lim Kim),” by Primary & Oh Hyuk
Out of all my years writing about k-music, 2015 seemed to be the year to be a k-hip-hop and k-indie fan. Two hip-hop competition shows, hip-hop shows going international, indie acts getting signed into bigger labels, the scene is diversifying in fantastic ways. The best way was in Hyukoh’s meteoric rise, from cool indie band after the release of “20,” to the act you couldn’t escape this year. Another was Primary, Amoeba Culture’s resident DJ and former cardboard cube aficionado. Together they made the EP, “Lucky You!” with the closer, “Gondry.” Simply put, this song is perfection. From Primary’s epic production and HyukOh’s emotional performance, the combination could not have been better, but the lyrics cinched it for me. Arnold could not have come back to writing at a better time: 2015 was a such a banging year for k-music. – Drowningn00b
One of the reasons I wanted to put this list together was so I could eventually come to share my love for “Gondry”. Since its release, my admiration for Primary and Oh Hyuk has multiplied substantially. All thanks to how well they managed to impact me, emotionally.
It’s moments like the one when I first listened to this song that brings my passion for music and the community it helped connect me to flooding back into my system. But what I found to really resonate with me about “Gondry,” aside from its beautiful narration by Oh Hyuk (and, in a supporting role, the wonderful Lim Kim), is the blending of every element that came together for this piece, and how well it brings to life the components I’ve always wanted to hear unified in such a successful release. I am a fan of Korean independent music, which stretches from rock to electronica. I am also a big fan of pop music. So when those forces of music collided through Oh Hyuk, who isn’t an idol but has catapulted to mainstream airwaves, and Primary’s delicate engineering hand, I felt like Korean music was calling me again.
And here I am. I’m back because of songs like “Gondry”, and it only seemed right to name it my top Korean song of the year, if for nothing else than the fact that I grew incredibly fond of it. I hope to see broader arms opening up in the future for these types of collaborations, because all musicians, popular and undiscovered alike, deserve the chance to infuse the world with music, and us with more of it to share. – Arnold