This past year has brought to K-pop many new groups and many new songs, as well as the return of long awaited favorites. From the comeback of veteran idols such as Dana & Sunday of CSJH to the rise of train wrecks like Rania, the music industry has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly this year.
Today, Fannie and I are going to recognize some of the best songs to hit the charts this year, and tell you why these songs and these groups rose above the rest of the K-pop world in 2011. But first, however, let’s take a moment to reflect on the results and winners of the SB Best of 2011: Song poll.
SB Best of 2011: Song Poll Results (Top 10)
1. JYJ – In Heaven with 6407 votes (55%)
2. DBSK – Keep Your Head Down with 2387 votes (20%)
3. Wonder Girls – Be My Baby with 643 votes (6%)
4. U-Kiss – Neverland with 318 votes (3%)
5. 2NE1 – I Am The Best with 285 votes (2%)
6. Big Bang – Tonight with 262 votes (2%)
7. Beast – Fiction with 216 votes (2%)
8. INFINITE – Be Mine with 157 votes (1%)
9. Super Junior – Mr. Simple with 134 votes (1%)
10. Brown Eyed Girls – Sixth Sense with 132 votes (1%)
Before commenting on the actual song choices, the first thing worth mentioning is how impressive the Cassiopeia network is in rallying together for a common cause! The numbers, however, do bring into question whether the poll results ended up being an accurate representation of the normal Seoulbeats reader-base or not.
Still, members of both JYJ and DBSK have well established names, and as a group they are known for putting quality music more often than not, so it wouldn’t be surprising if many of our readers actually do have love for both JYJ and their DBSK counterpart.
Is JYJ’s In Heaven is really #1 material though? No, not really–at least, we don’t think so. But the song was formidable in its own way–it was written and produced by the JYJ boys, and you can definitely hear the heart put into the song itself. Having watched JYJ actually them perform it live during their JYJ World Tour, and it was kind of amazing. Personally, I liked Keep Your Head Down more (while Fannie begs to differ), but in this case, the readers have spoken. JYJ’s In Heaven is their number one
Anyway — all the songs that came out in the top ten of the poll really were great songs. U-Kiss and Infinite’s spots on the list were definitely well-deserved. Both groups are incredibly talented and to an extent, under-appreciated (although Infinite has experienced a boom in popularity lately). Guy groups in general overall eclipsed most of the girl groups in quality of music and performance skill for this year. We wouldn’t go as far as to say that this was the ‘year of guy groups’ the same way that 2009 was known for its girl group explosion, but we do think that most of the girl groups need to start stepping up their game!
That being said, I think now is a good time to introduce our personally selected winners for the best songs of 2011!
Nabeela and Fannie’s personal picks for
Best Songs of 2011
Best Male Group Song: BEAST – Fiction
Fiction was arguably the best song release of this year. It was a huge step forward for Beast musically because everything seemed to click into place. From the song itself, to the penguin dance, to the styling and fashion, even line distribution: everything just fit together perfectly. Nothing was wasted. A huge problem in K-pop is that oftentimes random elements (for example, a dove or I-like-a-like-a-this) are stuck into a promotion for a desired effect, but end up actually disrupting the overall flow of the piece. Fiction was a fully developed, quality song, thus making it one of the most perfected K-pop productions put out this year.
It’s interesting because a lot of the time in K-pop, the songs that win artists some recognition are the most popular on the charts, but are not necessarily the songs that fans themselves like the most!
For example, a bigger favorite from Big Bang this year was Cafe, instead of Tonight. Similarly, Superman tended to catch more attention, instead of Mr. Simple. Beast’s Fiction was one of those rare cases where the track they chose to promote really did end up being the best track on the album.
Best Male Solo Song: Tablo – Bad
First of all, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Forget about all those haters who think Tablo is any less of an entertainer now that he is with YG Entertainment. His newest album Fever’s End is solid all the way through–from Part I to Part II, even that one song with Taeyang, all of it is 100% original Tablo. Bad is a great song; another dark and easy-going melody that is contrasted by the harsh and violent scenery in the Bad music video. Jinsil’s featured vocals were also hauntingly beautiful on the track.
What is so great about Tablo’s music in particular is that his lyrics always tell a story and his sound is much more authentic than any idol out there in the industry. Bad is no exception to those standards of quality. And that is because Tablo truly is all about music, and with Fever’s End, he delivered. You could definitely sense that he allowed himself to be vulnerable through his album by sharing his feelings and hardships with everyone, and any fan could appreciate that.
It didn’t matter that he only chose to perform once on Inkigayo, it was an immense relief that he was able to regain the confidence and support — in no small part thanks to YG — to once again step out into the public spotlight after the whole Stanford ordeal.
Best Female Group Song: 2NE1 – I Am The Best
2NE1 was hands down one of the strongest performers out of the girl groups in K-pop this year. I Am The Best was a very signature YG song and the ladies of 2NE1 delivered a charisma rarely seen from girl groups these days. This song made waves around the globe, and even got 2NE1 recognized as MTV Iggy’s Best New Band In The World. It was so refreshing to hear from a girl group. Finally, it wasn’t some frilly, lovey-dovey, cutesy get up, or a gimmicky, overdone sex appeal. This was all out angst and girl power.
Something that 2NE1 deserves props for is that whenever you hear 2NE1 music playing, you never mistake it for another group (since it is composed in-house with the girls in mind instead of bought from random composers all over the place). It’s really important for a group to be able to develop their own signature sound, and not just focus on their external image.
A lot of K-pop girl group music today is interchangeable, which is not a good thing! Prior to release, you could take one girl group’s song and give it to another girl group to sing and you wouldn’t even realize it was originally the other group’s song. And if you heard the song on the radio for the first time, with no prior introduction as to who the group singing it was, if it weren’t for distinctive voices, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess the original source!
Admittedly, I Am The Best didn’t show as much growth in musical sound compared to other 2NE1 releases this year such as Ugly and Lonely (and even then, those two releases weren’t drastic examples of growth, either). In reality, this song was still very much like 2NE1 material we’ve seen in the past. However, sticking to a signature style doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing (for example, the Wonder Girls were able to showcase a new maturity in their music this year, despite still doing the retro thing). Unlike many other girl groups that flip-flop from one end of the concept spectrum to the other in a heartbeat, the consistency in 2NE1’s musical identity has helped the girls solidify their own unique brand into the music scene. In performances of I Am The Best, the girls are able to showcase a comfortable confidence in themselves and what they represent, energizing the listener with a vicarious experience that translates into their own feelings of confidence as well.
It is worth mentioning that if we were to judge on the basis of the girl group song that held the most impact in terms of making a statement in K-pop this year, the award would have gone to the one and only Brown Eyed Girls for the song Sixth Sense. However, it can be argued that even though it was a great composition, the sheer intensity of Sixth Sense can be a little taxing on the ears when played too often. While Sixth Sense is impressive in its own right, it can be hard to listen to on a more casual basis, which is why we thought that I Am The Best (which is just so damn easy to rock out to) stole #1 in this category for this year.
Best Female Solo Song: Hyuna – Bubble Pop
It was really hard choosing an idol for best song from a female soloist in K-pop this year, because there really weren’t a lot of choices. It’s funny because strong woman soloists are what is hip and cool in America right now (Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Rihanna, etc.), but there’s a distinct scarcity of them active in K-pop at the moment (or at least, in the mainstream). K-pop used to have women, where have they all gone? All there is now are little girls who, if not going the innocent route, equate ‘sexy’ to body rolls and exposed skin, as a superficial act that can be peeled on and off rather than owning up to it in real life!
Anyway — out of the few girl soloists in K-pop that released songs this year, we felt that Hyuna’s Bubble Pop was the strongest contender. While Hyuna had us skeptical at first, after revisiting the song and Hyuna as a solo act, it became obvious that the girl is one hell of an entertainer. She’s feisty and sexy and a decent dancer. She is honestly better of as a soloist than a member of 4minute. And Bubble Pop is a fun and formidable single; it really propelled Hyuna forward, more so than her previous solo work such as Change.
Not only was it the perfect summer song, but it also had a wide appeal. There a certain feel to the song (both in aesthetics and sound) that appeals to the Western eye and ear… which is probably the reason her video got so many YouTube views. Hyuna got a lot of international attention for Bubble Pop, and it was one those rare compatible cross-over songs.
Hyuna is still a fledgling soloist. I give her mad props for all her energy, and I think with time she’ll become more confident in her stage presence, but she definitely has kinks to work out. It’s worth pointing out though that she is talented in a little more unconventional light for a female idol: She is rapper and radiates sex appeal. But that’s why she is so lovable. She’s a dose of different for the current state of K-pop. If she reinvents her image to be a less Hyori and more Hyuna, she has a great future ahead of her.
So with so many songs released this past year, we did our best to sift through the good and the bad to bring you our opinions on the very best. Thanks for staying with us during this especially long discussion. Let us know your thoughts on the poll results and whether you agree or disagree with us, or feel free to let us know who you think deserves the title of best song of 2011!