Bigger, Better, Sassier Than Before: The Best Comebacks of 2012
It certainly was a great year to be a K-pop fan–we saw the dawn of many new rookies, the return of long-time favorites, and zeroes become heroes practically overnight. Plus, with so much music cycling in and out of the pop scene, groups were making comebacks like never before. This made for tons of music accompanied by epic and not-so epic returns. For this very reason, we here at Seoulbeats offered up our Best of 2012: Comebacks poll to let you let us know who you as fans thought strutted into the limelight this year. Here is a recap of the results!
Male Group Comeback Results
1. Big Bang – “Blue” with 29.39% of votes
2. Block B – “Nillili Mambo” with 10.37% of votes
3. SHINee – “Sherlock” with 9.86% of votes
4. Shinhwa – “Venus” with 9.81% of votes
5. DBSK – “Catch Me” with 8.2% of votes
Female Group Comeback Results
1. Sistar – “Alone” with 20.19% of votes
2. 2NE1 – “I Love You” with 19% of votes
3. f(x) – “Electric Shock” with 14.56% of votes
4. Wonder Girls – “Like This” with 10.01% of votes
5. miss A – “I Don’t Need a Man” With 7.57% of votes
Soloist Comeback Results
1. G-Dragon – “That XX” with 23.17% of votes
2. PSY – “Gangnam Style” with 20.89% of votes
3. BoA – “Only One” with 14.08% of votes
4. Ga-in – “Bloom” with 13.34% of votes
5. Ailee – “I Will Show You” with 7.4% of votes
The fans have spoken, and honestly, all the #1 spots were very well deserved. But now that you all have had your time to make your voice your heard, it’s our turn to dish out who we think deserved these Best of 2012 titles. To bring the commentary full circle, Fatouma and I got together to fight it out for who we thought was worthy of being awarded Best Comeback of 2012. Check out the artists we thought were truly stand-outs of 2012.
Nabeela and Fatouma’s Picks for Best Comebacks of 2012
Nabeela: Well, I’m not sure about you Fatouma, but 2012 was full of surprises. I did not expect this year to be the year of the boys. From the long-awaited Super Junior comeback to the return of fan favorites like Sistar and Epik High, 2012 was a rewarding year to be a K-pop fan. Rookie flower boys B1A4 also made their return, as did newbies NU’EST and SPICA; of course, that is not to forget the four B.A.P. comebacks either!
Fatouma: It seemed like the male groups were all over the place this year and rightfully so. As much as I enjoyed several female comebacks, the males stood out much more to me, and I found myself with a lot more male groups to follow then I had started out with.
Nabeela: Oh gosh, absolutely. I used to pride myself over being a solid fan of just a handful of K-pop groups. I used to be able to count my favorites on just one hand! But after this year, forget about it. Too much to love!
Fatouma: I agree completely. I think it’s because a lot of the boy groups this year have really stepped it up in terms of quality of music. Even Super Junior, constantly criticized for their repetitive title tracks, managed to make a catchy song with a change of pace by releasing the horribly titled “Sexy, Free and Single.” Granted, they’re still dancing around in empty rooms, but you can’t have everything, right?
Nabeela: I suppose they can get away with it because they’re such synchronized dancers. But I won’t say SFS was my favorite comeback, even though I’ve been a die-hard ELF since the SJ05 album. In fact, out of all the boy groups we’ve mentioned so far, none of them have stolen our hearts for our first award, the best male group comeback. And instead of telling you, I think we’re better off just asking you.
Fatouma: Do you wanna B?
Nabeela and Fatouma’s Pick for Best of 2012 Comeback: Male Group — Block B
Nabeela: Let me just start by saying this–when I first caught news of the Block B comeback I flipped out of bed. While I did think Big Bang’s “Blue” comeback was a great bundle of music and energy, it was very much on par with typical BB quality. Block B, on the other hand, simply knocked this one out of the park.
Words couldn’t even begin to explain how ecstatic I was to catch wind of the Block B comeback. Here was a rookie group that had arrived in 2011 with a new sound and dark, bad boy spin to their mainstream style. It took a few tries to get off the ground though; their lift off single eventually came with “Nanlina” (at least in my opinion) and from their their future looked bright.
Unfortunately a lot of that budding success was curtailed by a controversy in Thailand, which got ugly enough for this group of youngins to go on hiatus for nearly a year. It was a stab to my fangirl heart–just as I had started to fall in love, they boys were ripped right out from under me. Their hiatus post events in Thailand produced a long silence from boys that also put a lot of attention to the name Block B (both good and bad, I’ll admit) at the same time. This new attention created enormous anticipation for the Block B return–it would be an opportunity for people to decide if these boys were real clowns or true artists.
Fatouma: I unfortunately didn’t pay attention to Block B’s debut, even though I was a K-pop fan at the time. I’m constantly kicking myself for ignoring them, as I am for doing the same to their contemporaries, B1A4.
Nabeela: Yeah, I was all over B1A4 from the start–I just have a clutch for pretty boys… “OKAY GIRL!”–
Fatouma: But better late than never! My first introduction to Block B was Welcome To The Block. Admittedly, it took me a few months before they returned back in October to actually listen to the album, having been swept in the fandom current that was B.A.P, and fell for the group upon first listen to “Action.” Welcome To The Block is definitely one of this year’s best minis, and it’s a shame that the Thailand scandal put a damper on their promotions.
But Block B did not give up and renewed hope with Blockbuster. I’ve always been wary about full-length albums, but when I first listened to “Nilili Mambo,” it was Blocktober all the way and I was instantly a BBC. Thankfully, not a single song on the album took away from the album and the level of production is outstanding. Having grown up with R&B and hip hop music, Blockbuster fused all the elements of these genres and added in their signature Block B bite with heartfelt singing and powerful rapping. This year was definitely the year of the Block B for me, in terms of male group comebacks.
Nabeela: It really was Blocktober, to say the least. The Block B comeback was great for a lot of reasons. I would say so because, first of all, Blockbuster is such a damn good full length album. And like you mentioned, Fatouma, full length albums are always unsteady ground, because it can very easily become hit or miss for one K-pop group to execute that many songs. But Block B approached their album with a harmony of their different vocals that very truly surprised and impressed me. I can’t think of a better package of music to come back to the spotlight with.
Fatouma: Blockbuster also showed an improvement with leader Zico’s production skills as well, with him finally finding the perfect way to allow for his fellow members to shine and blend their respective styles of singing and rapping wonderfully.
Nabeela: But, It wasn’t just the music that had me going “goo goo, ga ga” over Block B. The pirate concept was clever way to keep their raw attitudes alive while combining a new angle of stage presence. The wardrobe was also fun and I can’t recall a single boring music stage. “Nillili Mambo” also came complete with some clean choreography I could respect–fluid but not robotic, simple and yet very much engaging. That’s one of the reasons why I got love for Block B, period–they don’t use a lot of that standard choreography/facial expressions throw up that everyone in K-pop knows how to do forwards, backwards and in their sleep. They’ve rocked fun and flexible choreo that matched the energy of their song without looking awkward or incapable. All in all, Blockbuster and “Nilili Mambo” was everything and more than I could’ve expected. And given how many people tuned into to judge this comeback, I like to think Block B made some BBCs out of the haters.
Fatouma: I agree completely, I also loved how not only did they come back with music that was great, dare I say better, music that wasn’t a quiet return, but a complete, loud and proud comeback that just showed how much Block B has improved as a group.
Nabeela: Everything was pretty hep-hap, if I don’t say so myself.
Fatouma: As much as I have a lot of love for girl groups, I can’t help but think that the females didn’t step up as much as the boy groups did this year. At least in terms of title tracks, the boys won, no contest, but the girls didn’t create that much of an impact on me. The female B-side tracks, however, did. Take f(x) for example. I hated “Electric Shock” for the longest time; thought it felt flat in so many ways and was all-around annoying. But “Let’s Try” and “Beautiful Stranger” were amazing tracks that got overshadowed by the flatness of “Electric Shock.” This also happened to me with the Wonder Girls, 4minute, and Miss A: fantastic B-sides suffocated underneath lackluster title tracks.
But there was at least one comeback that managed to hook me in automatically, title track, album and everything. This was none other than Sistar’s “Alone.”
Nabeela and Fatouma’s Pick for Best of 2012 Comeback: Female Group — Sistar
Nabeela: You’re so right; I can distinctly remember B-side tracks by girl groups this year but not so much their title tracks. For instance, you mentioned the f(x) B-sides, which were a pleasant surprise. The Wonder Girls also had “Girlfriend” and “Hey Boy,” which were also great B-sides that I feel like no one picked up on.
But you’re right again about Sistar– “Alone” was a mature take on their music that I think surprised a lot of us. The song itself had this retro pop feel to it which already proved to be super infectious this year in K-pop, and “Alone” was no exception. It was a delicate number with a lot of powerful undertones–definitely a nod to the girls vocal ability. Their choreography was also pretty interesting. I loved the way they incorporated the toe drag (I’m sorry, is there a better name for this?) in the chorus–it was very seductive and unique move that could’ve easily looked terrible had anyone of them been off or clumsy about it but somehow stayed clean. It also a lot of unexpected sex appeal to the song.
Fatouma: I still can’t believe the same girl group that released a song like “Shady Girl,” also released “Alone.” I just loved how understated and toned down the song was, from its ’80s disco-pop sound and the smooth moves pulled off well by the four girls. Even Bora’s rap melded perfectly with the song. Although Hyorin was carrying most of the number, which sold me on how talented a singer she is range-wise, “Alone” definitely brought the best of Sistar we’ve seen yet.
I’m also very glad that Sistar managed to ace with “Loving U,” an upbeat yet lovely summer song that managed to get them well-deserved wins that even had them beating out names like Super Junior. Their wins for best girl group comeback of the year were rightfully made, because it was definitely Sistar’s year.
Nabeela: I don’t know why I think this, but for some reason Sistar really seems like an underdog story to me. They are one of the few girl groups that popped up in the great girl group wave a few years ago that actually stuck around and made some headway with some real music. They even took home a MAMA this year. They’ve come a long way from some really humble beginnings. It was a great year for them to climb to the top. Their recognition is well deserved.
Fatouma: Just like groups, soloists have also released some solid work and made strong comebacks this year. We’re still in the second, or third idol group domination phase of K-pop, but there are many a soloist that have made a great showing on the scene. One soloist actually went as so far as to surpass all the idol groups in a way that most K-pop fans, like myself, were skeptical to even to happen to anyone in K-pop. And he isn’t your run of the mill artist to come out of K-pop. Can you guess who it is?
Nabeela: OPPAN GANGNAM STYLE
Nabeela and Fatouma’s Pick for Best of 2012 Comeback: Male Soloist — PSY
Fatouma: As much as every K-pop fan seems to groan at the saying of “Gangnam Style,” I still have not gotten bored with the song. Maybe it’s because I avoid radio like the plague, but I find myself jumping up and down whenever I listen to the song, see on it TV or outside my house. I’m very proud of Psy, regardless of what his success means for K-pop and the exportation of Korean culture via music. I love how everyone completely overlooked the possibility of him, or any soloist, other than the mega popular ones a la BoA and Rain, to make it in the U.S.
Nabeela: Very little people know PSY as a K-hip hop artist with six albums, and he was enjoyed thoroughly by only a very much a niche audience pre-Gangnam Style success. And of course, there is nothing wrong with that; however as an artist, given his talent and education, PSY must have been frustrated at times with his his niche career. Which is exactly why I think PSY’s 2012 comeback was all sorts of amazing.
Though many people will know him as a one hit wonder, it doesn’t change the fact this comeback was the knock-out redemption PSY has been working all his music career to achieve. And what I loved even more about this success is the way it illuminated the K-pop endeavor in the US. PSY broke culture and language barriers around the world–not just State-side -with a damn good song; not with an English remake or an English album. He didn’t come to attention by training to deliver lines or execute choreography or rock an interview. PSY is a real musician who plays an active role in every step of the creation of his music. He is an artist who studied music and made it into a career–not a stint on the pop scene. His viral “Gangnam Style” success, therefore, is well deserved in my book.
Nabeela: Anyways, while Psy was busy with his world domination, 2012 also delivered on its promise of the comeback of the female soloist. This year brought a lot of powerful females to the center stage: IU, NS Yoon-G, Baek Ji Young, and Hyuna, to name a few, but none more sassy than Ga-in. The maknae of Brown Eyed Girls made a heart-stopping come back this year with her album Talk About S and the ever controversial title track “Bloom.”
Nabeela and Fatouma’s Pick for Best of 2012 Comeback: Female Soloist — Ga-in
Nabeela: “Bloom,” to say the least, blew my mind. The last thing I had expected from Ga-in was a delicate, demure image which would, ironically, be used to belt out a number that screamed female agency and sexuality. I could very much appreciate the artistry of the music video as well–for once in my life, K-pop was delivering the sex rather than masking it behind suggestive aegyo or innuendo.
For this very reason, Ga-in was able to turn this idea of sex into a beautiful landscape rather than dancing around the taboo. She made a lot of bold moves (not that she isn’t used to making them) both lyrically and conceptually; she got a lot of people talking and turned a lot of heads. “Bloom” was also surprising social statement, to some degree, and a catchy jingle wrapped in one. What more could you ask for?
Ga-in also approached the press concerning her use of sexual themes in a very confident manner, aware of its content, what it was supposed to mean, and why it would eventually be a reason for why the “Bloom” MV would be slapped with a 19+ rating by the MOGEF. She tackled the issues head on and stood by her music until the end, content with what the song meant both to her and the fans.
Fatouma: As much as I am a huge Everlasting, and enamoured with Ga-in, I was slightly disappointed by her comeback. especially after her first solo album. Although the message behind her comeback, particularly for “Bloom,” are commendable, most of the songs felt to have fallen short and didn’t seem as cohesive as the songs in Step 2/4. There was a disparity between the styles of the songs that were too large for me to ignore, but it was a decent comeback overall, and “Bloom” grew on, just not as great as I had expected.
The comeback of Younha, on the other hand, has my vote for best female solo comeback because Supersonic is hands down one of my favourite albums of the year. Overall, many of the songs mesh well with Younha’s sweet voice, and there was a lot of variety in it as well. “Run” was a really fun title track and had a great folksy vibe to it, and just like “Supersonic” and “Rock Like Stars,” had a lot of rock elements to it, which I thoroughly enjoy coming from Younha.
Nabeela: There were just too many comebacks this year for some to go unrecognized. While we have awarded our ‘Best Comeback of 2012’ titles to the artists above, both Fatouma and I would each like to highlight some honorable mentions.
Personally, my heart must go out to the G-Dragon and B1A4 comebacks of this year. One of a Kind was one of my favorite albums of 2012, and GD blind-sided me with his epic three title tracks “Crayon,” “One of a Kind,” and my absolutely favorite “The XX.” It’s like Fatouma said to me once: when the GD wants to write, he can write. There isn’t a song on the album that I didn’t fall head over heels for. Also, the bonus track featuring Tablo and Dok2, “Light It Up” — TO DIE FOR.
And of course I’ve got to share my love for my flower boys B1A4. They’ve always owned that soft spot on my heart since their début, and their recent comeback with their third mini-album Into the Wind and title “Tried to Walk” had me gushing. These boys have killer vocals and a solid rap duo (Baro and CNU, though it’s Baro most of the time), and plenty of stage charisma to go around. “Tried to Walk” is an addictive song with a STUNNING music video. All in all, their comeback was a little late, but so worth the wait.
Fatouma: For me, so many groups and artists have turned me over as a fan, but the most memorable one for me was getting introduced to Seo In-guk, my future husband if you guys didn’t know. Vaguely intrigued by Answer Me 1997, I stumbled upon watching the drama, and got completely swept away by the writing, the cast, everything. But the thing, or person, that stood out to me the most was Seo In-guk. At first I thought was he wasn’t more than a poor man’s Jaejoong, but when he spoke and acted, I fell for him, hard. But when I learnt that he was a singer, I had to listen to him. I watched “Perfect Fit,” and realized that I had found the voice I was looking for in K-pop: perfectly smooth and rich. I was sunk.
Despite my love for all things TVXQ, I had yet to like a post-breakup TVXQ Korean album, let alone song. I loathed “Keep Your Head Down,” and yawned my way through the rest of the album. It seemed like such a flat comeback, which was understandable considering how Yunho and Changmin were getting used to performing and singing without their main vocalists. I was skeptical that I would even enjoy post-breakup HoMin, but when I listened to their Japanese music, specifically Tone, I was pleased. Therefore, I was excited for their Korean comeback, and was not disappointed. Although “Catch Me,” the title track, maintained the same J-pop feel as Tone, but just like the album, there was wonderful B-sides like “Viva,” “Good Night,” and “Getaway,” that actually makes me hope that TVXQ will promote those songs whenever a SMTown rolls by or even during their live tour right now, so I can sob over the flawlessness of “Viva” being performed live.
And that concludes our picks for best comebacks of 2012! This year really was a great year to be a K-pop fan, as we watched many groups rise to new heights with their latest and, for some, greatest music comebacks. Thanks for staying with us through this lengthy analysis! Now we’d love invite you all to leave your comments and thoughts and critiques below–tell us what you think of our picks and who you think made a rocking comeback this year!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Seoulmates!
(images via: SM Entertainment, Starship Entertainment, YG Entertainment, NM Entertainment, LOEN Entertainment, Stardom Entertainment)