20150807_seoulbeats_WonderGirls4“We’re baaack!” Nothing makes fans rejoice more than hearing about a return of their favorite artists. We’ve been going over various categories for our SB End-of-Year Reviews, and this one focuses on our favorite comebacks of 2015. Whether these names have been away for years, or only gone for months, it’s all about making the most of their time when they step back onto the scene.

For this panel, Chelsea, Cjontai, and Lo, discuss the ones who grabbed their attention and won their hearts. Some choices are barely out of their rookie years while others are seasoned pros in the game. The main thing they all share in common is that our writers loved their comebacks enough to place them among the best of the year. Keep reading to learn what our panel loved about these artists.

Rank Chelsea Cjontai Lo
1 Big Bang BTS Wonder Girls
2 EXID SHINee Ga-in
3 SHINee MFBTY SHINee
4 Ga-in Brown Eyed Girls 4Minute
5 Exo Wonder Girls Red Velvet

 

Cjontai: Looks like we all agree that Shinee had a really great comeback this year. I don’t know if I would’ve selected them without their repackaged album Married to the Music. Odd wasn’t terrible and I think it was one of their better albums, but I could tell something was missing from the material. That’s why I rejoiced when the repackage happened. They’ve grown so much and you can see it in every one of their performances. I still can’t get over that Inkigayo stage of “Odd Eye.” It really demonstrated how strong they are as a group.

Lo: Sweet Jesus, “Odd Eye.” That stage has the talent to make the underwear of anyone attracted to men spontaneously vanish. And I definitely agree with you about “Married To The Music,” which is the specific comeback that landed them on my list. It just felt so much more Shinee than “View” did; it seemed like who they were was better reflected, and that they had a hell of a better time promoting it.

Chelsea: That “Odd Eye” stage was one of the best stages of the year, period. Key was wearing a patch over one eye and still managed to seduce me with his stare for goodness sake. Initially, I also was less than thrilled with “View” as a lead track but I absolutely loved the MV. Then the repackage hit and “Married to the Music” was everything I wanted the “View” comeback to be: good song, great choreography, amazing styling, and overall wonderful stages. It was a successful round of promotions for the group, even though they were far more modest about the comeback than previous promotion cycles.

20150329_seoulbeats_Gain4Cjontai: I see that both of you picked Ga-in, but I chose Brown Eyed Girls as a whole. I nearly had both of them on my list, but I gave it to the group because I loved their retro sound for their comeback. Same goes for Wonder Girls. They nailed the ’80s vibe and made me feel nostalgic. All these ladies gave me the kind of stress-free pop I needed. It was also a little experimental for them because it didn’t sound like anything they’ve done in the past.

Anytime a group steps outside of their comfort zone, it’s a risk that could pay off or fail miserably. It’s a huge part of the reason I chose the groups I did, but tell me what impressed you most about the artists on your lists?

Chelsea: I also really appreciated both the Wonder Girls and Brown Eyed Girls’ returns, especially after so long for both groups. But Ga-in won out for me because of the conceptual risk and nearly flawless execution of her mini album. Every aspect of the album was challenging, aggressive and blatantly sinful, but not done without a purpose. I have a lot of respect for Ga-in’s ability to blend sexuality and critique.

That’s also the same reason EXID is on my list. There was a lot of build up for “Ah Yeah” following the success of “Up and Down,” and I don’t think they let anyone down. They found a great middle ground between identifying what made “Up and Down” work and trying something too different to be recognizable. I love that they used the story of their rise to fame — and their own media exposure — to cheekily critique the role of censorship and female sexuality in the industry. Even with all the hype, it was a logical follow up to “Up and Down” that packed a lot more punch than I think fans and industry officials were expecting, and they solidified themselves as a (lasting) top girl group.

Lo: I also debated putting the BEG on my list, but while “Warm Hole” quickly became my new favorite song to sing on the bus, the “Brave New World” promotions just felt a bit . . . meh. They always seemed to make better background noise rather than grabbing my attention and not letting it go, whereas “Paradise Lost” never let me look away. And, to be honest, “Paradise Lost” was trying to say something deep and powerful about sex, relationships, and society, whereas “Warm Hole” was pure shock value and “Brave New World” was, at it’s core, a love song. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, but it does have farther to go to impress me, and it did as a jam, but not enough for a place on my list.

Now, something that did impress me as a straight-up jam was “Crazy.” That may damn well be 4Minute‘s best release ever. Everything about it — the choreo, the mini, the costumes, and that banging song — worked so well. Still listening to it, still dancing to “Stand Out” and “Show Me,” still watching stages, and no regrets. The same holds true for Red Velvet and “Dumb Dumb.” I liked “Automatic,” but “Dumb Dumb” was when I felt I really saw Red Velvet the group solidify. It was cacophonous, bizarre, had a decent but not great album, and it was captivating. They became the zany, high energy, screwball oddballs, and though I only liked the disparate elements, I loved the whole. Sure, neither “Crazy” or “Dumb Dumb” was high art, but when every aspect of a comeback is hit out of the park, I can’t find it in me to mark it down because the goal they aimed for — and succeeded at — were “brag track” and “zany electropop” instead of “social commentary.”

Cjontai: I guess I differ in my picks because I wasn’t able to focus on the title tracks alone. I listen to the entire album, so I can get a better sense of what the artists meant to achieve with their concept. It’s difficult to get that from a couple of tracks promoted on music shows.

20150329_seoulbeats_mfbty_bizzy_tiger_yoonmiraeGrowth through risks means a lot as well, which is what persuaded me to put BTS on my list. Months ago, I wouldn’t have considered them at all, but The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 2 changed that completely. I wanted to hear something that would set me on fire and that album was it. The thought-provoking MVs displayed brilliant marketing in getting fans to discuss a million theories that had everyone watching the videos multiple times for clues. Let’s not overlook how fantastic their choreography has been for their stages this year either. They really put together an impressive package, and the proof is in their exploding popularity.

As far as MFBTY is concerned, they are part of a respected dynasty in K-pop for a reason. When they mentioned going in a different direction, I thought, please don’t. That’s because I’m used to a number of artists releasing sub-par albums when they try something unfamiliar. Thankfully, MFBTY didn’t cut corners with the production of Wondaland. They didn’t promote on music shows, and that demonstrates the confidence they have in their work. This group is at a level where they can comfortably create the music they want, and fans had a positive response to it. If they answered to the fickle whims of mainstream trends, then they would’ve produced an album that didn’t meet expectations.

Chelsea: I think EXID is the only case where my choice was based solely on a title track. Hawwah was fantastic from start to finish — both conceptually and musically — as was Odd. At the same time, I still consider title tracks and music show performances to be pretty important since they’re the main interaction fans have with the comeback.

All that being said, I guess my two outliers would be Big Bang and Exo — neither of whom I chose for their songs or albums, but rather how they went about their respective comebacks. First, with Exo, the Pathcode teasers were fantastically well thought out and intricate. Not only were they nice to watch, but they engaged the fandom and got them all riled up for the comeback. By promoting the comeback through a series of puzzles, the fandom felt like they not only had a bit of agency, but a sense of unity trying to figure out what the hell was happening. While the lead up was fantastic, the actual single “Call Me Baby” wasn’t anything to write home back. But for me, “Love Me Right” saved the comeback overall. Though it is a little sad they chose to push the ‘We Are 10’ thing so hard.

My second outlier is Big Bang because they also took a new approach to promotions. I wasn’t a die-hard fan who had been anxiously waiting for this comeback for years, but it was still really nice to not just have them return with one single and vanish again. Instead of choosing a title track and promoting an album, they released two singles a month and dominated the charts all summer. Some songs I liked, and some I didn’t, but that didn’t stop me from appreciating all the variety they were able to put out in the span of a few months. The MADE series was brilliantly marketed, and I think other K-pop companies should follow YG’s lead there.

Lo: I almost feel like the Wonder Girls qualifies as my odd duck; because their comeback feels so . . . un-K-pop, if that’s a word. The concept is both high-concept 1980s throwback and low-concept actual band, which is carried throughout the entire album. Every song except “I Feel You” was written and composed by a member, and the whole album embodies all the ’80s — Madonna, The New Romantics, Robert Palmer‘s “Iconic Model” aesthetic. That kind of carry-though in an album concept is rare in any music world, and it blew me away. Reboot the album was equally impressive on the music, sounding 100% straight out of the 80s but not sounding like anyone else; genuinely new music from some of the most cliched styles in music.

I think for all of us, a what makes a group worthy of a place on our lists for comeback of the year is the entire package: the title track, the albums, the promotions, the choreography. We just all weight the elements differently: Cjontai puts the most emphasis on the albums, Chelsea on the buildup, and me on the live stages and performances.

Cjontai: While I do think the composition of the albums is important, I wanted to clarify that I didn’t overlook the performances or growth for those who promoted more than once this year. If anything, that probably is what makes it difficult to pick the best comebacks because of the disparity in marketing choices. Some go on music shows, some don’t. Some put out a million teasers, and others just drop the album quietly. I guess overall I wanted my excitement levels to be met by the artists in the end. Am I still listening to my favorites for the year? You bet! I may even keep listening to them well into 2016 also.

(YouTube [1][2][3], Images via SM, JYP, APOP, FeelGhood Music)