Between our End-of-Year Reviews and the holiday seasons, there were a number of quality releases that slipped under our review radars. For the November–December edition of Unsung Artists, we look at a mix of standout MVs and songs from the veterans and rookies of K-pop, as well as some other Korean artists.

Gugudan, “Not That Type”

While blessed with a fascinating running concept of rewritten fairytales, Gugudan’s releases from debut to date have sadly failed to fulfill the potential of this framework. A notable exception is “The Boots” from earlier this year, loosely based off Puss in Boots. While “Not That Type” is a break away from the fairytale series, it takes the chic confidence of “The Boots” a notch up, allowing Gugudan’s vocal and dance skills–previously hidden under songs that lean towards the sweet and cutesy–to shine.

Highlight, “Loved”

“Loved” is a study in contrasts: the gentle snapping of fingers is laid over faint police car sirens, and trendy synths in the verses give way to timeless guitar strums in the pre-chorus. The MV likewise moves fluidly from chaos to quietude, the camera lingering at times, stuttering in a series of quick stop-motion shots at others, reflecting the emotional confusion depicted in the lyrics.

While neither the song nor the MV hits a sweet spot like Highlight’s earlier releases, they’re still a solid reminder of the veteran group’s prowess, which is a good note to start their two-year military enlistment hiatus on.

Yubin, “Thank U Soooo Much”

Rebooting the Wonder Girls with a 1980s sound and styling was probably one of the best things JYP Entertainment ever did. It’s great that they pulled the retro concept out again for Yubin’s solo releases, because she has the personality and stage presence to bring it to life.

“Thank U Soooo Much” reaches further back to 1970s disco. The MV is a glorious visual treat of old-school video game aesthetics dotted with fun details (like Yubin taking aim with a Handy Hannah hair dryer), as well as a dance routine heavily influenced by waacking.

Onew, “Blue”

I’ve said plenty on why “Blue” tops my End-of-Year MVs list, but it deserves another mention for how strikingly it gives visual form to a mental illness that is still so commonly misunderstood in Korea and other parts of the world. The set is imaginative and drenched in quiet despair, blues and purples projected outwards to reflect the persona’s unrelenting emotional state.

A shooting star, travelling in a straight line, brings strangeness rather than wonder. The presence of family fails to bring comfort, and even coming face to face with an image of himself produces shock and alienation rather than recognition in Onew’s character. While never explicitly stated as such, “Blue” is clearly a sensitive, pressing portrayal of the experience of depression.

Heize, “First Sight”

Also making excellent use of colour is Heize’s “First Sight”, which presents a colour palette and loose narrative inspired by Snow White’s red cape, red apple, and the whiteness of snow. The fairytale is transmuted, defamiliarised, capturing the uncertainty expressed in the lyrics: “The day when the first snow falls / Will I be hugging you?” The MV sits comfortably between a sense of antiquated fantasy and modern glamour, making for a memorable watch even if its meaning isn’t quite clear.

What releases from November and December stood out for you? Share them in the comments.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5]. Images via Stone Music Entertainment, SM Entertainment)