It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
And so here we, Subi and Johnelle, are to sort through the redundant regurgitation and revolutionary renaissance that was Korean Pop this year. The work of a best artist goes beyond just sales and chart wins, they have to make an impact on the K-pop industry as a whole. Whether it’s through their music, their performances, or their rapport with fans– the Best Artist must have presence and talent that can’t be denied and a voice in Korean society. With all that taken into consideration, we present our runners up and winner for Best Artist in K-pop for 2011.
The Runner Ups
IU’s popularity grew ridiculously this year and while we don’t understand the whole five octaves craze, she gets better every time she puts something out. She also had a break out performance as Pil-soo in Dream High.
T-ara has the craziest concepts and songs, but “Roly Poly” and “Cry Cry” pretty much rocked and were mega hits with “Roly Poly” being the biggest selling song of the year. Their members’ presence was also seen on prominently on the K-drama front.
Beast had a solid year with Fact and Fiction, it was a great album. They really gained a lot of ground in the K-pop industry this year and now stand among the K-pop elite. It looks like next year they’re planning to take over the world with their 2012 Beast World Tour.
The Best Artist of 2011
With their first full length studio album “In Heaven,” and other work such as “Their Rooms ‘Our Story,’” and “The…,” JYJ is stripping themselves of their packaged, manufactured image as idols and attempting to reimagine themselves as artists. They’re composing their own music, writing their own songs, and developing their own conceptual image. In a lot of ways, this is revolutionary.
As once upon a time members of K-Pop powerhouse, Dong Bang Shin Ki, Kim Jaejoong, Park Yoochun, and Kim Junsu still carry the popularity of idols. And so, to see these guys commit to a degree of artistry that is well beyond the artistry of idols could be the beginning of change of tide in the Hallyu Wave. While JYJ might not be as composed or as polished as they once were with Dong Bang Shin Ki, they are trying. And what they are trying to do is not easy. Trying to speak to the eyes and ears is simple. But trying to speak to the heart and soul is complicated. And what’s even more complicated is speaking both to the eyes and ears as well as the heart and soul. In an attempt to create something higher, something deeper, JYJ has forgotten to entertain us. The boys of JYJ have a long road ahead of them but for creating a maelstrom that could change the tide of the quantity over quality mindset in the Hallyu Wave, they are our number three.
2. Big Bang
Big Bang roared back onto the K-pop scene after a two-year hiatus as a group with their fourth mini album Tonight. The pressure was great because expectations were high and many wondered if the members could come back as one after working on their various solo projects successfully for so long. Tonight immediately shot to the top of the charts—not only in South Korea, but around the world placing in the top 10 on the iTunes charts in many countries including the US. Many lamented over the direction of their music being more electro-pop than hip-hop, but the boys said it was growth in their musical style and that they were doing music that they wanted to do. They were writing all their own music, showcasing their skillfully honed vocals, and putting on awesome live performances. The once youngest hoobaes of the boy band era were now the sunbaes amongst a plethora of new idol bands and one of the few to survive as a group past the five-year mark.
With the repackaged Special Edition album release and the hit that was “Love Song” it seemed as though 2011 would definitely be the ‘Year of Big Bang.’ That all came to a screeching halt as personal crises hit and the year that would be Big Bang’s fizzled out a bit sooner than expected. The band stuck together, weathered the trials they faced, and with the help of their fans in winning Best World Act at the EMAs returned as five to the stage at the 2011 YG Family concerts— proving that while they were down, they were definitely far from being out. Whether you love them or not, you must admit that when there’s a Big Bang in the K-popiverse–everyone listens.
1. Brown Eyed Girls
With their fourth full-length album “Sixth Sense,” the Brown Eyed Girls are changing Korean Pop as we know it. Brown Eyed Girls don’t simply speak to ears—they speak to the mind and soul. Technically and conceptually, they are at the top of their game. But they are working in a register that requires more than that. Their work is able to amalgamate a variety of sounds, sublimate new genres, and create new languages through which these sassy, sexy ladies can communicate their thoughts and ideas. Not only are they making work that is entertaining, they are also making work that makes you think. They are easing the tension between mainstream music and “other” music, using and demonstrating their own musical innovations to rebel against the mainstream template all the while maintaining mainstream appeal. While JYJ may be striving for the same successes, the Brown Eyed girls are striving and accomplishing. They are merging quantity and quality and actively engaging the audience of Hallyu with a power that is all their own. And for belting and honing their own voice in a sea of idols that are merely miming and mumbling, the Brown Eyed Girls are the Best Artist of the Year.
Picking a worst artist in K-pop is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel–there’s just something not fair about it. There were some sub-par debuts from the likes of Stellar and Taken, but they’re only rookies who don’t know any better (although their companies should). But these veterans know better and it’s disappointing to see these acts flounder.
The Worst Artist of 2011
In third place as worst act of the year was f(x). After waiting for their return for almost a year and fretting over the return of Amber they come back with… “Pinocchio.” Their concept and styling for the song was so gimmicky and the MV, is better left unmentioned. Catchy dances can only take you so far. Really, SM? Are you trying to destruct f(x)? And “Hot Summer” wasn’t much better, it was a ‘hot mess.’
It’s baffling to see how far Orange Caramel deviates from the awesomeness that is After School. The songs, concepts, and styling are so awesomely bad. Their recent concepts for “Bangkok City” and “Shanghai Romance” border on culturally offensive and does actually offend my feminine sensibilities. The worst thing about Orange Caramel though is that their whole existence isn’t about providing quality music–it’s about providing fantasy visuals to male fans.
1. Super Junior
Just because Super Junior won x award for the xth year in a row does not mean that they are going to get away with releasing “Sorry Sorry 3.0“ aka “Mr. Simple.” From their music, to their concept, to their general existence, everything about Super Junior, while still entertaining, has become redundant. Super Junior has never been about gut wrenching, soul searching music. They’ve always been about the fireworks, the fanfare, and everything that makes K-Pop pure fun. But boys, it’s been six years since your debut. It’s about time you guys stopped acting like a bunch of teenage boys catering to a bunch of homogenized fangirls and started acting like men. Do us a favor: grow up, stop rearranging the same song, and try to actually impress us next year.
That’s our take on the movers and shakers in K-pop for 2011. No one can guess what the future holds for K-pop in 2012, but one thing we know for sure is that these groups will be in the thick of it–whether we like it, or not.