Here’s a look back at 2013 and some of the Things that made the cut the past 52 weeks in K-pop. Thank you all for continued support and love for Seoulbeats–we’ll do our best to keep providing you all with the freshest commentary and perspectives on K-pop culture. Happy New Year! Or as we say it here in the islands, Hau`oli Makahiki Hou!
5. A Star is Born
Actually, waaay more than a star. Several actors and musicians had a stellar year in 2013 with break out performances that made them more than just another pretty face in the crowd.
Two former models Lee Jong-suk and Kim Woo-bin just may be the two biggest stars of 2013. Lee Jong-suk had a memorable role as the temperamental musician Han Tae-san in the K-drama Secret Garden. This lead to the starring role of the former bad boy looking for redemption, Go Nam-soon, in School 2013. Kim Woo-bin who had gained popularity after his appearances in the dramas White Christmas, Vampire Idol and A Gentleman’s Diginity, was the other half of 2013’s biggest bromance as Park Heung-soo–Go Nam-soon‘s former BFF. After School 2013, the two would go on to be CF darlings and to starring roles in two of 2013’s biggest dramas I Hear Your Voice and The Heirs.
From his small, but memorable performance as the gumiho Wol-ryung in Gu Family Book, actor Choi Jin-hyuk created Wol-ryung Fever in South Korea and the world of Hallyu at Twilight heights. He actually gained some attention from his supporting role in Panda and the Hedgehog which got him the role in Gu Family Book, but Wol-ryung was his career defining role–so far. He was then cast in two high profile roles in The Heirs and the movie God’s Trick. He’ll next be starring in ER Man and Woman with Song Ji-hyo for tvN in January.
Also gaining attention for his role in Gu Family Book was actor Yoo Yeon-seok. He actually had a small part in the classic Korean film Old Boy which he got for his resemblance to actor Yoo Ji-tae while still finishing up high school. He put his career on hold to go to college and hone his craft with a degree in Film Arts from Sejong University. After resuming his career in acting, he garnered positive reviews in the indie film Re-encounter which led to roles in the popular mainstream films Architecture 101, A Werewolf Boy and Born To Sing. His stint in Gu Family Book as the conflicted former scholar led to the role of Chilbongie in Reply 1994 whose love triangle created the worse fan wars of a drama in 2013.
Speaking of love triangles, the other man involved in 2013’s most conflicted love triangle was actor Jung Woo as Trash hyung aka Kim Jae-joon in Reply 1994. Jung Woo actually debuted back in 2001 and had bit roles in many dramas and films, but it wasn’t until 2009 when he starred in the indie film Wish which he wrote based on his own life as a troubled teenager trying to become the best fighter in his school that he got critical acclaim at the Busan International Film Festival. He then gained recognition for his role as the friendly former convict, now baker Seo Jin-wook in You’re the Best Lee Soon-shin which led to his starring role as Trash in Reply 1994.
The girl in the middle of all the controversy Sung Na-jung, was played well by Go Ara. Go Ara is no newbie, she debuted back in 2003, but her lead role in Reply 1994 is what made her more than just another pretty face. She put her usually glamorous image on the line playing the plucky, at times vicious and very human Na-jung. With her great performance in Reply 1994, I think it would be safe to say that we will be seeing much more of Go Ara in the near future.
The following are some of my picks for break out artists in K-pop for 2013:
Kim Jaejoong made his solo debut in January 2013 with the EP I and the title track “Mine” and it was the birth of a new K-pop rock star. He followed up with a full album WWW in October with the title song of “Just Another Girl.”
It may just be me, but I think VIXX really made a name for themself in 2013 with hits “On and On, ” “Hyde” and “Voodoo Doll”–although I think their performance of the Wonder Girls‘ “So Hot” on the Chuseok special Star Face-off is what sealed the deal for me.
Legendary singer Cho Yong-pil made a triumphant return to the current K-pop scene with the hit “Bounce” and what I think is one of the top MVs of 2013, “Romance” starring popular child CF models/actors Moon Mason and Aleyna Yilmaz.
4. The Rise of the Solo Artist and Sub-Unit in Debuts
2013 showed a marked return of the solo artist in K-pop and expanded the popularity of the sub-unit. It also marked the return of many first generation idols like Moon Hee-jun with “I’m Not Ok“and Lee Hyori as “Miss Korea.” Former Wonder Girl Sunmi made her solo debut with “24 hours” and when everyone including Psy are doing dance covers of your song–it’s a definite hit.
Oft forgotten Super Junior M member Henry Lau blew up the scene with his solo debut, the first male solo debut from SM Entertainment in 13 years, with the release of his mini album Trap. The mini was impressive with title tracks “Trap” featuring Kyuhyun and Taemin and ” 1-4-3″ featuring Amber heating up the charts and bringing Henry some much deserved love.
They haven’t officially made their debut yet, but the brother and sister duo of Lee Chan-hyuk and Lee Soo-hyun, otherwise known as Akdong Musician, who won season two of K-pop Star definitely took 2013 by storm. Even before signing with YG Entertainment, the duo had CF offers and a hit song on the OST of the drama All About My Romance, “I Love You.” I anxiously await what Akdong Musician has in store for us in the future.
Following the trend set by popular sub-units that came before them, the sub-units that debuted in 2013 included: U-Kiss members Eli and AJ in U-Beat; T-ara had two sub-units–T-ara N4 with Hyomin, Eunjung, Areum and Jiyeon and T-ara QBS featuring Qri, Boram, Soyeon; ZE:A had ZE:A5 featuring Kevin, Dong-woo, Si-wan, Min-woo and Hyung-sik and ZE:A4U with Kwanghee, Jun-young, Hee-chul and Tae-heon: 100%‘s sub-unit 100%V made up of Chanyong, Jonghwan, Rokhyun, and Hyukjin gained a lot of attention with “Missing You”; and my top pick for best sub-unit of 2013–Infinite‘s Dong-woo and Hoya as Infinite H. Their song “Without You” featuring Zion T was MONEY.
3. Bringing the Variety in K-entertainment
The One To Rule Them All:Infinity Challenge
Perhaps what I found most surprising while looking back on the past year in 5 Things was the amount of times Infinity Challenge was mentioned in my posts. In 2013, Infinity Challenge stepped up in the content of their shows and lured in viewers with solid concepts. One of my favorite episodes was their Princess in Training episodes where they were trained to handle some of the problems that today’s princesses have to encounter like decorum, beauty, etiquette, dealing with the paparazzi and wardrobe malfunctions. Here’s a hilarious clip from the show where Jung Hyung-don, dressed as the Swan Princess, tries to keep his composure while facing the press and walking down a red carpet of treadmills. He also poked fun at actress Yeo Min-jung‘s (fake?) wardrobe malfunction at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival.
Another gem was the episode of Infinity Challege that had the cast members meet up with their partners for the Infinity Challenge 2013 Freeway Music Festival. Jung Hyung-don met up with G-Dragon at YG Entertainment headquarters and they discussed their plans for their collaboration over lunch at the YG Cafeteria. Jung Hyung-don boasted about his delicious lunch to HaHa who was meeting with his partners Jang Kiha and the Faces, and what happened next… who said ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.’ G-Dragon and HaHa both tweeted pics from the day.
And those were just two of the many great moments in episodes of Infinity Challenge this year. And no, I didn’t just pick Infinity Challenge because they brought the show to Hawaii and provided me the opportunity to see Yoo Jae-suk in person.
2. Bringing the K-drama
My top pick for most Loved K-drama of 2013 is I Hear Your Voice. It had a great story of revenge, first love, and the consequences of life’s choices. Lee Bo-young was excellent as the flawed heroine Jang Hye-sung who was obnoxious and far from being perfect, but yet real and still lovable. Lee Jong-suk was also excellent as the struggling hero Park Soo-ha who almost let revenge turn him into a monster just like the show’s unrelenting villain played masterfully by Jung Woong-in. The show’s tight story line did suffer a little at the end when it was extended by two episodes, but it still was an excellent K-drama.
Lee Jin-wook‘s Nine: Nine Times Travel was hands down the best time travel drama with a meticulously crafted story and awesome direction and acting. Lee Jun-ki‘s Two Weeks was the best action drama I have ever watched with a story that had me at the edge of my seat each episode and dreading the next because of the new tribulations our hero would have to face. The two could also easily be called the top drama of 2013, but the reason I picked I Hear Your Voice over them is that they both failed to appeal to viewers and had mediocre ratings–an area that I Hear Your Voice was able to excel at and made it a more well rounded drama. I blame this on their marketing teams and it really is a pity–for the drama to not get the ratings it deserved and to the drama viewing public who might have missed out on a great drama because it wasn’t promoted to its full potential. Master’s Sun and Reply 1994 were also great dramas, but as a fan and viewer of the shows I could see that while I loved the show and the actors, there were areas where the show’s story lagged and times when the acting disappointed me–though it wasn’t often.
Unwatchable: Paris Nail Shop, Pretty Boy
1. The Year of Exo
In a year where we finally got more than a passing glance of SHINee, had solo releases from four out of five Big Bang members, YG Entertainment kind of kept up with a very packed schedule and had the return of of veteran idols like Cho yong-pil, Lee Hyori, etc.–there was one group that stood out amongst the rest.
With the release of their hit song “Growl,” it was the first time that K-pop fans that weren’t already rabid fans of Exo finally thought that the boys deserved some of the hype surrounding them. “Growl” was an excellent song with a smooth groove and its MV had solid choreography and some nifty one shot camera work that helped to promote the song and its album which led to Exo being the first K-pop artist to sell one million units in a year in the past 12 years. They also had successful appearances on variety shows like Immortal Song, Weekly Idol, Infinity Challenge and Running Man–to name a few–earning them their own reality show Exo Showtime. They finally were more than some mythical new SM rookie group that we saw debut and then disappear– if you weren’t Exo-cited before, you definitely were after “Growl.”
Those were some of the top 5 Things that I LOVED in K-pop in 2013, where they yours?