20140605_seoulbeats_taeyang_riseComebacks. In the world of K-pop, they happen on average five times a day, roughly. With so many comebacks to choose from, our midyear review panelists had the difficult task of choosing their top 5 for the first half of the year. After literally weeks of deciding on their final selections, this was the conversation that unfolded. Enjoy!

Rank Camiele Andy Mark Kelsey
1 FTTS FTTS Taeyang Orange Caramel
2 4Men Park Hyo Shin Orange Caramel Taeyang
3 Gummy Wheesung Spica Spica
4 Taeyang BTS 2NE1 TVXQ
5 Spica Taeyang Block B 2NE1

Mark: There’s certainly a wide array of selections based on each panelist’s personal preferences, but let’s focus on our similarities first. I see all of us have Taeyang and three of us have Spica in our top five. I assume you were all enamored by Taeyang’s album as I was.

20140605_seoulbeats_taeyang_rise[1]Camiele: Quite frankly, it’s the quality of the comeback. The amount of care taken and Taeyang’s obvious devotion to his craft shone through with this comeback. It was emotional and honest and just a damn good album. The songwriting was top-notch, and the compositions were fantastic. It’s actually one of the most solid albums this year so far.

Andy: I agree with Camiele. As Taeyang said in an interview, this album was for the listeners. He knew what his fans liked, and he delivered in fabulous fashion. While “Ringa Linga” was a bit of a dud for me, Rise makes up for it. The songs all have individual characteristics, yet they are still classic Taeyang: smooth and effortless.

I would also like to add that I loved Spica’s comeback, but I could only pick 5 and they would have been either 7 or 8 on my list. Spica’s vocals are impeccable, and they have attitude for days. They shine bright in their promotions. “You Don’t Love Me” was a great MV, as well, with its sassiness and humor.

Mark: Spica is a group that everyone generally likes for each member’s own unique journey towards becoming an idol, and for their stellar vocals. I’m glad that they’re finally getting recognized for their material. I thought their previous single, “Tonight,” was great too, but “You Don’t Love Me” really allowed their voices to shine, and the MV was most certainly memorable.

I too was thrown off a bit by “Ringa Linga” but I’m glad Taeyang is finally allowing us to relive the good old days of “Wedding Dress” and “Where U At,” minus the frohawk. “Eyes, Nose, Lips” and “1AM” are probably the best songs in his discography to date and the rest of the Rise album is just as good from top to bottom.

20140202_seoulbeats_spica1Kelsey: I think the interesting thing about Taeyang’s release was that everyone was a little unsure of what Rise would sound like after “Ringa Linga,” especially since so much time had passed since the single dropped and the album seemed to be in limbo. I appreciate Rise because it’s a refined presentation of what we already know Taeyang does well, while still leaving room for experimentation so the music doesn’t sound stale. I felt like Rise was a fully realized project from the first to the last track. It’s an unusual thing to experience in K-pop and that’s why I consider the comeback a real treat. It’s easily the best thing that’s come from YG this year.

I agree with Mark. Spica’s problem before “You Don’t Love Me” is that they didn’t have a comeback that could really showcase them in full vocal form. Their comeback this time around was a step in the right direction. More and more people are starting to realize what they can do, and their live performances week after week were strong and consistent. This was the comeback that made me really excited about watching them perform.

Mark: Camiele, I see you also had very good things to say about the Taeyang album in your review. I’m actually surprised to see he’s not higher on your list.

20140505_seoulbeats_ftts_transitionCamiele: As much as I loved Taeyang’s comeback, I had more love for the artists’ albums that I placed higher. The connecting thread to all of them was their consistency throughout the album. FTTS’ album really was almost perfect, while 4Men‘s was just vocally out of this world. Gummy‘s mini album, also vocally stunning and consistent throughout. Taeyang’s album had some missteps and suffered from being just a bit redundant in terms of composition.

Mark: Speaking of vocals, there are certainly some vocal standouts in each of Camiele’s and Andy’s top threes in the likes of FTTS, 4Men, Gummy, Park Hyo Shin, and I know Camiele also flirted with Wheesung for a bit when we were coming up with our picks. Why did you chose those artists in particular?

Andy: When you hear the names of the vocalists chosen, they automatically bring up thoughts of grandness. Even when I first started listening to K-pop, I remember hearing their names and then being impressed. The hardest thing is to deliver on expectations, and the ones I chose definitely delivered. Being a great vocalist doesn’t just mean being able to belt out a loud, high note. It also means being able to properly express emotions simply with vocal nuances, without looking like you’re dying or sounding like you are struggling. FTTS, Wheesung, Park Hyo Shin (and Gummy — she would have taken Taeyang’s place if I had been able to hear her new album earlier), are effortless and thoroughly consistent. They accomplish this without being boring and monotonous. Yes, other great vocalists released new music, but they didn’t immediately hit me with emotion and awe like my choices.

Park Hyo Shin’s “Wildflower,” for me, was a great example of relying solely on one’s voice and doing it wonderfully.

140228_seoulbeats_2NE1_CLI noticed that both Mark and Kelsey listed 2NE1. While I personally feel like 2NE1 has been missing something since “Falling in Love,” why do you guys think their comeback was one of the best?

Mark: I really liked “Come Back Home,” which was largely aided by the MV. I think that song alone would have made the comeback for me, so including a full album and live stages for multiple new songs was like icing on the cake. I don’t think they will be on my top 5 by the end of the year but given the lack of all-around quality comebacks in 2014 so far, I think they belong on this list.

The Crush album wasn’t as solid as I had hoped, especially after such a long wait. If they had released all of their singles since “I Love You” all at once and made this comeback a year or two ago by promoting their usual three to four title tracks all at once, the public’s reception would have been much better and many people would have been more satisfied with the final product.

Kelsey: The 2NE1 comeback was hurt by the fact that it was long overdue, but I liked Crush because we finally had something to show for what I feel was the two year re-calibration of 2NE1’s sound, starting around the time “I Love You.” This album sounds more mature and I think it benefited from CL‘s lyrical contributions, the strength of Minzy‘s voice, and much better utilization of Dara‘s admittedly limited vocal abilities. I still think they’re a little lost within YG, but Crush could be considered a success after so much time left floundering.

Our rankings are light on boybands but I’ve noticed that Mark and Andy have highlighted Block B and BTS, respectively. What drew you both to those comebacks?

20140404_seoulbeats_bts_rapmonster2Andy: Well, when I first heard that BTS was doing a love song, I admittedly laughed. They had done them before as additional tracks, but for a title song (and album concept), I didn’t think BTS could do it legitimately. What really sealed the deal for me was the entire album. Underneath the layer of love was the same BTS attitude that you would expect. “Spine Breaker” is lyrically a fantastic song and true to the roots of the group: speaking out, as youth, against societal issues — in this case, kids who take advantage of their parents for material gain. BTS does a real good job at adding their own flair and attitude to the music, so they stand out.

Mark: Block B is more of a honorable mention pick. I liked the song and MV for “Jackpot” and was disappointed that they chose to not promote it on music shows after the Sewol Ferry tragedy. I thought the song had a very sinister message that easily could have been interpreted as subtext for the idol industry (where the slim chance of actually making it is like hitting the jackpot). I wouldn’t be surprised if they remain on my list for the entire year once they make their comeback next month.

Does anyone else have high hopes for the second half of the year? Which comebacks (announced or anticipated) do you think have a good chance to make your top five by year’s end?

Camiele: Speaking of comebacks, I am too chuffed that my beloved JYJ are making their official comeback next month! Now, if you want to talk about a comeback, that’s a legit comeback, four years in the making. The amount of maturity and definitely transition in tone, style, and vocal capability among the three of them has just grown by leaps and bounds. I wonder what sound they’ll produce as a group.

20101029_seoulbeats_jyj2Andy: I believe that if JYJ’s comeback somehow combines the quality of Junsu and Jaejoong‘s solos, plus some of the group’s style from In Heaven, their comeback will absolutely be one of the best this year. They already have the sheer talent that befits them legendary status. So if the actual songs are great, they’ll kill it.

Camiele: What actually worries me is the songs they’ve gotten from foriegn writers and producers. They’ve already had experience with lackluster (and that’s putting it mildly) songs being shopped to them. They’re all very competent writers and composers. I would’ve hoped this time around they’d have a bit more confidence in their skills (especially Jaejoong and Junsu). I mean, Jaejoong and Yuchun pretty much wrote and composed all of In Heaven, and Junsu’s contributions were fantastic as far as straight pop goes. I have little to no faith in the foreign contributions. So I’m a bit nervous as far as that goes.

Andy: All I have left to say is that the second half of the year will be exciting to watch. Between the return of legends (like g.o.d and Seo Taiji), powerhouse hitters (Big Bang and JYJ), and rising stars like Block B, things should shake up a bit.


Now that you know our top fives, we want to know yours. Believe me, it’s a lot harder than you think to decide on just five. Furthermore, what comebacks are you most excited for in the second half of the year?

(Images via B2M Entertainment, H2Media, YG Entertainment, Big Hit Entertainment, C-JeS Entertainment)