In contrast to the K-pop industry’s drama-filled 2014, 2015 was relatively quiet with a greater emphasis on music. There were plenty of new debuts, dynamic dances, creative MVs, and, of course, great comebacks.
Though it was a jam-packed year, Seoulbeats writers Camiele, Lo, and Madi, took the time to sift through the music and bring you their picks for best album and best mini-album. Did your choices make the cut?
|1||SHINee – Odd||Shinhwa – We||Wonder Girls – Reboot|
|2||MFBTY – Wondaland||SHINee – Odd||f(x) – 4 Walls|
|3||Xia – Flower/TVXQ – Rise As God||Wonder Girls – Reboot||FT Island – I Will|
|1||Hyukoh – 22/G.Soul – Coming Home/Love Me Again||Amber – Beautiful||Ga-in – Hawwah|
|2||WAVISABIROOM – Mind Over Matter||BTS – The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 1||4Minute – Crazy|
|3||BTS – The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 1||Taeyeon – I||EXID – Ah Yeah|
Camiele: Lo, both Madi and I have SHINee on our list (SHINee still shines at #1 for me), but they’ve moved off your list completely. What changed?
Lo: Odd off my list isn’t because I feel it’s a bad album. On the contrary, as an artistic work, it is one of the best of 2015; had this been a top five, Odd would still be here. Honestly, from a pure artistry standpoint, it’s better than I Will. But when I’m tallying up the best and worst songs and albums of the year, one thing I always factor in is how frequently I listened to an album just because I wanted to hear it again.
But Odd didn’t drive me to listen to it over and over. It came out, it went on heavy rotation, the buzz faded, and so did my interest. I still go back and listen to I Will despite it coming out back in spring, 4 Walls has yet to fade off my radar, and Reboot, which is easily the least artistic thing on these lists, is my number one because it is great pop music that I have listened all the way through three times a week since August, and I’m still not sick of it. Odd just didn’t stack up.
Camiele: You make an interesting point there. So the question obviously becomes what makes not only a good album in your eyes, but one that also deserves a spot on a Top Albums of the Year list?
For me, point-blank, I have to be touched in some way. While I think in theory we share the same principle of an album being on heavy rotation, the reasoning is a bit different. While I enjoy and see the significance and even importance of disposable pop, that’s all it is to me: disposable. I can enjoy a few tunes from a sticky sweet album, but in the end it’ll just bore me.
Odd remained on heavy rotation for me since its release, and it was one of a handful of albums (from any artist from any country) that I constantly came back to. From the music to the execution, that album was almost flawless and truly a work of art, especially coming from a subgenre that almost prides itself on being mostly style over substance. As cliché as it is, I really do liken it to food: eating nothing but sugar leaves still hungry, a bit empty, and most likely with sore teeth and a stomach ache. But a good meal sticks to your bones and nourishes you, leaving you satisfied in a way dessert only manages to do for a few minutes.
What about you, Madi? What’s criteria for an album that you deem worthy of a year-end list like this one?
Madi: High rotation is definitely a plus and even when it’s played all the time, I never tire or get sick of listening to it. I’ll be completely honest here, Odd, was the first SHINee album I listened to and found myself liking all of the songs. Also, I feel a sense of transition from their older albums to this one. I felt the same way from when I listened to earlier Super Junior albums to This Is Love and Devil. Different than what your known for can make or break you.
I remember when Linkin Park changed their sound and all I heard was how most people hated it because it was too different from what they were used to. But in the world of K-pop, I think this transition is a good thing. It doesn’t have that overly pop feel… so as they’re going into adulthood, their sound is changing too.
Quality and product plays a part, but it’s not a huge factor. Most times, I don’t look into who produced or arranged the songs. As long as it’s well done and something doesn’t sound off or wrong, I couldn’t care less. Someone out there is doing their job right and that’s more important.
Also, I will say this too: I am a sucker for albums that play into a story line. That’s why I is on the list. I reviewed the album and thus paid more attention to the style and lyrics and because of that, it made the album more enjoyable. LR‘s Beautiful Liar would have been on this list too if “Ghost” and “My Light” didn’t sound terribly misplaced on the album.
Camiele: Well, unfortunately I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of 4 Walls. I mean, I appreciate, and have been really excited, about SM’s use of House music this year. But just like Red Light, I think it’s going to take me a while to get into… probably a bit longer than Red Light if I’m being honest.
However, after a quick listen to Reboot, I have to say I’m both surprised and extremely charmed by the Jim Jam & Terry Lewis–inspired sound the album implements. In this way, Wonder Girls has gone from your typical K-pop girl group to something akin to the new-age funk of Klymaxx. There aren’t any groups really experimenting with pop and R&B from the late ’80s, really early ’90s in SK. I don’t think many first-genners even worked within that era of music, opting more for music from the mid-’90s. I’m not sure if it’d push any of my albums out of the top three, but I’m thinking this would have probably came in at #4 if we had the opportunity to choose five albums.
In terms of the minis, I have to say even with the lyrical content and discussion of the connection between spirituality and sexuality that Hawwah explored, musically it just… didn’t do much for me. Of the members of BEG, Ga-in’s voice leaves the least impression, so that didn’t really help to endear the album to me at all. I do appreciate Ga-in for her willingness to take chances with writers who explore tougher subject matter, but it doesn’t all come together for me in the end. Not a big fan of EXID, despite some of the vocal power there. The music does nothing for me. So I’d say of all Lo’s albums, Reboot is the most intriguing.
Lo: What really won me over about 4 Walls was the lush feminine aura married the dawn-of-house sound. While modern house music and it’s popier cousins, synthpop and electropop, favor bright, bold sounds and a frantic pace, 4 Walls is undeniably chill. Everything from the cutesy “Deja Vu” to the driving “Cash Me Out” to the sassy “Diamond” carry a more relaxed aura, inspiring you to sit and let the music wash over you. It’s not a sound one hears often.
Camiele: Honestly, nu-jazz and Deep House (sounds like Jazzanova or Blue Six) are the types of House that I prefer. So at points 4 Walls should’ve been right up my alley. But there’s something about it that just didn’t do much for me. Beyond the single, just like with Red Light, I wasn’t completely blown away (add to that the completely unnecessary rap arbitrarily thrown in after the first chorus, “4 Walls” wasn’t even 100% for me). I can appreciate how experimental (at times) their sound can be. But it doesn’t always work for me. But like I said, it could just be a case of me needing to listen to it several more times to get into it.
Off Lo’s list, you know what, I will put Reboot as number three because while I didn’t find myself falling in love with the album, the transition and execution was well done. Also it’s easy to sucker me into liking songs or artists that sound like the ones I grew up with, so we’re talking late 80s, early 90s music. Off their album, I don’t even care their title track. “OPPA” and “Back” are my favorite songs. The controversy that surrounded their look and sound made me giggle a bit too. I don’t like the whole mature = sexy, but I did amuse myself with “put pants on the Wonder Girls” movement.
Continuing, all of the albums on both of your minis (outside of BTS) are albums I haven’t listened to. I’m not too crazy about female singers/groups, so I don’t go out of my way to listen to them, but that has definitely changed this year. I never would have thought I would have liked I at all. I don’t even follow SNSD, but Taeyeon‘s album definitely made it to my radar.
Camiele: For me, the name of the game is always give me something interesting. Shinee shocked the hell out of me with their release this year. The sound, the experimentation, and the vocal excellence just blew me away. MFBTY came back and did it so simply, so easily, with so much of who they are in the album. Xia finally gave me something that I allowed me see his dimension and see how much he’s grown as an artist.
And in that same vein, TVXQ brought music befitting of one of K-pop’s most revered and respected idol groups: mature, fresh, and fantastically musical. In the same way the minis I chose had all of these attributes: innovation, musical and vocal excellence, and something that stuck to my soul. Had a lot of that with these albums–music that just nestled in my soul and just the mention of them brought powerful emotions out of me.
Lo: For me, I feel like 2015 had fewer great, universally acclaimed, everybody loved them albums than 2014, but it had more really good albums. This list was terrible to put together because so many groups raised their personal bars this year — SHINee, 4Minute, Wonder Girls — even if they didn’t clear the heights set by last year. But you know what? I will take that trade-off, and I hope to see K-pop groups continuing to produce good music and challenging themselves in 2016.
Readers, what were your top albums of the year?