20160922_seoulbeats_wjsn_chengxiaoSummer, a time for fun, relaxation, and an unrelenting onslaught of K-pop releases. Unfortunately, we did not have the manpower to cover every major comeback, and to make up for that, I’m going to combine 11 releases from the past three months into one review and discuss them in rapid-fire succession. Being an unbiased review, I will of course attempt to be extra harsh on the artists which I care for and generally unkind towards the ones which I don’t. It’s not that I want to, it’s because I have to.

1. G-Friend, “Navillera”

G-Friend has been on quite a role with three consecutive hit releases which included their debut song “Glass Bead,” the viral sensation “Me Gustas Tu,” and the mashup of the two songs, “Rough.” G-Friend returns with “Navillera,” the same exact replica of their first three songs from the same producers in the same exact packaging as before, except this time they’re no longer in matching school uniforms but in matching retro pastel outfits. Since this was advertised as the release that was going to break away from the School Trilogy mold, I expected much more contrast but “Navillera” goes with the same exact formula. As a result, it pales in comparison to their first three releases and digs them deeper into the musical and conceptual pigeonhole they created.

Rating: 3.5/5

2. NCT 127, “Fire Truck”

NCT, the ever changing boy group with an infinite number of sub-units, showcase their hip hop and dance team with “Fire Truck.” This is actually a very catchy and innovative song and I would probably like it so much more had it not come right on the heels of BTS’ “Fire.” Just like how MOBB cowers in the shadows of GD&TOP, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between “Fire Truck” and “Fire” because the songs are so structurally similar. They’re both great in their own right but it’s unrealistic to expect a bunch of rookies to match the performance chops of BTS. By comparison, “Fire” has better raps, better choreography, a better beat, and a better hook. I know it’s unfair to compare NCT 127 to BTS but given the similarities between the two songs, it was clearly warranted.

Rating: 3/5

3. Stellar, “Cry”

Stellar had to crowdfund their comeback prior to this and it seems like the money from that has already run dry because “Cry” is a low-budget comeback and it really shows. Instead of the usual quality we’ve come to expect from a Sweetune or MonoTree produced title song, we get a cheap Brave Brothers track which was probably rejected by AOA, Hello Venus, and even Brave Girls. No longer able to afford the services of Zanybros to helm their MVs, Stellar trades in a high quality production for bikinis, ski masks, and super soakers. It’s sad to see Stellar break their string of quality releases since “Marionette,” all of which combined great music with great visuals and subversive themes. I get that the quality of the music and MV will undoubtedly decline without the proper financial backing, but I guess a part of me was still hoping for something intelligent to come out of this.

Rating: 2/5

4. Black Pink, “Boombayah”

At year-end, Black Pink will likely sweep all the rookie awards but that’s not saying much. The real question is: are they as good as 2NE1? I believe they are in terms of talent but they’re missing that x-factor which 2NE1 had in the form of CL and Minzy. Lisa has a very interesting Nicki Minaj thing going on but the other members haven’t shown much in the way of personality or artistic flair at this point.

As for “Boombayah,” it starts off really strong until we get to the ‘boombayah’ part and we realize there’s suddenly a dance break in the middle of the chorus. Dance breaks are effective when they’re woven into the middle eight and serve as the climax near the end of the song (see any of the G-Friend songs mentioned above) but it creates too much dissonance when it’s lumped into the chorus and repeated throughout the song. Dance breaks also lose their dramatic effect when it happens more than once in a song, particularly when it’s in the chorus because it gets constantly repeated and it makes the song difficult to listen to.

Rating: 3.5/5

5. Black Pink, “Whistle”

Aside from the 2NE1 comparison mentioned above, it’s hard to nitpick this one. For a song with such a somber tone, I wish it had harder hitting lyrics. There, I tried.

Rating: 4.5/5

6. Oh My Girl, “A-ing”

This was Oh My Girl’s fourth promoted song in just five months, and “A-ing” is easily the worst of the four. I’ll admit, probably nothing they make will ever come close to touching the “Closer” and “Liar Liar,” but I can’t blame them for feverishly trying. “A-ing” is very indicative of a rushed comeback — the MV looks cheap, every song on the album is a remake, and worst of all, the choreography is unimpressive. The choreography is a big deal because Oh My Girl is known for having very creative and difficult choreography which puts them among the ranks of G-Friend and Red Velvet. Furthermore, I don’t see the reason for collaborating with Skull and HaHa other than the mandatory reggae that idol groups must bring out during the summer.

Rating: 2.5/5

7. B.A.P, “That’s My Jam”

There was a time when B.A.P promoted as frivolously as Oh My Girl, but now they’re down to just one or two comebacks per year. The group comes in two shades, dark and bright, and I personally prefer the dark side much more with winning entries such as “Warrior,” “One Shot,” and “Young, Wild & Free.” However, “That’s My Jam” falls clearly on the bright side and it’s ironically one of their least memorable tracks. B.A.P were never a big hit with the general public and as they lose further mainstream appeal, I see them going down the route of U-Kiss where their songs will chart really poorly (if at all), there will not be much in terms of digital sales, yet they will still sell a steady stream of albums to their dedicated fanbase.

Rating: 2/5

8. Cosmic Girls, “Secret”

WJSN, or Cosmic Girls, is likely the second best debut of 2016 and might even cut into some of Black Pink’s end of the year hardware. But again, that’s not saying much. Starship Entertainment does a good job in creating a group that’s nothing like their seniors, Sistar. In fact, they created a group that, with 13 members total, is more than three times the size of Sistar. For a group of this proportion, it’s really hard for any one member to distinguish herself yet one member (aside from Produce 101‘s Yeon-jung) has clearly surpassed everyone else by a wide margin — Cheng Xiao (aka Sung-so). For the unacquainted, she’s the one who does the full body flip in “Catch Me.” She’s been on variety shows demonstrating her insane flexibility, acrobatic talent, bodyboarding ability, and destroying the competition at rhythmic gymnastics. Needless to say, she’s a big hit among male fans and the only ‘secret’ worth talking about in this review. The song is boring and forgettable.

Rating: 1.5/5

9. Laboum, “Shooting Love”

Let’s get one thing straight. It matters not that Laboum has no hit songs and virtually zero fans since their debut over two years ago. What matters is that they have Solbin. Under the Hyuna principle of girl group economics, girl groups are mere vehicles for promoting the star power of one particular member. In turn, that member’s rise in popularity will also bring the group and its members into the limelight. While I don’t see Laboum as being a 4Minute situation, I do see the marketability of Solbin, Yulhee, and ZN keeping them around long enough to strike some sort of viral fancam or variety gold. Other than that, their concepts, like this song, are safe and boring.

Rating: 2/5

10. Dia, “Mr. Potter”

See the above description on Laboum. Replace Solbin with Chaeyeon. Successors to T-ara, Dia is another girl group having trouble finding any sort of footing since their debut a year ago, but at least they’re not afraid to take risks. “Mr. Potter” is a Harry Potter concept by name only as it also borrows heavily from other licensed properties. It unnecessarily uses Girl’s Day’s suspenders dance from “Expectation” and unsuccessfully tries to make it cute. But bonus points for being like AOA and performing a band version of the song.

Rating: 2.5/5

11. Song Ji-eun, “Bobby Doll”

Secret’s underrated vocalist comes back with another haunting song in a vein similar to that of “Going Crazy,” “False Hope,” and “Don’t Look at Me like That.” I really enjoy how well Ji-eun‘s vocals suit this type of song and the MV does a good job of dressing her up as the titular ‘bobby doll,’ giving her an uncanny aura of android-like plasticity which blends in suitably with the creepy atmosphere. Dark and emotional is a combination which she is comfortable with and, because her releases are spaced far enough apart, it doesn’t seem stale or overdone.

That came out a bit biased, let me try again. The Hyosung and Jieun solo comebacks this year leaves me wanting more and wondering if a Secret comeback is in the works. There, is that better?

Rating: 3.5/5

Readers, are there other unsung artists that went under the radar? What’s your favorite underrated release of the summer?

(Images via MBK Entertainment, Starship Entertainment)