Welcome back to the SB Midyear Review! 2017 has been a year loaded with quality comebacks. Many acts, both veterans and rookies, made returns– some their first in over a year, others after barely months. With so many amazing comebacks spanning genres from big band to tropical house, the field for choices was crowded, and winnowing them down to a top 5 proved tricky for Lo, Margaret, and Cheryl. Don’t forget to leave your top choices in the comments!
Lo: . I think the most obvious place to begin is with the one constant: BTS. It’s really not that surprising that they’re our only consensus, because BTS never fails to deliver, and while “Spring Day” was all well and good — along with emotional, poignant and really well-crafted– it was “Not Today” that pushed them onto my list. I’m a sucker for anthems, bombast, and righteous force of will, which “Not Today” has in spades.
That hook especially; it just roars to life and sucks you into the struggle to hold fast against a world determined to tear you down. The only thing really holding them back is, from a musical standpoint, they’re starting to tread old ground — it felt a bit like a retread of the Young Forever comeback, given that BTS is always coming back, the burnout is starting for me. I want them to take a solid year off and not produce anything before they go full-bore Drake.
Margaret: Lo, you took the words right out of my mouth. “Spring Day”, to be honest, was a little underwhelming because it had a similar tone/atmosphere to “Epilogue: Young Forever”, which is great and all in terms of musical continuity, but I agree, “Not Today” really hit it in terms of comeback. It was strong, powerful, and hit all the right places. For me, at least, the very slight disappointment with “Spring Day” dropped them a few places on my list.
Another group that some of us had in common was Winner. Simply put, I am just so proud of the group for overcoming obstacle after obstacle — after coming back from a long hiatus courtesy of the loss of a member (who was one of the key members in songwriting and vocals) and of YG in general, they not only proved that they could stand strong as a four-membered group, but produce a hit song that lasted for many weeks on the charts. Although they only came back with two songs, both “Really Really” and “Fool” were excellently made and showed diversity, their comeback was just so classy and so “Winner” in style, reminding us of what made them so popular in the first place, so they definitely deserve that top spot on my list.
Cheryl: While I agree that “Not Today” was an aggressive, culminating musical piece that roared with such vibrant colours, I have to admit that I adore “Spring Day” to bits and it’s my favorite BTS title track, though I’m not good at having favourites. Moreover, I think both MVs were exceptionally ethereal and flawless, from the train scenes in “Spring Day” to the drone shots of an abandoned wasteland (and the constant running). Having followed them since day one, I wholeheartedly respect the musical path they are embarking on and their evident improvement throughout the years. There are multifarious reasons why I stan BTS with pride and I honestly cannot wait to see what they’ll wow us with in their next comeback…which is agonizingly soon – I’ve yet to recover from their 2017 FESTA. Help.
As for Winner, I think they did a fabulous job in returning to the music scene despite the departure of Taehyun, who played a vital role in composing their songs. But I think they’re miles ahead of iKon in terms of musicality and versatility. It takes only seconds to recognize their signature sonic sound that they’ve carefully crafted and established for themselves.
Lo: “Really Really” is my jam. As I’ve mentioned on other times, I love house music, and “Really Really” is some amazing tropical house. Most people think of trop house as stripped down and empty, but that’s not what it should be, and Winner clearly gets that. “Really Really” is low-key and laid-back, music to chill to at a house party rather than light up a club, but it’s buzzing with intensity. The synths just get under your skin, and when the chorus hits and the flutes pick up, it just works.
The MV is just as captivating. I love the use of black and white; it gives such a timeless feeling. The various stages enhance that further, as Winner shifts from suits and elegant architecture to jeans and hoodies in a parking garage. The choreography is no joke either. It looks chaotic, but you can see the formations and precision the backup dancers have to execute — all in 3 inch heels, no less!
Cheryl: Besides the boy groups, the only female artist I’ve selected for this year’s mid-year review would be IU. I cannot emphasize how much I love her new album Palette. I’ve always been a fan of her songs and musical style, so it’s refreshing to witness her bloom, now with a more mature outlook that’s evident in her songs. Out of all the tracks, my favorite would be “Ending Scene” hands down, which forlornly depicts that sometimes good things will come to an end eventually. Palette seems to be a wistfully classy reflection of IU’s maturity and sentiments and I think that this elegant growth truly marks her artistry.
Margaret: Cheryl, I agree with everything you said about IU’s Palette. The album is pure gold — each and every track is a gem. If an album can make me want to listen to all the b-sides and not just the title tracks, then it is a success in my books, and it’s largely how I ranked my comebacks for this mid-year review! I really enjoy this more mature side of IU, especially the more chilled, slower vibes that a lot of my favourites like “Palette” and “Can’t Love You Anymore” feature. I am in Seoul right now, and IU’s songs are being blasted everywhere in the shops, so it’s basically heaven for my ears!
Lo: I’m a little surprised at my own list: I am a notorious girl group supporter, but I’ve only got two this time. Gugudan really underwhelmed me when they debuted, but “A Girl Like Me” fully won me over. It’s peppy, but doesn’t fall into the overly sweet synthpop that most cuter girl groups do. And this was still cute, but it added confidence and arrogance that most girl groups are not allowed to portray until they switch to a sexier concept. It’s this perfect blend of adorable and “bitch, please” that manages to not alienate the audience, but bring them into the emotions of the song and allow the audience to feel the same way.
As for my top pick, I’m saddened that no one shares my love for Girl’s Day. This is a comeback that has everything. “I’ll Be Yours” is a killer track. It’s bold, with rock influences on the guitar of chorus and bridge and of course, the horns are magic, because horns. Everyone sounds amazing, really getting to flaunt their chops, especially Minah. My god, when she belts on the bridge; it just blows me away. The MV then blows all of that out of the water. Having a MV where a girl group asserts control over men in typically masculine environments through their femininity is perfection. I will never be over seeing Heyri use her fuck-me heels as part of a 1-2 punch, and the symbolism of the most feminine of items bringing a man to the ground.
Cheryl: Seventeen first caught my eye, both musically and visually (I’ve got to admit that their visuals are no joke) when they debuted in 2015. Since then, they’ve always adorned a youthful, peppy concept with an energetic brew of funk-influenced pop, but things have started to shift gear with”Don’t Wanna Cry“. Though many have slammed it for being a ripoff of The Chainsmokers, the songwriting and musical arrangement is evidently polished in this comeback, adding a pop of color that marks it a true Seventeen track.
Seventeen’s choreography for “Don’t Wanna Cry” is a pleasant aesthetic spectacle — their synchronization and single movements are enthralling, though I did find Woozi’s solo similar to the choreography of BTS’ “Spring Day”. Nonetheless, both have won me over with their delicate executions.
Cheryl: Day6 is definitely a band to watch out for. I find their year-long promotional cycle extremely commendable, though there were some songs that were just mediocre. They’ve been punctual with their monthly releases and to bid farewell to the first half of the cycle, they’ve packaged their past five releases with brand new songs into a cohesive and high-quality full-length album.
“I Smile” would come in second behind “You Were Beautiful“, which is an endearing and flawless Day6 release. The opening verse of “I Smile” gnaws with a sense of melancholy, playing to the band’s emotional strengths. Their vocals, as usual, were amazing and I’m still impressed that the band is made up of such strong vocalists, which is an extreme rarity in K-pop. Nevertheless, their evident improvement is highly admirable, thus they’re third on my list. They’re growing so much as a band and I look forward to their releases for the second half of 2017!
The last on my list is none other than G-Dragon. We’ve not heard from G-Dragon himself since 2013 with Coup d’Etat, but this comeback has proven that the wait was worth every single bit. Right up my alley, his eponymous album “Kwon Ji Yong” definitely needed a spot on my list. To say that the album is quite a fine piece of art would be the understatement of the year but the craft itself was carefully and creatively polished with an ingenious, classy touch.
Though “Untitled, 2014” doesn’t soar like “That XX” or “Who You”, the charm of this comeback lies in its musical and lyrical authenticity and the endearingly, unfiltered revelation about truly Kwon Ji-yong himself. The sheer amount of thought put into this album is more than just commendable and we’re lucky to have him back before he enlists in the military. If this was G-Dragon’s thoughtful way of bidding farewell for the next two years, then he really got us sold with this grand exit.
Lo: The personal element is what truly pushed GD onto my list. K-pop tends to be a shallow industry, and the more fame you have, the less real you are allowed to be. Seeing an icon like G-Dragon be honest about his struggles with fame, his art, and even his rage at the world is powerful. And “Middle Fingers Up” is officially my new motto.
Margaret: G-Dragon was put on my special mentions list because I don’t know exactly how I feel about his album. Yes, the songs are awesome, but because it was released quite recently, I have been busy listening to other things and haven’t really had a chance to appreciate the artistry and depth behind the album.
The three comebacks that nobody else has on their lists are Zion.T, VIXX, and special mention to NCT127 with their most recent comeback Cherry Bomb. I love Zion.T’s album — it was a little more chilled and lowkey with major R&B vibes which is right up my alley, and each and every song went on my favourites playlist. I particularly enjoyed “Complex” featuring none other than G-Dragon — it’s catchy, playful, and nothing too overwhelming.
VIXX really wowed me with their comeback and their orient-inspired concept, it was just done so beautifully, from their costumes to the use of their birth flowers in their teasers to the use of fans as props to their choreography, everything just fit in seamlessly and didn’t seem to be forced or fake. I really appreciate how VIXX always goes above and beyond with their concepts, going for something new every time — they are truly the king of concepts.
Cheryl: Just when I thought VIXX has run out of concepts to wow us with, they proved me wrong by delivering with their whimsical east-meets-west concept. I’ve always been a VIXX fan and I am just going to say that this comeback is probably their strongest thus far, with its creative fusion of old and new, though many would prefer their darker cyborg or vampire concepts. Gearing towards a sensual direction, “Shangri-La” is just simply elegant with its Chinese aesthetic influences and lush color tones. I especially adore their stage props – I love the oriental fans and the synchronized sound of them being whipped open is just oddly satisfying. The MV is also a visually-appealing spectacle, paired with an aura of fantasy and mystery. However, I took them out of my list for G-Dragon as I would have liked it more if their titular concept followed throughout the entire album.
Lo: All in all, 2017 has proved to be a good year for comebacks; in quality and variety. Let’s hope the second half of 2017 keeps the momentum going!
(Images via Big Hit Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and Dream Tea Entertainment, Loen Entertainment, YouTube)