Our End-of-Year Review continues on from our discussions on the year’s best debuts, indie artists, and dramas, to today’s look at the comebacks that have come to mark 2017 for Cjontai, Margaret, and Gaya.
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Gaya: So, I see the acts we all have on our lists are IU and Red Velvet. Regarding the latter, the quintet went HARD this year with three comebacks, which they had to as the only available SM girl group in 2017. SM was always considered the exception to the one girl group rule, but here we are. That being said, Red Velvet still made the best of it and released of the biggest songs of the year in “Red Flavor.” Follow-up “Peekaboo” took their Velvet concept to a whole other level, and for the Red purists like myself there was “Rookie.” Basically, Red Velvet had something for everyone this year while still also maintaining their distinct style. The only reason they’re not higher up on the list is that their impact on K-pop this year and level of achievement comes just a bit short of my first and second place acts.
Cjontai: Well, I wouldn’t call them the only available girl group in SM, even though f(x) has been missing for over two years. SNSD still had a comeback, but it fell way short by comparison. Given how the latter group is down by three more members, it only makes sense to push SM’s most recent girl group.
Perfect Velvet really did it for me at the last minute. This concept fits them perfectly, no pun intended. “Peekaboo” is effortless fun with a banging beat. “Red Flavor” was cute for the summer, but I never really got into it like others. “Peekaboo” actually made me excited, which more than likely was due to the great timing of its release. Ballads reign supreme in South Korea during the fall because they got a thing for music fitting with the seasons. Thankfully, Red Velvet went against that sentiment and said, “Take off your coat, we’re dancing!”
As for IU, she’s obviously the comeback queen. Last year, she endured some hot mess with the poor handling of her Chat-shire promotions. It seemed like the entire thing was riddled with controversy from alleged plagiarism to suspected Lolita propaganda that had people calling her a pedophile. Who comes back from that kind of thing? IU, that’s who!
Palette happened, and it was like 2016 never existed. She collaborated with G-Dragon, sending my happy ass over the moon with joy. At the Melon Music Awards, she looked so ethereal and captivated that whole audience with her voice and presence. I’m so glad she came back growing more as an artist.
Margaret: Cjontai, you took the words right out of my mouth!
For me, Red Velvet really solidified their place as a top-tier girl group this year with their three(!) comebacks, and more importantly, they developed a sound that is not only so uniquely theirs, but also extremely public-friendly. Out of all their comebacks, their latest one with “Peekaboo” was the strongest, in my opinion, because it added a darker and more mysterious dimension to the otherwise still peppy song.
No words are needed for IU — she really, truly killed it this 2017 with Palette, all of the tracks are timeless gems.
Winner was a group that also killed it this year — creating a characteristic sound of their own. Although they did not come back with a full album, the four singles that they did release were powerhouses in their own right, especially “Really Really”, and it’s just so heartwarming to see them get the public recognition that they so deserve — even if they were completely snubbed for Song of the Year nominations.
Cjontai: I couldn’t fully get on board with Winner because “Really Really” was a fun summer song, but that’s it. I feel like YGE dropped the ball this year for their artists.
I’m not downplaying their sales; those have been solid. My problem was the year-round support. For YG, it was lacking. They pushed out albums, but I feel like the main one discussed was GD’s Kwon Ji Yong. “Really Really” comes up in discussions of award shows and lit summer jams, but did anyone even remember the other title song? Why is that?
Again, that’s not a dig at Winner, but YG the company. They missed the mark.
Gaya: Winner could have had a bigger year for sure at the awards but they are benefiting from YG deciding to be more conventional by putting its idols on variety shows and releasing more music. I was genuinely surprised we got “Love Me Love Me” and “Island” at all; but despite the clear summer single angle they were going for, it doesn’t feel like a completely adequate follow up to the successful Fate Number For. Winner had a really really good 2017, but at this moment the engine is still revving up — I can’t wait to see what they have in store for 2018.
Margaret: BTS hit it big this year, especially with their latest comeback Love Yourself: Her, but I much preferred You Never Walk Alone. Both the new tracks on the repackaged album — “Spring Day” and “Not Today” — are absolutely iconic. What made me put BTS on my list was simply the growth that they show every comeback cycle, even though the songs off their newest album aren’t my cup of tea, I can really appreciate the musical artistry.
Cjontai, why did you put BTS down as first on your list?
Cjontai: I know somebody is going to scream “BIASED!”, but the receipts are all over the internet for BTS. They finally broke through that proverbial barrier in the U.S. that others struggled with. Of all the groups in K-pop, everyone predicted somebody from the Big 3, not Big Hit, would be the ones to hop that tricky hurdle. Does it mean K-pop has gone mainstream? No, but it does lay to rest a lot of the misconceptions of what most people thought a Korean artist would have to do for success.
Like IU, they’ve faced some unnecessary drama over their achievements. It reminded me of when Exo blew up and got crap too. Despite that, BTS continued doing what works for them, which is key here. I feel like the artists I picked did what suited them best, and that made the biggest impression on me.
I’m also always keeping an eye out for how these artists stay on the radar. Seventeen promoted all of their sub-units, and that was a smart move for Pledis Entertainment. I like how they switched up their choreography from sharp and energetic to soft and dramatic. It kept me excited for their comebacks because I wanted to know what was next.
Gaya: Looking at other commonalities on our lists, Cjontai and I both put down Day6. I have admired their dedication and discipline to their year-long concept. The accessibility of their monthly singles helped me to discover one of my favourite albums of 2017 in Sunrise and Moonrise is full of the sounds I tend to gravitate towards. These five kids worked so hard this year and deserve all the praise they are getting.
Cjontai: Everyday Day6 was a successful marketing tactic for the group. They didn’t explode in popularity, but their fan base definitely increased with the monthly comebacks. I know it sounds like I didn’t care about the music, but we can’t overlook how important promotions are. They had consistently good releases that drew in more listeners, but they couldn’t have accomplished that if JYPE left them rotting in the proverbial idol basement. They can potentially have a tour because they have a more stable, loyal fan base that will support it. More than anything, the end goal for any promotion should be leaving people wanting more — music, tours, everything.
Margaret: The one group that is unique to my list is Exo, and they really topped my list this year. I thought they couldn’t possibly top Exodus a few years ago, but then they went ahead and dropped Ex’act, which was my first place for comebacks in our End-of-Year Review last year. This year, they really surpassed themselves with The War, which is packed with all the summer anthems, jams, and bops that you could possibly want. I really enjoyed and appreciated how they went along a different route with the more tropical title track “Ko Ko Bop”, reflected not only musically but also performance-wise. It shows the group’s diversity in pursuing and releasing various styles of music instead of just sticking to one sound. Simply put, I have to majorly commend Exo as a huge veteran group to still stay on top — they truly deserve all the kudos!
Cjontai: I agree that Exo has been successful in maintaining their position as one of the top male K-pop groups. It’s not easy to do that, so I commend them for it. However, it wasn’t until their winter release Universe that I could hear their full abilities as vocalists. I’m a non-fan, so I usually have to like the title track to even consider listening to the full album. Like “Really Really”, “Ko Ko Bop” was a cute summer jam, but that’s all. I wasn’t feeling it mainly because island vibes were so popular this year. I think I got ear fatigue hearing it in so many comebacks.
That said, I wish SM would give them songs like “Universe” more often to prove they are all quite good at singing. I know the energetic tunes are their staple, but the ballads are quite nice too.
I did love “Ko Ko Bap” though, just for giving us a chill concept that wasn’t all angsty. And as terrible a song it is, “Power” was a fun spin on the superpower concept. Plus, it showed me what a Glados-King Turret lovechild would look like, so I can’t really complain.
Cjontai: Hopefully, I won’t actually have to wait until December 2018 for that affirmation. I’m honestly looking forward to what their juniors NCT will bring next year. I like all their sub-units, and their sound is steadily growing on me. Of course, I’d also like for f(x) to return because they’re long overdue for a comeback.
Heize and Sunmi almost made the cut. I saw Heize at Kcon, and I’m so proud of how far she’s come since Unpretty Rapstar season 2. Her music is soothing and just different enough to break away from the crowd. I feel like she shares that commonality with Sunmi since neither of them seemed to follow any trend that was happening in K-pop.
Of course, Sunmi owns every comeback, but I’m disappointed that she only had one this year. Had she done maybe one more song, she could’ve easily made the list. I needed more music from her. Anyone else have honorable mentions?
Gaya: I really liked Hyuna: “Babe” is one of my favourite songs of 2017 and while I’ve seen better attempts at combatting the male gaze and infantilisation in K-pop, I did appreciate the effort. It worried me that “Hip & Lip” was going to give us the same old Hyuna, but it worked so well as a companion piece to “Babe” while showcasing the brash and shocking Hyuna we know and love. One of the critiques I would level at “Babe” was that it felt a bit off-brand; “Lip & Hip” is more successful in avoiding this pitfall.
Cjontai: I’m honestly looking forward to what their juniors NCT will bring next year. I like all their sub-units, and their sound is steadily growing on me. Of course, I’d also like for f(x) to return because they’re long overdue for a comeback.
Margaret: So much goes on in K-pop, it can get very difficult to really keep up to date on the latest comebacks; I’m glad that this discussion allowed us to look back on the year and choose (with much difficulty, at least for me!) our top comebacks of the year.
2017 wasn’t a great year for K-pop by far, so let’s hope the new year will see the healthy and complete return of all our favourite artists!
Readers, what comebacks did you enjoy this year, and what are you looking forward to in 2018? Let us know in the comments below!