Summer is a highlight of the year. Spring-time softness is left behind and replaced with summertime fun. Similar to the American movie industry, there is a deluge of releases from big names, catching our attention with catchy hooks and lively melodies.
This brings us to the summer of this year. By August, we usually already have a summer hit that stands out from the rest and liked by all. In better years, there are usually a handful of classic summertime songs. But this year, there is a sentiment that the summer has been, for a lack of a better term, dull. This month, we ask our writers: what releases have stood out this summer? What particular trends are contributing to such a sentiment? Are there any anticipated comebacks within the month that can save us?
Qing: Who stole our summer bops? In the past few years, K-pop has been leaning heavily towards ravey, but often anticlimactic, instrumental breakdowns in place of a well-developed chorus with a proper melody. But this preference usually lets up in summer, the season in which pure pop takes center stage. In fact, with the right production choices, it doesn’t prevent a song from being a summer bop, as Seventeen‘s “Very Nice” proves. I still can’t wrap my head around why we haven’t had that one song to define 2019 K-pop summer—a “Loving U” or “Red Flavour”.
As far as eschewing trends go, rookie groups often take the lead. It’s a practical choice, as it can help them to stand out from the crowd. Giving the wearied future bass and tropical houses trend a wide berth is Nature‘s “I’m So Pretty”, a wonderful, brassy reimagination of the Wonder Girls‘ “So Hot”. It’s playful, confident, and committed to delivering pure pop, its energy level never flagging for a moment.
Ateez, in contrast, dives right into tropical house with “Wave”. Aided by excellent vocal arrangements, they turn the cliched genre into a breath of fresh air. The chorus is sparse on singing, but the soaring melodies of the verses transport the listener straight to vast beaches sparkling in the sun, complete with blinding blue skies.
I also enjoyed Pentagon‘s “Humph!”. As a mid-tempo hip-hop track, it’s not quite an upbeat earworm worthy of summer hit status. But its mischievous, childish style has an irresistible charm, and it embodies the fun spirit of the season. Finally, Day6‘s “Time of Our Life” also stands out with its summer rock festival vibe and hopeful tone.
Pat: Remember when we’d get hits like Beast‘s “Beautiful Night”? Those were the days. Also, where are the girl groups? Girl groups are usually those who dominate the summer (see AOA, Sistar, and Girl’s Day), but with most following the current trend, they become indistinguishable from the crowd.
I do think that the continuation of the minimalist trend is the main culprit. This is a trend that has been building up for the past couple of years and has come to its peak…leaving us with a rather dull summer. It seems that most are eschewing finding a good song progression for following the trend — see NCT Dream‘s “Boom” as an example. I love “Boom,” but as a song, it goes nowhere. Contrast this with last year’s NCT Dream release, “We Go Up,” where there is a tension that builds, the chorus distinct from the verses, with a vibe that calls for the song to be played during a road trip. There is a certain summer feel in “We Go Up” that is missing from “Boom” — which honestly would work better as a late winter or early spring release.
Aside from Pentagon’s “Humph!”, Chungha‘s “Snapping” is a standout, although the song would do well despite what time of the year it is. May I also offer Verivery‘s “Tag Tag Tag” which continues the group’s New Jack-Swing inspired “Ring Ring Ring”? While the sound isn’t anything new, and despite the horror-inspired MV, it has a certain brightness due to the strength of its production. Another is Itzy‘s “Icy”, which benefits from the youthful energy Itzy manages to infuse despite its loudness. The final two groups are rookie groups, which adds evidence to Qing’s observation.
Denise: The biggest summer hits in past years tend to be ones that diverged from this trend, but I think we’re all in agreement that most of K-pop has relied on the tropical house sound or beat drops to channel summer-like vibes in recent years. I feel that most artists have just run out of ideas on how to do summer without being too cliched, especially since there hasn’t been any new music fad for artists to join in on since, so they’ve just given up on altogether. One group that does try and does it well is VAV with “Give Me More”. The song initially felt unoriginal to me (it was produced by Latin producers Play-N-Skillz, who were also behind Super Junior’s “Lo Siento”) but it’s well-executed, and I find myself returning to it pretty often.
I’m also surprised that nobody has mentioned WJSN’s “Boogie Up”! They are, after all, Sistar’s younger sisters, and you can’t talk summer without Sistar. “Boogie Up” is admittedly not as energetic and memorable as a Sistar summer song, but it’s a pleasant, refreshing release that fits in nicely with their preexisting discography.
While I haven’t enjoyed many of the more polarising releases like Red Velvet’s “Zimzalabim” or Itzy’s “Icy”, my summer was actually saved by Seventeen’s “Hit”! We’ve been lacking unique, impactful comebacks until Seventeen swooped in with the exhilarating “Hit”. Otherwise, I’m also hoping that The Boyz’ upcoming comeback will add more color and life to the otherwise mostly underwhelming summer.
Sadie: It’s true, summer of 2019 has been lacking in those summer anthem contenders. Even though it feels like its been nonstop with releases and debuts for so many groups, no one has claimed that ‘Summertime hit of 2019’ title –yet.
One of the reasons could be the fact that the spring of 2019 has brought about strong releases that most of us are still bopping to– BTS “Boy with Luv”, Twice “Fancy”, Mamamoo “Gogo bebe”. Of course, this is not to say that the summer releases have been bad, but nothing has outdone the spring releases (for me).
There are a few that have done well so far–I do agree with Patricia–Chungha’s “Snapping” is a hit for all seasons and has paraded her effortless swagger perfectly. Ateez’s latest EP is full of underrated tunes filled with great vocals and vibrant energy that has been on repeat for me personally. Plus, who doesn’t want to be singing ‘Hakuna Matata-ya!’ all the way to a sunny beach!
On the other side of the spectrum are the releases that disappointed. Red Velvet’s “Zimzalabim” had the chance at the summer hit status with the bright festival themes, but missed its chance at charming listeners. Another one on the list is EXO-SC with “What a life”. Being EXO members meant that expectations were high for the rap duo, but I felt the track was unoriginal and quite forgettable, to put it quite bluntly.
However, with some time left to the season, there are a few that have the potential to claim the title. X1, the new boy group debuting of Produce X101 and Everglow comeback are definitely two to look out for.
Celina: Boy, it has been a dull summer! There were no summer songs that stir feelings in me like previous years. There have been attempts at summer songs with typical tropical beats but I felt like they sounded like any summer song. I agree with Denise that artists just don’t know how to tackle this without sounding trite.
However, I was a fan of NCT Dream’s collaboration with HRVY. I thought the song was youthful and catchy. I also enjoyed The Rose‘s comeback with its fun rock-pop track. Still, neither song stayed stuck in my head like former summer songs.
At this time, I don’t think anyone can save this summer unless Sistar decided to miraculously get back together.
Gina: With a week or so of summer left, I personally doubt that a last-minute comeback can truly save summer. While a handful of releases have stood out with their creativity, most of them played it safe. I agree with the other writers that this season, the K-pop industry took a toll with most releases relying on the laid-back, anticlimactic drop technique over a strong, refreshing pop genre. Awaiting the summer classics is sadly now more of a nostalgic feature of K-pop, which has also had to do with the 2nd generation groups’ disbandments as of late. Some rookies have pleasantly surprised the public with their catchy tunes, though most of the diversity is found in the genre as opposed to instrumental execution.
The few releases that did personally stand out are Jinu’s “Call Anytime,” The Rose’s “RED,” DAY6’s “Time of Our Life,” Chungha’s “Snapping,” Ateez’ “Wave” and “Illusion,” and Woosung’s “Face.” Although these releases are distinct from the standard pop genre, they stood out with their own color and spunk amidst the more forgettable tracks. Jinu offered a fresh, 80’s groovy take as his successful solo debut, while DAY6, Woosung, and the rest of The Rose provided classic rock tracks to bang one’s head to while on a beach road trip. Chungha’s release would admittedly have done well any time of the year, but it was nonetheless a stepping stone for her personal discography. And lastly, Ateez showed new, creative takes over something familiar. It was pleasantly surprising to hear them take creative control over their delivery by playing around with their verses and melodies.
Overall, we should look more forward to new ideas than another version of the standard. Here’s hoping the industry will be brave enough to initiate said new ideas by next year.
Kalia: I agree with Sadie that the majority of memorable releases was in the summer, but it felt like some of them didn’t have much lasting power. “Play It Cool” by Monsta X and “Boom” by NCT Dream are prime examples of this. I was (and still am) a big fan of what Monsta X and Steve Aoki did with the “Play It Cool” remix, but that was released in late March. The fact that it was followed up with the dramatic and sultry “Who Do You Love” felt like a missed opportunity. In a similar vein was Baekhyun’s “UN Village” and City Lights EP. I love most of the tracks from that EP, but the last thing I want to do at the beach is blast sultry RnB. With “Boom” I absolutely love the song, but there’s nothing about it that feels like summer to me.
As for songs I actually like, Red Velvet‘s “Umpah Umpah” is a refreshing return to their summer-y sound, but I think a part of me will always be looking for their summer singles to match that “Red Flavor” energy.
I’ve also really enjoyed “Time of Our Life” by Day6, “Hit” by Seventeen, and “Icy” by Itzy. While I’m not yet sure if they’re songs I’ll be returning to next summer, or even as we go into fall, each offered something very unique to a season typically dominated by tropical house and Latin pop. All in all, while this was arguably the busiest summer for K-Pop with a new world tour or festival or morning show appearance every week, it’s definitely going down as a forgettable one music-wise.
Lo: I feel like we’re just going to have to write off 2019 as the weakest K-pop summer in recent memory. There have been EPs I’ve greatly enjoyed- Itzy’s Icy, Chungha’s Flourishing, and Days 1 and 2 of Red Velvet’s ReVe Festival. The closest I came to a song ruling my summer was “Sunny Side Up!”, which honestly highlights the issue I’ve had with this summer. I feel like everyone is acting too cool for school; it’s all languid beats and false chill, whereas the summer hits of years past, such as “Loving U”, are very high-energy. Even “Zimzalabim” isn’t a very energetic release; it’s got a high BPM but Red Velvet sound very laid-back on the track. I just want a track with some pep and verve to make me enjoy the summer. Instead, we got a year where everyone was too busy melting in the sun.
What about you? What have been your favorite summer songs this year? Let us know in the comments below.
(Images via SM Entertainment, Starship Entertainment, MNH Entertainment, Pledis Entertainment, Stone Music Entertainment, KQ Entertainment, Cube Entertainment, AQ Entertainment, Studio J Entertainment, JYP Entertainment)