It has been a curious year so far for K-pop dances. Normally, there are a multitude of standouts, where it becomes hard to select one’s top picks for our Mid-Year Reviews. But this year, as I watched forty dance practices to make my top list (and yes, I am doing this solo again), I found dismay instead.

Dances have always been my favorite part of K-pop, just comes with being a dancer myself. K-pop is, to me, the whole package, where the singer does not just sing but also dances. It is a presentation to underline the qualities of the song. That is why when I look at a dance, I always look to see if it has a good connection with the song’s lyrics and energy. There are some dances too energetic for their song, as if wanting to only showcase their complex dances. But does that do the song justice, is always a question I ask.

But ultimately, it has always meant that I had a range of selections to choose from. This year was different.

This year, I found that many dances used the same style and thus became predictable. They were good dances, yes, but they did not stand out due to their sameness, to the point where I had trouble distinguishing between certain groups. Why, I’d even argue that some of them could change dances and it would still fit the group’s image and the song being promoted.

This is why, for this year’s Mid Year Review: Dance, my top three focus on those dances where there was something unique, something that made them stand out. These are dances that sure, another soloist or group may be able to do, but they wouldn’t be able to pull them off in the same way as the original artist did.

Hoshi – “Spider

As soon as I saw this dance, I knew in my heart of hearts that this would be my top song. Where do I even begin with Hoshi’s showcase of artistry in “Spider?”

I have seen some say that this is very Taemin-esque and I couldn’t agree more! But while there is inspiration, this is in no way imitation. Hoshi is known to be a ShaWol and idolizes Taemin. But with “Spider” Hoshi shows he is still his own artist, even if he may come from the school of Taemin. This is through the way Hoshi varies modern hiphop dance in the chorus with more contemporary-esque dances in the verses.

“Spider” is how you make use of props, utilizing them to their full potential from start to finish. From the opening shot, where Hoshi is hanging on to the bars, one can already understand the imagery that will be used and repeated in the dance. Then there is the final chorus, where Hoshi starts from one end and moves to the center, line by line, requiring precision from him and his backup dancers.

But at the same time, Hoshi is not limited to this jungle gym he’s created. During the second verse and chorus, he leaves the premises to have a more traditional dance. And even then, it is not done just by stepping out. No, he uses contemporary-esque lines and sensibilities to move towards the end of the line, his backup dancers being obstacles for him to overcome. But once he is out of the web, he is still not free from the tangles of the spider. It is in this dance that he still continues to lean into the spider theme, with his backup dancers constraining him, even to the point of him being pulled back to position.

One thing I appreciate is that the women dancers are not just there to look pretty. They also have a role in the dance. From getting their own segments dancing with Hoshi, to the final shot where they form a web behind Hoshi, they are utilized amazingly well.

Pixy – “Wings”

Something that I hope becomes a trend is girl groups with dances as complex as boy groups. While I love simple dances for simple songs (WSJN The Black‘s “Easy” comes to mind) I think there is something also delightful in watching girls prove they can dance just as good as the boys. Itzy‘s “Mafia In the Morning” and Everglow‘s “First” both have dances that could be seen as part of this starting trend.

But the group that did this so well that they’re in my top three are Pixy. What a way to debut. The choreography for “Wings” does one of my favorite things: combine hip hop sensibilities with contemporary details. And it is in doing this that “Wings”‘ choreography is one we often see boy groups do, while not hesitating to have flourishes that are feminine yet strong.

A moment in the choreography where one can see this is in the pre-chorus and the chorus. From 2:33 of the dance practice onwards, there are wave-like movements from a member being held–or perhaps it is to illustrate the breaking out of a cocoon to grow wings? Nonetheless, this moment illustrates their ability to go from delicate yet strong contemporary movements with light arches of their arms, to strong and angular movements that are more hip-hop-based.

There is great texture in the dance–that is, they are great at expressing the beats and melody with the variation of choreography, all while keeping the flow intact. Then there are the different levels done throughout, creating an interesting dynamic from start to finish.

This, in combination with evocative imagery that makes use of the six members plus the backup dancers, is why “Wings” is one of my top choices so far.

Sunmi – “Tail”

This choreography combines both Sunmi’s quirky personality and sensuality to compliment the song, and somehow it works. It is uniquely her and matches the tone and mood of “Tail” perfectly without missing a beat.

Where “Tail” shines is in how the choreography makes use of the backup dancers. It is not enough just to remain static or to just have Sunmi in the middle. Instead, the dancers are part of a whole that highlights Sunmi. The formations are different from the very start and connect to the theme of “Tail” perfectly.

Honestly, I want to get an interview from “Tail”‘s choreographer about how they came up with this concept. It’s evocative. It’s unique. It’s Sunmi.

One such moment where the dancers are used to their potential is in 1:48 of the dance practice. This is where Sunmi is off to the side while the dancers are in two lines. They reach out to her, choke her, and then she whacks them down to the beat of the song.

To highlight the imagery of a tail, they also make use of trance-like movements. There is the moment above, finger going left and right in the pre-chorus, and the leg movement in 2:01 which is then repeated with a line of dancers in 3:03. The dance break at 3:08-3:20 also evokes the tail imagery, where the dancer’s legs move to be Sunmi’s tail.

Some honorable mentions include Kang Daniel‘s “Paranoia” which features choreography interesting due to its twitchiness, serving the song’s lyrics and melody. Treasure‘s “My Treasure” feels nostalgic since it has a simplicity that was present in early 2010’s K-pop, but with the sharp movements and sensibilities of modern K-pop. Of course, Taemin’s “Advice” deserves a mention due to how freeing it is for the artist and the backup dancers, allowing a flow of expression that uplifts the song. In the same vein, Hyuna’s “I’m Not Cool” also made my shortlist due to her personality shining bright.

It’ll be interesting to see how the year unfolds. As of writing, Seventeen have just made their comeback (with a dance that I like as it underlines the strengths of the song, and is solidly in my Top 10 so far) and Loona, a frequent feature on this list, is set to come back as well. Will the second half of the year be stronger? Or will it be as meh as I find it so far?

Of course, these are all my opinions. Feel free to tell me your top dances so far!

(YouTube [1][2][3], Images via ALLART Entertainment, HYBE, Happy Tribe Entertainment, MakeUs Entertainment)