The 2014 Annual K-Pop Sluggie Awards – Because What Would A Blog Be Without A Personal Favorite List Masquerading As Universal Truth

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We’re almost done with 2014, which means that it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the past year and what K-Pop has bestowed on the world in the last twelve months. Some of it was average, some of it was great and some of it was Clara. Looking back, 2014 was a pretty strong year. Without further ado, your annual Sluggies* go to…

*Sluggies are voted on by the various media experts, industry insiders and musical critics that reside within my head.

Biggest Shakeup of 2014:

Jessica Jung Is Removed From SNSD:

jessica jung weibo message

Proving that no one is untouchable in K-Pop, the biggest girl group in the scene rocked the world with their first roster change ever. But what made it all the weirder was that the announcement wasn’t even made through a company spokesperson and it wasn’t leaked to a reporter. The fact that Jessica broke the news on her social media account caused many to think that it was a hack until… it wasn’t.

Best Rookie Debut That I Tragically Slept On:

Mamamoo – “Mr. Ambiguous”

Just… damn. I usually make it a practice to ignore rookie hype because so many groups come and go with nary a whimper but that clearly backfired in 2014 where there were more than a few standout rookie debuts.  The nod goes to Mamamoo for their incredibly confident and assured funky throwback sound. “Mr. Ambiguous” has the look and sound of a SPICA song and that’s about the highest compliment I can pay a rookie group.

Runner ups: Purfles, “1,2,3”, Wings “Hair Short”. Damn, what a good year for rookies.

Best Solo Debut of 2014:

Jiyeon “1Min 1Sec (Never Ever)”

Granted, this one is more for the surprisingly artistic vision of the video but Jiyeon’s solo debut also incorporates a pretty catchy chorus and an understated but appropriately creepy beat to go with its imagery. It runs circles around T-ara mate Hyomin’s solo debut and manages to squeak by Hyosung’s (“K-I-S-S-I-N-G”) and Nicole Jung’s (the beat is a little lackluster in comparison).*

*I really wanted to put Clara’s debut here but couldn’t, even for funsies.

Runner Up: Hyosung – “Good-night Kiss”

Best Songs of 2014:

It was incredibly hard for me to nail down just one, so here’s the top three after much hemming and hawing.

3. Hyuna – “Red”

“Red” somehow hits a rather hard mark. It is meticulously put together and yet it often sounds on the verge of chaos. While it would have been easy for this song to fly off the rails, “Red” keeps things tight through a mixture of Hyuna’s ability to transition from semi-rapping to semi-singing with ease and a chorus that ranks among the best bangers of the year. Like a nice wine, this one somehow improves on each additional listen.

2. T-ara – “Sugar Free”

As much undeserved flack as T-ara gets for its scandals (and as much deserved flack as they get for their video editing), the group has consistently put out some of the best music in K-Pop and “Sugar Free” is yet another standout T-ara track. The EDM beat is a perfect mix of quick hitting techno beats and sublime synths that T-ara has grown to call their own over the past two years. It’s a breathless, demanding song that more or less compels a listener to stomp around the dance floor. In other words, “Sugar Free” is pretty damn perfect.

1. FIESTAR – “One More”

I’m pretty sure this was my most played K-Pop song of the year. Sure, “One More” isn’t particularly challenging and the beat is basic funk but the combination of rich, lavish bass, light synths and a ridiculously catchy chorus of “la-la’s” is devastatingly effective. I couldn’t ask for more out of a K-Pop song.

Runner Ups: SPICA – “You Don’t Love Me”, Mamamoo – “Mr. Ambiguous”

Best Music Videos of 2014:

3.  TVXQ – “Spellbound”

SM Entertainment knows the ins and outs of a great dance-in-a-box concept and TVXQ has two of the best veteran performers in the game. “Spellbound” may not blow away anyone with a hugely ambitious set-piece but the combination of a great neo-soul sound and the video’s quietly clever editing makes for an all-around great experience. Seriously, slow pans and fewer cuts often makes for better music videos. If only more K-Pop video editors could learn to show this kind of restraint.

2. Orange Caramel – “Catallena” (and “My Copycat”) 

Just put After School out of its misery. Orange Caramel is where it’s at. The trio’s videos are consistently inventive, memorable and whimsical, a combination which is hard to pull off once, let alone with every single damn release. Such is the magic of the Cult of Caramel. It would have been a crime to exclude either from this list so let’s just include both.

1.  f(x) – “Red Light”

The set design, lighting and editing in “Red Light” is so great that it’s almost easy to skip over the other excellent components of “Red Light.” The production represents a step forward for f(x) – the sound is a bit more aggressive but still within f(x)’s wheelhouse of synth and electronic-heavy pop music. The vocals create an illusion of monotony which creates a tension that the spastic synths masterfully heighten until things come to a boil with the triumphant release provided by Krystal, Amber (Amber!) and Luna. Some songs may have been more catchy (again, shout out to “One More”) and some videos may have been more creative (Orange Caramel’s everything) but “Red Light” created a total package which will go down as my personal favorite, erhm, the unequivocal best music video of 2014.

Runner Ups: Crayon Pop – “Uh-ee”, SNSD “Mr. Mr.”

 

 

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33 comments

  1. I can’t really disagree with any of your rankings, but somehow this gem from Sistar’s “I Swear” has to make it on the list somewhere. Bora’s bum is perfection.

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAcQjRw&url=http%3A%2F%2Ficiyu.tumblr.com%2F&ei=2DKjVNugFtWqyASL-YKYAw&bvm=bv.82001339,d.aWw&psig=AFQjCNF-9FeM2FlQ7qdueeEXdtY4fXtxew&ust=1420067720415292

  2. Whoops a case of premature commentation with that first post. Maybe this will work better.

    I can’t really disagree with any of your rankings, but somehow this gem from Sistar’s “I Swear” has to make it on the list somewhere. Bora’s bum is perfection.

    Fiestar’s “One More” should win some awards, but unfortunately the suggestive content will prevent that and that also quickly knocked it off the charts since they couldn’t perform it live and likely a bunch of the major network radio couldn’t play it either. It’s a downer as it is a great song and I think it might have moved up the charts some if it had been performed and played more. It does look like Fiestar is working on an album based on their Facebook postings, so hopefully we get something from them in the Spring and more than just a single. Hopefully Cao Lu’s Korean has improved as well and she gets to sing more.

    1. If there had been a best gif award, this would have been mentioned (must make note for next year).

      1. It’s probably sad as I should be watching Bora’s bum, but I just realized there is a major continuity error in the video. the group pulled up in the Camaro with the top down and all three sitting in it. Notice the top is up and no one is sitting in or standing near it. I guess they must have figured it would take Bora so long to sashay through the restaurant to the car that they could all go to the convenience store next door to get snacks or make instant noodles.

        I should have never found this gif. It’s mesmerizing. I can’t take my eyes off it.

        Imagine being the cameraman who got the assignment to film this on that that day and all the other cameramen are jealous, but perhaps he went home to his wife or girlfriend and had to lie about what he got to do that day, as he’d be on the couch if he told the truth.

  3. Fleur De Seoul · · Reply

    Fiestars song was one where the video was so american apparel ad that it made me feel skeevy and i could never get through the whole thing

    1. My advice, listening to it is good enough.

    2. I don’t think I have ever seen an American Apparel ad, which maybe is good as it allowed me to enjoy the video and like the slug that song really got stuck in my head

  4. I still don’t get FIESTAR… but maybe I’m not meant to. I agree with everything else on this list! Happy New Year Oppar!

    1. I’m in the same boat. Love “One More” but that’s about it so far. Happy New Year!

  5. Best Girl Group of 2014 (and possibly of all time): Orange Caramel

  6. black soshi · · Reply

    Wonsungi eongdeongineun ppalgae (what?!)
    Ppalgan geon Hyuna Hyunaneun (yeah)

    Clara Lee at the wax museum should have been favorite social media post of the year. You can always edit this list!

    1. Considering I dedicated a whole post to “Clara Lee takes pictures of herself at a wax museum” that kinda goes without saying haha. Honorary “Best use of social media – Clara Lee every single year” award right here.

      1. We have got to get you and Clara together. I think we could get a kickstarter going for you to stalk her around South Korea for a week, rummage through her trash bin, sneak into her dressing room, hacking her phone, showing up where she is having dinner and sitting with her, bailing you out of jail, paying your fine so they can just deport you, etc. 🙂

        At least it would make an epic blog entry. Though I still like the idea of sending you over to sniff Jessica to tell us what her cologne would smell like if it was called “Jessica.”

  7. I believe another shake up is EunB and RiSe deaths which made me really sad even though i didnt really listen to the group it made me so depressed

    1. True, I considered that before thinking that bestowing an “award” for it would have been in poor taste. Certainly a significant event.

    2. That certainly was one of the saddest stories this year. I too felt really bad for many days reading about it. I guess as I get older (I’m 47) I feel things differently and some sad things really hit me hard. I was also pretty bummed over Jessica’s ouster, but that was simply a sadness at seeing something I enjoyed undone. This event though was a completely different feeling as it was a permanent event. Jessica can still go on a live a long happy life and while the odds are remote, maybe she returns to the group one day. These girls were just gone and at such a young age and they died for such a stupid reason, a manager going over 20 MPH over the speed limit, in heavy rain, late at night after they had likely all been up since before dawn and were exhausted because they were tying to earn that Nth dollar. What is that extra payday worth now, less than nothing. I sure hope those two girls never knew what hit them and never felt any pain. I hope too that the survivors of the wreck don’t recall much of it either and don’t remember seeing anything that would haunt their dreams seeing something gruesome happen to one of their friends. Their lives will likely be much easier and happier if there are about 30 seconds of their life that they simply can’t recall and hopefully never will.

      I would hope the legacy of those two is that the industry will do a better job of being safer running these idols all over the country with schedules that are too tight and force managers to speed to get places on time. I kind of doubt it will happen as everyone in the industry figures it can’t happen to their company or their group even though we see at least a story per month about a group involved in an auto accident and some quite serious with members injured.

      I also don’t know if it has ever come out as a fact or not whether they were wearing their seat belts and their injuries were in large part due to being tossed around, or whether they were wearing their belts and just had the bad luck to be riding in the part of the car that got crushed the worst. I would hope that part of their legacy would result in an effort by other idols to buckle up as they do have quite an impact on young people regarding things like wearing seat belts. I’m not talking about PSA’s. I am talking about when they are on TV riding in a van and they are not wearing their belt. They can lead by example. I hope we never have to have another accident like that one, but I suspect there will be other fatal accidents where a manager was speeding to a show and the passengers weren’t all wearing their belts or the speed meant that even with the belts the impact on their bodies was simply too much.

      I hope the surviving members come back to the business eventually though in what manner that would be I am not sure. I had kind of hoped that they might make an appearance on one of the award shows or at one of the end of the year music shows just coming on stage to present an award or as a surprise interview as I think the crowds would have reacted warmly to that and it would be a way to get them on stage again in a baby step mentally and emotionally.

      I’d think in some ways that retiring Ladies Code as a group name would be appropriate with two of the five members having passed and maybe they start fresh with two new members under a new group name. Maybe they can make it as a trio, but I see very few trios in K-pop unless they are a sub-unit for a much bigger group like Orange Caramel or TTS. It seems like four or five is the minimum for most groups. I don’t know how fans would feel about the remaining three teaming up with a new pair to make a new five member group. No matter what they do someone will probably be butt-hurt about it and whining online.

      Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see these girls on stage again. They went through something pretty horrific and I can see them being utterly uncomfortable with ever getting in a van again knowing they are late for a schedule or freaking out when a manager starts to speed again to make an appointment. I can also see that this event could have sucked the enjoyment of what is already a very hard and stressful job right out of them and they find when they get back into the studio that it’s not a healing feeling, but a sad reminder of Rise and EunB being gone. You never know though. Many groups manage to press on after a tragic event. Lynnyrd Skynnrd moved on after losing several key band members in a plane crash, but I can’t recall if there best work was behind them after that or not as I wasn’t a real fan of theirs. Gloria Estefan was in a horrible tour bus accident and returned to performing for a while, but she was a soloist and it was some of her road crew killed and not group members. I guess a lot depends on the person.

      Even if the whole group didn’t decide to call it quits, one or two still might. Their company has to tread carefully as I don’t think any of them will really know how they feel until they really try to climb back in the saddle for the first time again and go through the prep for recording and a promotion cycle and see how they feel. They might get deep into it and then suddenly a member gets cold feet going out on stage again at a showcase stage for the new album or before a TV show performance. The company probably has to accept that very real risk that any of these girls could think she is fine with returning and suddenly can’t do it may be at a very inconvenient time.

      I will say that the company seems to have said the right things during this and has mentioned that the members had returned to Seoul after spending some time recuperating and being with their families. I haven’t heard anything since that announcement several months ago now. I don’t know if that is a good sign or a bad one or simply that it is very slow going for the members and the company trying to figure out what is best to do going forward.

      1. Indeed. I still can’t listen to any of their songs. It just makes me sad, and that is the exact opposite of why I listen to this music. I’m no stranger to death, and this affected me way more than it should have. I guess because they were just so young and so talented and brought me nothing but joy. Ugh.

        Anyway, here’s hoping that 2015 will be a much more drama and tragedy free.

  8. so.. any Mamamoo members are waifu-worthy?

    Whasa’s mine btw.

  9. Interesting selection. Ah, you finally came around to giving ‘Wings’ credit for what I think is the best way song of 2014. Pleasantly surprised to see ‘One More’ ccupy top spot too. Can’t wait for their comeback.
    Happy New Year!

  10. Here is crossing my fingers that F(x) doesn’t have any more Sulli drama (Either she behaves or SM puts her out to acting only pasture) and we get a full promotion cycle from F(x) next time and an album as strong as Red Light and Pink Tape were. It truly sucked that this group has such a good album and it is almost forgotten about in many ways as the group cancelled promotions so quickly and never got a chance to let it bake in fully. Though it was good to see that the album sold over 100k copies without a full promotion cycle. Only SNSD sold more physical albums as a girl group, and third place was way behind f(x) if I recall correctly on the end of year Gaon chart. It’s a shame that SM almost seems afraid to promote this group as hard as they promote SNSD. It’s almost a bit like they are afraid they might eclipse their other girl group or that the senior group might get their noses bent out of joint if the junior group was more successful or had better material. Boy wouldn’t that be a problem to have, two top tier girl groups at the same label and having to massage egos…lol. Most companies and their shareholders would kill for that even with the headaches that might go with it. This group has a lot going for it and their songs are always something fresh and interesting. At least they seem to keep the members of the group working plenty on the side and supposedly Amber is going to get a solo album which might be very interesting as she can rap, but she actually has a pretty good singing voice too.

    I have to agree that T-ara is nothing but consistent at least since I have been paying attention to K-pop. Their stuff is great dance music. I liked Sugar Free, but I loved Number 9. That bullying thing was such a fiasco with the way it was handled by their company. At least it seems like it is largely forgotten now.

    I see Hyuna got some love this week from Rolling Stone making their top 10 videos list for the year. K-pop isn’t mainstream and it may never be in the US, but it is making inroads with the music press in the US and that has some trickle down effect.

    One omission on your list that I would have like to see would have been for female soloist for Ailee’s “Singing Got Better.” That was such great song and the video was well done too, but it came out very early last January and kind of gets forgotten due to her other successful release later in the year.

  11. Thank you for recognizing Wing’s Hair Short. It’s been a long time since a song brought me as much joy as that one. I think I remember that you totally ignored it when it came out, so good on you for correcting that omission. My next favorite (funny enough) was Short Hair by AoA. But I won’t quibble with your other choices.

    And thanks. I still look forward to all of your posts and they have added to my enjoyment of this crazy genre. Here’s to many more years of Waifus and Boram avoidance.

    1. Thank you for sticking around and adding your voice here.

      More Waifus and Boram avoidance are coming for sure.

  12. rohaniyerdxb · · Reply

    I agree with this list almost entirely (specially since only one of these videos is not on my kpop playlist – ‘never ever’).

    Besides this, 2014 is the year Apink really made some major strides toward becoming a top tier act and that makes me happy. They also crushed it during the special ‘Sexy Stage’ at the KBS song festival. Just … Wow!!
    Apink and Mamamoo were my two favorite acts this year by a mile. I also started to see some of the appeal of AOA (it’s all Hyejeong).

    Sadly, Nine Muses were completely dormant musically (Hyuna’s song about her cats doesn’t count) and i don’t see how they will recover from Sera’s departure. Fiestar partially compensated for the net sexiness deficit I guess… And Hello Venus. From songs about tea, to stick sticky it sure escalated quickly.

    Lastly, even though it doesn’t really fit the theme of what is usually presented here, “Some” was a superb track. Soyu looked lovely every time she performed it live.

  13. Victor Delacroix · · Reply

    Oh HELL YEAHHHHH
    Red Light was my best for the year too. Best video, best song — hell, I was even pretty damn into the album that brought the whole thing our way. “Dracula” is something I’ve been waiting for for a long, long time.

  14. Agreed. Especially with the best songs and best solo debut.

  15. black soshi · · Reply

    So usually I take what the Slug says as gospel and Nike whatever it is. That being said, I never gave Red Light that much of a chance, maybe just one listen. Before my discovery of this site I did the same thing with IGAB, and after I was over the initial shock I have recognized it as one of the most insanely perfect compositions of sound I’ve ever heard(I know I am one of few, but whatever).
    So after downloading Red Light last night and listening to it 10 times I have decided that it should have won Video AND Song of the year. Just superb from beginning to end. Its funny how both these songs have an outstanding O-a-O vocal riff in them, must be an SM thing. Amber has a good voice, Vic and Sulli are hot. Luna kills. Krystal…I love her, hot, beautiful, a Jung. But why oh why does she have to sound SO MUCH like Jessica?sobs
    From this day forward I will never doubt the Yellow Slug. You are all-knowing and your wisdom is beyond comprehension.
    And doesn’t Sugar Free have a Prodigy “Smack My Bitch Up” thing happening? That’s actually pretty good too. And ridiculously hot.
    Better late than never.

    1. Thanks! “Red Light” is a gem. My all-knowing wisdom is a tad overblown haha (though just a bit).

  16. sugar free.. sugar free..

  17. Thank you for finally recognizing Mamamoo. They are my obsession. Have you watched their other project MVs (Peppermint Chocolate, Don’t Smile, Piano Man)? And their minialbum was excellent all around. Every single one of their performances is different and completely hnng-worthy.
    Wheein is my bias but I don’t even know who to nominate for Waifu Wednesday, they’re all so damn hot to me.
    Also aside from costuming, I don’t get Red Light? The song just never worked for me.
    Most of this year was a long tragedy, though.

    1. I just went to search up some Mamamoo videos because of the craving and found this from a week ago…. Damn. I just really want to share this with someone.

    2. Yeah, I’m really digging Mamamoo now that I’ve given them a chance. I’m sure they’ll find their way into Waifu Wednesday as well. “Red Light” seemed like a hit or miss for some but it just clicked with me. It’s so incredibly claustrophobic but fun to listen to and watch.

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