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:
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.”