The Best and Worst of K-Pop: August 2019

September is almost over, so you know what that means. Academic Exiles is finally ready to post our list of the best songs of August! See you on Halloween, when we’re finally ready to talk about this month.

WORST

“Hit” by Seventeen

S: Whatever “hit sound” is, it isn’t for me. To be fair, I don’t hate this song. The verses are okay, and I can even accept the chanty pre-chorus thing. But you know what I can’t deal with? That chorus. It’s just a lot of noise and “oh” sang in a way that really makes it sound like they are saying “boom.” At least, I think they’re singing “oh.” That’s what one English translation I found said, but a couple others just left that part blank. So I guess it’s probably “oh,” but it could be “boom.” Hey, there’s even a possibility that it’s “woah.” I like Seventeen, and honestly, I expect more from them than a chorus that’s primarily incoherent mouth noises. Here’s hoping the full album they just released has more to offer.

A: Seventeen’s “Home” is easily one of my favorite songs of the year. It manages to sound both big and spare, catchy and intimate, making it an innovative, refreshing song. “Hit” is none of those things—except big. I mean, does anyone want 13 young men yelling an indiscernible noise at them over and over again? Because that’s what this chorus is. I actually have a pretty high tolerance for guys yelling at me—in K-Pop songs, that is. After all, I listen to the Stray Kids. However, this was just too much. But here’s some reassurance Stephanie—this song is not representative of the rest of their enjoyable album, Ode. 

“Umpah Umpah” by Red Velvet

S: Oh Red Velvet, I want to like you, but since “Bad Boy,” I’ve been pretty disappointed in your comebacks. I didn’t love “Zimzalabim,” but it was different enough to be intriguing. I was looking forward to seeing what the group would do next. “Umpah Umpah,” however, ditches anything that resembles musical experimentation and delivers something so conventionally pop, it’s bland. It may be bright and breezy, but it’s ultimately something forgettable—regardless of what the chorus says.

A: Stephanie isn’t the only one finding it hard to like Red Velvet. They’re one of the most talented girl groups active today. But when they make songs like “Umpah Umpah,” I just can’t. There was no way the song could redeem itself from the first ten seconds of umpah umpahs and pink cowboy hats. After hearing the exciting work from Ha:tfelt and Sunmi this month, I sort of hope the Red Velvet members will follow their example and eventually disband to venture on interesting solo careers.

“Purple Bikini” by Gary

S: An ode to a hot chick in purple swimsuit. It’s a concept that was never going to win many points from me, but I didn’t expect to be bored by it. It may be aiming for a laidback and chill vibe, but “Purple Bikini” feels almost lethargic. How into this girl can he be when he can’t raise the energy level to even like a 3? And there’s no denying that it’s a little skeevy that Gary is referring to the object of his affection simply as “purple bikini girl.” That’s not objectifying at all. 

A: I like summer. I like pools. I like purple. But I don’t like this song. I appreciate basic-ass songs that are purely intended to serve as the backdrop at a party ( I even liked Winner’s “Everyday”), but this was too basic even for me. Hopefully this isn’t representative of Gary’s other music.

“Baby Come Back Home” by Target

S: From the lethargy of “Purple Bikini” to the exact opposite with this track, you can’t say August didn’t offer variety. I don’t hate aggressive, in your face K-pop songs. A.C.E. does it well, and I also enjoy it when the Stray Kids’ rap line basically spends their verses yelling at me. Still, “Come Back Home” is a lot to take in. It’s basically an assault on the ears. That really doesn’t work with the idea of repairing a relationship with a romantic partner. At least, I think that’s what the song is about. I couldn’t find an English translation that I found satisfactory; the ones I did read were a bit disjointed or nonsensical. Language barrier aside, the song is a bit much. Plus, let’s face it; there are superior K-pop options with “come back home” in the title.

A: In an industry oversaturated with pop groups, standing out is a challenge, even if your chorus is so ungodly loud that it threatens to blow up your speakers. Target is a talented group, but unfortunately, they haven’t managed to break into the crowded boyband scene, and a song as obnoxious as “Baby Come Back Home” didn’t do them any favors. Furthermore, yelling “don’t wanna break up” at somebody sounds like the worst way to keep a relationship going. Between Target and Seventeen, I had twenty guys yelling shit at me in August—enough! 

“Adios” by Everglow

S: Upon hearing the opening notes of “Adios,” my mind screamed pirate shanty, and I didn’t notice anything else about the song. Now, I’m not averse to pirates creeping into my pop music in general; I love Ateez and all their nautical nonsense. Still, it’s real distracting to be thinking about Jack Sparrow and co. whenever I hear this song. Especially, since it (and its video) have nothing to do with pirates. Plus, there’s the whole “Kill This Love” knockoff vibe happening. Honestly, I didn’t notice at first (like I said, it was all a pirate’s life for me with this one), but once someone pointed it out, I could hear it. All and all, it makes “Adios” a frustrating experience.  

A: Stephanie and I were split on this one. I actually had this in my top 5. But I respect that one person’s banger is another person’s obnoxious pirate shanty. Though the two of us are often on the same page, we’ve been on different sides with Everglow since the beginning, all the way back in spring of this year. While I liked the awkward hand gestures of “Bon Bon Chocolate” and enjoyed imagining myself flying into the sky with a bunch of chocolate (because that’s what this song is about, right?), their debut was a hard pass for Stephanie.

“Adios” dials down the silliness of their debut, but only slightly. This song is basically “Kill This Love” set to a pirate tune—a combination that shouldn’t work. There’s even a dance move straight from “Baby Shark.” But sometimes you want a shallow, in-your-face song performed by several talented ladies in fabulous outfits. Silly as they may be, Everglow has definitely been my favorite new girl group of the year.

HONORABLE MENTIONS 

“Regulus” by Onewe

“Flash” by X1

BEST

“Lalalay” by Sunmi

S: Leave it to Sunmi to deliver a catchy, clever song to wrap up the summer. As with most Sunmi tracks, a large portion of the enjoyment comes from breaking down the lyrics, and “Lalalay” does not disappoint. The “lalalay” of the chorus plays with Korean slang for party girls (nallari); the Taepyungso, a traditional wind instrument that features heavily; and “nal-la,” which means “to fly.” The result is a charming takedown of critics and a reassertion of Sunmi’s individuality and influence. The music video is fittingly weird with striking imagery (and Sunmi clones) to spare. If I have one complaint, it’s that the chorus lacks the bombast of some of her past hits. Still, the song is pretty irresistible.

A: Sunmi consistently cranks out catchy hits and iconic dance moves, but what really makes her exciting is that she isn’t afraid to get super weird and explore bold concepts. Her butterflies, wig twirling and cheeky wordplay add up to another anthem empowering women to fly above naysayers.

“Red” by The Rose

S: Welcome back to the best list Woosung, and I see this time you brought friends. Our affection for “Face” last month was probably a good indicator that we both like the singer’s unique vocals, but if you needed more confirmation, the inclusion of The Rose’s latest single here should be enough. “Red” is a bit of a departure for the group. It’s got a more electronic flavor than tracks like “Sorry” or “Baby.” This isn’t a soulful ballad or angsty lament. It’s an undeniably catchy and fun summer anthem. The song clocks in at just a little shy of three minutes. That’s not very long, but it’s enough time for the boys to deliver a solid end of season bop.

A: The Rose has given us some solid ballads, but after watching Woosung’s adorably awkward dance moves with Moné on Superband and his smiling face in the “Face” music video, it’s clear that this man was born to make the world happy. His band finally made a song that let Woosung unleash his full joy with “Red,” a poetic, feel-good anthem. An exuberant message to live life to the fullest, I don’t see how anybody could resist this song.

“Y” by Fanxy Child

S: Before August, if you told me a song featuring Zico where he essentially doesn’t rap would make my list of best songs, I probably would have shrugged you off. It’s a scenario that’s not outside the realm of possibility, just improbable. Well, it’s happened. “Y” is a departure from Fanxy Child’s last collaborative effort (the sublime “Bermuda Triangle”), offering a more languid, laid-back approach. The song feels almost hazy with an evocative, haunting melody. It’s undeniably cool and a striking contrast to the bright, bombastic summer tracks that seemed to dominate the month.

A: You can pretty much always expect good things from Zico, Crush, Dean and Penomeco, and “Y” is no exception. This contemplative track masters the difficult feat of using auto-tune to add emotional depth. As much as I like this song, I haven’t heard Zico really show off his rap prowess in a while. Here’s hoping he releases some bangers at the end of this month.

“Call Anytime” by Jinu ft. Mino

S:Is 2019 the year of waiting for a phone call? Astro started the trend in January with “All Night,” and Kang Daniel doubled down with the release of “What Are You Up To” last month. Now, it’s Jinu’s turn to anxiously wait for that special someone to ring him up. Don’t these guys text? Now, Jinu has never been my favorite member of Winner. He doesn’t really stand out when compared to Yoon’s impressive vocals or Mino’s undeniable talent. And I’d be lying if I said Mino’s presence on “Call Anytime” didn’t give it a big boost. But still, Jinu isn’t without his charms on the track. The song is light with a mellow groove, a nice complement to the singer’s chill vocals. It’s a refreshing listen with a fun music video. What’s not to like?

A: YG’s corruption has been exposed this year, but the reason behind some of their baffling choices when it comes to managing artists will probably always remain a mystery. Several of the agency’s gifted idols haven’t been given the chance to show off their full talents, even though YG has demonstrated that it can bring out the best from anyone, such as a certain former Big Bang member. This ability was on display again when Jinu of Winner released his first solo track. 

Quite frankly, Jinu is the weakest link of the group, but “Call Anytime” proves that the weakest link is still worth our attention. There’s nothing ground-breaking about this song, but it’s the perfect vehicle for Jinu’s sweet vocals and endearing persona—and Mino can probably pull off any song. Maybe we can expect some solo work from other YG idols who have been overlooked (*cough cough* anyone in Blackpink who isn’t Jennie), but then again, it’s YG, so probably not. 

“Happy Now” by Ha:tfelt ft. Moonbyul

S: Those former Wonder Girls sure had a good month. A relatively light sounding synth track, “Happy Now” is a deceptively angry break-up song. From the opening bars, Ha:tfelt is unafraid to lay into her scumbag ex, and the stylistic music video follows suit, including a very symbolic cucumber snapped right in half. It’s refreshingly and unapologetically feminist; a voice that is definitely needed in the K-pop industry right now.

A: “Happy Now” sounds sweet and quirky, but don’t be fooled; Ha:tfelt is saying “ta ta for now” to her ex by invoking the fear of God. The song takes us on a familiar journey from sadness to anger to acceptance in the aftermath of a breakup but with a fresh style and a great feature from Moonbyul that make it a fun listen every time.

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