The Best & Worse of K-Pop: November 2019

It’s the holidays, so let’s take the time to appreciate small victories. We got the November list out before 2020! While October challenged us with largely underwhelming music, November presented the opposite obstacle. Pretty much everything was good, and a lot of it was really good! We’ll see you in the new year with a recap of our favorite songs of 2019.

WORST

“Oopsie (My Bad)” by Nature

S: I’ve had enough of guys shouting at me this year, and now, the ladies are doing it too. Although, I guess they seem less angry, so that’s a plus. Rather than traditional singing, Nature mostly does a shouty, yelly thing, which you’ll either find annoying or fun. I am firmly on team annoying. “Oopsie (My Bad)” feels like it was inspired by Itzy’s success, and it’s got some cheerleader chant energy thanks to the percussion, which comes straight out of the marching band. Unfortunately, none of that really appeals to me musically.

A: The problem with this song is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s sort of like Twice, Blackpink and Orange Caramel all thrown into one. If they had chosen a direction—cute, crush or novelty—they could’ve had a fun song. Unfortunately, they ended up with a lot going on and none of it really working together.

“ULlala: Poisoning” by IN2IT

S: The mileage for Latin-inspired K-pop really varies for me. I like some of it, but most songs don’t do much with the genre, so it all starts to sound a little samey. That’s definitely the case with “ULlala: Poisoning.” The song just ends up being forgettable, especially when VAV delivered a much better slow-ish jam with “poison” in the title last month. I think IN2IT is definitely an underrated group, and I’m impressed by their ability to navigate different genres. I really liked their August comeback, the more rock-inspired “Run Away.” Here’s hoping they keep experimenting and deliver tracks that are more memorable than this.

A: I actually disagree a bit with Stephanie. This song’s incorporation of Latin pop is a little different from most K-pop tracks. At the chorus, it combines Latin pop with a more hard-hitting beat common in crush concepts. I respect the approach, as well as IN2IT’s talent, and I don’t dislike this song, but ultimately, it didn’t all come together for me.

“Come” by Newkidd

S: This song sounds fine. The instrumental can be a little obtrusive in the chorus, but it’s nothing too bad. Newkidd seems like a fun rookie group, and it’ll be interesting to see what they have to offer. Amanda has a very specific reason for wanting to include “Come” on the worst list, so I’ll let her lay it out.

A: Thank you, Stephanie. Let’s start with this: A song called “Come” by a group called Newkidd. Notice anything weird? How about this: Two 18-year-old members appear to be engaging in some kinky choke play, and a 17-year-old is spelling “C-O-M-E” on a swing set. Are you seeing it now? The age range for Newkidd is 17 to 25, which makes pulling off a sexy concept a little complicated right now. It actually sounds pretty catchy, but suggestive teenage boys make me laugh uncomfortably.  Despite this song, Newkidd is a group worth watching out for, if anything for Jinkwon’s on-point make-up tips. He’s destined for YouTube stardom, if not as an idol, than as a beauty guru.

“Numb” by CIX

S: Those former Wanna Ones really killed it this year, and Jinyoung is no exception. I liked “Movie Star” but wasn’t in love with the chorus. Similarly, I mostly enjoy “Numb,” but I really, really dislike the chorus. CIX, you sure are consistent. The song starts out with a cool, R&B-ish sound, but then suddenly, the guys very abrasively state that they are going numb. The instrumental completely flips to an annoying EDM drop, but just as quickly, it’s back to the much smoother, pre-chorus sound. I don’t mind when songs mix it up or throw surprises my way, but this just didn’t work.

A: Clumsily bringing together disparate sounds seems to be the theme of this month’s worst songs. “Numb” begins with a cool, minimalist groove that you’d often find in from K-pop solo projects, but then the chorus slams you in the face, like far too many choruses from idol groups this year. 

Sure, the chorus is like that for a reason; society’s tough and the pressure to conform can feel, I guess, as overwhelming and abrasive as grating electronic noise. But this message has been delivered in far superior songs dating all the way back to Seo Taiji. Plus, when someone is going numb, they usually aren’t yelling about it because they’re, you know, numb. CIX clearly has talent, but their title tracks have been a disappointment in their debut year.

“You Calling My Name” by GOT7

S: Amanda and I both like this song, but we can both admit it’s also a bit of an odd duck. It’s got a vibe I would call Charlie Puth-y, and the little dance in the chorus makes it seem like the guys, especially Jinyoung, are little, leather-suited creepers. How cool and sexy. They also look a little awkward in live performances. I think Youngjae might hate the choreography based on his expression during some music shows I’ve seen. Plus, there’s the part where Mark says a lot of cringe-worthy stuff in English. Not only is the content bad, but why is Mark the one saying it? Sexy, deep-voiced Jackson is right there! Get it together whoever is in charge of line distribution. Overall, “You Calling My Name” is enjoyable but also kinda bad. I think I laughed out loud at least three times the first time I watched the music video. Hey, that’s entertainment.

A: You never know what you’re gonna get from GOT7. One minute they’re carrying something real hard, the next minute they’re telling us to stop it while wearing weird overalls and bad hair-dos. But overall, they’ve delivered quality work this year. Though “You Calling My Name” made it onto our worst list, it’s certainly not bad. It has a sexy, funky groove that’s quite catchy and very JB. 

However, there were still some questionable choices. I get that K-pop is known for its bold looks, but leather jumpsuits are something that few can pull off, and I’m not sure if all seven of these men could handle it, especially while swaying their hips ever so slightly. But really the main reason for this song’s inclusion in our worst category is Mark’s spoken word section. He just sounds so bored. His very uncool part threw off the vibe of this otherwise cool song.

HONORABLE MENTIONS 

“I Like It” by Lee Jin Hyuk

“Lion” by (G)I-dle

BEST

“Twice” by South Club

S: A lot of K-pop stars have had a rough year, but Nam Taehyun is certainly in the running for having the worst go of it. Personal drama, the dissolution of his music label and the tragic loss of two friends have defined most of his 2019. But all the setbacks made it a little sweeter to see South Club comeback in November. Now under P & B Entertainment, the group is continuing with the more mellow sound of last year’s “Grown Up,” which I personally prefer to the more abrasive tracks like “Messy House”—don’t get me wrong, I like that song too. Melodic and catchy (despite some iffy English in the chorus), “Twice” highlights what makes Taehyun a standout vocalist. It was also great to see the band have an actual video for a song and not something they filmed guerrilla style in a park. Here’s hoping 2020 is bright for both the band and Taehyun.

A: After releasing punk and blues-infused rock music the past couple years, South Club returned with this deceptively simple pop-rock diddy. Celebrities aren’t exactly known for their sincere apologies or remorse, but Taehyun understands that he should be slapped across the face for his wandering eye. Instead of moping about how his relationship ended with fellow Korean singer-songwriter Jang Jane and begging for forgiveness, he quietly conveys his love and regret in a song that’s both sweet and sad. It’s good to have South Club back.

“About Time” by Hoppipolla

S: I blame our friend Kelsey for this. She told me to watch SuperBand, so I did, and it was probably the most charming bit of media I consumed this year. When I showed some performances to Amanda, she was equally as charmed. How is it possible not to fall in love with the men of Hoppipolla (and everyone else on the show)? 

The group only performed covers on the show, so hearing original music from them is exciting. Composed by frontman I’LL, “About Time” plays to the band’s strengths. It’s a mellow song, given some somber weight by Jinho’s cello, and both I’LL and Hyunsang’s unique vocals shine. (I don’t want to leave out Youngso; he’s great too!) In a year full of grating EDM drops and chanty yelling, hearing something so unabashedly emotional and pretty is beyond refreshing.

A: I came to SuperBand with arms crossed, ready to eye-roll over a bunch of Jonas Brothers-wannabes. Instead, I fell in love with pretty much all of these wonderful Thom Yorke, Coldplay, Mumford & Sons and, yes, Jonas Brothers-wannabes. It transported me back to my college days when I was spending a bunch of time with music students. They were annoying and corny, but I couldn’t deny their talent and pure love of music. SuperBand—particularly the winning group, Hoppipolla—was a delightful escape to my college days and away from this year’s awful scandals.

This song from “Hoppipolla” breaks no new ground. It’s kinda like the most beloved Coldplay hits or “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane—atmospheric, sensitive rock that has long gone out of style, but that we all secretly still love. Just as I did with that damn Keane song back in high school, I listen to “About Time” nearly every day at work, absorbing myself in these guys’ lush instrumentals and their feelings, especially Ha Hyunsang’s feelings, since he always looks like he’s about to cry. Speaking of Hyunsang, he also had a nice solo release in November.

“Obsession” by EXO

S: You can never really know what to expect from an EXO comeback—other than amazing vocals and on-point choreo, that is. The group has had a lot of different sounds over the years, and you can’t predict when they’re going to switch gears. There are some elements of “Tempo” in their latest comeback: the pitch-shifted vocals, the moment where the instrumental falls away so Chen can just belt and, most importantly, Kai wearing a cropped item of clothing. But where that song pulled it all together for a fun, throwback bop, “Obsession” delivers something edgier and unique enough to stand on its own. 

This song is divisive. I get why, but it works for me. Pairing the staccato, percussive verses and pre-chorus with the more melodic chorus provides striking contrast and allows sometimes underutilized members like Kai and Chanyeol to shine. The use of that pervasive “I want you” sample as part of the instrumental is probably what turns most people off, but I think it’s inspired. It gives the song an almost subliminal feel, and it’s hard to think of a more perfect representation of obsession in a dance track. EXO members were busy this year, and I enjoyed a lot of what the guys produced (dubious glance at Chanyeol and Sehun), but it’s still great to see the group (mostly) together.

A: No male idol group does sexy better than EXO. The powerful vocals and sultry body rolls would make anyone swoon, but their talent and sex appeal are often given an extra dimension by bold (though sometimes silly) looks and clever (though sometimes convoluted) concepts. This is certainly the case with “Obsession,” which pitted six of the members against their dangerous alter-egos. 

Was it the smartest exploration of the duality of man? Did everyone pull off their X-EXO looks? Is it the greatest EXO song? The answer to all these questions is no. But is the song cool and daring? Did everyone perform this song with SM’s signature perfection? Does Kai look ridiculously hot dressed like some sort of futuristic bullfighter? The answer to these much more important questions is yes.

“Flower Shower” by HyunA

S: It’s kinda hard to believe HyunA debuted 12 years ago, but it’s even harder to imagine a K-pop landscape without her. She’s been in multiple groups (both girls and co-ed), changed companies, launched a successful solo career and been too sexy for Korea to handle on multiple occasions, but she’s always managed to come out on top. Now, a year after a dating scandal led to her ousting from Cube, she’s back. It’s a triumphant return many fans have been waiting for, and for the most part, the song doesn’t disappoint.

“Flower Shower” is bright and pop-y, but it has enough of an edge to suit HyunA’s style. The verses are definitely the high points. I like her as a rapper, but it’s nice to see her applying her unique vocals as a singer. The chorus is built around an EDM drop, something I’m not a huge fan of, but here, it’s got a bright, quirky flavor that fits well with the rest of the song. What can I say? I think Hoppipolla may have melted some of my cynical edge because I find this song charming. I’m charmed.

A: Nobody has had a career quite like Hyuna’s. She’s shown many sides of herself, from the female monster to the bubble popper. With “Flower Shower,” she reveals yet another layer. The song lets her be quirky and sweet but still a little naughty. This playful, refreshing diddy always adds an extra spring to my step and makes it feel like spring even as the temperature drops.

“Money” by Dawn

S: HyunA and Dawn playfully presented their same-day comebacks as a competition. “Flower Shower” may have won on the charts, but I’m definitely team “Money.” Striking a balance between mellow pop and melancholic hip-hop, the song suits Dawn’s unique style perfectly. It’s got a broody, grungy energy that recalls some of the angstier endeavors of G-Dragon (always a good thing if you ask me), while still offering its own sound and style. 

When it came to the repercussions of his and HyunA’s relationship, Dawn’s career was always the one in danger. He just doesn’t have the established career (or fanbase) she does. It would have been a shame to see him fall off the map, and I’m glad Psy and P Nation are giving him a chance. From dancing and singing to rapping and producing, Dawn has proven that he’s a talent that shouldn’t be ignored. My only issue is that this was only a single. Where’s the album? I need it like yesterday.

A: The price we pay in pursuit of wealth isn’t exactly an original concept, but the lyrical deftness and attention to detail in Dawn’s solo debut give the topic a fresh take. Like the money he seeks, the song has a pop-friendly sheen but a grittier substance. The music video depicts Dawn in garbage-chic apparel as he runs, lurches, dances and air-drums across an abandoned building like an addict prowling for his next hit. From his nasally voice to the way he moves, Dawn is a strange and striking performer. Now that he’s free from Cube, he has fully blossomed into an exciting new artist. Hopefully “Money” is a sign of more great work to come.

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