I'm back to my "regular" blogging schedule this week (as regular as I can get, that is), I just needed this past week to FINALLY get some rest after a whirlwind December -- finals season, the holiday rush, and my yearly Top 50 (wherein I make things hard for myself by writing 50 reviews in 31 days) -- that capped off a year spent working, working and working. Projects I enjoyed, yes, (Pop Reviews Now included! :D) but work nonetheless. I spent the last three days just watching and fangirling over DBSK performances!
And is it just me or is everyone just really tired from/relieved/in awe of everything that happened in 2014? I remember at the start of last year it seemed like people were just raring to go -- this time last year DBSK, Rain and Girls' Day already had releases out, with Ailee, GOT7 and B1A4 all following shortly after. But there haven't been any major releases yet apart from Jonghyun and smaller groups like Hello Venus and High4.
Which is why apart from the DBSK binge-watching (which you've witnessed if you follow my personal account), I spent the first few days of 2015 going over my favorite releases from 2014 -- without the intellectual work involved in writing my year-end countdown. So this week's playlist has some of the tracks that I enjoyed last year but didn't quite make it to my Top 50, or artists with other songs on the countdown.
SHINee - "Lucky Star"
I guess no matter how thorough I try to be with the range of my Top 50 (I remember one of the comments on Asian Junkie about my countdown was that it really seemed like I listened to every single 2014 release), there are always songs that escape me. I listened to SHINee's Japanese album when it came out last September, but for some reason I either skipped "Lucky Star" or didn't think much of it back then. I know because I always mark the songs that stand out (or have the potential to) on iTunes for future reference, especially when I make my Top 50. But during my DBSK-fest a clip of this came up in the opening credits of a Japanese show Yunho and Changmin were on earlier this year, and it sounded a lot better than how I assume it did the first time. I mean "Lucky Star" isn't really ground-breaking or anything, but it's one of those songs that are so fun yet competently executed that you don't mind the mindlessness of it all. A catchy hook, strong production that's at once sharp and rich, and a singable melody -- "Lucky Star" reminds me of a more light-hearted "Dazzling Girl."
15& - "Rain & Cry"
15&'s "Sugar" was, without a doubt, one of the best LPs of 2014 -- if not the best. After years of disappointing releases, JYP really hit it out of the ballpark with his newer generation acts (GOT7 also put all other rookie groups to shame in 2014) and has given them slick, strong material that brings out the best in groups like 15&. I'm sure I've said this already in the past but really, a big reason why the material on "Sugar" work for 15& is because Jimin and Yerin actually have the talent to jump through hoops and fire. I chose "Shy Ma Boy" as my #2 song last year because it was an outstanding execution of a song that fully grasped what it wanted to do, but "Rain & Cry" is all 15&. It's a "classic" Korean ballad, but because of the two girls' timbres and the clean-cut production style used on them "Rain & Cry" takes a fresher, more youthful direction. So much so that while other ballads become either boring or depressing, "Rain & Cry" is a ballad you can listen to over and over and over again.
GOT7 - "Moonlight"
Speaking of JYP's (musical) success this year, GOT7 are definitely my favorite 2014 rookies -- their debut year went exactly the way a debut year should. The pace and volume of material they put out last year reminds me a lot of BEAST and Infinite, both bands I successfully predicted would make it big very early on. (Which also goes to show that music does have a lot to do with commercial success?) It's a simple idea really -- start on a middle ground, with something safe but impeccably-executed, and work your way up. BEAST did that, Infinite started really strong but kept getting stronger, and now GOT7. 2 EPs and an LP is a lot for any group, but what's even more startling is that all three major releases were very, very good. Ultimately I chose "A" for my Top 50, but only because it was really an encapsulation of GOT7 as a group, it introduced us listeners to them and showed their mastery of performance. But "Moonight" was one of the tracks that made it hard for me to decide on GOT7's entry. "Moonlight" reminds me of classic boy band tracks -- the choice of beat, the stylish, slick production.
Which made me realize that a big reason why I like GOT7's material so much is because they remind me a lot of NLT -- an American boy band circa-2007/2008 who never really made it big as a group. But if they had lasted to 2014, they'd probably be making music much like GOT7.
DBSK (Tohoshinki) - "Spinning"
I'm no longer the hardcore, fan site mod-level DBSK fan I was years ago -- but the thing with DBSK is that I keep coming back to them, and whenever I do they give me even more reasons to do so. By new reasons I obviously mean material worth listening to. "Spinning" is the first DBSK single I've really, really liked in a while -- and not just because I like DBSK in general or because it's a good song, but because of both. I guess it also helped that I first heard "Spinning" when I watched the video (which is gorgeous) and this is the type of track that needs the visual to grab you, because melody and dynamics-wise the hook isn't as prominent (louder/softer) vis-a-vis the rest of the song. But once you're grabbed and you actually take the time to listen to "Spinning" it has that signature Japanese nearly-antiseptic clean production. It's like the arrangement just flows from one section to another -- it's a very natural, effortless smooth that's distinctly Japanese. And seeing as a lot of K-Pop works because of juxtapositions and very jarring contrasts, "Spinning" is both a bit alien to the average K-Pop fan but also potentially a breath of fresh air. And for me, it was obviously the latter.
A Pink - "LUV"
"LUV" actually made it to the cut-off date of my Top 50, but I chose "Mr. Chu" instead because I think "LUV" is neither new/different for A Pink, nor is it exceptionally well-done. So I was very, very surprised when this turned out to be the song that won them music show awards -- and right now I don't really have an explanation for it either because I still think it sounds like practically every other A Pink release in the past. Maybe it's just a matter of timing? In any case, I've been listening to "LUV" quite a bit this last week precisely because I've been trying to figure it out.