I am proud to present to you all my latest new segment – AKR’s Playlist! This is the segment in which I bombard you with k-pop songs that I have squirreled away in my iTunes library over the years. Each playlist will consist of songs that (hopefully) stick to its titular theme. Of course, I am merely disseminating a list of songs that I have grown fond of and that I would like to share with you all in the hopes that you will find something new or rediscover old jams. In no way is this list definitive for anything; it is merely a collection of k-pop goodies that I have found over the years. As always, skip around if you would like. The tracks are ordered in a way that I feel is best but it may not resonate with you so by all means skip around and explore.
To start things off properly with my new segment, I’d like to call upon the divalicious powers of the divas themselves. That’s right, I am talking about the ladies who are bold enough to tread through the treacherous waters of k-pop alone. With no other girl group members to back them up, these ladies generate hits on their own to prove that you can go solo and can still make it big in the k-pop industry or, at the very least, give a valiant effort.
The Line Up
(Songs: 21 | Duration: 1 hr, 13 min)
What better song to start off the playlist than with Lee Hi’s bold intro track? Boasting strong beats, brash horns, and confident lyrics, this song is powerful and emphatic while promulgating the arrival of a star. Even if it is but an excerpted version of a track, it is still a reminder that solo artist Lee Hi is a force to be reckoned with.
2) BoA – Let Me
K-pop veteran BoA drops a sensual, electronic track that sports a steady beat and sprinkles of disco elements. The combination of interesting instrumental choices and BoA’s sassy execution of singing and rapping make for a very nice, if a bit subdued, dance pop track. However, when BoA is boasting about her “monster moves”, it’s hard not to give this song a listen.
Of course, no diva playlist is complete without the addition of Hyuna’s explosive summer track from 2011. From the bombastic horns to the seductive “oohs”, this song is a feel-good track where Hyuna is calling out her boy who has done her wrong. While Hyuna’s vocals are not of the highest caliber, who can deny the summery, energetic vibe this song exudes?
That eerie beginning is all a trap as a frenetic beat quickly takes over and Ceejay announces the arrival of pop queen Lee Hyori. The hip hop beats during the verses give way to a more aggressive sounding rhythm in the chorus, ensuring that there are no boring moments in this song. Even when things get slightly stale, the explosive rap section à la Ceejay and the James Bond-esque bridge come in to wrap the song up in a fierce manner.
Discordant electronic sounds begin to make sense once Jay Park opens the track up and G.Na begins her first verse. The hip hop elements in this song and Jay Park’s very lively performance of his rapping sections and his interjections during the chorus really add to the song’s vibe. The “green light” hook is very catchy and the choruses are very pleasant to listen to.
Rising star Lee Hi made an especially successful entrance into the k-pop realm with this Motown-esque track. Lee Hi demonstrates here that she has killer, bluesy vocals along with a very jazzy vibe that can provide her a niche in the industry. Though jazz is quickly manifesting itself more and more in k-pop, Lee Hi’s strong and unique vocals allow her to truly own the genre as she blows all of the imitators out of the water.
7) G.Na – 2Hot
I’ll admit it – this is one of my guilty pleasure songs. G.Na’s execution of this song is contrived and uninspired and the lyrics are conceited at best but there’s something addictive about the chorus and the trumpets in the instrumentation that makes this pop track so digestible and exciting. I honestly just want to dance when I hear this song (who doesn’t?). While G.Na can do so much better in the vocal department, who wouldn’t believe her when she asserts that she is too hot?
The piano line in the beginning is a fluke because the real song is revealed through funky guitars that invite a rather groovy verse. After an odd pre-chorus (“speak up, speak up, speak up, speak”), an explosive chorus blooms and reveals the song’s true colors as Ga In exclaims that her lover is her “wonderland”. A bold song with a bold music video indeed, this song compares efflorescence to the exploration of female sexuality, thankfully putting female sexuality in a positive light.
I found this pop gem of a track completely randomly. I really enjoyed the quirky chorus, where Lee Yu Rim is begging her object of affection to reveal himself to her and to have the balls to ask her out. The summery, if a bit generic, instrumentation really augments the song’s catchiness and Lee Yu Rim’s coaxing really grows on you after a while. All in all, a nice palette cleanser as this playlist continues.
10) Lee Jung Hyun – V | Review
Lee Jung Hyun is notorious for her outrageous concepts and this haunted house, Halloween concept is no exception. Blending dance pop with some electroswing, V is an incredibly energetic and catchy piece of pop. While her pronunciation of the letter “v” will be hilarious to English speakers, the bouncy verses, anthem-like pre-choruses (which is very reminiscent of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships”), and Lee Jung Hyun’s quirky delivery of the lyrics are all more than enough to compensate.
11) Sunmi – 24 Hours | Review
Chiptune sounds combined with a steady rhythm and breathy vocals à la Sunmi command your attention immediately as Sunmi hits you with the addictive chorus. Musing about the insanity of being obsessed with one’s lover, the tension-filled, dramatic tango sequence in the middle of the song does not seem inappropriate at all.
Spanish elements decorate this track as Ga In’s dramatic delivery parallel the equally dramatic instrumentation. While a cursory listen would make you think that this song is but a tame downtempo track, there is a much darker twist to this song as the underlying tension present throughout the song would suggest. Ga In whispers “죽을래” at the end of the pre-choruses, stating that she wants to die inside her lover. Of course, she gives her past lover a choice (“kill me or love me”) but she would rather he end her misery then and there.
13) Ailee – Scandal
Distorted guitars accompany a wistful chorus before militant tango instrumentals come in to drive the verse along. Ailee’s powerful vocals truly make this song as she can make all her notes sound replete of the emotion and tension she is trying to convey to the listener. Her vocals alone provide the weight that this song requires – a song about scandals and rumors require a certain degree of conviction. The ominous instrumentation and the conviction Ailee carries throughout the song makes this track a definitely worthwhile listen.
14) Juniel – Bad Man
The sparse instrumentation (including the tiny snippets of silence between vocal lines) and Juniel’s restrained vocals during the verses create a rather haunting soundscape for the listener. Once the chorus kicks in, the catchy “baby, I don’t like you” hook is especially charming and the strings in the background add to the intensity of the song in ways that Juniel’s vocals cannot. Though the bridge deviates a bit from the melancholy sound, it provides a needed relief from the heavy, somber feel of the rest of a cold but interesting track.
Lee Hyori must have a penchant for jazz because her latest album was laden with jazz-inspired sounds and this track is no exception. The lead in during the beginning was a nice touch as jazzy beats carry along a very jazzy sounding Lee Hyori. The chorus intensifies the tension of the song with the addition of a very ominous synth of some sort that provides that edge to the song. The contrast between the tamer verses and the drama-filled choruses prevents the song from losing its steam and becoming too flat too soon. The unexpected key change at the end was a little odd but upped the drama factor one last time before the track ends on a jazzy note.
Park Ji Yoon’s album is filled with gorgeous, wistful, acoustic pieces such as this one, with this one being one of my favorites. With just some light instrumentation and Park Ji Yoon’s delicate yet full vocals, this song goes from melancholy to beautifully inspiring as it progresses from the verse to the chorus. Park Ji Yoon never quite belts her lines but her soft vocals are never too thin. This is a very comforting and beautiful piece from a veteran Korean artist.
Switching gears a bit but keeping the guitars, we move toward the folk range of k-pop. I am not exactly understanding the title but it truly reflects the quirky charm that this song exudes. The chorus sounds pleasantly silly and the instrumentation is eclectic, resulting in a very vibrant and colorful track.
18) IU – 4AM
An acoustic guitar and IU’s unique vocals are all she needs to make a hit; throw in some jazzy elements and you got a solid track, through and through. From the snaps to IU’s jazzy vocalization, this song evokes that sluggish, somber early morning hour that one would encounter when one is pulling that all-nighter, working or haunted by a lost love.
The piano line that runs through the entire track alerts the listener right away to the ballad status of this song. Son Dam Bi’s warm vocals along with the whimsical instrumentation create a very vibrant soundscape and the dynamic shifts, when layers are added or taken away, were executed tastefully. The beat and “hey” provides a nice abrasive sound to contrast the softer elements of the song, making for a balanced listen.
Normally belting it out with her group mates in 2NE1, Park Bom’s solo endeavors (while flopping through poor live performances) successfully showcased the immense vocal talent that she has. Similar to Son Dam Bi’s ballad, a haunting piano line runs through this track too but Bom’s track takes the dance pop route rather than an RnB sound. The the club beats and electronic sounds during the choruses truly help elevate this track, giving it a celebratory, uplifting sound rather than a more melancholy vibe.
While Seo In Young struggles to produce those high notes in the chorus with oomph, this pop anthem still resonates with me nonetheless. The tension built by the verses and pre-choruses all lead to explosive choruses, where Seo In Young tries to belt out her feelings about moving on from a past lover. The rock guitar and the electronic synths mesh well together as Seo In Young declares that she won’t cry anymore about the break up, ending this playlist on a very optimistic note.