[AKR’s Playlist] The Sounds of 2013: The Fight

AKR's Playlist - The Sounds of 2013 C

Click here to read the premise for this playlist. 

“The Fight” encompasses my favorite tracks that were either released or that I had discovered after September. This first quarter of my second year of college was a tough one both academically and personally. I had a lot on my plate and I had a lot to juggle. I think the main message that I took from this period of time of my life is that, in any given fight, there will be a winner and there will be a loser, and sometimes, you can work your ass off and still lose and you can not lift a finger and still win. Life is a constant struggle because it is never as expected. K-pop really helped me remain grounded during this stressful quarter and reminded me that I don’t have to grieve over my losses alone. I do have friends, contrary to my constant loner jokes, and these friends really do listen and really do care. And, if anything, I always have the option of belting out my favorite k-pop tracks or dancing to some k-pop bangers when I’m down. Though k-pop lyrics are usually vapid, they sometimes are like my friends. Some give me candied answers, some give me bitter truths – both of which I will graciously accept.

The Line Up

(Songs: 19 | Duration: 1 hr, 11 min)

1) G-Dragon – Black (feat. Jennie Kim)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.29.07 PMI was definitely surprised when I first heard this song from GD’s latest album. There wasn’t that excessive and grating swagger that is characteristic of GD tracks and instrumentals were kept simple and bare. The piano chords that serve as the through-line of the song immediately sets up a subdued and more intimate atmosphere for the song. GD’s rapping sounds much more toned down, defeated even, as he foregoes his usual bravado, putting down his usual “knife to your throat” act. Jennie Kim’s vocals add that needed softer contrast to GD’s abrasive rapping and she just sounds divine in this song.

Honorable Mentions: Niliria [interesting sampling of an old Korean folk song, very intense rapping, very GD]

2) Kang Seung Yoon – 맘도둑 (Stealer) 

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.31.35 PMHonestly, I have never heard of Kang Seung Yoon but a fortuitous click on YouTube led me to this gem of a track. It has a very soft rock, alternative sound that I used to be obsessed with back in my pre-k-pop days. I love the melancholy electric guitars coupled with the forceful drums. Kang Seung Yoon’s vocals sound absolutely lovely and I love his vibrato and falsetto during the choruses. This song sounds like the emphatic closer for summer, marking the end of lazy, sunny days.

3) Lim Chang Jung – 나란놈이란 (A Guy Like Me)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.32.58 PMAnother chance encounter on YouTube, this song was another pleasant surprise. Lim Chang Jung’s vocals are just so skillfully controlled and his husky tone is to die for. The piano accompaniment is just absolutely stunning. Dramatic, powerful, and wistful, it was so reminiscent of those beautiful piano pieces that they would use during those tear-jerker moments in Korean dramas.

4) Navi – 집에 안갈래(I Ain’t Going Home Tonight)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.35.00 PMThe catchy whistling, Navi’s jazzy vocals, and retro instrumentation create a rather potent piece of pop. Though the single was pretty much overlooked, I thought it was a very catchy song and, embarrassingly, I still remember singing the chorus in the shower multiple times during the beginning of my fall quarter in college. The rap ruins the flow of the song for me but Navi’s vocals somewhat compensate for the intrusive rap section.

5) MFBTY – BizzyTigerYoonmirae

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.35.39 PMSince I found out about them earlier this year, I’ve respected them so much as artists. They have this organic, “music for the sake of music” kind of vibe that is just so scarce in a music industry that is so manufactured. Plus, Tiger JK is a UCLA alumnus so of course I gotta give him props! This track is just absolutely dope. The bass is thumping with aggression and the rap is full of bravado and ego-tripping. Rap sections in most k-pop tracks do not contain even a fraction of the swag that these three effuse effortlessly. Listening to this track while I ran laps around the track at night made me feel so alive and invigorated. It was as if I felt that much more confident in myself, so much so that I would run two miles instead of the one that I had originally planned for. And really, this song inspired me to be more confident in my abilities because it feels good when you know you are on top of something.

Honorable Mentions: The Cure [Yoon Mirae is a magnificent vocalist as well, reggae-styled raps, very uplifting and organic]

6) Swings – A Real Lady (feat. Beenzino, GRAY, Zion.T)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.36.51 PMVery chill, very smooth, and very suave, I love the horns in the chorus accompanying the low vocals. Of course, the spotlight was on the featured rappers who did their thing in the verses. I think this song really made me appreciate the Korean language much more than I already did. The way these rappers could spit out these Korean syllables in such a rhythmically complex manner and with such swagger, the way these rappers fluidly code-switched between Korean and English, suddenly, Korean rap seems so much more demanding and absolutely awe-inspiring than I originally thought. I tended to stick to songs with clear melodies and often half-heartedly listened to rap sections but this song provided me with that sense of awareness for the art that Korean rap.

7) KARA – 둘 중에 하나 (Runaway)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.37.42 PMSo I was late in discovering KARA’s latest release but I still remember discovering this song after reading a review on it somewhere in the blogosphere. I was extremely surprised when I heard this song because I always associated KARA with cutesy, saccharine pop music. This was like refined and acoustic, featuring real instruments and a big band for the chorus. The drums during the chorus especially made it sound so much bigger and more emphatic. And KARA members can actually sing? What. They sure have caught my attention with their recent coming of age album.

8) IU – Voice Mail – Click here for my review of “Modern Times”.

IU-Modern_TimesOriginally released for her Japanese album, I only got to hear this song because it was on her Korean album release this year. It sounds like a matured version of “Peach”, with its whimsical instrumentation that has been toned down to just a piano and guitars. The song sounds very subdued and melancholy and the piano arpeggios during the verses are haunting. IU’s vocals lend themselves to these kind of soft, ethereal kinds of songs and I really enjoyed the concept of the song being a voice mail in itself. I definitely enjoyed listening to this song while cooling down after my runs, as I would just take the time to simply slow down and take in the view of the campus.

Honorable Mentions: 싫은 날 (Bad Day) [heartbreaking and vulnerable ballad showcasing IU’s wonderfully delicate vocals], Everyone Has a Secret (feat. Ga In) [intense, dramatic Latin pop/bossa nova track]

9) miss A – Hush

miss A - HushWhen I first heard this song, I was hooked. The song would play in my head constantly after I heard it. Walking down the hill to class? “Kiss, kiss, kiss, baby, hush, hush, hush, baby, 좀 더 가까이날 꼭 안아줘”. Supposed to be listening to a lecture on artificial intelligence? “Hurry, hurry, boy 너를 원해”. The growing sense of urgency as the song progressed, the catchy hook, the sexy choreography, this release had that miss A flavor that we had been craving. miss A doesn’t sport the best of vocalists but what they lack in vocal oomph, they more than compensate with their stage presence and performances.

Honorable Mentions: Like U [RnB ballad that shows that miss A actually has workable vocals], Love is U [upbeat track with a very addictive hook and pretty nice vocals as well]

10) Ladies’ Code – 예뻐 예뻐 (Pretty Pretty)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.41.46 PMI really loved the funky retro instrumentation in this one and that one vocalist who kinda looks like and older version of Lee Hi. Sojung’s voice is very unique and it really sets her apart from the rest of the group, as evident by her phenomenal ad libbing during the last iteration of the chorus. While disco really isn’t my cup of tea, this song was a pleasantly quirky listen. Needless to say, this track got stuck in my head too and, after I had gotten Navi’s track out of my head, “예뻐 예뻐” quickly became my go-to track to sing when I was alone in the shower. Who can resist the addictive chorus and ego-tripping nature of the lyrics?

11) Troublemaker – Attention

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.42.22 PMI was not particularly fond of Troublemaker’s “Chemistry” release but this was the standout track for me in the album. The instrumentation is quirky and funky, the ratio of rapping to melodic sections was just right, and the elements of the track just resulted in an overall feel-good kind of track, which I really needed at the time. Midterms were drawing closer and I had work to do and I just felt so heavy with stress. This song really helped lighten up the midterm doldrums I was experiencing because it was such a funky and fun song to listen to. Can’t really say that Troublemaker has captured my attention for their future releases but I can say for sure that I really liked this track on their latest endeavor.

12) Hyorin – 스토커 (Stalker) (Feat. Mad Clown)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.42.58 PMThis was a difficult slot to fill because I had a few favorites from Hyorin’s first solo album. I ended up settling for “Stalker” mainly because of the rap section that coupled Hyorin’s lovely choruses. I particularly identified with this track because it reminded of someone in my past who I had a crush on and I just remember how our relationship ended on a rather bad note but even so, I still longed for that person. Mad Clown’s flow is just impeccable in this track and I love the complex beats that he creates through his rapping. All in all, Hyorin’s first solo album was essentially her way of saying that SISTAR has truly been “Hyorin and her backup dancers” because it was pretty much a SISTAR album performed by just Hyorin and some featured rappers.

Honorable Mentions: OMG [very catchy and upbeat track that is an invitation for chill, sunny days], One Way Love [Latin guitar riffs open a very dramatic track that showcases Hyorin’s falsetto]

13) Younha – The Reason We Broke Up

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.43.42 PMListening to Younha’s “Just Listen” album was just on a whim, on a weekend when I had considerably less work to do. I think I didn’t really appreciate “The Reason We Broke Up” until finals’ week because this song was on repeat during my cramming studies. The melodies of this song are gorgeous and I absolutely love the way it flows from this gentle acoustic, soft rock section to a more upbeat, danceable section. The last half of the song when the song breaks down into this dreamy climax is downright beautiful and really helped me stay motivated to prepare for my exams.

Honorable Mentions: Fireworks [frenetic electric guitars drive a very upbeat and explosive track, should have listened to this to study but I prefer studying to more relaxed songs anyways]

14) Ailee – Higher (feat. Yiruma)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.44.41 PMWhile searching for the song that I really wanted to include in my first AKR’s Playlist, I stumbled upon this one. I ended up selecting a different song from Ailee but I still really liked this one and I knew I had to put this on a future playlist. Guess it will be for this playlist because this song was a prominent part of my playlist for this fall quarter. Ailee’s vocal prowess doesn’t need to be talked about; I’m just going to end up praising her like usual. “Higher” just sounds inspirational and uplifting and I really needed such a song during a very trying time in my life. The piano combined with the strings and electric guitar create a very emphatic and powerful soundscape that is needed to house Ailee’s awesome vocals.

15) EXO – Christmas Day

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.45.14 PMEXO was the new k-pop group that I got obsessed with over the summer and I was quite excited when I heard that the boys weren’t done yet this year. The vocal line of EXO features some of the strongest vocalists in k-pop right now and this downtempo track really features the lower ranges of that vocal line. The main vocalists of EXO truly flourish in the realm of RnB because their vocals are so smooth and slick. While their main ballad, “Miracles in December”, seemed like a tempting choice for my playlist, I opted for “Christmas Day” because it has a more refined, suave feel to it and, I’m going to be real here, I am a little tired of all of the depressing songs released during this time of the year. EXO continues to impress me with their talent and it just seems like this is the beginning of their domination of the k-pop sphere.

Honorable Mentions: The First Snow [light and cheery Christmas song featuring vocals from members outside of the vocal line; again, so done with the depressing Christmas tracks]

16) SHINee – Symptoms

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.45.47 PMI remember seeing the lyrics video for this song and it was so trippy. I loved it. The detuned synths in the verses gave us that sense of dizziness and tension was built up to be released as that explosive chorus where the song reveals its true grandiose nature. SHINee’s vocals are impeccable as usual and I absolutely loved their releases this year. Very unique and very SHINee, which is a huge compliment in the k-pop world; for your music to be recognized as your own is an amazing feat in a music industry that thrives on following trends.

17) Freestyle – Winter Song (feat. Navi)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.47.01 PMThis was also another song I looped during the last two days of finals’ week. The instrumentation was interesting as it sported some Latin guitar, a harpsichord, a flute, and some hip hop beats. The rap sounded appropriately wistful and Navi’s inclusion was much needed. Her vocals balanced out the rap sections very beautifully and the shifts between rap and vocals were not jarring one bit. It wasn’t the most happy song to listen to while studying but it really reflected my grief over my dead GPA.

18) T-ara – 기억 안나 (What Should I Do)

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.47.54 PMThe only reason I really watched the MV for this track was because the guy who played Haitai in Reply 1994 was in it. The song turned out to be really catchy and I had a great time making fun of Jiyeon’s “rap” section in the very beginning of the song with my sister when I came home from college. We were dying when we kept replaying “hey baby yo baby yo, hey baby yo baby yo, Monday to Sunday 나나나 어떡해”. Cringeworthy opener aside, this track is just typical T-ara – catchy retro pop that has been spiced up with some electronic beats and sweetened with cutesy, whiny vocals. But, I don’t know, there’s something addictive about “우리 어디서 봤더라? 우리 어디서 봤더라?” and the sassy electropop beats in this song. It’s a shame that this song probably won’t do too well because there’s not much to be wowed by with this song. I just happen to really like it.

19) Girls’ Generation – Karma Butterfly

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.48.34 PMMy year began with SNSD and so of course it would end with SNSD. “Karma Butterfly” was an unexpected gem on Girls’ Generation’s Japanese release “Love&Peace”. It features a very classy synth line and an interesting chord progression. I really like how understated the verses are, which abruptly changes into a more electrifying chorus. The melodies are simple and it’s nothing I would sing along to but this song is still a very pleasant listen. It sounds sleek and modern and I think it represents how far SNSD has come since their “Gee” days. Girls’ Generation arguably is the icon of k-pop and I think they take their job seriously in that respect as their releases tend to be reflective of the major trends of pop music. Not gonna lie, I felt really cool while listening to this song on my flight home.

Honorable Mentions: My Oh My [very retro, sassy pop with amazing vocals from Taeyeon and Tiffany; the rhumba riff from IU’s “기다려” returns!], Motorcycle [adventurous, upbeat electropop with some gorgeous melodies, fluctuating between melodic and speak-singing]

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