“Homebound” encompasses songs that were either released or that I had discovered between July and September. This playlist is entitled as such because it was the first time I longed to be home for the summer break. After spending a school year at college, I realized how connected I was to my home, how comforting the familiar can be, how nice it feels to truly to know where you are. I’ve certainly been lost many times and across many contexts during the year and I felt like summer was when I could finally be found again. K-pop songs have decorated my life since I heard my very first k-pop single and, in a way, it has become a roaming piece of home. When I listen to k-pop, I feel that sense of familiarity and, regardless of where I am, I know that I’ll always be at least homebound, constantly searching for what I feel is home.
The Line Up
(Songs: 15 | Duration: 51 minutes)
Davichi is known for their ballads and this song is no different. As much as I am repelled by dramatic ballads, I think this one is really beautifully crafted. The beginning melancholy chords and initial verse made me think it was going to be a very heavy ballad but the chorus quickly added that levity that it needed. The beat in the background prevents this song from dragging on, which is a quality that turns me off from a lot of ballads out there. Lovely vocals coupled with lovely instrumentation, the ending was especially emphatic and vulnerable sounding. In a way, it was a gentle reminder that, after coming home from college for the summer, I would be missing all of my newfound friends.
A lot of blogs panned this release because it was flat but I particularly enjoyed this song. If 2NE1 were ever to release a breezy summer track that ditches their tired, aggressive electopop, this, I feel, would be it. You got the flirty “touch me over deh” hook, you got some bright, melodic verses and choruses, and you got some fierce rap sections à la Seoul City’s Baddest Female, all wrapped in summery, electropop-touched reggae. Dara’s bridge section sounded really nice and that autotune provides that edge in her voice, making her sound much more appropriate for the reggae theme. 2NE1 tracks have always found their way into my summer playlists and this one was the most natural addition into this year’s summer list.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a fan of quirky. This song sports catchy swing beats, Britney Spears’ “Toxic”-inspired electric guitars, jazzy horns, and anthemic pre-choruses to balance out the straightforward verses and choruses. This particular track will have a special place in my heart as it was the first single I wrote a review for during this summer’s revival. This review catalyzed my return into this blogosphere and writing about k-pop so this song will always be a standout in my eyes.
It was during this summer also that I took a short detour into the realms of k-indie and that path led me to Zion.T’s music. This track was a standout for me in his album “Red Light” as it has some really beautiful melodies and that infectious and suave RnB sound to it. From its jazzy snaps to the chill synths, this song was just lovely from beginning to end. The vocals were spot on and the harmonies were very striking and mellifluous. This definitely was one of my go-to summer jams that I listened to when I was writing about crushes and lovey-dovey nonsense on my Tumblr.
Honorable Mentions: O [trippy synths with driving and drunken beats, very chill and dope track]
“Growl” came out at a very pivotal moment in my appreciation for EXO because “Wolf” was an awesome track but it was messy and chaotic, which did not make it a very listenable song in my opinion. Then came “Growl” and I was completely floored because it was everything that I wanted Wolf to be – easy on the ears, cohesive, slick, and a clear showcase of what the group was offering. The main vocalists had lines to belt, the rappers had their own section to shine, the dancers got some of the best choreography I have seen for a k-pop release this year. It was thanks to this track that I became a true fan of EXO because they showed me through “Growl” that they were capable of releasing tasteful and cohesive material that far surpassed the theatrical messes “MAMA” and “Wolf”.
Honorable Mentions: XOXO [the chill RnB afterparty version of “Growl”, much more laidback and less serious that the lead single]
Sunmi’s return to the k-pop realm was pretty successful with this earworm of a track, charting very high for a debut single. Another JYP-penned single, it essentially is the spiritual successor to miss A’s “Touch” due to its similar structure, theme of dark obsession, and ominous instrumentation. Sunmi’s vocals are rather thin but they lend themselves to these electropop tracks. The 8-bit instrumentation and the tango-styled bridge were very intriguing additions to the song and the driving beat for the song is aggressively addicting. The choreography to this song is the only choreography from a k-pop song I can actually do all the way through because I was so determined to learn it over the summer. Very demanding since it involves some contemporary dance and seductive movements.
I really like the militant tango vibe of this track and Ailee’s vocals are impeccable as usual. The eerie, trippy synths in the background really diversifies an otherwise generic instrumentation and were a very welcomed addition. I especially enjoyed the very creepy bridge leading to a very explosive ad-libbing section where Ailee belts out her notes like there’s no tomorrow. All in all, a very emphatic track that got stuck in my head for a short while during the summer.
I still do not understand the misspelled word in the English version of the title but it adds to the overall quirkiness and quaint feel of the song. This was on my playlist when I was moving back into college at the conclusion of my summer because it just has that roadtrip kind of feel to it (my family and I drove all the way to my dorm so I could move in). The weird, spacey sounds in conjunction with the summery guitars make for a very interesting combination and you just can’t help but smile and feel light when you hear this song. Lim Kim’s vocals are definitely unique and I really like her other releases from this year but this song was my jam during the 8-hour drive to LA so it has a place in my heart.
Honorable Mentions: Without Knowing It At All [soft folk-indie sound, melancholy piano with subdued guitar augments a wistful and wispy Lim Kim]
Almost any song in “Pink Tape” could have claimed this spot but I decided to go with my all-time favorite track. In my original review of “Shadow”, I thought it was a very light and whimsical song. It sounded just lovely with the cutesy instrumentation and vocals and the catchy beats and the nicely placed shifts in dynamics. Upon reviewing the lyrics, I realized just how creepy this song is and how aptly titled it is. This song essentially is about the thoughts of a stalker who resembles a shadow, clinging on to his or her object of affection and having pretend, one-sided dates with them as they stalk. Of course, this knowledge doesn’t ruin the song for me but rather adds another layer to the song that really solidifies my overall impressions of this song and this album in general – this release was an enthralling, creative, and artistic album that deserved much more accolade than it had received. “Pink Tape” was the summer k-pop album for me and is, hands down, the best release f(x) has ever churned out and the most artistic one I have encountered this year.
Honorable Mentions: Rum Pum Pum Pum [a track with rounds, Eastern beats, tango, beautifully stacked harmonies, and is about wisdom teeth and that works; so done with k-pop and f(x)], Pretty Girl [hip hop beats with aggressive and abrasive electric guitars, very intense choruses and voluminous vocals], No More [light and summery yet sarcastic, the contrast between the happy vocals and the aggressive lyrics also makes me beyond done with this album]
This would be one of my guilty pleasure songs. Very k-pop through and through, the producers probably had a lot of fun cramming in random instruments and samples into this catchy mess of a song. Though the song gets extremely stale halfway through and the rap section is, as usual, cringeworthy, I really like that this song wasn’t completely a thoughtless mess. The electro sounds and the electric guitars add that needed abrasive edge to the song. My favorite part would be the very beginning when the electric guitars are playing, leading up to a very upbeat verse section. I don’t know, that section just energizes me so much. It’s a shame that the rest of the song kind of falls flat for me because this song would be perfect for my runs.
This earworm is just so cutesy and festive. From the catchy whistles to the girls yelling out “love” and “girls” to the 8bit sounds sprinkled in, this was a simple but fun summer tune with a very addictive dance accompanying it. I, of course, tried learning it but I lost interest in it after I saw the dance to Sunmi’s 24 Hours. If anyone could rally an actual flash mob using this song and dance, I would love to be a part of it because it’s such an upbeat motivator of a track.
Saltnpaper’s eponymous album was a treasure I had found through my entrance into the blogosphere thanks to Splash of Inspiration’s album review on it (thanks again for buying me the album!) and I think this track was the one that hit home the most. The lilt of the track and contrasting qualities of the vocals of the two vocalists in this track were just captivating and beautiful. I loved the folksy instrumentation and the sound effect of waves in this track, both of which added to the melancholy nature of the song. This album was brilliant and I think it really sounded like home to me because it evoked my memories from back when I was in middle school, during my indie-folk phase when I would listen to music that sounded similar to this album; melancholy indie-folk to soft rock.
Honorable Mentions: Windward [very emphatic and magical conclusion to a very special album; listen to the entire album and the contrast between the very similar first track and this final track hits home], Hats [upbeat soft rock track, very authentic soft rock vocals despite being a Korean release, impeccable English]
I loved this track because of the dramatic tension exuded in the choruses and just how dark and brooding it sounds. Hyori tries this smoky and jazzy quality to her voice which almost works out. She doesn’t have that edge to her voice to pull it off fully but the instrumentation saves her. What drama and oomph she lacks from her voice, the instrumentation more than makes up for it.
Honorable Mentions: Special [catchy and breezy track, Hyori whips out her falsetto for the “ooh”s in the choruses], Show Show Show [interesting, repetitive track attacking the facade that pop stars put up for the cameras; thought-provoking and eerie]
I don’t normally stray over into the realm of the boy bands of k-pop but I heard BTS’ “O!RUL8,2?” on a whim and because BTS is known for their rapping. And yeah, of course, the one track I would choose for my playlist would be the one where rapping wasn’t the focus. This track was a standout for me because of the quality of the vocals (though the falsetto sound a bit too unnatural) and the instrumentation; these boys can rap AND sing. I loved how the synths pulse throughout the song and the echoed snaps sound crisp and commanding. Though it is a brief outro track, it wraps the album up on a rather strong, flirty note.
Honorable Mentions: We On [bangin’, ego-trippin’, aggressive hip hop track, very impressive rap flow, I misheard a lot of English swear words in this song because it sounded so hardcore], 팔도강산 [very aggressive, in-your-face rapping with some groovy horns and cowbells, very reminiscent of old school American hip hop]
15) Miss $ – 니가 아니었기를 (You Were Not The…) – Click here to read my single review for “You Were Not The…”.
No, not Miss A, it’s Miss Dollar Sign. The rapping is just spot on and aggressive and the vocals were very well executed. The “saranghae” hook was effective and this song just packs a punch in general. The ending especially was emphatic because of how bare bones and raw it sounded, with just the repetitive rap section. I loved how out of the blue this song was for me. I found the MV to this song by chance and had little expectations going in and this song just blew me away.