I liked a bunch of tracks by the same artist – sometimes the songs appeared on the same album, sometimes not. With lists like these, it can become awkward to have multiple ranked entries by the same person or group so I thought I’d just sift through my Favorite Tracks of 2014 and rack up the Repeat Offenders – those with two or more tracks released this year that I loved.
Some of my favorite groups released excellent albums and mini-albums this year, my bias group EXO being at the forefront of the bunch. In May, they released their second mini-album, “Overdose,” which consisted of five new tracks. After their 2013 breakthrough hit, “Growl,” expectations for the group’s next comeback were raised, and their first solo concert was announced and set for May. What we got for their comeback was the the title track from the mini-album – a tense, dark, crazy-eyed mess of a song.
“Overdose” – EXO
I love this song and I hate it at the same time. No other track this year has been capable of stressing my heart out whenever I hear it. “Overdose” scored the tumult that followed the group not long after their 2014 comeback. Barely a month into promotions for the new mini-album and preparations for the group’s first solo concert The Lost Planet, EXO Kris filed suit against SM Entertainment.
I never got to see Kris in person, and when I went to Korea for EXO’s concert The Lost Planet in Seoul, hearing “Overdose” playing everywhere made me feel a bitter excitement.
“Moonlight” – EXO
Released as a “special stage” (the live performance equivalent of a B-side) during the “Overdose” promotions, “Moonlight” was a slow r&b jam. Its staging in The Lost Planet was dazzling- female back-up dancers and dreamy stage lighting supported the relatively static choreography. When performed in regular weekly music shows, the effect was less stellar, but body rolls are body rolls.
“Thunder” – EXO
It’s a great complementary track to “Moonlight,” and I’m envious of those who watched this performed live from the mosh pit at The Lost Planet shows.
“Boy In Luv” – Bangtan Boys
When I heard this track back in January, I knew I had found another group worthy of being followed. I thought everything that BTS did in 2014 was just great, and they kicked off the year with this aggressive hit from their second mini-album of the same title. This remains to be one of the strongest K-pop MV’s in 2014, securing BTS’s spot among the best of the new generation in K-pop.
“Just One Day” – Bangtan Boys
BTS followed up “Boy In Luv” with something a little more gentle on a track that showed just how romantic a soft-lit white set and carefully placed shadows can be.
“Danger” – Bangtan Boys
In August, BTS released their first full-length album, “Dark and Wild,” with its carrier single, “Danger.” Even though the concept for this comeback was more delinquent than their previous school boy concept, BTS was never serious about ditching their cute side. This group was not concerned about appearing too tough or mature for its core audience while donning all black and leather. In fact, becoming serious students of Hip-hop in 2014 didn’t mean they got too cool to break out the hearteus or the aegyo when the occasion called for it.
“War of Hormones” – BTS
“I’m 18, I know the things I need to know.” Horny little shits.
“Can You Turn Off Your Phone?” – BTS
A non-promotional track, this smooth yet bouncy jam (that bass line!) can be found smack dab in the middle of “Dark and Wild.” BTS have not added this track to their concert playlist for The Red Bullet Episode 2, but they really should.
“Lonely” – B1A4
An early favorite, and one of the year’s strongest tracks. B1A4 released their second full-length album, “Who Am I” in January, which consisted of twelve tracks, nine of which were produced by members of B1A4 themselves. In a music industry so controlled and manufactured by marketing experts, self-producing idols are somewhat of a rarity. So, when idols are given the opportunity to compose and produce their own music under their own groups, it grabs positive attention, more so when the songs are as good as this one.
“Oh My God” – B1A4
(The original Korean version of this track has been removed from YouTube, but luckily its Japanese version is still up!) B1A4 performed with a live band onstage (another rarity for idol groups) on their Road Trip Tour in 2014. While they never released this track as a single, it was part of their concert playlist, which surprisingly contained several well-placed body rolls.
“Drunk On Music” – B1A4
B1A4 member CNU wrote and produced this track, which features him on lead vocals. Owing a lot to old school Michael Jackson, “Drunk On Music” is a wonderful sneak peek at what CNU is capable of as a songwriter and producer, which makes me look forward to more of his stuff in 2015.
“You Make Me A Fool” – B1A4
The boys of B1A4 had quite a year – one full-length album in January, another mini-album released in July with tours across Asia and America during the later half of 2014. “Solo Day” was the group’s summer EP. Though their comeback’s single was the title track from the mini-album, this laid-back surf song, reminiscent of Jack Johnson and Australian band The Beautiful Girls, became a B-side favorite.
“Jackpot” – Block B
Speaking of self-produced idol groups, here’s another self-produced group that finds itself on the other side of the boy band spectrum. With every comeback, Block B has become more determined to make themselves as “ugly” as they could get away with being in the idol game. While the group is not without their share of pretty boys, it’s the more unconventionally cute members – leader Zico, Park Kyung, P.O and Taeil who clearly lead the Block B pack, music and style-wise.
Unpredictable structures and shifts in tempo and genre within a single track have become Block B’s forte this year, and the MV for “Jackpot” is a fun, terrifying circus romp that continues the boys’ exploration of creepy clown imagery.
“HER” – Block B
With color saturation set on the outer edges of the Munsell Color System, Block B’s August comeback MV, “HER” proved more successful than the brilliant, but rather ill-timed release of “Jackpot.” (The group’s scheduled comeback for “Jackpot” was postponed in April out of respect for the victims of the Sewol Ferry Tragedy.) “H.E.R” was quintessentially Block B – irreverent, loud, brash and adventurous K-pop.
“I Like You” – Got7
Got7 debuted in January, but already they’ve got two mini-albums and a full-length album, which means that they had two comebacks on top of debuting in 2014. Why aren’t these guys Rookies of the Year? This track, the B-side to their debut single, “Girls. Girls, Girls” can be found on their EP, “Got It?”
“She’s a Monster” – Got7
In November, Got7’s full-length album, “Identify” was released with “Stop, Stop It” as the group’s comeback single. “She’s A Monster” is a non-promotional track, and a latecomer in the favorites game.
“Danger” – Taemin
Two tracks released in August had this same title – one was released by BTS (see above), and then there’s this one by SHINee’s maknae Taemin, which also earns its rightful spot on this list. Out of all the SM Entertainment talents, Taemin was the last one I expected to be given a solo project- he wasn’t a particularly strong singer. I checked out Taemin’s debut mini-album, “Ace” expecting him to fail spectacularly but I was proven very, very wrong. I had”Ace” on repeat for about three weeks.
“Danger” owes a lot to 90’s Michael Jackson – the squelchy beats on the song’s arrangement is reminiscent of “Blood on the Dancefloor”, not to mention that the choreography and Taemin’s androgynous styling in the MV bring to mind MJ’s weird vampiric sexiness from the same period. This suits Taemin to a T, who is as much of a student of Michael Jackson’s as he is a product of the music made by the King of Pop.
“Ace” – Taemin
The opening track to Taemin’s debut mini-album that pretty much announced that he wasn’t a virgin anymore. Come to noona.
“Pretty Boy” – Taemin (featuring EXO Kai)
Taemin pulled his bestfriend, EXO’s Kai in on this track to help out with the rap parts as well as be eye candy on the special stage performance. It’s always fun seeing these two interacting on variety and radio show guest spots, but onstage Kai knows when to pull back to give his BFF the full spotlight.
“Drawing The Line” – Royal Pirates
Their debut mini-album is one of this year’s best, and I raved all about them back in January. Kim Moonchul, James Lee and Kim Soo Yun are not your typical K-pop idols, but they have been successful in straddling the idol/rocker dichotomy since their debut.
“You” – Royal Pirates
I think it’s the 90s pop-rock fan in me, but I thought this was the best track off their debut mini-album. If you listen closely, you’ll hear shades of Gin Blossoms in the guitar licks.
The band released an English version of this song on their second mini-album, “Love Toxic”, but it sounds much better in Korean.
“Betting Everything” – Royal Pirates
Following the pop-rock group Royal Pirates’ modestly successful debut mini-album, the boys set out to do more T.V appearances. Their guest spot on Arirang’s “After School Club” earned the members repeat appearances and lead singer Kim Moonchul a semi-regular spot on its after-show. He also became a regular on the reality show “Laws of the City,” in which a group of K-Entertainment celebs flew to New York City to live there for a few weeks.
The group released “Betting Everything” in July as a single with numerous versions – original Korean, English acoustic and instrumental.
“Seoul Hillbilly” – Royal Pirates
Royal Pirates released their second mini-album a month after “Betting Everything.” Its title track and carrier single, “Love Toxic” was a little too radio-friendly and Maroon 5-ish for my liking. “Seoul Hillbilly”, while being more personal carried the potential to become a full-on arena anthem, but one gets the sense that it’s just as happy to be the song being sung “Almost Famous”-style on their tour bus. This track deserves to be heard more, even though Royal Pirates are the type of band that enjoys busking and playing in unexpected smaller venues as much as your typical sold-out stadiums. Total sweethearts.
My favorites from 2013 did me proud in 2014, and if their output was anything to go by, their new stuff only cemented my complete and utter devotion to them. Can’t wait to see and hear what they come up with next year!