2011 has seen its fair share of great music. The trends this year: throwbacks or nostalgic beats to artists reinventing themselves. There are many comebacks from legends that made the year even more special. I suspect next year will be an interesting one too. My overall regard for this year’s crop of music is due mainly to the ten artists listed below who, for whatever reason I specify, has made my year of listening to K-pop a wonderful experience. Last year, Girls’ Generation and Shinee took the top two spots on my list. Here’s a rundown of my favorite artists this year.
Runner Ups: Infinite, MBLAQ, miss A, Super Junior, 2PM, Brian Joo, Tablo
10. Lee Seung Gi
When Lee Seung Gi announced his upcoming album, I was hyped like no other. I LOVE Lee Seung Gi so much! I respect him, if am not fully devoted to him, as an actor, but as a singer…Lord knows I worship him. His fantastic album “Tonight” is just a cherry on top of a wonderful fall season. It’s full of classic Lee Seung Gi music from the heart-wrenching lead single “Because You’re a Friend” to the quirky “Age of Love.” But it’s his live performances that I foam at the mouth over. His voice is emotional and sincere, pretty much the qualities that made Lee Seung Gi a star in the first place.
9. Jay Park
Another comeback this year that people anticipated is the return of Jay Park–the former 2PM member, who fell from grace only to be embraced again by the Korean populace. With the release of “Take a Deeper Look”, Korea practically bearhugged him. The lead single “Abandoned”, an instant-classic R&B track with some of the best lyrics and choreography this year, would have placed him on anyone’s list of best things about 2011, but add to that his performances from Immortal Song 2 and we have a solid contender for Entertainer of the Year. Indeed, Jay Park may not be the most outstanding singer in the industry but he is hell of an entertainer–the best dancer, in my opinion, this year and his good vocals are more than sufficient to make him a credible singer. Simply joy to the ears and eyes.
TVXQ as a duo sounds as good if not better than TVXQ as quintet. Their fans might give me a lot of flack for that but listen, The 5-member group is so full of talent that sometimes they don’t have enough room in one song to display those talents. Here, we get the best of Yunho and Changmin. They’re both talented in their own ways, and particularly Changmin, who has always been outshined by Junsu, gets to bask in the glory of his epic awesomeness. Their two singles, “Keep Your Head Down” and “Before U Go” are both shining examples of the music of 2011; heartfelt, dripping with good production, and lyrically deep. It doesn’t hurt that their live performances are always sexy and captivating. I saw them live and was blown away by their epicness. TVXQ stands as a peak for both members and quite honestly, I prefer them here than with the rest of the gang at JYJ (ducks from incoming projectile*).
Some thought that IU was the most overexposed artist of the year (Really? I thought that was HyunA) because she was pretty much everywhere from the radio to television dramas to singing competitions to reality TV. She’s everywhere! It gives people lots of reasons to hate her accordingly. Overexposure is bad because it makes people sick of you. Thankfully IU took a break before her promotions for her new album. But IU is on this list simply because of “Good Day”. I mean really, she wouldn’t be overexposed if no one lover her to begin with, right? But in addition to that pop jewel of a track, she’s just as good singing “Someday” from Dream High or “The Story I Never Knew”. Then this year, she adds “You and I” to her growing list of hits. IU reflects the growing desire and emphasis put on talent instead of just looks that I see going on in the K-pop industry.
6. Brown Eyed Girls
Another group that made good on the promise of their long hiatus, Brown Eyed Girls returned this year even sexier, fiercer, and just stronger artists than they were the last time they released any material. BEG’s “Sixth Sense” and “Cleansing Cream” bring a different kind of fierce and sexy that no artists after them could ever muster. Their sexuality has always been mixed with a sense of female empowerment that many artists have tried to copy but inevitably can’t. Their vocals, like in Sixth Sense, are so strong and emotionally charged that it inherently makes them so damn sexy. In contrast, their vocals in “Cleansing Cream” are restrained yet they still manage to be as captivating. Furthermore, their music video is still one of the best of the year for me because they infused symbolism into everything and the themes and styles complemented the song’s powerful lyrics. In short, Brown Eyed Girls remained as captivating and as sexy as they were last time.
Much has been said about how much B2ST has improved over the years on this site. In a year full of transformations and career peaks, B2ST is the most astounding. “Fiction” remains an astonishing track; its emotions resonate, the artistry of the production is on full display and it is matched by vocals that are on point. Add to that Yoseob’s performance on Immortal Song 2, their stunning live performance at the Kpop concert in New Jersey, and “On Rainy Days” and you have yourself the makings of a perfect year. B2ST really skyrocketed this year and I couldn’t be more impressed. Well deserved.
If it seems strange that a rookie has a high position on my list, think about 2NE1′s debut. While B1A4 is nowhere close to the riveting, groundbreaking, and once-in-a-lifetime debut year that 2NE1 had, they did have a wonderful year, even if it is understated. They’re so underrated and it kills me that no one is truly taking notice of them. Most of the notice for rookies hovers around Boyfriend, whose vocals are kind of irksome at this point, even if they are quite talented themselves. Okay, I have a bias towards B1A4 but that’s only fair; they’re the underdogs and they did well surviving the glut of silly debuts throughout the year. I suspect they have bigger things ahead of them. But let’s get to the point: anyone who can produce “Only Learnt the Bad Things”, one of my favorite songs of the year, in any given year is already a professional in my book. Anyone who can make the horrible English in “Beautiful Target” seem deliberate and necessary to enjoy the song is a star. Face it, B1A4 has more charisma than half the stars onstage. They’re a little rough-edged but a little more polish and they’ll shine brightly.
When I think of SISTAR, I always think of them as a girl with a great outfit: Soyu is the dress that highlights the girl’s assets; Bora is the great heels and clutch that completes the outfit; and Dasom is the…undergarments that are better off not being noticed. Truthfully, when I think of SISTAR, the first thought that comes to my mind is Hyorin, who, if we keep up with the metaphor, is the girl wearing the dress, shoes and clutch, and the undergarments. I suspect SISTAR is just a ploy by the Starship Entertainment Agency to make Hyorin a star, because that’s what she is. “Ma Boy” remains an indelible favorite of mine that presents SISTAR’s best assets–Hyorin and Bora. “So Cool” further cemented their celebrity and staying-power as the stars to watch. But the main reason they’re here, if it’s not obvious yet, is Hyorin. The time she spent at Immortal Song 2 only endeared her to me further and the public too. She handily won a bunch of awards from that show too. I’m excited to see what they’ll do in the future, particularly Hyorin, who is already slated to be in Dream High 2.
2. Big Bang
The comeback everyone held their breath for was without a doubt Big Bang’s. The quintet hasn’t made music together in 2 years, opting to further their solo plans. But the Big Bang here represents collectively the five members’ separate work: Seungri’s great showmanship and music, particularly in “What Can I Do”, GD and TOP’s collaborative album, and Daesung’s impressive if quite inadequate solo material. But the cherry on top of this group’s impressive year, or should I say half a year, is their mini-album. Most of the songs on the album are perfect to my ears, innovative and forward-thinking tracks like “Tonight” and “Stupid Liar” dominate while “Love Song” and “Cafe” linger in my mind. If it were not for the troubles they experienced in the middle of the year, we might have seen more material from them, but as it is, I’m not complaining. They’ve made such a welcome return and I couldn’t be any happier about that.
Still, no one has made a mark as vital this year as 2NE1. By remaining true to their virtues, 2NE1 remains as exciting, if not more exciting, this year as their debut year. My summer was filled with hours of karaoke and each of those hours spent, at least one or two 2NE1 songs were sung. How does one album contain so much gorgeous music? Park Bom’s great solo song “Don’t Cry” started it off, followed by their best song ever “Lonely”, then the summer smash anthem “I Am the Best”, and finally “Ugly”–a song that proves that your English lyrics can be good if you take the time to read them. 2NE1 is the highlight of the year for me because of these songs. I can’t picture 2011 without seeing 2NE1 in bright neon lights.