IZM, a Korean online music magazine, recently selected 10 singles (in no particular order) that represented 2017. Those 10 singles included songs by 10 different artists: WINNER, IU, BTS, Red Velvet, Zico, Hyukoh, Woo Won Jae, Lee Jin Ah, Bolbbalgan4, and Groovy Room.
WINNER – “Really Really”
It’s not new or innovative and it’s not lyrically deep or serious enough to contain the depth of life. It’s just another passing pop track for the young that you can hear anywhere. But “Really Really” doesn’t try to hide its banality and instead embraces and shows it off, wielding the foundation of music — melody and rhythm. The sound has clarity and the recording it done carefully, supporting the end product with careful tech work.
“Really Really” is smooth and sophisticated, a textbook example of ‘mainstream music.’ The song has 2017 written all over it as well as the youth of this generation. It’s incapable of denying the EDM mold and narcissism in its straight-forward and direct lyrics of a love confession is the current culture and style. This high-quality dance pop follows trend, pulling up the proper sense of pop while decorating the 2017 charts like a carefully cut diamond.
IU – “Through The Night”
IU’s voice that softly murmurs as if trying to avoid waking a sleeping loved one is truly the ‘evening.’ The acoustic guitar playing that imitates the evening air, the pretty words carefully written down, and the detailed melody that etches out the fluttering of love is all ‘evening’ and ‘letter.’ IU uses this song that has the texture of paper to wake a certain emotion that has been dormant in all of us. There was no other song this year that expressed more precisely the precious, small, and pure emotion that wells up when penning a letter for someone you love all night as this one.
It is the fruit borne of IU’s skill who can write prettily and sing what she writes prettily. Particularly, the uncommon turn of phrase “~it is” [Translator’s Note: Formal language.] quietly spreading out into the momentary empty space in the track is an iconic scene that uses language to its full advantage. The small ripple of “Through The Night” becomes a wave in this way and touches all our hearts. After 2015’s ‘Chat-Shire‘, the aesthetic has been one that digs deeper and more intimately into a complicated sense of self while keeping one foot in a relatable replace.The earnestness that flows throughout the polished track is likely what made the IU of today. It is more impactful because of its humbleness.
Woo Won Jae – “We Are” (Featuring Loco & Gray)
The entrance of a rapper that wears his beanie down to his eyebrows and ties together the words ‘mother’ and ‘pill.’ It is the moment that ‘Show Me The Money,’ checkered with showmanship and business presents its ability to uncover new talent. This rap that has a unique character that seems to embraces hurt and anxiety, uses extreme word choices, and uses a loose tone and rough flow. The track shines a light into the dark corners that the current youth have hidden away.
“We Are” is the victory of Hongik College’s hip-hop group, Brainwords, whose members headed to lecture before even the spittle on their computer monitors have a chance to dry from the night prior. Woo Won Jae, Loco, and Gray have won out the negative gaze from the older generation and the envy of people who have squandered their time. This trio who can encompass the “different”, raises a toast to themselves who can approach the game of hip-hop in their individual ways, while delivering a message of encouragement to the youth who are dedicated to their dreams.
Lee Jin Ah – “Stairs”
Lee Jin Ah’s music is both difficult and easy. The strange and eerie piano music, a thumping beat that would suit a heavy metal song starts off the track, followed by complicated chords and in the next moment, bright and perky contemporary jazz flows out. As it branches out in multiple directions from one theme, the fulfillment of all those possibilities is the skill of Lee Jin Ah (although opinions are clearly divided on this) as well as the clear vocals that act as a guiding post within the labyrinth of melody and ad-libs.
Yoo Hee Yeol’s belief won out. Lee Jin Ah’s solo album shows off her skills in the starting place of approachable mainstream pop music. The side ingredients were cut into big chunks for palatability, but like a dish that you keep reaching for seconds due to a mysterious sauce, the resulting music is a cut above the rest. In Lee Jin Ah’s music you can find a mix of aesthetics from SNSD, Jamie Cullum, Rooftop Moonlight, and Disney. The expansion of mainstream appeal is no small feat, but she does it with surprising ease.
Zico – “Artist”
It’s the unstoppable spread of narcissism and positive vibes from an artist condensed into the form of youthful passion. From the brief introduction beat “my schedule for the year is full/everyone recognizes me on the street/FANXY CHILD is hella hot”, he presents his current status with a high-tension rap then ambitiously presents the heart of the song with a mainstream hook. “Don’t think, just do it, you’re the one holding the brush/you’re the very best in front of your own mirror” breathes inspiration into all those who are dreamers and incites excitement. The artist isn’t only me but “we artist.”
In addition to solidifying the reputation of a talented musician as a ‘producer you can believe in,’ “Artist” — technical skills aside — proves its intent is to begin a ripple effect of communication and positivity to the mainstream crowd. It collected high marks on the charts as a mixture of what the new generation is looking for in hip-hop and mainstream tastes. If you listen to this song while stifled by reality, and talent is moving in a deep place within you, let’s shout it proud, “We are, we are, we artist baby!”
BTS – “Spring Day”
“Spring Day” sings of the longing to see a friend, of a mature society that can embrace a hurting stranger. BTS had matured into warm-hearted boys. The music is a given, and they show us a high level of polish in their music video and performance. A gentle song with an easy melody with lyrics that suit multiple generations. Sensitive and wistful emotions are here, different from the powerful BTS hip-hop style. It is the reason why “Spring Day” has consistently received the public’s love out of all the songs they presented this year.
It is a warm spring day wrought from none other than their blood, sweat, and tears. 2017 is also the year where BTS bloomed on the international stage. These boys have proven that if you believe your path is true and pour passion into your work, it will surely shine through. This song believes that the cold winter surrounded by prejudice will surely pass, and approaches you as a form of comfort. This year was poignant in that we were able to witness the majestic blossoming of these boys after passing several springs.
Bolbbalgan4 – “Some”
It’s likely that the words to console a world full of single diners, solo drinkers, and foreveralones are ‘growing closer.’ You have to draw closer and closer yet to whisper into an ear. Bolbbalgan4 shows us through their recording, vocals abilities, lyrics, and arrangement that today’s music is doomed to fail when one sings as though you’re making a presentation — distant and objective. The slang for this current state of things is ‘eardrum girlfriend.’
After “Galaxy“, this track is unique in how it focused on the earnest emotions of a girl in puberty, rather than a woman in her 20s. Here, “go away, no please don’t/show me how you feel, no please don’t” is enough. The anticipation for the climax of “from today onwards, I’m going to be in ‘some’ with you” is a testament to the exquisite harmony between lyrics and melody, borne from Ahn Jiyoung’s musical genes. It’s no surprise that she has become a music chart killer.
Hyukoh – “Tomboy”
Hyukoh delves into ‘sensitivity’ with this track. The dry acoustic guitar with Ohhyuk’s scratchy vocals gently starts things off, and layers of the band overlap the sound while the second half’s chorus explodes as though it is beating out your chest. This strength easily synergies with the easy melody as a result. It’s compelling enough to satisfy parents and teens alike. It is to say, it satisfies multiple generations through song.
Though presented at the end of spring, the track evokes the image of a lonely autumn in its lyrics, drawing out the effects of the song properly. “The age rings are unclear for the young, our eyes are blinded by the brilliant light” represents both the pressing worry for the young, who worry about their future, and a reflection of days gone and days to come for the middle aged. With an arrangement and lyrics that would send anyone deep into thought, there is reason why these men who began as an indie band has the strength of a major player.
Red Velvet – “Red Flavor”
It’s the song that got us through the hot summer. The full melody that accompanies “Red Flavor” brings up scenes of the blistering beach and a cherry coke with ice. With a dense beat and raising speed, it doesn’t neglect the addictive chorus either. These efforts brought to the mainstream with a powerful impact made it everyone’s song of the summer.
2017 was a year of color trends. Personal color and warm tones, cool tones. Idol music also took on colors, and among them the top is surely Red Velvet, who have dyed themselves in vibrancy starting from their name. Among all the faces we’ve seen from Red Velvet, “Red Flavor” shows us at their most bright and energetic. The cheerful vocals of the members fills up the sweetness of this candy pop. Completely at ease while filled with red, this song faced the heat dead on and defeated it. If only for this song, summer might be a season worth loving.
GroovyRoom – “Sunday” (Featuring Heize & Jay Park)
The producing team GroovyRoom made the strongest impact this year in the music industry. Their positioning of ‘good music’ that renders genres meaningless was a successful one, with this track marked as the very top of GroovyRoom’s accomplishments. Using a continually changing beat with the addition of a guitar and piano, the song draws out a three-dimensional image, bringing something new every time you listen. The vocals of Heize, who is true to the contemporary heart, and Jay Park, who skillfully rides the song’s rhythm, provides a detailed character and story of the lyrics. This track is the best suited answer to the question of what a contemporary song is in 2017. It is a well-built pyramid formed by three individual trend-setters.
Thanks to CaratClara for the translation help.