10 EXO – “Monster”
EXO returns to a darker tone than usual, one that suits them well, with “Monster.” The song collects the best parts of “Overdose” and “Wolf” and fuses them into one frightening and grand up-tempo. Every member gets a moment to shine, here more than in any of their previous releases, with Baekhyun and Chen leading the pack to some outstanding vocal moments in K-Pop this year.
09 Aseul – “Nothings”
Release Date: 5/9/16
Aseul’s dreamy electronic pop music is not only refreshing but lowkey edgy as hell. “Nothings” crisscrosses delightful vocals with deep, resonant bass that make for a beautiful balancing act that is explored in full on the rest of the album.
08 Park Hyo Shin – “숨 (Breath)”
In a scene that continued to push itself with experimental sounds, hybrid genres, and the like, it was almost a done deal that the simplistic, heartfelt magic of ballad maestro Park Hyo Shin would be the much-needed breathing room to balance out the chaos. “Breath” accomplished that stupendously well. With just Park’s voice, a light string section, and an accompanying piano, this song’s appeal lies in its raw formality.
07 Luna – “Free Somebody”
Luna stays close to f(x)’s style in her surprisingly anthemic “Free Somebody,” a fresh dance track that makes great use of her vocal capacity without ever wringing her dry. Her voice sits perfectly next to all the synthy bells and whistles. And when the song calls for it, Luna delivers massive belts like the born natural she is. Let’s just hope Luna’s poor impression on the charts doesn’t scare her from dabbling in this kind of work in the future, because it suits her like a glove.
06 Neon Bunny – “Room 314”
Spacious electro-pop is Neon Bunny’s specialty and she delivers her most impressive work yet with “Room 314.” Its wobbly bassline acts as a cushion for the artist’s spring-like synths that bounce off the walls from start to finish, the ending of which is particularly chaotic in the most beautiful way imaginable.
05 Echae Kang – “Radical Paradise”
Release Date: 10/12/16
Echae Kang engineers one of the sweetest fusions of classical and contemporary music to come out of Korea in a while in her debut solo album Radical Paradise. The idea of an urban single featuring vivid harmonics and plucked violin strings as an undercurrent seems almost foreign, but here we are.
04 TWICE – “Cheer Up”
Release Date: 4/25/16
“Cheer Up” is the definitive earworm of the year, and with good reason. The single shape-shifts in interesting ways and explodes with flairs of infectious melodies that hijack the mind with relative ease. It’s such an addicting pop song, that it’s frankly impossible not to fall for its allure. I sure as hell did.
03 BTS (방탄소년단) – “Save Me”
Release Date: 5/2/16
Genre: Rap/Hip-Hop, Dance
One testament to BTS’ strengths as both performers and co-producers of their own music is how successful they have been with nearly every single they released this year. From the ferocious “Fire” to the intricate slow jam “Save Me,” BTS have their pulse on where music trends are now as well as where they’re headed in the future. “Save Me” in particular is an extraordinary example of how intelligent these guys are at crafting the perfect song that gathers mainstream appeal and edgy electronic elements for one tremendous display of pop music gold.
02 DEAN – “21”
Release Date: 3/24/16
DEAN’s shot to success this year was unmatched, as the R&B mastermind crafted one glorious hit after another. With the release of his first mini-album 130 mood : TRBL everybody got a taste of some of his best work in one sweet collection. One standout track was the EP closer “21,” a soulful upbeat number that explores the grooviest sides of DEAN. His voice alone is exciting enough, but when he rises to the task with intense belts and beaming falsetto, it’s difficult not to fall in love.
01 Jambinai – “They Keep Silence”
There hasn’t been a song that has captured the overwhelming anger of a country quite like Jambinai’s “They Keep Silence.” To come to grips with its message, it’s worth tracing the song back to its source – the 2014 Sewol ferry tragedy.
In “They Keep Silence,” Jambinai highlights the emotions from the friends and families of those who died as a result of the ferry’s sinking. It takes things a step further by aiming its mountainous sound at the South Korean government for their sketchy handling of the incident. As we now know, coverage at the time from South Korean media botched reports with lies and downplayed facts, remaining relatively quiet about the whole thing. “They Keep Silence” however drags every ounce of justified anger front and center as Jambinai fuses traditional folk and post-rock dissonance to give a striking voice of opposition to government silence. With South Korea’s current state of chaos, Jambinai’s cacophonous release is all the more chilling to hear today, as it preceded an entire country’s own resounding shouts for justice.