The Best K-Pop and J-Pop Releases of February 2021
This piece was originally published on 17caratkpop.weebly.com.
#20: SUNMI, “TAIL”
In the music video for “TAIL,” SUNMI serves glamorous looks galore while delivering sultry vocals. She alludes to a steamy romance with the help of a cat analogy, a comparison that could easily come across as silly if it weren’t for SUNMI leaning so heavily into her character. SUNMI takes on the role of a ferociously bold lover with ease, embracing the persona from her head to her, um, tail.
#19: CL, “Wish You Were Here”
Although the circumstances of this release are tragic, CL’s ability to turn her pain into art makes this song worthy of accolades. Through home movies and personal, poignant lyrics, CL moves listeners and viewers in more ways than one. In just a few short minutes, CL is able to make the audience feel like they know her mom personallyand join CL in grieving the world’s loss.
#18: GOT7, “Encore”
In a touching send-off to a chapter of GOT7’s story, the video for “Encore” compiles home footage-style content with footage from touching moments on tour. This combination of scenes showing the members’ chemistry with one another and with their audiences makes “Encore” a nostalgia trip and a bittersweet reminder that no matter what their next chapter holds, GOT7’s brotherhood and appreciation for fans prevail.
In other GOT7 news from the past month, Mark Tuan has released “One in a Million,” a collaboration with Sanjoy that provides an interesting taste of what’s to come for Mark as a solo act. The song stands out for its vibemore than a particular melody, and this makes Mark primed to fit right in on USA music charts in the future. Mark is currently, both literally and musically, right at home.
#17: J.UNA, Discovery
Discovery is a lowkey, melancholy collection of songs to soundtrack a day spent lazing around the house. For those looking for songs with a bit more energy, “Foolish” is a must-listen. The video is charming and memorable, leaving much to interpretation (why J.UNA interviews a stuffed dinosaur is anyone’s guess). While the full EP deserves attention, “Foolish” is the best song on Discovery and one Ed Sheeran fans will be foot-tapping and nodding along to all day long.
#16: OWV, “Roar”
Surrounded by smoke and fire, OWV presents yet another example of how they are the perfect entry point for K-pop fans who are new to J-pop. In “Roar,” OWV once again embodies all that K-pop fans love about this type of pop music: the duality of a boy band entering “beast mode” while dressed in preppy attire, the fast-paced choreography, and the standout note sung during the bridge, just to name a few.
#15: BIBI, “Eat My Love”
This single may be a standard pop song, but its adorable music video makes it a standout release. BIBI plays the role of a therapist to stuffed animals and plays golf on top of her desk, just to name a few of the silly antics in which she gets involved. BIBI allows viewers to live vicariously through her, fulfilling the “Take Your Kids to Work Day” of every kid’s dreams. Come for the colorful aesthetics and fun adventures, stay for the catchy tune.
#14: SEVENTEEN’s JUN, “Silent Boarding Gate”
The music video for “Silent Boarding Gate” provides a beautiful sunset and nature scenes to look at while taking in the deep messages embedded inthe lyrics, allowing this release to strike an artistic balance. The song is, both sonically and lyrically, a beautiful diary entry, embodying reflections on finding self-worth, chasing dreams, and not being ashamed to ask for help with either of those things.
#13: CIX, ‘HELLO’ Chapter Ø. Hello, Strange Dream
True to form, CIX manages to turn heavy subject matter into light and fun pop songs, and never before has this skill been as clear as it is on ‘HELLO’ Chapter Ø. Hello, Strange Dream. The title track, “Cinema,” provides an encouraging message about how the movie of one’s life needs both ups and downs to be worth watching. CIX goes on to explain how people may feel like they require more “takes” than other “actors” to get a “scene” right in life, but these roadblocks can be reframed as times of perseverance and eventual triumph. CIX lets fans see their problems through a lens that is both optimistic and honest; they sing about knowing life is hard and knowing that life’s hardships can be overcome.
#12: J.DON, On the Track
J.DON smiles and shines his way through his solo debut project, playing multiple personas in the video for the single “Clicker.” J.DON’s music and music video do bring to mind N.Flying’s music, namely thanks to the video’s bright colors and the single’s upbeat sound. However, while the line where J.DON as a soloist begins and where J.DON from N.Flying ends may be unclear, this catchy release proves that is not a bad thing. N.Flying fans should not expect to see a brand new side of J.DON in this release so much as the same J.DON fans have gotten to know and love, which is just as welcome.
#11: Nissy, “Get You Back”
A triumphant marching band soundtracks Nissy’s time spent in haunted woods dealing with supernatural forces. Aside from appearing possessed by evil spirits, Nissy deals with a series of other strange events indicating he’s getting close to an alternate reality that is no utopia.
Buried within the spooky imagery is some deeper meaning, including 3D thumbs-up and thumbs-down social media icons that Nissy punches into oblivion. While this social commentary might seem half-baked, the video leaves enough loose ends to reasonably assume the story is not over yet. In addition to the song being just plain catchy, “Get You Back” deserves attention for its open-ended, intriguing video that could easily serve as the premise of a full-length movie.
#10: KIM WOO SEOK, 2nd Desire [Tasty]
In a seemingly intentional departure from the aesthetics of his last comeback, KIM WOO SEOK shows off a new, more cheerful side of himself that is the epitome of likeability. The pastel-hued music video for “Sugar” perfectly fits the vibe of the song, and the other songs on the album are equally sweet. In short, 2nd Desire [Tasty] is a catchy confection of sounds and visuals.
#9: CHUNG HA, Querencia
From the Latin-influenced “Play” to the solemn sounds of “X” to the “7 Rings”-esque pop song “Bicycle,” CHUNG HA’s debut solo album has something for every taste. It is essentially a “Best of CHUNG HA” compilation album; the brand new songs added to the tracklist are just extra cherries on top. The word that best summarizes this album is “range”: from her vocals to her music video outfits to her collaborations, Querencia heaps example on top of example of how CHUNG HA is not carving a musical path all her own so much as zigzagging seamlessly between and among many paths.
#8: ONF, ONF:MY NAME
ONF is embarking on a new cinematic journey through ONF:MY NAME and two new music videos set in a futuristic society. In “Beautiful Beautiful,” the boys take advantage of quiet city streets, having the time of their lives with neon-lit aircraft, a hoverboard, and virtual reality-style gadgets. “My Name Is” features a similarly colorful blend of 2D, 3D, and 4D elements. Through this comeback, ONF is announcing they have constructed a musical world all their own and are ready to dive headfirst into it.
#7: WONHO, Love Synonym #2: Right for Us
Striking a balance between humility and confidence is not an easy feat, but WONHO proves he’s up to the task. In the “Lose” music video, WONHO shows off his incredible abs, as usual, but he simultaneously plays the role of a heartbroken man who has lost all confidence. On “Lose,” WONHO sings in a softer tone than on “Open Mind,” his last single, and his ability to tailor his vocals to the mood of a song persists throughout Love Synonym #2: Right for Us. The album is full of feelings of both self-confidence and raw emotional wounds.
Particularly notable B-sides are the nineties-esque “BEST SHOT” and the Kiiara collab “Ain’t About You,” the former indicating WONHO’s willingness to explore new sonic directions and the latter being a good candidate for a Charlie Puth-filled playlist.
#6: PIXY, “Wings”
In an increasingly saturated K-pop industry, it is more important than ever for groups to distinguish themselves from others as early in their careers as possible. PIXY has heard this message loud and clear, engaging in world-building from day one.
Here is what is known about PIXY’s music video universe so far: the members play the role of fairies who are perfectly content with being wingless at first. But when one of them discovers a pair of wings in the woods, the girls are enthusiastic. Their joy is short-lived, though; when one of them begins having nightmares about an evil witch putting a curse on the fairies as punishment for taking the wings, the members decide to find the witch and get ahead of this potential consequence.
The “Wings” music video implies that the girls do not reach the witch in time to prevent the curse, but theories about this and more specific video details remain only theories. With so many questions raised, PIXY’s animated prologue film and “Wings” music video make for a doubly impactful debut. Keeping fans speculating about characters, plots, and symbols in a fictional universe is a smart way to ensure PIXY’s longevity compared to groups without the same level of fantasy storytelling.
#5: KANG DANIEL, “PARANOIA”
Part accidental modeling gig and part horror movie, KANG DANIEL captivates while wearing eye-catching makeup and channeling his inner actor. He alternates between playing the role of a scared young man and a confident alter-ego. The former endures frightening moments ranging from being stabbed to drowning to watching a bed of nails slowly descend upon him. As jumpy as the video might make viewers, the song’s addicting hook and the video’s unpredictability are compelling enough to keep all eyes glued to the screen.
#4: SHINee, Don’t Call Me
As detailed in the SHINee-dedicated episode of 17 Carat K-Pop, SHINee’s new album shows for the upteenth time how they both earn their place in boy band history and deserve credit for redefining and expanding what it means to be a boy band. The songs on Don’t Call Me may cover unoriginal topics, but they do so with SHINee’s unmatched sense of individuality. Influences range from house music to R&B to disco pop, and the members’ trademark harmonies tie a bow around this sonically diverse present.
#3: KINGDOM, History of Kingdom: PartI. Arthur
A “beast” image and a music video with a regal theme make for instant K-pop canon. But while the concept for this debut is not new, KINGDOM executes it in their own unique way. It’s impossible to say one specific member or scene shines the most in the video for “Excalibur;” the entire video is a chock-full mini-movie. Tons of backup dancers, countless swords, 180-degree camera rotations, and a very “to be continued” ending are just some of the many attributes that make this video worthy of watching and re-watching. Likewise, each song on History of Kingdom: PartI. Arthur is yet another reason to excitedly anticipate this boy band’s next move.
#2: The Chain G, WICKED NIGHT
WICKED NIGHT is a retro-futuristic joyride, a synth-heavy roller coaster in which fans of The Weeknd’s latest album will delight. Further bringing to mind The Weeknd are The Chain G’s cinematic music videos that serve as a visual concept album. In the “Wicked Night” music video, saxophones and guitar riffs accompany The Chain G as he performs a retro song at a fancy party. “Love Again” picks up right where the “Wicked Night” video leaves off, unveiling a more hallucinatory side to the party. The Chain G relishes in this, bearing a Joker-esque-smile. “Love Again” ends in a way that implies the presence of this alter-ego plans to stick around for a while longer, and luckily, an artist with this much star power is destined to stay shining bright for years to come.
#1: NCT 127, LOVEHOLIC
This album is Peak NCT 127, another example of their incomparable musical identity and talent. NCT 127 always manages to combine quirky lyrics with bold instrumentals, mix emotional messages with catchy sounds, add unexpected details to otherwise standard pop songs, and often mix and match these seemingly contradictory musical pairings. LOVEHOLIC is no different; NCT masterfully works with rhythms, beats, and lyrics in ways that could easily turn into garbled messes but never do. Any artist can release slickly-produced songs, but it takes a special artist to release those songs with a personalized feel; every NCT song feels at home with them. In other words, no one can do an NCT release quite like NCT can.
The music video for “gimmie gimmie” is also Peak NCT 127, not just for its subtle placement of Easter eggs, but also for its mixing and matching of styles. The members seem to take the best outfits from the “Regular” era, combine them with pieces from the “Punch” era, and top it all off with stunning makeup (Johnny’s eyeshadow is a particular standout look).
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