The Best K-Pop, J-Pop, and C-Pop: February 2022
A ranking and review of the twenty best releases from the past month!
#20: MAMADOL, “WooAh HIP”
Although this temporary project group does not intend to release any follow-up singles, they still deserve to be remembered. Comprised of BYUL, Yang Eunji from Baby V.O.X Re. V, Sunye from Wonder Girls, Kahi from After School, Park Jungah from Jewelry, and Hyun Jyuni from BellaMafia, the group is made up of First and Second Generation K-pop stars who also happen to be mothers. In addition to countering ageist assumptions about who can succeed in the world of K-pop, MAMADOL also counter assumptions that women do not maintain an “It Factor” post-pregnancy. “WooAh HIP” proves women have still “got it” regardless of whether or not they have kids or now seem old in comparison to their industry peers. Each MAMADOL member proves their skills are not gone, performing intense choreography and confidently singing about how everyone wants to emulate them. “WooAh HIP” deserves to be remembered years down the line, not just as a catchy song but as a milestone moment. This group has reminded the K-pop world that talent doesn’t expire!
#19: Rocking doll, “Heart Rider”
This exciting new girl group proves they are incredibly underrated with this release! “Heart Rider” is not just any adorable K-pop song and video. What makes this one stand out is the girls’ backstory. Picking up exactly where their “Rocking Doll” music video leaves off, the girls continue cross-planetary adventures. Their beyond-cute escapades involve making sense of their crushes on earthlings (since they are all alien fairies) and making the most of their visit to Earth (since they all originate from separate planets). Rocking doll are engaging in under-the-radar, intriguing world-building that makes “Heart Rider” not just cute but one-of-a-kind.
#18: eill, Palette
Palette is aptly titled, as it shows off eill’s many musical colors. The album pairs a handful of pre-release singles with some brand new songs, and some of the first songs on the tracklist are the pre-release songs. This is a smart move; after listeners settle into a listening experience with comforting familiarity, they are introduced to the new material. The standout new track is “Tada no Gyaru,” a surprise for its hip-hop style. Elsewhere, eill alternates between songs with a doo-wop flair and rock-adjacent tunes.
#17: YOSHIKI EZAKI, I Love Me
I Love Me is an adrenaline jolt in album form. It is a fun and fast-paced fusion of rap, hip-hop, electronic, and pop sounds. One song transitions into the next one seamlessly and at a rapid pace. Pounding beats, unexpected starts and stops, a deep bass, and electronified vocals make for a compelling, dizzying, exhilarating listening experience.
#16: HAN SEUNG YUN, Lovender
This underrated release contains stellar vocals and a road trip-worthy, pop and rock soundtrack. The album intro is a short but powerful rock ballad of sorts, leading into the title track that is in the same vein. There is a slight synth pivot in “Moon Driver,” but it also remains mainly guitar-driven, a smooth synth-acoustic blend. “Problem,” which will delight fans of “Love Cut” by CNBLUE, is the perfect transition piece between “Moon Driver” and the stripped-back tracks that conclude the album, “Whatever You Want” and “How Nice Would It Be.” Overall, the album is a brief but thoroughly enjoyable and cohesive release.
#15: MC Sniper, “Love Burnout”
This funny and relatable song is made even funnier and more relatable with its music video! MC Sniper sings his complaints about the emotional demands that come with romantic relationships and uses sarcasm to process his feelings (“Thank you even for the time you spend only with my wallet”). As he airs his grievances, the music video shows a couple on a series of low-key dates that leave the man exhausted. His girlfriend accepts gift after gift from him and beats him at the games they play, little things that add up to a large sense of frustration. Yet he never stops playing games with her or giving her presents, and she eventually returns the favors. The song both complains about extensive emotional labor while implicitly adding a follow-up sentiment: “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” “Love Burnout” brings attention to the things people do for love and the joys of an “I would do anything for you” attitude being reciprocated.
#14: VIVIZ, Beam Of Prism
While hints of classic GFRIEND are embedded in Beam Of Prism, this mini-album from three former GFRIEND members is very much that of a brand new girl group. The music video for “BOP BOP!” is imbued with a sense of humility when things go wrong, such as when they shrug off an explosion behind them. But it also has a confidence to it, such as when they play the role of TV anchors covering the news of their own successful debut and when they read magazine issues with themselves on the covers. VIVIZ depict their success into existence without sacrificing the innocent charm that made GFRIEND fans fall in love with them in the first place. As for the album’s B-sides, they consist of a light and fun array of synths and sound effects, “Tweet Tweet” being the catchiest.
#13: Billlie, the collective soul and unconscious: chapter one
Billlie continue their one-of-a-kind storytelling, in both format and substance. The music video for “GingaMingaYo (the strange world)” begins with a Carl Jung quote on the screen: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Billlie seemingly activate this concept by taking all sorts of fantastical thoughts and turning them into their reality. There is a typewriter that turns into a one-eyed, enormous rabbit, a baseball that turns villainous, and a bunch of floating, giant gumballs, just to name a few of the many oddities present! Supernatural forces make things extra quirky: one girl is pulled by an unseen force up a slide, one seems to glitch into and out of locations, and another emerges from a suitcase as if it is bottomless. “GingaMingaYo (the strange world)” is a silly story full of magical mayhem, with a catchy soundtrack to accompany it!
#12: YongYong ft. Han Yo Han, “Dying Every Second”
Much to a certain writer’s surprise and delight, YongYong resurfaces a severely underrated song from 2019, “Heart mur-mur,” in her new music video! The first “chapter” of the music video includes the brand new song “Dying Every Second,” featuring Han Yo Han, an artist whose style gels perfectly with YongYong’s. Rocking pastel, multicolored hair with an all-black outfit, YongYong kicks off an intergalactic adventure. A warp-speed car ride serves as the transition into “Chapter Two” of the video, when “Heart mur-mur” plays as YongYong poses next to this enviable, high-tech car. Both halves have their strong suits. The first half of this music video tells a movie trailer-esque story that leaves viewers compelled to hear and see more. The second half serves as a photo op, letting new fans take in how cool YongYong’s style is and learn this is not the first time YongYong has released a loop-worthy single! Hopefully, this release will introduce many new people to YongYong’s discography as a whole and leave them impressed with both her chic style and her long-time embrace of an Avril-Lavigne-meets-Charli-XCX sound.
#11: WONHO, Obsession
This new-to-him, house music influence fits WONHO very well. The powerful instrumental of “Eye On You” matches his muscular, confident stage presence. With a sinister glint in his eyes, WONHO plays the part of a laser-focused leader, stalking a wolf-filled woods and wearing, among other looks, a shirt that makes it look like his upper body is covered in tattoos. Black-and-white scenes add to the cinema of it all, particularly thanks to pops of red from the chains and intersecting strings that surround him. This release leaves a strong impression in every meaning of the word.
#10: Apink, HORN
This comeback is a wonderful way to celebrate Apink’s eleven years as a group, continuing a signature Apink look and sound while mixing things up just enough to not make this release seem repetitive. With the subunit songs “Nothing” and “Red Carpet,” the lively “Free & Love,” and the R&B “Just Like This,” just to name a few, Apink try out new things without straying too far from the classically Apink path. Another classically Apink element to this comeback: the top-tier music video aesthetics! The video for “Dilemma” features a gorgeous array of rhinestone-themed makeup looks, silver and gold jewelry, a vivid and varied array of dress colors, and artsy backgrounds. An additional joy of this release is “Thank you,” a tribute song to the Apink fandom. HORN and the “Dilemma” music video make for a glamorous and celebration-worthy pairing.
#9: Vivian Hsu, “VIVILAND”
The “VIVILAND” music video is a work of art on many levels. First of all, Vivian Hsu’s lavender dress and long braid are beautiful. Second of all, the rooms she walks through are symbolic and eye-popping in equal measures. She passes by many statues, a small hourglass at the foot of a larger-than-life, hourglass-type structure with an endless stream of sand raining down it, and a red-lit room that makes art out of the placement of cubic statues and architectural cutouts. Even the scenes outside of this museum are picturesque. The building design and spaced-out placement of monochromatic backup dancers create artistic images where there previously were none. Watching “VIVILAND” is like taking a virtual art tour and is worth every second. Plus, the soundtrack for that walking tour is a lush song with a pacing that works well for the “walk”!
#8: STAYC, YOUNG-LUV.COM
STAYC’s now-signature, sugary-sweet aesthetics form the foundation of the “RUN2U” music video. From the heart-shaped holes in the walls to the pink subway car, “RUN2U'' is a visual representation of Valentine’s Day. Other cute locations include a room with a ceiling lined with rows of pastel flowers, a life-sized snow globe of sorts, and a room lined with rows of silver baubles. The sets are an Instagram photo op waiting to happen! As for the music, a deep bass throughout the tracks goes surprisingly well with their high voices, and synths make the emotional “YOUNG LUV” sound particularly lighthearted. YOUNG-LUV.COM is pop princess material that has arrived at just the right time.
#7: Kumi Koda, heart
Kumi Koda lives up to her title as a prolific and versatile artist once again. Each song is distinct from the others, in terms of its substance, style, or both. She has ensured a handful of these songs stand out even more through a series of pre-release music videos. She plays a comedic boxing role in “Sure shot,” a sultry-yet-goofy persona in “4 MORE,” and a more sentimental role in “100nokodokutachie.” The latter best embodies what heart is all about: as she walks slowly and stares up at a beautiful, starry sky, she sings an honest but comforting message: although she doesn’t have clear advice to give, what she can guarantee is her hand will reach out to anyone who needs it. After all, everyone on this Earth shares the same stars and sky, a source of commonality that unites each of the music video characters who stop what they are doing to stare up at it in awe. As for heart’s B-sides, standouts include the Latin-inspired “RED,” the summer-ready jam “GOOD TIME,” and the hip-hop/R&B-inspired “Bow Wow.”
#6: JAMIE, “Pity Party”
Fortunately, the cunning and cruel character from “April Fools (0401)” is back to her old antics in JAMIE’s new music video! Warning guys not to mess with her and playing devilish games with those who do continues to be her music video character’s mission. This time, she offers a drink to her (presumed) ex, which causes him to promptly lose an eyeball. Still not finished punishing him, JAMIE makes him sign a contract on the spot, the contents of which remain unclear. But the contents do not matter; JAMIE’s power move is once again a success. In addition to some admitted schadenfreude that comes from watching someone get revenge on an ex, the video is fun for lighter reasons too! After all, JAMIE turns the metaphorical concept of a pity party into a literal one, complete with a zombie-inspired banquet and an inexplicable dance number! JAMIE treats the phrase “throw a pity party” as a dare, rather than a condescending comment. She makes the concept literal and savors the moment (“I'm so messed up, someone take a picture now”). Not only does she embrace who she is (“All my exes say I'm really toxic / Kinda true though, I'm a bit chaotic”), but she also makes the “I deserve a pity party” mindset sound genuinely worth considering by using it to cope with life’s more turbulent moments (“All the way down / Now the only way is up, up!”). “Pity Party” is a surprisingly optimistic, flipping-of-the-script moment, in which JAMIE does not just prioritize herself before anyone else but embraces the chance to make lemons out of lemonade to a quirky and dramatic extent.
#5: SORN, “SHARP OBJECTS”
Sorn’s debut single under her new management leaves a lasting impression for all the right reasons. Her opening lines: “Mama always said that love's a crazy game / Watched it drive her wild 'til she went insane / Walkin' on the broken glass from picture frames / Guess I didn't learn my lesson from her pain (Oh well).” Showing this cavalier attitude and wearing an ensemble that looks straight out of a Euphoria episode, Sorn is an impulsive, eye-catching character that craves a relationship regardless of the consequences. She sings about her willingness to take risks as she dances in dimly-lit rooms with mannequins as her only company. The lyrics and visuals combine for a dizzying, immersive effect that leaves the audience feeling as confused as Sorn is about what comes next! Sorn simultaneously plays a dark character and conveys relatable feelings. She sings about taking risks while not actually taking them, since there is no actor playing her lover in the music video. The story this song and video tells is ambiguous and makes the audience question how much of this spectacle is just for the show and how much risk Sorn is actually willing to take. She walks a razor-thin line between authenticity and genuineness, causing this release to epitomize the very danger about which she sings.
#4: DeVita, American Gothic
“Eat Your Heart Out, Buddy Kane!” is a reference to a character in American Beauty, a film in which roses and the color red symbolize everything from desire to individuality. Later on in the movie, the color red abruptly changes to symbolize blood and gore, as referenced towards the end of the “Bonnie & Clyde” music video. In both of DeVita’s new music videos, this duality in meaning plays a central role, especially considering how “Eat Your Heart Out, Buddy Kane!” shows both roses and bloodstains, which are all that is left of the raining-down rose petals once they land on DeVita’s white dress. Much like the movie, DeVita’s music videos intentionally muddy the waters when it comes to what certain symbols are really trying to say. As if even more intrigue needed to be added, DeVita plays both the single audience member and the performer in the “Bonnie & Clyde” music video. Audience Member DeVita ends up shooting and bloodying the scene Stage DeVita stands on just moments earlier, prompting questions about how much the messy process of finding meaning is unnecessarily complicated further by oneself. DeVita puts her own twist on cinematic commentary, and she further impresses with vocals that could make the phone book sound gripping.
#3: TAEYEON, INVU
This comeback deserves to be appreciated on both aesthetic and auditory levels. First of all, the “INVU” music video is positively stunning. TAEYEON takes on the role of an ethereal, timid-yet-mighty warrior, who literally shoots for the moon. Her hair, makeup, and outfits compound her role as a character straight out of a fantasy movie. She stuns in silky dresses, gold glitter makeup, platinum silver hair adorned with pearls and mini braids, and tall boots. Sonically, INVU is also a delight. TAEYEON has clearly taken her time on this release; the lyrics represent a process of deep introspection and internal growth. She alternates between a desire to push others away and a deep-rooted need to hold them close; between a need for revenge and an apologeticness for impulsive behavior; between a cynicism towards growing up and opting for radical acceptance of it. INVU is, to put it simply, a very human story. As clever (it’s pronounced “I envy you”) and catchy as the title track is, there is so much beneath the surface on this album worth immersing oneself in too.
#2: Epik High, Epik High Is Here 下, Pt. 2
Epik High Is Here 下, Pt. 2 serves as both a fitting continuation of Pt. 1 and the perfect tribute to the group’s prolific career. The group revisits some themes and symbols, but they do so in new and engaging ways. Testaments to their lyricism range from tongue-in-cheek quips (an example from “Prequel”: “Failure is the mother of success / My success is an orphan”) to deep, thought-provoking comments on the state of the world (they address the comparison trap brought on by social media in “Rich Kids Anthem”: “Anxiety and worries / Are growing with interest / Everyone wants a new thing, always refresh / There is no eternity to hold in hand”). Punny lines (from “Super Rare”: “The whole world is a canvas now / And the universe is my palette / No wonder I always see the big picture”) appear roughly as often as words of heavy contemplation (from “Family Portrait”: “The еmpty seat is louder than the sound of laughter”). Each song covers a topic with the emotional complexities it warrants. They make incisive questions fit well with humorous answers and vice versa, and this dynamism will surely keep propelling Epik High’s career for years to come.
#1: milet, visions
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