Drumroll, please: A Year in K-pop, 2010

Public service announcement: It looks like the whole “indulging-in-end-of-year-kpop-festivities-in-Taiwan” thing didn’t really work out, which partially explains the epic lateness of this post. Wi-fi was nearly inexistent where I was staying, and I just haven’t had a spare moment to write this post, aside from sporadically jotting down ideas while riding the subway. I’ll be posting about my trip to Taiwan in a few weeks, fear not.

Now back to the folks in Kpopland.

Upon rereading my roundup post from last year, I’m realizing exactly how much of 2009 I spent enclosed in the dying bubble that was the DBSK fandom. Admittedly, 2010 was pretty sucky music-wise (although it has been mercifully drama-free), but I think I’m at a stage where I’m still too naïve about K-pop to turn myself off to it even when it sucks and I know it sucks. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m not jaded and critical of everything that comes my way, ‘cause that’s just how I do.

And now, without further ado:

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Best Lead Single: “Bad Girl Good Girl”/”NU ABO”/”Lucifer”/”Soom”/”Go Away”

Like I said before, 2010 was a pretty ‘meh’ year as far as K-pop goes, and as per the definition of mediocrity, there was no real stand-out lead single this year. Throughout the year, I looked for that “it” song – a single that was outstanding in terms of music, choreography, live performance, MV direction, styling, and promotion. The above five songs came close in varying respects… but not close enough.

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Best Album: 2NE1 – To Anyone

I started out hating this album, but it (along with 2NE1 as a whole) really grew on me after a few months of having 2NE1 shoved in my face wherever I went. I’ll still maintain that YG was really obnoxious to promote three singles at the same time, but that’s just how YG is – and plus, it wasn’t the promotional tracks that impressed me, anyway. Up until now, 2NE1 has been pretty one-dimensional as a group, and their debut mini-album wasn’t able to show the members’ abilities adequately. A full-length album gave the group room to fully explore their creative potential outside of their set “concept,” which thus made 2NE1 multidimensional. I’m still not a fan of 2NE1 on the whole, but “To Anyone” was strong enough of an album to give me faith that 2NE1 will, at the least, not fail miserably in the States. Fingers crossed.
Runners-up: SNSD – Oh!/Run Devil Run; BoA – Hurricane Venus

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Best Minialbum: 2PM – Still 2:00 PM

With the exception of the horrid title track and the loltastic “Saving Private Ryan” styling, this minialbum is probably the most solid work that 2PM’s done since Jaebum’s departure. After hearing their first full-length album earlier in the year, I began to worry that 2PM would be condemned to doing tacky hit-or-miss dance tracks for all of eternity. The biggest problem with JYP artists is that each group is too specialized. 2AM is the ballad group. 2PM is the dance-acro group. Wonder Girls will never have a concept based on anything in the 21st century. Thankfully, it looks like miss A is starting to break this trend, as are works like “Still 2:00 PM.” Although the tracks on this mini still stay pretty faithful to 2PM’s usual dance/R&B fare, they’ve slowly begun to break away from the formulas that “work” – catchy ‘hooks,’ suggestive lyrics, depending on Junsu’s voice for 75 percent of the song. The end result? Good, diversified music neatly packaged in a well-constructed minialbum….with a sucky promotional single, but we can work on that.
Runners-up: Secret – “Madonna”; Beast – “Mastermind”

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Best Video: 2NE1 – “It Hurts”

This was the only video I saw all year that didn’t make me raise an eyebrow, predict every other camera shot, or hit the ‘stop’ button halfway through because I got bored. This video was just good, the end.
Runners-up: Ga-In – “Irreversible”; Narsha – “Bbi Ri Bba Bba”

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Boy Group of the Year: 2PM

With the Jaebum drama finally out of the way, 2PM finally got their chance to shine on their own this year. They released one full-length album and two minialbums in the span of just one year, while also tackling a Japanese debut, concerts in both Asia and America, and various solo activities at the same time. That alone is highly commendable, especially for a group who spent much of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 defining their existence through scandal and media sensationalism rather than actual music. While the group itself still has a ways to go in terms of refinement and overall quality, it’s clear that 2PM was eager to escape the shadow of past controversy and make a steady and sturdy climb to the top.  And they’re well on their way to doing so.
Runners-up: Beast; 2AM

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Girl Group of the Year: SNSD

As much as I hate to admit it, SNSD could probably be the Girl Group of the Rest Of Eternity and no one would bat an eye because these girls are always everywhere and doing everything – and whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’ve gotta give these girls mad props because being the nation’s mascots is no easy job. This year, especially, was a big year for SNSD – the tally adds up to one full length album, one repackage album, two Japanese singles and one mini-album…plus the countless variety appearances, the CF endorsements, the most intense Japanese debut from SM I’ve seen since that of DBSK…and the pains of running around in heels and miniskirts all the freaking time. Most importantly, SNSD was able to follow-up their wildly successful “Gee” with material of an equal or greater caliber. Super Junior couldn’t even do that after “Sorry Sorry.” However, SNSD did – while looking gorgeous at the same time.
Runners-up: f(x); 2NE1

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Entertainer of the Year (♂): Minho (SHINee)

This isn’t a biased decision, I promise.

I think that this was the year that both SM and Minho figured out that Minho has essentially no talent as a musician, but his place as SHINee’s resident hottie has become too well established for him to just keep quiet in the background while the rest of SHINee goes on to bigger and better things. The solution? Put him on a bunch of reality shows, make him talk, and hope for the best. I don’t know what they did to change Minho from the hopelessly uninteresting “flaming charisma” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) to the sickeningly sweet “best appa” who basically ran the show in Hello Baby. To be honest, Minho’s not all that funny or charming, but there’s something about good looks and all-around likeability that makes variety show producers fall in love. Minho finished off 2010 with three permanent variety show guest spots, one MCing gig, one drama-slash-movie thing, and numerous guest appearances under his belt. Considering the fact that Minho’s an idol star with limited talent and limited popularity even within his own fanbase, his variety resume is nothing to sneeze at. And, as much as I’d hate to have to share him with the rest of the universe, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Minho became the next Yoona of K-pop variety.
Runners-up: Song Joong-ki, Taecyeon (2PM)

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Entertainer of the Year (♀): Victoria (f(x))

In short, Victoria was what kept f(x) relevant after Amber went AWOL. Not to say that f(x) is nothing without Amber, but I just don’t think that Luna, Sulli, and Krystal have anything intriguing about them apart from their talent and cuteness. Victoria, on the other hand, debuted as the quirky Chinese ahjumma of the group, and her variety appearances this year exploited all three of those points. Victoria’s biggest variety show charm is that she’s too inexperienced to the wheelings and dealings of scripted variety, and her naivete is what keeps her fresh, real, and charming. Most importantly, I just don’t see anything I don’t love about this girl, and it seems like variety show hosts and PDs think the same. Then again, that’s what they said about Yoona. Ugh, why do fans ruin everything?
Runners-up: Moon Geun-young, Seohyun (SNSD)

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Rookie Award (): ???

The fact that it took me over fifteen minutes to mentally recall what boy groups debuted this year is probably reason enough for me to not give this award to anyone. To be fair, not a ton of boy groups debuted this year, period, and the ones that did started out unimpressively and fizzled out quietly.  Even the so-called “hot debuts” from late 2009 – MBLAQ, ZE:A, F.cuz – didn’t make impressive showings this year. It’s a popular rumor that the trainee pools at SM, JYP, and YG are all filled to capacity…so then why are there no new boys, and why are all the new girls so unimpressive?

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Rookie Award (♀): Secret

Truth be told, “Magic” was a little difficult to take seriously – but since when have debut songs ever been good? What’s important is that, upon further observation, “Magic” shows off Secret’s merits as a talented group to an extent greater than most gimmicky girl group songs. The release of “Madonna,” however, revealed a level of potential talent previously unseen in newly debuted girl groups. While “Madonna” didn’t achieve as high a level of memedom as their management had probably hoped, it did launch Secret into the public eye as a force to be reckoned with. Now if their music would focus less on achieving memedom and more on exploring the members’ talents, then we’d be in an excellent place.
Runners-up: miss A; Rainbow

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Best Concept/Visual Design: miss A – “Bad Girl Good Girl”

“BGGG” had a great concept because the concept was barely there. Not only is this a departure from the usual JYPE trend, but it’s a refreshing change from seeing other girl groups debut at the same time with nothing more than flashy costumes and subpar talent.  More importantly, it promoted the idea that a group can succeed without a concept. Unfortunately, that idea died with the gimmicky mess that was “Breathe.” Sigh.
Runners-up: SNSD – “Hoot”; SHINee – “Jo Jo”

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Most Musically Sophisticated Lead Single: SHINee – “Lucifer”

Okay, you got me: I only created this category because I think that “Lucifer” deserves more praise than what it’s received from most critics. I won’t deny the fact that this song is ridiculously noisy and obnoxious and is a headache to listen to, but I keep coming back to it because there’s just so much to listen to. “Lucifer” is an incredibly complex song by most pop music standards – in the background track alone, there are layers upon layers of mismatching rhythms and harmonies that somehow come together in some sort of pop-magic-synergy. If you’ve got ears of steel and a lot of time on your hands, I really encourage you to look past the noisy, shouty vocal line and take a closer listen to the background track, and you’ll know what I mean. The degree of musical sophistication exhibited in “Lucifer” is truly quite remarkable. It’s just too bad that the song itself is so grating on the ears for the casual listener.

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Best Drama OST Song: Im Jae-bum – “Stigma”

I didn’t even follow Chuno all that closely, but this was the first theme song to a drama that didn’t make me roll my eyes every time I heard it. It’s a far cry from the annoying, idol-produced pop-fluff (“Stand By Me”) or the overdramatic, typical K-drama ballad (“Like A Fool”) that seems to define recent drama OSTs. The song is good, and Im Jae-bum’s voice is gold. Gold!
Runners-up: SeeYa – “My Heart is Touched”; Yesung – “It Has To Be You”

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Hallyu Star of the Year: JYJ

I’m kinda torn about giving this award to JYJ, but there just wasn’t another K-pop act that made as bold of a leap outside of their geographical comfort zone as they did. But the messiness that accompanied JYJ’s foray into the American pop scene was more embarrassing and less effective than, say, the public’s reception of Wonder Girls during the Jobros’ world tour. Never mind the logistic nightmare that was the US leg of JYJ’s showcase tour. The release of the album itself was so disorganized that it made it almost impossible to get your hands on a copy unless you were a psycho fan willing to jump through endless hoops for one CD. Paired with JYJ’s desire to become a “global pop act,”this kind of disorganization could easily kill off JYJ’s chances of winning the hearts of an otherwise apathetic pop music audience in the west. Of course, it’s not easy having SM breathing fire down your neck all the while, but that’s no excuse to come out with a product that, for our purposes and theirs, just doesn’t make the cut.
Runners-up: KARA; U-Kiss

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12 Words for 2010: Cheers to a drama-free year. It’s too bad the music sucked.

12 Words for 2011: DBSK and Big Bang, show those rookie boy bands how it’s done.

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