Now that we’ve taken a look at the best songs of the year, it’s time to dive deeper into the albums. K-pop is infamous for its diverse definition of what an “album” is, but my criteria for this countdown was that the project had to consist of at least five tracks to be eligible, though one could be an intro. And I was much harder on the mini albums, since it’s easier to keep the quality up when there are less songs to worry about.
My hope for next year is more quality girl group albums (or, more girl group albums in general!). It seems like in k-pop, girl groups focus more on singles while the guys make their mark with albums. That’s one of the reasons why there’s such a gender disparity on my list this year.
EXO-CBX – Hey Mama!
Astro – Autumn Story
BTS – Wings
B.A.P – Carnival
GFriend – LOL
As a fan of Sweetune‘s productions, I was absolutely giddy upon hearing Snuper’s first album of the year. It’s 80’s cheese at its best, filtered through a stylish k-pop lens.
Showcasing a diverse range of styles, NCT’s first mini album pulled from classic k-pop touchstones and infused them with the trendiest elements of modern club and hip-hop.
Though I wasn’t a fan of any of the Lotto repackaged tracks, the original version of the album was remarkably consistent and even a bit experimental for the group.
DAY6 continue to impress as Korea’s most promising up-and-coming idol rock group. Daydream is a near-perfect collection of songs, pulling in influences from dance and electronica and fusing them to sky-high choruses.
Whether talking about the original or repackaged version, Oh My Girl’s 2016 pop opus was the best album by a girl group all year. It’s musically adventurous, but without sacrificing a strong hook or infectious sense of fun.
After a long hiatus, B1A4 returned with the most mature album of their career. Almost entirely self-produced, it’s a gorgeously conceived journey through their most idiosyncratic sounds, from lush balladry to brash power pop.
Every one of Astro’s 2016 albums were incredibly strong, but Summer Vibes inches them out by way of its sheer consistency. Opening with the anthemic Fireworks, it’s also home to their best ballad so far, the gorgeous Growing Pains.
Infinite never disappoints when it comes to albums. And even though they pulled a bit farther from their trademark sound in places, Infinite Only holds together on the strength of their inimitable performance. The dramatic closer, Zero, keeps us aching for their next release.
I listed the repackaged Very Nice first, and I’ve actually split it into its own mini album within my personal music library. That’s nothing against Love & Letter, which is also strong, but the three-part punch of Very Nice, Healing and Simple is by far this year’s strongest back-to-back grouping of songs.
When I think of albums, I want the highs and lows. I want the songs to take me on some sort of journey. Press It feels like an album from another time, where the emphasis wasn’t necessarily on one strong single and a bunch of filler side tracks. Guess Who and Sexuality alone are enough to put this over the top, but the whole thing is just so artfully constructed that it’s hard not to be enraptured by its various charms. Anchoring it all is the beguiling, how-is-he-so-good performance by Taemin. He can pull off any genre and make it his own.