Coming off a very strong 2016, this year in k-pop has felt very middle-of-the-road. That’s not to say that there haven’t been highlights (we’ll get to those tomorrow…), but overall 2017 just hasn’t been that exciting thus far. Traditionally, k-pop revs up in the summer and fall as comebacks are more frequent and acts tend to bring out the big guns. I hope that when the end of the year comes, everything on this list will feel like a blip on the radar. But for now, here are the six reasons that k-pop has found itself in a 2017 lurch.
1. Disbandments. Disbandments. Disbandments.
There’s simply no avoiding it. 2017 is the year where a large swath of the 2nd Generation k-pop wave was eliminated. Gone are groups like 2NE1, Sistar, Wonder Girls, Spica, Rainbow and History, leaving a sea of rookies in their wake. Rookie groups are exciting, but there’s a certain amount of clout that comes with a veteran act. Thanks to this year, we have few of those left — particularly of the girl group variety. If Infinite don’t survive their endless contract re-negotiations (I’ve hypnotized myself to believe they will), I honestly don’t know how k-pop will be the same.
2. International trends that won’t die (I’m looking at you, tropical house…)
K-Pop has always been a trendy genre, and much more internationally-minded than other pop music of the East. But in all my years following new releases, I can’t remember a time where one genre has so completely taken hold of k-pop. It’s gotten to the point where nearly every comeback is tropical house inspired in some way. This would be fine if the genre felt remotely fresh, but k-pop has been lost in its sounds for over a year now. I’ve always said that I don’t want Korean music to sound American. That opinion is more fervent in 2017 than ever before.
3. SM basically taking the spring off
When it comes to its artist roster and overall influence on the genre, SM Entertainment is k-pop’s biggest agency. But so far this year, they’ve been slacking. Aside from a few minor releases, it’s as if they took all of March through May off. Their absence has been felt, especially since SM Station Season 2 has been mostly underwhelming so far. Competitors YG Entertainment have actually stepped things up in 2017, but we need a summer filled with big SM releases to get things back on track.
4. Lack of big pop choruses
Where are the big pop choruses this year? Trendy genres like tropical house, EDM and future bass rely more strongly on production than melody, and this has seen a disturbing lack of inventive hooks. It seems like every other k-pop chorus in 2017 has been one line repeated over and over, simplifying a song’s biggest moment until it becomes an underwhelming catchphrase. We can do better!
5. Where are the “super rookies”?
2017 has had some decent rookies so far. KARD, Dreamcatcher, MVP, and A.C.E have all impressed in one way or another. But it hasn’t felt like we’ve seen the birth of any new “super rookies.” And more than that, 2016’s impressive class of newcomers haven’t quite found the monster hit that might cause them to become the heavy hitters of their era. As more and more established acts disband or go on hiatus, we need the new blood to step up.
6. Digital chart rules messing up release schedules
This is much more of a personal rant, and has nothing to do with music quality. But by making changes to the rules for digital charting in February, most major comebacks have been pushed back to a later release time. For the U.S. west coast, this essentially pushes releases back to an entirely different day, and majorly screws up my song review schedule.