This is one of my favorite posts to write each year, because it sets the stage for what I’ll be looking for as we move into 2019. A new year is a great turning point for K-pop, and I always enter January feeling optimistic and excited about where the industry will be headed next.
After a 2018 that failed to drastically shift some of modern K-pop’s most frustrating instincts, it becomes harder to imagine many of these resolutions actually coming true. But, I think it’s important to spotlight them anyway.
With that in mind, this year’s list of ten resolutions is almost wholly dedicated to the actual music coming out of the industry. I had a lot to say this time, so prepare yourself for quite a few familiar gripes!
Also, be sure to leave your own ideas in the comments.
1. Make an Impact
Somewhere along the line in American pop music, it became cool to look like you’re not trying very hard. I fear that this approach is slowly making its way into K-pop. “Chill” was a big buzzword this year, which resulted in the kind of songs and performances that lacked the impact of K-pop’s most iconic moments.
This isn’t to say that idol groups aren’t trying hard. I have no doubt about their insane work ethic, talent and level of precision. But too many tracks felt underwhelming this year, relying on mood and low-key hooks that functioned better as background music than grab-you-by-the-collar rallying cries. I’d love a return to big, bombastic title tracks that swing for the rafters.
2. The Purging of Over-saturated Trends
This particular resolution has pretty much been repeated every year since I started this feature. It feels like we’ve been stuck in the same musical cycle for years, and it’s getting more tiresome the longer it holds.
If I never have to hear the words “tropical,” “trap” or “future” again in 2019, I’ll be a happy camper. That’s obviously not going to happen, but can we at least get an influx of new sounds (and not just subtle variations on the ones we already have)?
Honestly, there were several times during 2018 where I considered taking a break. It just felt like I was writing the same thing over and over. Rather than enjoy the overarching K-pop trends (like I’d done up until late-2016), I found myself desperately searching out music that went in a different direction than the majority. That’s a frustrating (and exhausting) situation to be in.
3. The Return of the Classic Chorus
2018 was actually better in this regard than 2017, but the industry is still missing the kind of megawatt choruses that defined K-pop for so long. In their place are instrumental drops or vocal driven refrains that mirror the repetitive nature of said instrumental drops.
It’s becoming more and more rare to hear a robust, multi-pronged chorus that is louder, more energetic and more anthemic than the pre-chorus that precedes it. We need this sense of fullness back — not only in K-pop, but in global pop music as a whole.
4. More Powerful Girl Group Comebacks (That aren’t Tropical or Hip-Hop)
I was listening to Kara’s 2011 Step album a few days ago, and realized that there aren’t really any current girl groups delivering that kind of powerful dance sound. I feel that 2018 started to move us away from the innocent, cute concept that has driven most girl group titles over the past few years, but it still feels like any time a group wants to move onto something more powerful, it’s in the form of tropical pop or hip-hop.
Let’s bring back a robust, propulsive dance sound for girl groups, devoid of affected “cute style” vocals but without resorting to Ddu-du Ddu-du style trap/hip-hop either. There’s a middle ground out there, and we don’t hear it nearly enough.
5. Brighter Concepts for Boy Groups
Well, this is almost a copy-and-paste from last year’s list, but I think it’s even more relevant as we go into 2019. As a fan of brighter, more uptempo boy groups, I always feel like they’re an endangered species. These kind of concepts are unfairly looked at as a growing-up phase for groups, and the expectation seems to be that they’ll eventually move onto darker material without ever looking back.
But in a boy group climate that favors moody, brooding tracks, so many current acts are starting to sound and look the same. There’s a way to be powerful or “mature” and still deliver an uptempo, exciting dance track. I hope that 2019 sees groups like Seventeen and Astro move back towards brighter territory, and rookies like ONF and Golden Child continue delivering the upbeat goods for us fans.
6. More Inter-Agency Collaborations (and some J-pop Collabs!)
2018 seemed to set its focus on international collaborations that would help continued to spread K-pop’s influence in the States. But, those aren’t the kind of team-ups I’m interested in.
With some of my favorite mid-level agencies (Woollim, WM), now boasting several idol groups each, the time is right for inter-agency collaborations. And this doesn’t have to be limited to music. I would love to watch a Lovelyz + Golden Child reality series, for instance. Beyond the scheduling challenges, this seems like a no-brainer when it comes to added promotion for both groups.
And while we’re at it, can we get some more interaction between K-pop and J-pop groups? Given the nature of each industry, I know that this is a long-shot (if not outright impossibility), but it would be so much fun. Can you imagine how entertaining an SM vs. Johnny’s Entertainment variety show could be?
7. Ease up on the Hip-Hop Vocal Effects
This is another global trend that I’d like to see nipped in the bud. Autotune is back, but in an even worse way than during its 2009-10 heyday. This time, it’s being used to give rappers a slurred, languid affectation that is downright obnoxious. It’s everywhere in America, but has also managed to creep into the work of many boy groups. Even Seventeen’s new track Getting Closer kicks off with this effect. Please, make it stop. It doesn’t sound cool.
8. An Influx of Monster Rookies
Of all my resolutions this year, I’m most optimistic about this one. Despite a few standouts, 2018 felt severely lacking when it came to new debuts. In contrast, 2019 seems like it’ll be flush with new acts, and I hope we see a few that break out with exciting sounds and styles that might help steer the industry in fresh directions.
9. A Full Embrace of the Burgeoning Retro Trend
If we have to resort to bandwagon-type trends, let’s see 2019 be the year of retro influence. K-pop’s always embraced retro elements more strongly than its western counterparts, but there seems to be a growing 80’s/90’s resurgence happening within the industry. This is one trend I can get on board with, especially if it sees the commercial rebound of classic producers like Sweetune.
10. Enough of the “Song Camp” Approach
This isn’t going to happen, but I wish that agencies would start using promoting songs composed by just one or two producers. SM Entertainment has been the biggest proponent of a “song camp” approach, often releasing songs that boast half a dozen composers to their name. Too many times, this leads to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation where the resulting music gets watered down and loses its sense of individual style. Consensus-building in the songwriting process is understandably more appealing to agency executives, but it doesn’t usually create a memorable, idiosyncratic track.