K-Pop New Year’s Resolutions: 10 Things I Want To See Happen In 2019

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.

Now it’s your turn! What are your K-Pop Resolutions for 2019?


12 thoughts on “K-Pop New Year’s Resolutions: 10 Things I Want To See Happen In 2019

    SHINee, Super Junior, Stray Kids, NCT, Got7, iKON and Twice amongst the others proved that too many comebacks in 12 months push quality to the bottom side of the bar (I know you don’t agree about SHINee, but I find their flat 2018 overproduction pretty annoying). Maybe showbiz and fandoms do need 567 different title tracks, EPs, albums and repackages a year, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the strategy on a long marketing perspective. Two good – or better – comebacks, supported by amazing MVs and a good vocal training for promotions, can be enough to make anyone happy.

    I would love to hear KPop flushed with progressive EBM sounds rather than the usual, forgettable EDM synth drops of the last two years. With dark concepts trending on, this would be a very good twist in the plot having so many boy groups potentially fitting FuturePop style (Got7, Monsta X, VIXX, Stray Kids, Cross Gene, Nu’Est, Up10tion and even EXO as well). Any producer out there to build next year techno-industrial anthem?

    Most – too many – 2018 rookie groups were anonymous/forgettable/uninspired/embarassing, and probably they won’t even have a present other than a future. I understand that the dream of being the new BTS or the new Girls Generation is quite tasty, but if they have no chance from the very first day what dream are we talkin’ about? Let’s go back to the golden age of glorious and talented trainees who succeeded in becoming someone rather than failing in becoming one more, and next year our charts can be filled with fresh air.


  2. 1. The Return of Metal Influence to Kpop – After kpop’s most heavy metal girl group (Kara) disbanded, Kpop has been sorely lacking in good riffing, metal-style bass lines and harmonies, and fast pace. Kpop has been literally way too slow for years! Turn up the BPM to 150, give me some iconic “Sorry, Sorry” and “Red Light” riffs (9r even the ones from songs like Dreamcatcher’s “Good Night”). Most of kpop’s current rock styled songs, like DC’s “You and I” and District 9 are more vocal-driven pop with guitars than metal in spirit. I like guitars in my pop, but i’ll take heavy metal songwriting over heavy metal textures any day.

    2) On that note, please, more Sweetune girl group songs. Sweetune was always heavily ‘80s retro with their boy group mainstays Infinite and Boyfriend, and this made for outstanding music for sure, but neither of those groups ever got a song as intense as something like “Pandora” by Kara until literally this year when “Pray” (the *cough* best song *cough* of 2018 *cough*) was released. I agree with you that Kpop should get brighter, but Sweetune always wrote dramatic better than everyone else. Sunny songs from Lovelyz and GNCD are among my favorites of 2018, but I miss the offensively good Kara/2012 Stellar and Nine Muses songs.

    3) Musical ideas we haven’t heard before! About twice a decade, Kpop gets an “oh no I don’t have a trend to latch onto time to innovate” year. It happened in 11-12 when Autotune drowned out and 2013 dubstep wasn’t around yet. That era was full of stuff I just haven’t heard before in kpop, and honestly most of my favorite kpop songs ever come from that time. Then G-Dragon (look I love him the JY stands for JiYong) went and RUINED things for everyone by releasing Coup d’Etat, and everything from 2014 to mid 16 was trap. We had a brief moment of peace before peak tropical occurred, and now even that one is descending. I’ve seen some weird stuff in the tail end of 2018, and I feel like 2019 is gonna have some fun surprises as one of kpop’s new “respite years.”

    4) Operation Save Snuper

    5) Tighter melodic phrasing on all ends. Cutesy kpop girl groups ALWAYS have the most complicated music. I don’t know why, nor would anyone expect it, but it happens to be mostly true. April, right now, are the queens of like four melody polyphony and modulations and other confusingly complex things. This is great in a lot of ways, except the vocal phrasing for a lot of these groups has gotten way out of control. It was a problem with Gfriend’s Time For The Moon Night, Lovelyz’ Lost N Found, most of WJSN’s discography, and good god is it a problem on Love U by Chungha (which is an otherwise cool song). I feel you might not agree with me here, because this is also my issue with a lot of songs you liked this year (22nd Century Girl, Flower Garden). The super extra instrumentals and harmonies are amazing, but please, someone chill out when writing those vocal lines.

    Boy groups go too far in the opposite direction, with what you would call ~moody, atmosphere vocals~ that fail to be much of anything all. Kindly fix this, Kpop. Give ur songwriters a diagram of the harmonic minor scale. Trash any and all songs that have a flat 3 AND sharp 4. I do stan tritones but no one wants your improvisational chromaticism. Otherwise! Yeah I pretty much have the same resolutions for kpop 2019


    • Yes to all of these (especially #3)! I hope your hunch is right and we are entering one of those “respite” years. This time last year, I thought that 2018 would be transitional when it comes to trends, but as the months went on it seemed like the industry continued to dig into some of the elements I’m most sick of. Maybe it’s just a very, very sloooooooow transition.


  3. First of all, let me say that I discovered your blog earlier this year and have been loving it. I’m a big fan of music reviews (and Kpop) and yours are the perfect length, and brilliantly written (I love all the notes about choruses that “catch fire”). Never stop!

    As a big retro fan (Wonder Girls is my ultimate bias group), I hope to see this trend spread and develop in 2019. When UNI.T came back with “I Mean” this year, dressed in multicolor, horsing around on a green screen made to look like an 80’s karaoke sesh, it was everything I could have asked for. More fun retro bops please!


  4. Hmm i must say I quite like some of the more “chill” sounds… so I don’t think they necessarily need to go. That being said, if tropical pop dies and never comes out again I’m definitely not going to be mad. I also hope that BTS and BLACKPINK have better title tracks this year, because I really did NOT like any of BLACKPINK’s music, and the only good BTS songs this year (IMO) were b-sides. I’m also hoping for some more debuts (good ones, but with a more natural progression as opposed to instant fame or consistent under-appreciation).


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