At the end of each month, I look back at my three favorite title tracks by K-pop artists. I take my own ratings into account, but there’s a bit of wiggle room as certain songs tend to grow or fade.
July 2019 Overall Thoughts
How do I adequately describe just how much of a crippling disappointment July was?
Well, it was easily the most underwhelming July in K-pop I can ever remember, and one of the weakest months of releases in years. This is surprising, because July has always been a high point for me. Pre-2018, it was a month that consistently delivered some of my absolute favorite title tracks of each year. It was a month stuffed with high-profile comebacks and bright, exciting sounds.
None of this was the case over the past few weeks.
Add this underwhelming slate to an equally underwhelming second-half of June, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone through such a sustained stretch of disillusionment with the state of K-pop. I spent much of the month listening to older songs (and looking back at summers of years past), because very little new music was presenting anything beyond the same lifeless, joyless blend of trendy r&b and hip-hop.
Here’s the problem, and I’m going to preface it with a clarification: I don’t claim to own the definition of K-pop, nor do I presume that my ideas or preferences are somehow better than anybody else’s. But lately, it feels like K-pop is going out of its way to cater to people who hate K-pop.
I get that this is a business, and an ever-expanding market intent on global dominance. But, I would rather see people naturally drawn to K-pop for what it offers, rather than idol groups being shoehorned into existing Western tropes. What first drew me to K-pop wasn’t that it sounded exactly like American top 40. Quite the opposite, in fact. It didn’t have to grovel or twist to fit international trends or cultural preferences. It incorporated some of them, sure, but was otherwise expansive, ambitious and unlike anything you could find anywhere else on the planet. I miss that kind of K-pop. It still pops up here and there, but it’s slowly getting lost in a sea of sound-alike tropical bops and languid shoulder shrugs of “chill” hip-hop. In trying to appeal to everyone, I fear that it’s starting to lose what made it special in the first place.
Usually, this temptation to go generic is countered by a handful of strong, interesting tracks. That balance has resulted in a few standout months this year (May, March… even January), but not much stood out this July. Because of this, my honorable mentions list is pretty slight — especially for this time of year. My top three picks are all solid and quite diverse in style, but I don’t think any will be threatening the upper echelons of my year-end chart come December. A special shout-out goes to songs by NCT Dream, KNK and (maybe) VERIVERY, which could have filled that third spot just as easily as the group that ended up rounding out my picks.
All of this doom and gloom makes it sound like K-pop and I have parted ways. Of course, that’s not the case. I closely follow more idols now than ever before, and just dropped hundreds of dollars on bookings for KCON. So, my interest in K-pop hasn’t necessarily waned. But, my frustration has grown. It’s not fun to be frustrated, but I’m frustrated because I care. I don’t care about streaming records or sales or chart achievements. I care about the music. None of this matters if the music loses its unique spark.
As we head into August, I’m ready to flip the page without looking back. I’m already feeling more optimistic about a few upcoming comebacks than anything released these past five weeks, so we’ll see how it all pans out. One thing’s for sure: it’s time to turn this bummer summer around.
Month Cumulative Rating: 7.5
(compiled by averaging the scores of every K-pop review from this month)
J-Pop Worth Your Time
Taemin – Famous (review)
TVXQ – Hot Hot Hot (review)
GFriend – Fever (review)
Ha Sungwoon – Blue (review)
Hyoyeon – Badster (review)
KNK – Sunset (review)
Nature – I’m So Pretty (review)
NCT Dream – BOOM (review)
VERIVERY – Tag Tag Tag (review)
TOP THREE SONGS
3. DAY6 – Time Of Our Life (review)
2. ITZY – Icy (review)
1. Dongkiz – BlockBuster (review)