As is Bias List tradition, it’s time to take a look back at last year’s K-pop resolutions and see how many of them came true. As always, the results are a mixed bag, but on the whole I’m reasonably satisfied.
Make sure to read through my 2019 hopes and wishes, first. And check back tomorrow for 2020’s resolutions!
1. Make an Impact
Did 2019 deliver? — Yes and no
This past summer was a torture of low-impact, “chill” hip-hop sounds, and the Korean digital charts still seem to favor this sound. But, an influx of rookie groups offered that impactful sound I was missing in 2018. ATEEZ, Stray Kids, ITZY and TXT immediately come to mind, delivering tracks that demanded attention with bombastic production and an emphasis on dynamic performance.
2. The Purging of Over-saturated Trends
Did 2019 deliver? — Not really, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel
I’ll be very interested to see where we’re at with this next December. A lot of my least favorite K-pop trends are still hanging around, but to a lesser degree than before. I think the tropical craze plateaued some time ago. Trap, unfortunately, is still omnipresent. But I feel like, more often, these genres are becoming a smaller element of an overall K-pop track instead of the foundation. Again, I’m most optimistic about K-pop’s wave of rookie groups, who seem more willing to play around with different sounds.
3. The Return of the Classic Chorus
Did 2019 deliver? — Slightly, and things are looking up
My mind immediately goes to TXT’s Run Away, or ITZY’s Dalla Dalla. Both were hits for their respective groups, and both rested largely on the strength of their choruses. Beat drops and chants are becoming less common, though still a go-to for too many K-pop groups. I’m optimistic that we’ll hear more big choruses in 2020.
4. More Powerful Girl Group Comebacks (That aren’t Tropical or Hip-Hop)
Did 2019 deliver? — Not really
There were plenty of powerful girl group comebacks this year, but not the kind that I’m longing for. Too often, these edgy concepts are simply aping the kind of powerful boy group work that I tend to dislike — overly dependent on hip-hop and EDM. I’m still craving that Kara-esque, powerful dance sound. Right now, WJSN seem to be the only group capable of delivering something that comes close.
5. Brighter Concepts for Boy Groups
Did 2019 deliver? — Yes, but I can always do with more
Dark and angsty still seems to be the de facto way to become popular (especially internationally), but there were plenty of big-name acts that went brighter this year. BTS led the trend, followed by rookies TXT. VERIVERY were a reliable supplier of upbeat pop music. Dongkiz, too. The Boyz released a pair of bright title tracks, to varying success, and even NCT went a little brighter with the anthemic Highway To Heaven. Unfortunately, personal faves Golden Child succumbed to the dark trend… but at least they did it well.
6. More Inter-Agency Collaborations (and some J-pop Collabs!)
Did 2019 deliver? — Nope
The closest we got in 2019 was Queendom. And with Korea and Japan currently at odds, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any J-pop collabs any time soon.
7. Ease up on the Hip-Hop Vocal Effects
Did 2019 deliver? — God no!
Autotune was one of my least favorite aspects of 2019. I hate how it’s become an affectation, and I need it to end in 2020. I doubt it will.
8. An Influx of Monster Rookies
Did 2019 deliver? — Yes, yes, yes!
This year was insane when it came to rookies. Probably the strongest rookie year I can remember, actually. They were coming out of the woodwork each and every month, and I’m super excited for what their future holds. Some of these rookie groups (ITZY, TXT, AB6IX, etc) already feel like they’re headed straight for K-pop’s a-list.
9. A Full Embrace of the Burgeoning Retro Trend
Did 2019 deliver? — Well, I wouldn’t call it “full”…
Retro elements will always have a home in K-pop, but this “newtro” trend remains somewhat niche within the industry. I’d love to see more of it, and 2019 offered some promise for the future. I’m especially thinking of VERIVERY’s output, BTS’s Boy With Luv, DIA’s Woowa, DreamNote’s Hakuna Matata, etc…
10. Enough of the “Song Camp” Approach
Did 2019 deliver? — Not at all, and I don’t think this will change anytime soon
SM Entertainment has gotten even worse when it comes to this songwriting approach. Collaboration isn’t always bad, but it needs to feel organic and have a personality of its own. The Leez x Ollounder x Buddy x Eden team is the gold standard for how to work as a group but still have a unique, exciting sound.
It was a very good year for rookies, especially the boy group ones.
Some of here would love to see more and better girl groups.
The coed groups had a horrible year, mho.
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MOAR GG!!!! Seriously, though, I’d much rather have the existing groups become more established. I hate falling for a new group only to have them become one or two hit wonders. I miss having the ability to create playlists for individual artists with extensive discographies. I’m looking at you, 2NE1, Secret, BEG, KARA, f(x), SNSD, 4minute, et al!
More than anything, I want to see some of my old favorite girl groups get a return to glory. Looking at you, Gfriend! And Mamamoo, I want to stop treating your songs like guilty pleasures! (The latter sentiment is one which I only feel safe expressing here… shh, don’t tell!)
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1. Impact: Yes. As a result of 2019, I am more likely to scour entire releases for b-side nuggets because I have been able to sate most of my appetite with those little treasures this past year.
2. Purging: This industry is going to experience over-saturation more than other countries because of the trickle down effect. Top tier artists will flood the stages with a concept, wring every last drop out of it, then move on. But then we get after-market releases from the lower tier acts that have to settle for scraps and leftovers from producers that need to unload content. As far as “Trap”, that won’t ever go away. It’s infused into the bloodstream of every Korean. That’s like expecting Jazz or Country to completely fade out of the U.S. industry.
3. Classic Chorus: Not really sure how to assess this one. I think 2019 had a LOT of experimentation; which defies classicism.
4. Powerful Girls: Given the strong polarization of Feminism in S.K., I’m not surprised that the best the girls can push for are the outcast concepts (e.g., I’m a rebel, I’m edgy, I’m dalla, etc.) and less about female empowerment. There have been exceptions though.
5. Brighter Boys: I think there’s a confusion in the industry that masculine equals mean. If boy groups do lean to their softer side, then they go overboard and all become Mister Rogers. They’re either city hunters or flower boys.
6. Inter-agency: I think all of the companies have become a bit more aggressive. As the industry floods with more acts and artists, there’s less food in the trough. Some of them may think that inter-mingling will dilute their stables.
7. Less Hop in the Hip: I’m on a different side of the fence. Since I don’t speak Korean, the rap segments in MOST songs gets lost on me and actually breaks the momentum. Since many performers carrying out these “spoken” verses can’t sing, auto-tuning them makes those segments less jarring for me. They almost become melodic and part of the instrumentation, if that makes sense.
8. Monsters: I lost all my 2nd gens in the past two years. What do you do when your beloved pet passes on? Adopt a new one! (sorry, too diminutive?) So, yes, more newbies please!
9. Retro: Again, the b-sides are your best source for variety. There’s something for everyone including some of my favorite “good ole days” releases. Must.. ..resist.. ..urge to post reference links…
10. Camping: Again, competition erodes collaboration.