2020 has a nice ring to it, and I’m optimistic about what the new year will bring when it comes to K-pop. It feels like we’re finally crawling out of some of the trends and approaches that I’ve been complaining about for years, leaving the future open for new ideas. With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together my annual list of ten K-pop resolutions.
Though some of these are more realistic than others, nothing here is impractical — or even that difficult, really. Above all else, I wish that the industry will harness its sense of creativity and that agencies will seek to be leaders instead of followers. That alone would go a long way in making 2020 very exciting.
Be sure to leave your own K-pop resolutions in the comments and have a safe, happy New Year!
1. A renewed focus on mental health
This is already happening to some extent, but the industry needs to learn from the tragedies of 2019 and re-focus on how it treats its idols. From work conditions to online harassment to the availability of therapy and resources, there is a lot that agencies can still do to make sure that their artists are taken care of.
2. More unique concepts, less generic tropes
2019 already seemed to nudge the industry in this direction, and I’m ready for 2020 to follow through. Too often with K-pop, you know exactly how a comeback is going to sound and look based solely on its concept. But, acts like ATEEZ proved that you can tackle unique concepts and find success by keeping your audience guessing. Sometimes it feels like “it’s all been done before” when it comes to idol groups, but even a small twist can make a comeback feel very notable.
3. Let psy-trance (or better yet, techno!) be the new K-pop trend
If we must cater to a trend, let’s follow Stray Kids’ lead and explore the aggressive, compelling textures of psy-trance. If I had my way, I’d push this even further and introduce more techno elements into K-pop. This genre was very popular in the late-90’s (especially in Japan), and feels overdue for a resurgence. I want high tempos and big, bombastic production.
4. Girl groups: find a middle ground between cute and edgy
If you look at the girl group tracks spread throughout my Top 50 Songs countdown, most of them have something big in common: They deftly skirt the line between cutesy and edgy.
2019 saw groups like (G)I-DLE in ascendance, making a hip-hop-heavy sound very trendy. At the same time, quirky-cute concepts remained ubiquitous. But like this time last year, I’m craving something more dynamic and propulsive. Something that doesn’t require its performers to sing in an affected manner. In 2020, I’ll be looking for GG tracks that take inspiration from songs like Navillera, Step, Sugar Free, Fingertip, Red Flavor, etc.
5. Boy groups: bring back the funk!
From 2015 to 2016, funk was a big trend for boy groups. Led by mega-hits from EXO and Seventeen, this was a sound I could definitely get behind. 2019 was a strong year for boy groups, but few of them went funky. I’d love for groove and rhythm to be brought back to the forefront in 2020. At the very least, K-pop needs to get rid of these lurching, soulless beats that underline too many “dark” boy group tracks.
6. Give the survival series a rest
Now that vote-rigging scandals have taken down the Produce 101 juggernaut, I think we’re free from MNET-created idol groups for awhile. I’d be happy to see this survival series trend disappear for awhile. I wrote a lengthy article this summer about its overall effects on the industry, and I’m hopeful that we can get a return to normalcy in 2020 as the Produce controversy still rages on.
7. Less pandering to international audiences (and America, specifically)
Now, I am an international audience, and I obviously don’t want K-pop to forget about us entirely. I don’t think that’s going to happen, anyway. But, I would like certain groups to spend more time releasing Korean work than trying to follow a BTS-inspired path to U.S. success. K-pop has now made itself known in the States – for better or worse – and no longer needs to ape Western trends and artists to gain prominence. If K-pop artists must target international audiences, I hope they stick to their guns and show the uniqueness of their sound rather than twist themselves to fit within styles that are already overplayed.
8. More inter-agency idol group variety series
If Queendom proved anything, it’s that there’s a way to structure an entertaining program around various idol groups without resorting to competition at every turn. Yes, Queendom was competitive, but it really didn’t need to be. Its best moments were when the girls were simply hanging out with each other and getting closer. We need more variety shows like this, especially since so many idols in this new generation are already friends.
There’s a reason why most of us watch the ISAC broadcasts for the group interactions rather than the actual competitions. It’s nice to see this level of friendship within the industry. It feels like this quality is being vastly under-utilized.
9. Give me a summer to remember
Summer used to feel like the most exciting time for idol group releases. It would deliver some of the year’s biggest hits and be jam-packed with sunny, upbeat material. This was especially evident from 2014 to 2016, and to a lesser extent 2017. But, the past few summers have been real K-pop bummers. This last summer was severely disappointing, marking my least favorite stretch of releases in all of 2019. Next year, I’m looking for a summer to remember. Give me big, blockbuster hits and a packed comeback schedule.
10. The triumphant return of Sweetune
I could say the same thing about many classic K-pop composers, but 2019 was an especially dry year for personal favorites Sweetune. I wish that they’d get a chance to work with a bigger-name artist in 2020 so that their style could become part of the mainstream again. Enough with these barely-known acts that end up going nowhere.
Woollim… get on it! Rocket Punch’s generic sound definitely needs a makeover. Why not Sweetune?