Kpop is nothing if not a single-obsessed enterprise. The labels prefer a quick-release cycle that sees their artists make up to three comebacks a year. All in service of the single, the most important release for any artist. It is the one song that everyone will hear first. It's the song that will either lead fans to buy the album or skip to the next artist. The single is everything. Today, we are determining the best single(s) of 2014, chosen by the staff here at Critical Kpop.
Block B - "Jackpot"
I feel a little bit bad about choosing a song from one of my biases. Except not really. Block B's "Jackpot" was the only single this year that had me looking up music terminology on the internet. It's the only single that floored me so much that I took it to a professor of music composition to try and sort it out. "Jackpot" continues to haunt me with its beauty and cohesiveness, even in the face of abrupt tempo and tonal changes. Block B is one of the only groups in Kpop willing to take a risk with their music, creating a true stylistic medley. It's a shame that the promotion for "Jackpot" was cut short by tragedy, or this release would have surely made bigger waves.
Taeyang - "Eyes, Nose, Lips"
There's a reason that this song has been covered and parodied 1,000's of times this year. It's, quite simply, iconic. With Taeyang's soulful "Eyes, Nose, Lips," we get a song that encapsulates the year in Kpop, one marked with somber heartache, and, yes, growing sophistication. This song (and video) takes it's time, immerses us in Taeyang's sorrow, without the use of flashy choreography or complex EDM. That simplicity is breathtaking and unflinchingly human in an industry full of manufactured pop. That simplicity has made it easier for other singers to give their own unique take on this powerful song. Which is why it's been so heavily covered, and covered well, with YG's Cover Project leading the way. AKMU's amazing version has over nine million views on YouTube even! When a cover outshines new releases, that's when you know you have a song that has grabbed hold of the popular zeitgeist. For me, "Eyes, Nose, Lips," is an easy choice for the Single of the Year.
T-ara - "Sugar Free"
Now, while there's no disputing (for me), that Taeyang's "Eyes, Nose, Lips" is the single of the year, T-ara's "Sugar Free" is what I call a Guilty-Pleasured EDM-fused Pop Masterpiece. There, I said it. It's in writing now. And really, I love this song for the exact opposite reasons that I do Taeyang's single. They could even be exact opposites, dueling forces, matter and anti-matter. And guess what, Kpop is big enough for the both of them. While Taeyang's single was soulful, meaningful, and sophisticated in its simplicity, "Sugar Free" is thunderous and absurd, a song devoid of any real meaning and purpose except for its solitary devotion to pop. You like Taeyang's single shot music video? "Sugar Free" camera can't stay still for even a second. The cinematographer just bazooka'd a thousand images at your pupils, and you're loving it. This is T-ara at their very best. I wouldn't call it a return to form as last year's "Number Nine" was just as strong, but in a year marked with more subdued hits and mellow instrumentals, "Sugar Free" gave us the unadulterated pop infusion that Kpop needed. Without T-ara's scandals of year's past, this could very well have been one of the most popular singles of the year. For me, it stands on opposite sides of the same Kpop coin with Taeyang's "Eyes, Nose, Lips," and while I believe Taeyang just edges T-ara by reaching iconic-status, T-ara is right in the thick of things, doing what they do, whether you like it or not.
'L' 's Picks:
EPIK HIGH - "Born Hater"
There has been quite a lot of publicity about entertainment companies this year. A lot of it has been negative. But there is no doubt that YG proved to be on top of their game this year. Born Hater is a collaborative effort from EPIK High, but also features many recognizable names such as Verbal Jint, Beenzino, Bobby, and B.I. The song reflects what each contributor feels about the concept of "haters" and how they respond to it. The maturity and age of the features in "Born Hater" create a self-aware and introspective feel to the lyrics and, when delivered with stylistic wordplay, is impressive. Although my Korean is extremely limited, I can still appreciate the translated lyrics. Coupled with a quirky bathroom set and talented musical champions, "Born Hater" is self aware and cheeky.
VIXX - "ERROR"
My top pick for Single of the Year goes to VIXX with "Error." On my initial listen to this track, I was insanely swept away with the melodic piano introduction, and eventually by the big, powerful bridge and chorus with alternating melodies. The song itself is incredibly well-produced with a crisp clean sound and the echoic vocals over the use of sound effects to invoke the image of science fiction, all while retaining that distinctive over-polished Kpop feel. The actual MV is a treat as well, as it boasts some impressive direction and quality with riveting storytelling. The members of VIXX themselves do an incredible job with the choreography and presentation of "Error," just adding to the overall package of an unforgettable single. I hope to see much more of this no-holds barred style of single and concept in the future. Congratulations, VIXX.