2014 was slated to be the year of established artists making their solo debuts. And how! For all the haters that claim Kpop groups have no talent, that groups are manufactured on an assembly line, these solo debuts surely proved them wrong. So much so that we have to question whether some of these talents are too hidden in the group setting. But today we're not here to question the Kpop model. Today we're here to honor the best guy and the best girl to make their solo debut in 2014.
Tim's Pick: Taemin
There's been a lot of very solid debuts this year, but few have been as audacious as Taemin's. Though some fans grumbled over SHINee's Maknae's over-the-top masculinity, I'd argue that, with "Danger," Taemin has brought something far more theatrical, something more akin to early Michael Jackson or Prince.
When watching "Danger," you have to keep some specific things in mind. Consider: His crazy, unpredictable choreography. Ask: How many costume changes does he have? Remember: How many times you're going to be singing this song; I'm talking in the shower, at the supermarket, in your sleep. Though there may have been better, more artistic releases this year in Kpop, few have been as ridiculously fun as Taemin's solo debut here.
What's most impressive for me is how confidently Taemin jumps into his solo debut. While some artists play it safe, and understandably so, Taemin has gone all in, betting on himself, and winning spectacularly. I mean, have you seen one of his live performances? Are you kidding me?
Overlooked under the overpowering "Danger" MV, is a strong mini-album in Ace. The title song could very well have been the promotional single and a killer one at that - cool and slick, it's a perfect start to the album. "Experience" is another standout, and is another song that gives this album an old-school feel. Say what you will about SM, but they sure know how to put together a strong release. "Pretty Boy," "Wicked," and even the ending track "Play Me" ask for further listening. And who are we to argue? Taemin is the real deal. As singer, dancer, performer, and future superstar. If he hasn't proved it with SHINee already, he's definitely done it with Ace.
So, it should come as no surprise that Taemin takes the prize for Best Male Solo Debut of 2014. I've been talking about my love for "Danger" for months now. In a year of doom and gloom in Kpop, Taemin reminded us that spectacle has been sorely missing. I can't wait to see what's in Taemin's bright future. And what will he be wearing?
Zander's Pick: HA:TFELT
I have a confession to make. Even after seven magnificent years for Wonder Girls, I’m totally fine with their dissolution. And you know why? Because out of the ashes, Yenny has arisen as the proverbial phoenix, renamed as HA:TFELT. And if her debut solo album is any indication, there is a new star in Kpop.
Fun Fact: Yenny’s odd looking nom de plume, for those who haven’t already done the research, is a play on “heartfelt” and the American English pronunciation of “hot.” But you can just pronounce it as “heartfelt.”
Me? is not at all what you would expect from a debut artist. It is mature and accomplished. And that is what I love about HA:TFELT. Too many Kpop artists are pushed out the assembly line door, sixteen years old and barely comfortable with their voices. HA:TFELT has experience, she has charisma, and she has a voice that was never fully exploited by Wonder Girls. And now she’s playing for keeps.
The album kicks off with the anthem, “Iron Girl,” which signals HA:TFELT’s intentions right away. Yes, her group of seven years just disbanded, but she’s going to be just fine. She is Iron Girl. “Just because I took a step back, you think I lost. Just because you can’t see me, you say it’s over.” Not so for this star. She epitomizes the survivor.
“Truth” may be one of the most underrated songs of the year, and is one of those rare songs that only sounds better the louder you blast it. But most of HA:TFELT’s promotions focused on the single, “Ain’t Nobody.” Aside from producing a gorgeous music video, HA:TFELT also created what is undoubtedly the best breakup song of 2014. Seriously, the raw emotion in this song makes me want to break up with someone right now just to listen to this song a few more times.
The rest of Me? features “Bond,” a decent James Bond theme song, “Wherever Together,” a club mix, and two ballads in “Peter Pan” and “Nothing Lasts Forever.” She also featured in Gaeko's "No Make Up." All are worth your time. HA:TFELT is worth your time. All of which has me really excited for 2015 and HA:TFELT’s next release. And how funny. This was supposed to be the year of solo debuts, with everyone hyping Hyomin, Hyosung, and Jiyeon. But it was HA:TFELT that takes home the prize for Best Female Solo Debut with one of the standout albums of the year in Me?