It’s December – or at least it was – which means it’s time for the big labels to churn out their holiday ballads and festive company music videos. They’re usually cute and fun to watch, but unfortunately they’re also usually nothing sensational as well. Last year, one of our writers wrote about how scarce and disappointing end of the year K-pop comebacks usually are, and with year-end preparations looming over every idols’ mind at this time of the year, it’s understandable why this would be the case.
But there’s always room for exceptions, and the exception is called the K-pop releases from December 2015. For one, they were actually good. For another, there seemed to be more of it over the seasonal content typical at the close of the year. It’s honestly a shame that we published our annual list of top songs from the year before all the songs could be release, or else the following would be some very likely contenders.
December 2015 witnessed a plethora of unusually fine hits and I am sure I missed out on a lot more. Although some were more mainstream than others, all had the final say to one of the best years in K-pop in a while.
Laboum “Aalow Aalow”
I’ll be real with you here – if you had asked me to name any one of Laboum’s songs two months ago I probably would not have been able to do it. That all changed, however, when the girl group kicked off December and captivated my attention with “Aalow Aalow;” now I can somewhat proudly list at least one. And while I still cannot explain the meaning behind the title (as far as I see it, it’s “Hello Hello” with a flair), I do know that the fresh single and its accompanying music video totally nailed the ‘80s Cyndi Lauper feel they were going for. Very retro, very colorful, they almost remind me of a younger Wonder Girls. The set may not be as elaborate or run on as high of a budget as the seniors’, but the minimalism completes the pastel confectionary aesthetics. The vintage styling is something out of the time period as well, which ranges from knee-length skirts, pinned up bobs, thick headbands and plaid patterns. Everything about this video is super modest, but definitely not the kind that would take away from quality or from being enjoyable.
And of course to complete the comeback is the song itself, which was released five days after the music video was uploaded. The piano glissando at the opening wastes no time to introduce the synth-y pop track about a girl who becomes excited over a boy. Sugary sweet, like its visuals. It’s catchy, with a clear structure and one heck of a build up and hook. It probably takes the cake for one of the year’s peppiest songs because there is just no way that these girls’ fruity voices won’t brighten your mood. What makes the song all the more unique is the instrumentals; the aforementioned synths blare like a horn and the ch-ki-tas from the backing vocal track accents the song as a drum and cymbal set would. There’s never a dull moment and hopefully with this stellar comeback these rookies will finally see the recognition they deserve. If anything, they now have an extra pair of eyes watching them.
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EXO “Sing For You”
So I have complained about winter and holiday ballads in the past and by including EXO’s “Sing For You” here it might defeat the purpose of a list of comebacks that are not seasonal, but it’s simply too good not to add it in. Compared to any of their other songs, this has got to be the boy group’s most stripped down release. That is, the entirety of the track is simply vocals sung over an acoustic guitar. No rap, no “E-X-O”s. Just pure, unprocessed, breathy vocals. Ultimately, this creates for a very reassuring track to listen to on those blistering, cold nights. It’s a song all about being unable to express true feelings to a lover, so instead they will do it through song. It’s as if we are the girl in question because that is what they are literally doing – singing for us. Even if there is no climax, this song wonderfully brings out all the members’ voices (including Sehun who seldom sings), and that in itself is enough.
Like the song, the monochromatic music video is also pretty romantic and bittersweet. Member Kai is doing what he does best again here – contemporary dance. And there is no missing the elephant in the room, or rather whale in space, either. The marine mammal in the video alludes to the “loneliest whale in the world,” or a real life 52-hertz whale that emits at a different frequency from that of other whales. The miscommunication and failure to convey its heart goes back to the theme of the lyrics, which again is about one’s inability to articulate. This is even more credible when we consider how whales, like humans, sing to their mates as a form of communication. Pity that the 52-hertz whale feels so isolated when it has all these South Korean boy bands (BTS, too, devoted an entire song to the solitary creature) crooning about it.
Probably the least well-known on this list, “Show Me the Money 2” contestant Zizo’s “Diving” is a song that every Korean hip-hop fan should pay attention to. Something about it just feels so old-school to me. Whether it’s the synths or the children singing innocence in the addicting chorus (which you might expect to be cheesy but is actually not), it works. Zizo’s raps have a unique timbre as well, nothing I’ve seen from other rappers. It’s playful and chill, yet also full of personality. I would not expect anything less from the artist, since his roots are deeply planted in the underground. “Diving” is just one of the products of his journey to remain creative, even if it might mean struggling financially.
Personally, the song also has a special place in my heart as its music video was shot in my native New York City. Zizo takes us on a tour of the Big Apple while shamelessly singing along to his own song. It definitely feels more like a summer tune than a winter release. The editing and the low lighting filter, in addition to the various shots of the city’s most famed landmarks (the Brooklyn Bridge, DUMBO, Times Square), really hits home and only adds to the nostalgia factor.
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Exactly 20 years after their debut, Turbo is reunited again – and this time as a full unit – with their ‘90s revival hit “Again.” With this entertaining and upbeat dance number, the trio brings us back to a time when electric sounds, MC intros, and post-dystopian music videos ran rampant as they sing about love and taking opportunities. And although the title “Again” refers to a rekindling in the context of relationships, it can also best describe their comeback and speak to their newfound youth. If I did not know any better, I really would have believed that the track was something from their debut days. Singer Kim Jongkook’s signature mosquito voice is still as high as ever, while rappers Kim Jungnam and Mikey prove to us that they still got flow. If I as a listener can feel nostalgic listening to a group who debuted when she was still a couple months old, then I can only imagine how it must feel to for them to relive their teen years.
The video is not much help either. Everything is a hark to the past, whether it is the train station reminding us that it’s their 20th anniversary or the futuristic sterilized tunnels or the room bedecked with all the titles of the group’s greatest hits. Fans are probably even more excited that the middle-aged men are up and dancing again, even if the choreography is not as intricate as it was in the past (but how about that whip during the hook though?). Just make sure to stick around until the end for a hilarious cameo from Kim Jongkook’s “Running Man” cast mate Lee Kwangsoo and best friend actor Cha Taehyun. Indeed, for those who are new with ‘90s K-pop, Turbo’s “Again” is as close of a modern day representation as you are going to get and makes for a fantastic introduction to the group and to the genre.
iKON “What’s Wrong”
Here we go. They say you save the best for last, and this is it. Their past releases might have been lackluster, but with iKON’s latest single “What’s Wrong,” the boys concluded the year on a final sound note. The guitar heavy, gravelly rock song is something out of the pages of their senior group, Big Bang, and whether that is a good or bad thing…
Just kidding, it’s always a good thing. The song itself has a Big Bang circa 2010 sound to it, before trap and other modern genres was a thing, yet retains a fun party vibe that the group of rowdy boys is known for. The song opens with a crescendo that in turn transitions into the catchy chants that will start and close the song. The song is all about fickle, problematic relationships, and the resentment that one feels while being in one is portrayed through the accusatory “What’s wrong?” of the choruses. There is not only variety in the contour of the piece but also in the line distribution. A real Christmas miracle! Yes, it’s no longer Bobby and B.I. featuring their backup dancers; it’s iKON as seven individual members with seven individual voices.
The music video was thoroughly enjoyable as well, though only if you are down for a hot mess. The boy versus girl emotional feud inspired from the lyrics is literally duked out here in a less than friendly game of dodgeball, with the boys of iKON on one team and masked female antagonists on the other. There’s rioting, there’s paper being thrown everywhere, there’s enlarged hands. Everything is anarchy and it feels liberating, especially gratifying for a song that paints a stuffy picture. This is exactly the kind of content that fans need to see more of from the rookie group if the group wants to grow their fanbase.
For a group that only made its debut less than half a year ago, they’ve worked hard to show off a variety of sides with a whopping seven music videos, which is more than some groups who have been around for years. “What’s Wrong” is a step in the right direction, and if this keeps up it won’t be long before the group dominate the K-pop music scene.
What other December 2015 releases did you enjoy? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.