Although this has been a crazy year of ups and downs both in and out of K-pop, there’s one thing we can’t deny: it’s been a phenomenal year for music. The biggest names in the industry have blessed us with new songs, and several buzz-worthy newcomers are making a name for themselves with fresh content as well. But with so many record-breaking albums dropping, it’s easy for other albums to get forgotten in the mix.
So, in no particular order, here is a collection of some of this year’s most underrated albums and EPs.
Please don’t let DAY6 slip off your radar. An overlooked and well-needed addition to the already stellar catalog of artists under JYP Entertainment, DAY6 excels to new heights with their second studio album, “Daydream.” The album explodes with high energy and infectious rocK-pop melodies right from the start with the opening track “First Time,” and keeps your ears piqued all the way through until its dynamic conclusion with “Hunt.”
f(x)’s Luna is a triple threat to be reckoned with, and nothing displays that quite as well as her first solo EP, “Free Somebody.” We’ve heard Luna reach impressive notes from her time on “King of Masked Singer” as well as watched her execute sharp dance moves on stage with f(x). But “Free Somebody” gives Luna the chance to truly shine. The title song, along with the rest of the EP, is an impeccable culmination of all the different facets of talent Luna has displayed in moderation over the years. From the budding dance vibes of “Keep On Doin'” to the slow and euphoric jam of “I Wish,” Luna’s solo EP is one you cannot overlook.
Releasing nothing but singles and features for years, it was long overdue for AOMG soloist Hoody to drop a full album. Unsurprisingly, when she finally did, it’s was an automatic masterpiece. Hoody’s voice is a unique one, and the atmospheric R&B songs she put out matched her silvery, soft vocals perfectly. With “On and On,” Hoody takes a large step in establishing herself as an artist who cannot be duplicated.
Having only debuted a few months ago, rookie boy group Pentagon is already laying the foundation for a flawless discography. Their self-titled debut EP boasts their heavily influenced hip-hop debut “Gorilla,” which is sure to leave your speakers trembling with its blaring bass. But the group also knows how to tackle more amiable, lively sounds — as showcased in tracks like “Smile” and “Lukewarm.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Pentagon slows it all the way down for the emotional, nostalgic ballad that concludes the album, “You Are.” You don’t have to have been following this group from the very start to know they’re destined for a very bright, very successful future.
Two years after landing second place on “K-Pop Star 3,” Sam Kim finally made his official debut earlier this year with the EPs “I Am Sam” and “My Name Is Sam.” Both EPs clear a much deserved space in the singer-songwriter genre for the artist, whose soulful voice cracks in all the right places on touching tracks like “Mama Don’t Worry” and upbeat ones like “No Sense,” featuring soloist Crush. Though it may have taken Sam Kim a while to debut, we’re guaranteed to hear a lot more from him in the future.
From the second Ailee stepped onto the music scene with “Heaven” years ago, the soloist has regularly stunned us with her unrivaled vocal prowess on countless comeback tracks and ballads for dramas. Ailee’s extraordinary talent is not new. But the sound she tackles in her most recent EP, “A New Empire,” is definitely a new avenue for the soloist — and one that showcases her maturity as an artist more than ever.
The title song “Home” couples Ailee’s strong vocals with a lush, ambient backtrack that works as the backbone for several other songs off the EP — including “Feelin’,” a duet with Eric Nam produced by none other than SEVENTEEN’s resident musical genius Woozi.
Hundreds of groups may have debuted between the time 2PM first formed and now, but make no mistake: 2PM is in a league of their own, and they’re not going anywhere. “Gentlemen’s Game” is a full length album that flaunts their maturity both as men and as artists. It’s as sleek in sound as the suits they wear in the accompanying teaser images, and a musical gem that embodies how far they’ve come as artists in the past eight years.
Rookie idol groups were on a whole other level this year. Boy group VICTON are one of the best examples of this, charging out of Plan A Entertainment with a fresh debut song and a fully polished, original sound that demands your attention. VICTON’s EP, “Voice to New World,” is the group’s first step into the K-pop scene — and it’s more than just memorable.
Tackling a multitude of styles from the vibrant dance of “What Time Is It Now?” to the heartfelt ballad of “Your Smile and You,” VICTON proves that they’re capable of carrying more than just their catchy title song, but an album as well.
Rookie girl group gugudan splashed onto the scene with their sugary and infectious debut track “Wonderland” earlier this year. The first and only girl group currently under Jellyfish Entertainment, gugudan sets the standard and excels it. The group’s EP, titled “Act 1: The Little Mermaid,” bubbles over with sweet songs that showcase their simple, yet enchanting take on the classic girl group sound — with instant favorite tracks like “Diary” making you nostalgic with its throwback girl group vibes.
B1A4 has quietly and consistently dropped quality music for years. Their recent full-length studio album “Good Timing” is no different, flaunting the versatile sound that classifies the atypical idol group. Tracks like “Sparkling” and “Melancholy” gleam with lively, euphoric melodies, while “Nightmare” and “With You” display their growth as sophisticated artists deserving of accolades.
Nothing defines summer quite like a comeback from SISTAR. With their latest EP “Insane Love,” the quartet takes a step back from their usual breezy sound in favor of sultry croons and bold lyrics. Title song “I Like That” are the perfect introduction to an EP that holds true to SISTAR’s ability to craft hits, while “Say I Love You” and “Under the Blanket” display the group’s soft vulnerability.
Proving to be anything but your typical hip-hop boy group, MONSTA X’s two-parter “The Clan” infuses swaggering EDM with the group’s signature, in-your-face style. The standalone EPs are chock full of highly energetic hits like hidden gem “Be Quiet,” but the addition of songs like “White Love” and “Ex Girl” slow things down just enough for you to catch your breath.
By far one of the most unique releases from the year, Ladies’ Code’s return into the music industry after the tragic death of members RiSe and EunB in 2014 is a comeback that’s unparalleled. The dreamy, sensuous vibes of “Galaxy” set the tone for the group’s newly refined musical era — further showcased in their full “Myst3ry” EP. Their subsequent EP “Stranger” hikes it up a notch, establishing the trio as original artists with equally refreshing views on music.
Whose albums will you ring in the new year with? Let us know in the comments!
brookenicole writes from YG’s basement until her (indefinitely) postponed debut. You can find her on Twitter.