10 of the Most Essential K-Pop Albums of 2015
The year 2015 has come and gone pretty quickly, but it has left us with some quite outstanding musical releases. So as we get ready to say goodbye to the year that was, there is no better time to look back over some of the most memorable K-pop EP and LP releases the year has had to offer.
Take a look through our list and tell us what your favorite album of the year is in the comments below!
One of the hardest things to do in K-pop is maintain musical consistency. Agencies like to chop and change concepts, something that leads them to seek audio variety for their artists, rather than aim for a coherent “sound.”
In this respect, GOT7 is exceptional. The boys started off life in 2014 with a very clean, quite conventional pop concept noticable on songs like “A. ”
With its lush, super-clean production, smooth vocals, seamless transitions into rap sections, “Mad” fits in with the GOT7 audio theme, a neat continuation from 2014’s output.
But what this album has added is a small, but essential detail — great beats. The percussion sounds and patterns are tighter, richer, and phatter throughout, making “Mad” a nice, fun, and easy listen.
“Good Feeling” and “Good” (above) make use of some disco textures woven in with mainstream RnB sounds. Meanwhile, “If You Do” and “Tic Tic Tok” incorporate electronica styles, the latter using a similar retro keyboard synth sound to A Pink’s “Remember” — to a similar effect.
But you’d be wrong to think of “Mad” as an experimental album. It’s not — it’s pure pop. The boys have pulled off one of the rarest feats in K-pop with “Mad” — significantly upgrading their musical output without making any departure from the sound that made fans fall for them in the first place.
EXO has had some great hits over the years, but the repackage of “EXODUS” is easily the group’s most complete work to date. It comprises a total of 14 gorgeously produced, upbeat tracks with some of the best boyband basslines K-pop has ever come up with.
“Tender Love” has a 1980s soul feel to it, with brass textures and funk guitar. “El Dorado” is an electronica epic with a thunderous beat and “What If…?” is a 1990s-style atmospheric RnB slow jam in the vein of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s 1995 hit “Crossroads.”
In terms of boyband albums, nothing has really come close to this all year.
Before the BIGBANG boys made their comeback this year, it really had been a very long time since we had heard from them as a full group. Some of us were starting to get a little worried. So when the boys announced they would be spreading their return over the course of four months, fans knew they were in for something special.
And, being BIGBANG, the boys certainly did not disappoint. An eight-track album delivered in tasty two-song morsels was just what the doctor ordered — especially when nobody can really say with any certainty when the fab five will next be reunited in the studio.
The bass and sampling in “Bae Bae” is incredibly addictive.
There was nothing really new here, musically speaking. It was the old BIGBANG, doing their BIGBANG thing. And perhaps after three long years of waiting, that was exactly what we all wanted.
Like labelmates EXO, SHINee really needed this album to be something special. In the case of EXO, turmoil over member departures had fans worrying for the very survival of the act at one point. SHINee, in contrast, looked the very model of stability.
But unlike EXO, SHINee has been around for what seems like ages, making a lot of fun, poppy, often cute songs. But you need to consider that this fivepiece is now a group of men in or approaching their mid-twenties. They are no longer a group of fresh-faced boys. Realistically, they needed a more mature sound.
What they came up with this year, however, was all that and more. There had been glimpses of a more sophisticated side to SHINee in the “Misconceptions” series back in 2013, but “Odd” built on that.
Packed with smooth numbers like “Love Sick,” the kind of song you’d expect from SHINee, the boys also went off into some very unfamiliar territory. “View” was a complex mesh of UK Garage textures, 808 beats and old school house keyboards — it is a track without any musical precedent in K-pop.
But just like EXO’s album this year, SHINee saved the very best for the repackage. Few songs this year have come close to out-grooving “Married to the Music,” a funk-pop masterpiece that openly embraces the fun of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Is there a K-pop boyband out there enjoying a better year than BTS? Already at pretty much the forefront of the scene at the end of 2014, the boys have been utterly relentless this year.
Is it possible to consider the two-part “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” series as an album in its own right? If so, it makes for over one hour of essential K-pop listening.
“I Need U” is hands-down the song of the year. Nothing on its level has hit the charts in Korea this year. But there is more than that track to the “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” series.
“Fun Boys” sees the group explore upbeat rap soundscapes, there are some exquisite vocal samples on “Run,” currently storming the charts and music shows. The boys even sail into uncharted ballad waters (with surprisingly decent effect) on “Butterfly.”
And it is all beautifully bookended with some marvellous “intro” and “outro” snippets on both volumes.
Despite a plethora of very good songs (“Hush,” anyone?), miss A has always left me a little nonplussed when it comes to album content.
For an act that works so closely with a producer as influential as Park Jin Young, the group’s back catalog is not as impressive as it could be, and the title tracks have always overshadowed the non-promoted album tracks in the quality stakes.
Not so on “Colors.” The lead track, “Only You,” is a decent song, but is arguably the weakest on the album.
In particular “Love Song” and “Melting” are outstanding; the former’s violin refrain will haunt your dreams, while the latter is a delightful mess of super-bad sub bass and synths.
The group needs to lead with a song like “Melting” next time around — with JYP Entertainment choreographers and miss A’s dancing skills, it truly would be something very special indeed.
Not just the best K-pop album of the year, possibly the best album of the year period.
The Wonder Girls were gone, presumed MIA, and the idea of them making a comeback minus their former main vocalist and leader Sunye and (arguably) their most popular member in Sohee seemed pretty uninspiring.
For one, I have never really been enamored by the Wonder Girls’ musical output. It always seemed so generic. When it was announced ahead of their 2015 comeback that the group would be “playing their own instruments,” I was skeptical. “Here comes a rock concept,” I thought, and so did many others, I’d wager. Boy were we wrong.
Synthwave meets K-pop — with delicious results.
An exceptionally ambitious album in many ways, blending a whole range of theological and literary themes, this was another quite unexpected release.
You would suspect that something might be a tad different about an EP named with the classical Hebrew name for Eve (from the book of Genesis), but it actually goes even deeper than you might think. And I am not just talking about lyrics here.
But from there it takes a sudden turn. “Free Will” starts off with a familiar, light uptempo blues intro but spins off into much more sinister, and more experimental places, Dok2’s breathless rap adding to the deceptive sensation that the track’s tempo is gradually speeding up.
And then we plunge into the album’s centerpiece, “Paradise Lost,” a chaotic brew of vocal layering, church organs, orchestral textures, and cellos. It is all based on John Milton’s chilling 1667 epic poem of the same name, a fearsome meditation on the tale of Lucifer’s fall from grace.
For those of us who prefer our K-pop upbeat and electronica-flavored, the 4MINUTE girls are our unofficial champions. Few K-pop girl groups out there go with a harder dance-driven sound than HyunA and co.
For some, though, they just were not in the same league as previous 4MINUTE releases.
When the group first released “Cold Rain,” its first ever ballad, ahead of the rest of the EP, I for one was worried. It’s a lovely song and all, but well, tears, runny mascara, and slow-paced rap is not really what we came to the 4MINUTE party for.
Fortunately, it turned out to be part of an elaborate smokescreen. The rest of “Crazy” is a relentless dancefest, replete with heavy bass, plentiful Jiyoon-HyunA rap verses, house beats, and mischievous brass riffs. And to top it all off, there is the title track, K-pop’s first foray into the wild world of moombahton music.
A brashly unapologetic and wonderfully loud return to form.
Dal Shabet has been around for a while, bumping around rather innocuously in the no-man’s-land of underrated, long-serving Korean girl groups (see also After School and 9MUSES). Such acts seem to almost obstinately continue releasing material in the full knowledge they will probably remain forever at arm’s reach of the K-pop top table.
However, rocked by the departure of members Gaeun and Jiyul earlier this month, it looks like 2016 is going to be key for Dal Shabet — it is now sink or swim time for the act.
The group’s agency, Happy Face Entertainment, has vowed that the four-member Dal Shabet will return “in January next year.” Despite losing what I feel are the groups most personable (and aesthetically pleasing) members, however, there is no reason the member shake-up cannot present an opportunity in disguise.
After all, the four-member edition Girl’s Day has gone on to achieve things the five-member edition would never have dreamed possible. Perhaps Dal Shabet could do the same.
To boot, “Joker Is Alive” is easily the group’s most accomplished album to date. Co-written and co-produced by super-maknae Subin, it is a surprisingly mature and well-made album. Fans will have to hope it is not the group’s swansong, but instead a sign of musical transition as the group moves on.
Variety, polish, and creativity, “Joker Is Alive” is rich in all three — if the girls can build upon this as a fourpiece, there is no reason to give up on Dal Shabet just yet.
Pity us poor Rainbow fans — the group’s best album to date and all we get is a meager two weeks’ worth of promotion.
A strong year for all the SHINee boys, not least of all this young man.
Great to have the girls back. Hitchhiker-composed “Sign” is an infectiously fuzzy highlight.
The most underrated group in K-pop drops some audio fire with its second EP release.
So you’ve read our list, now it’s over to you, Soompiers! Who do you think released the best album of 2015? Let us know your take in the comments below.
Here is the playlist for “10 of the Most Essential K-Pop Albums of 2015”:
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electronica, and a hankering for hip hop.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not necessarily represent Soompi as a whole.