Previous entry (Intro):
(Before you get started: just for clarification, the first thing, coming before the dash in each entry title, is the artist name. The second thing, after the dash, is the title. If either the artist or the title is in Korean, I provided the translation and/or transliteration in parentheses.)
100. BoA – My Name
Album: My Name
Pop icon BoA was already Korea’s national sweetheart at the time of My Name‘s release in 2004. What changed after that release? She became Korea’s national all-grown-up sweetheart. The eighteen-year-old’s transition into a mature artist did happen overnight with the unapologetically seductive lead title “My Name”. All the elements are there–the sleek, urban background track letting on more than a little hint of techno, the kinetic euphony of string and electronica, the boldly provocative lyrics. It’s left up to BoA to make a song out of it, and she delivers with the effortlessness of a star worth every bit of her hype.
99. MC Sniper, featuring Stony Skunk and 김성은 (Kim Sung Eun) – 한국인 (Korean)
Album: 초행 (初行) (First Travel)
The genre known in Korea as “fusion hip-hop”, where the normal elements of hip-hop are mixed with unusual, foreign sources, is rather difficult to pull off correctly. MC Sniper did it right in his 2003 “Korean”. The idea is that since the lyrics discuss the pride and history of the country, you might as well throw in some traditional Korean instruments in the music track. It works remarkably well, providing an exotic backdrop to Sniper’s relentless flow. Neither his rhymes nor his technique are top form–never were, never will be–but he is aware of this: at one point he quips, “Traditional hip-hop? Go ask your mother about that”. The man has shined the brightest when his unorthodox approach to rap met good production, and “Korean” is the song that started the trend.
98. Double K, featuring Tablo and Yankie – Tragedy
Album: Ink Music
Three of the most gifted lyricists in the Korean language got together to produce one of the most poetic rap tracks in recent memory. “Tragedy” is a never-promoted track from rapper Double K’s highly anticipated second album, Ink Music. Double K, Tablo of Epik High, and Yankie of TBNY craft three piercing snapshots of everyday tragedies, ranging from a writer forced to churn out meaningless work to a broken celebrity’s suicide. In the breathless blend of sharp writing and flawless delivery, it’s hard to tell where the prose ends and metaphor begins; my guess is that that’s the point. The heartrending beat produced by the ever-reliable Dok2 milks the tragedy theme for all it’s worth, and by the end we have a truly moving piece of work.
97. Guckkasten – 거울 (Mirror)
Release: 12-29-2008, as a single; re-released studio on 4-20-2010
Indie band Guckkasten burst onto the popular scene in late 2008, instantly burning a powerful impression into public perception with the psychedelic rock piece “Mirror”. This song really turns it up to 11 on the crazy meter, what with its highly unpleasant yet addictive use of the effector and track construction that’s about as clear as a kaleidoscope, but it’s not all technical tricks for the band’s debut outing: soft-singing vocalist Ha Hyun-Woo also packs a brutal shout tone, which he’s not afraid to use on the chorus as the rest of the band lets it rip on a well-written, explosively cathartic melody. Originality is a virtue in any music, but all the more so in a well-discovered genre like rock.
96. 심은진 (Shim Eun-Jin) – Oopsy
Former Baby V.O.X. idol Shim Eun-Jin made a successful solo debut with 2005’s Zeeny’s. “Oopsy” stands out by way of its unique soundset for a club track–prominent bass guitar, moody synthesizer and punctuating analog drums. The track is very on-beat, with each drum hit making its presence known and melody taking a back seat for a large part of the song. A melancholy theme permeates the song while not taking away from its vigor; Shim’s half-hummed, alluring vocals make for a nice contrast with the overwhelming beat, and the perfect club tune to get completely lost in. It’s a shame that we never saw this kind of work from this artist after “Oopsy”.
95. 윤하 (Younha), featuring 휘성 (Wheesung) – 어린욕심 (Young Greed)
Album: 고백하기 좋은 날 (A Good Day to Confess)
The somewhat inadequately translated (hey, it was the best I could do) “Young Greed” was never promoted as a single, but it’s part of the highly acclaimed and successful debut album of piano rock singer-songwriter Younha. The nineteen-year-old possessed both a mature, talented voice as well as a young and vibrant image, and the two come together to perfection in this track. Contagious energy abounds as Younha confesses and proclaims her little ‘greed’ and renews her love for her significant other, and R&B artist Wheesung (who also has a small rap part) provides the perfect spirited melody and the deliciously clever lyrics for the young artist to play with.
94. 동방신기 (東方神起) (TVXQ) – Rising Sun
Album: Rising Sun
Are you into totally unintelligible lyrics? Not the kind that you can’t make out, but the kind where you’re totally hearing what they’re saying without having any idea what the hell it means? If so, then you’ll enjoy “Rising Sun”. SM Entertainment’s premier boy band (at least, until the lawsuit and the proverbial hitting of the fan) TVXQ released its sophomore album under a fairly clear focus–this was going to be all-out. The genre is called “SMP” (stands for SM Performance. I’ll leave you to figure that one out), and while this approach left some regrettable loose ends, most notably the indecipherable lyrics, the end product was surprisingly outstanding. “Rising Sun” has a primal feel to it. And this is despite having elements, while excellent by themselves, usually wouldn’t be conducive to that kind of feel. The music is top-notch SM quality, tying together pitches of string and soul-shaking synth, but is also characteristically sterile; the five members’ vocal performances are as flawless and harmonic as ever, but remain clean. Yet “Rising Sun” as a whole exudes staggering power, leaving an impression after its runtime ends. I’m not sure how it works, but it does.
93. 이승기 (Lee Seung-Gi) – 내 여자라니까 (Said You’re My Girl)
Album: 나방의 꿈 (A Moth’s Dream)
An awful lot of young artists’ work in this first chunk of the Top 100. A Moth’s Dream was released at the ripe old age of nineteen for Lee Seung-Gi, and boy, did it propel the high school student body president to stardom. “Said You’re My Girl” (for lack of proper translation) was arguably the most iconic song of that year, and it all started with the premise of a boy’s brazenly bold proclamation of love to an older girl. The lyrics and image made this song: Lee’s insistence at shedding the formal distinction in addressing this girl (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, think the tu/vous distinction in French. If you know neither French nor what I’m talking about, I am sorry.) captivated the hearts of many a lady, and so did the young singer’s husky, still-undeveloped voice. Sessions people don’t sit still, either: a rousing rock-ballad track keeps the song on its feet and dramatic.
92. 이수&진이 (ISU&JinYi) – Requiem
What happens when two outstanding vocalists from two outstanding bands join in an outstanding project album? You get an outstanding song. ISU, of M.C. the Max fame, and Choi Jin-Yi, former lead vocal of Rumble Fish, produced Requiem in 2008 as a remake of Japanese artist Angela Aki’s “孤独のカケラ” (“Pieces of Solitude”) from the previous year. It’s a very straightly played ballad piece. What’s remarkable is the serene beauty holding it together: the calm yet turbulent melody, the strained (in a good sense) harmony of the vocalists, the pain and emotion in the thoughtful lyrics. Dreamy and surreal, the song reaches new heights of poignancy.
91. 싸이 (Psy) – 새 (Bird)
Album: Psy From the Psycho World
Does that album cover give you a good idea of what Psy’s music is like? It should. The versatile and highly visible rapper/singer/songwriter is an absolute sensation to listen to, with each outing providing a mix of outlandish, offensive, ludicrous music in tandem with more tame, normal tracks. The man’s debut single “Bird” definitely falls into that first category. Early hints of the bombastic, 007-ish brass and bass guitar, along with the tasteful sampling of Bananarama’s 80s hit “Venus”, should be an indication; once the rapping starts, prepare to abandon all pretense of seriousness. Psy’s flow is nothing extraordinary, but it is palatable; at any rate, the hilarious lyrics more than make up for it. Politically incorrect expressions pop up all over the place, and colloquialisms are a dime a dozen in this delightfully constructed joyride. The chorus ended up making the made-up phrase “became a bird” a household expression for someone who got screwed over; if popularizing a totally nonsensical expression into one that’s used without any second thoughts isn’t a hallmark of good pop music, I don’t know what is.
Next entry (#90~81):