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80. 김태우 (Kim Tae-Woo) – 사랑비 (Love Rain)
It’s always an exciting prospect when an established artist can find a firm, new direction to take his or her music. After a decade as the lead vocal of boy band g.o.d., a moderately successful solo ballad album, and two years of military service, Kim Tae-Woo returned in 2009 with a winning formula. “기억과 추억” (“Memories and Reminiscence”), an upbeat electronic-pop piece featuring the entire old g.o.d. crew with the exception of Yun Gye-Sang, was released early that year, a total departure from the man’s former music. T-Virus and its lead single “Love Rain” then hit in autumn, and perfected the approach attempted in the previous outing. The song is, quite simply, refreshing. In addition to the continual imagery of cleansing rain and the torrent of instrumentation, the uplifting and bursting rhythm knows not where to stop, the hook and chorus are instantly addictive, and the lyrics are so optimistically beautiful that it verges on idealism. Kim’s vocal ability hasn’t gone anywhere, and the artist’s clean highs and impeccable groove make “Love Rain” one of the most memorable pop songs of the decade.
79. Brown Eyed Girls – Abracadabra
Album: Sound G
A talented group will stay talented, no matter what musical direction they take. Brown Eyed Girls proved this in 2009 with third studio album Sound G. Originally some of the country’s best R&B-soul artists, B.E.G. went and completed their transition into a electronica/pop group with this album. Look no further than “Abracadabra” for an example of the excellence this group achieved: the deliciously heavy synthesizer, seductive vocals, tasteful auto-tune (yes, such a thing exists), and unflinching focus. Rapper Miryo pledges a watertight verse, and while the three vocalists of the quartet don’t show off their incredible prowess in here, they have no need to. The concoction of moderated, auto-tuned vocals with the exhilarating beat is already addictive and intoxicating.
78. Tim – 사랑합니다… (I Love You)
Album: Tim 영민
Ballad artist Tim’s debut was as successful as you could hope for a rookie. His single “I Love You” was a massive hit, making the man famous overnight, and its chorus is probably one of the most deeply-ingrained into public memory among this decade’s music. What was the big deal? In reality, I couldn’t tell you. The song has nothing that stands out from an analytical perspective. Tim is a good vocalist, but he’s not flashy, nor does he have exceptional range or lung capacity. The song’s instrumentation is rather unremarkable–the same strings/bass/drum/piano combination you can find in countless ballads of that era. The lyrics are well-written, but nothing ingenious or groundbreaking. The melody is its strongest suit, but it’s not the best one you’ll ever hear. Even the title is pedestrian! But despite this seeming mediocrity in everything, “I Love You” proved enduring. It has that special something that makes songs great, and much more than the sum of their parts. This is where my analytical approach totally fails, but I can say that I like that special something enough to place this song on my list.
77. 상상밴드 (Sang Sang Band) – 가지마 가지마 (Don’t Go, Don’t Go)
Album: 두번째 상상 (The Second Imagination)
Sang Sang Band is the best band that you’ve never heard of. While this second album put them somewhat on the map, the band’s 2005 debut album and its excellent lead single “Hula Hula” were summarily buried in the barrage of releases that year. Their strength is their namesake (“sang sang” means “imagination”) creativity and innovation, but strangely enough, the song placing them on this list is fairly toned down. “Don’t Go, Don’t Go” is a love song–a surprisingly tame one at that. Lead vocalist Eun-Hee Bae (better known as Venny, and yes, I do wish she was related to me), proves herself a capable ballad artist here. Her emotions of solitude and loneliness are genuine, and the chorus is heartrending; the rest of the band does a remarkable job pacing the track as well as being melodically astounding. “Don’t Go, Don’t Go” offered a new possibility for this band, one that combines both the outrageous, fun brand of Sang Sang rock as well as the sentiments and tenderness of ballads such as this.
76.Wanted – 발작 (發作) (Seizure)
Album: Like the First
This ludicrously talented R&B quartet was some sensation upon debut. Like a First‘s stature is perhaps boosted by the fact that this will be the first and last album by this group, because member Seo Jae-Ho was tragically killed in a car accident a few months after its release. That’s not to say that the music has no merit; on the contrary, lead single “Seizure” broke new ground for Korean R&B. The song starts on an uptempo beat and rides it all the way through. An ominous mood from the strings accompanies the vocalists’ harmony as they belt their way to the climax. This kind of power R&B had been seldom heard, simply because of the small number of artists able to pull it off; here, we had not one but four singers who could. Ranging from Ha Dong-Gyun’s rich baritone to Kim Jae-Suk’s effortless highs, these voices completely stole the show with their a capella of melisma. Intensely atmospheric as well as technically fascinating, “Seizure” is a crowning achievement.
75. Epik High, featuring Clazziquai – 혼자라도 (Even If Alone)
Album: High Society
(Quality leaves something to be desired.)
(Better quality live version, but in this case Horan’s voice is a bit off.)
Epik High first topped the charts with their third album’s single Fly, and as a result some people tend to forget how good the first two albums were. “Even If Alone” is a joint effort with then-relatively-unknown electronica band Clazziquai; if this happened today it would cause massive hype, but at that time it simply resulted in a terrific song. Epik’s Tablo and Mithra talk about a day spent alone, presumably after a break-up. A cozy, uplifting bells-and-drums beat (sampled from One Way’s “Lady You Are”) plays as the two rappers discuss a cafe au lait shared with Van Gogh, a trip with Hemingway out to the far seas, a subway adventure across the nooks and crannies of Seoul “armed only with a soul and an old backpack”, a night of writing under the “convention of stars and the moon”; Clazziquai members Alex and Horan’s soothing vocals complete the smile-inducing day. I’m guessing this could make a pretty good anthem for diehard singles.
74. BoA – Hurricane Venus
Album: Hurricane Venus
Understandably, the “Queen of Kpop”‘s return after five years of inactivity in Korea would be a big deal. Overhyped events have a habit of flopping, but there was no need to worry about BoA’s 2010 comeback. The production values of “Hurricane Venus” are, of course, top-notch–we’re talking about the country’s richest entertainment label. SM Entertainment’s engineers crafted this beat to perfection, with a bold synth melody flowing with tremendous kinetic energy and subtle hints of reverse beat abounding. BoA, ever the prodigy, imbues the track with the life it lacks: her engaging vocals and lively interpretation of the lyrics (“electronic, supersonic, bionic energy” would be silly talk, but coming from her, it’s totally normal) take the track to a different level. “Hurricane Venus” pulls off the perfect balance between chic and exciting, and as such it sets a standard for both trendy pop and club dance to follow.
73. Fly to the Sky – Sea of Love
Album: Sea of Love
Don’t worry about their outrageously cheesy looks. This was in style once upon a time. One in a long line of hit singles, Fly to the Sky’s “Sea of Love” perhaps marks a peak in that line. This pop ballad has a fairly catchy melody and nicely laid-back beat, but of course this group’s selling point is the vocal work. Brian’s performance is as reliable as ever, and Hwanhee (Fany, if that’s easier to pronounce for you) is absolutely phenomenal. His voice is much heavier than in earlier works, but also much lighter than in later works; it’s a golden balance right here. The vocalists’ control is a key factor in that distinctly vague, unfinished feel the song maintains to complement its themes of separation and anxiety, and it hasn’t really been replicated since. These two guys may sport better looks and trendier music nowadays than the intolerable amalgam style and slightly analog beat found here, but I’m not sure that it necessarily means they can make better songs than this.
72. Nell – Thank You
Album: Walk Through Me
No one’s quite sure whether Walk Through Me is Nell’s second or fourth album, because it depends on whether you ask an indie fan or a mainstream fan. At any rate, this is what made Nell a mainstream band, and it rode on a little hype from the band’s mentee connection to Seo Taiji and the success of “Thank You”. The modern-rock track features an ambient, dreamy atmosphere and creative, poetic lyrics–the hallmarks of the music that we would come to call Nell’s. The memorable chorus strengthens the track’s appeal, and the lingering aftertaste following the last note gives off a sense of profoundness that’s not so easy to come by these days.
71. 비 (Rain) – 태양을 피하는 방법 (How to Avoid the Sun)
Album: Rain 2
The formula of the love song needs a new spin now and then. Rain offered one for the well-received lead single of his aptly titled sophomore album Rain 2: how about a metaphor based on the sun, which in itself is a not-so-subtle pun on your own stage name? “How to Avoid the Sun” still deals with the pain and loss of a breakup, but chooses to describe that feeling as something like trying to run away from the sun only to have it still above you. It’s a temporary novelty, but it’s not milked. Rain’s vocals are appropriate, and the rap verse at the end is a nice diversion, but the real showstopper is the music. A lone acoustic guitar loop sets the mood all by itself–probably the best use of such a loop I’ve ever heard. It does a magnificent job of music-ifying the emotion of someone who would try to avoid the sun, and that’s one heck of an achievement.
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