This past October American audiences got a taste of the future of pop music when Girls’ Generation, along with other K-pop groups, played at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t too long before the media started catching on; publications such as Spin ran their own articles on the genre, while TeenNick scored a deal with Wonder Girls to air their live concert throughout February of this year. As a fan of K-pop I have always believed that they have the right idea as to what pop music should sound like. With the K-pop revolution set to begin, I believe it’s time for you to get acquainted with the 10 records that made 2011 a great year for the genre.
Girls’ Generation – The Boys
As a huge fan of K-Pop I must say this is a masterpiece in the genre. The Boys is filled with perfectly catchy tunes that show off both sides of the Korean phenomenon that is Girls’ Generation. Songs like “Vitamin” and “Telepathy” give you your dose of cutesy pop tracks. On the other hand “Oscar” and “Trick” show the more empowered side of these girls. The production in this record takes a backseat and allows the nine (that’s right, count them) girls to shine. Main vocalist Jessica in particular has her moments of glory in “Say Yes” and “How Great Is Your Love.” If you only feel daring enough to check out one K-Pop release from 2011, make it this one.
The Boys is available on SM Entertainment.
After School – Virgin
Even before the release of their debut record Virgin, After School were already making a name for themselves. In the span of two years they released five single albums, including 2009’s excellent Diva. The singles promised a band that had personality and had some of the best production in the genre. The full-length does not disappoint. The vocals are great, but what really shines is the rapping, in particular the reworking of “Because of You.” The production is still some of the best K-pop has. First single “Shampoo” not only has fantastic vocal delivery and top notch rapping from Nana, but also has one of the year’s best beats. After School is one of those groups that has a lot of personality (Don’t believe me? Look up their live performances) and luckily has the music to back it up.
Virgin is available on Pledis Entertainment.
Orange Caramel – Shanghai Romance
Being a single album, Shanghai Romance is short and to the point. This After School sub-unit (a small group featuring certain members of a bigger group) takes some of the group’s most talented members and puts them to work making some cuter music. While their first couple releases contained some great tracks, they were overall pretty run-of-the-mill. This single finds the three girls performing some more ambitious music, more thematic and original. With their debut full-length scheduled for release sometime this year, this single has made it one of my most anticipated releases of 2012.
Shanghai Romance is available on Pledis Entertainment.
T-Ara – Black Eyes
The girls in T-Ara are undoubtedly classy. They may be heartbroken but they don’t pout about it. They handle it with class and poise. Their songs have some mellow vocal delivery, but what really shines is the production. Certain songs like “Goodbye, Ok” have wonderful strings that give off the feel of lounge music. If these girls’ beauty doesn’t win you over, then their music definitely should.
Black Eyes is available on Core Contents Media.
Lady Jane – Jane Another Jane
She’s been releasing singles since before most of the artists on this list were even groups. However in 2011 we got her first concrete piece of work, her debut mini-album Jane Another Jane. The album has some of the most danceable K-pop tracks of the year. Case in point “Janie” and “Love Treatment,” which are heavily influenced by ’80s synth-pop. Her other tracks are also quite interesting, in particular “Jjak” which adds a male voice to the mix courtesy of H.O.T.’s Tony An. The mini-album was one of the year’s most interesting K-pop releases, and her debut full-length should bring nothing but greatness.
IU – Last Fantasy
IU’s music is a world in which cinematic strings and arrangements meet catchy pop hooks. The record could easily work as the soundtrack to a beautiful movie. Although if movie soundtracks aren’t your thing then IU’s upbeat voice and bouncy production should captivate your heart. Last Fantasy is easily one of 2011’s most ambitious and complete K-pop records.
Last Fantasy is available on LOEN Entertainment.
Dal Shabet – Bling Bling
For their third mini-album of 2011, Dal Shabet took a page from the J-pop rule book. The idea behind this music is: The more energetic and bouncy, the better. This particular K-pop group sounds like they are having the time of their lives in this mini-album. With vocal melodies that resemble Japan’s AKB48 and production that leaves it up to the girls to shine, they are one of the year’s best new K-pop bands.
Bling Bling is available on Happy Face Entertainment.
Sistar – So Cool
Let’s face it, dancing can be fun. This is kind of why cutesy songs will not satisfy all your K-pop cravings. If any group knows how to party and make you dance it’s Sistar. The production behind songs like “Girls Do It” and “Push Push” is what really makes the group shine. The songs in So Cool are some of the most aggressive and coolest in the genre.
So Cool is available on Starship Entertainment.
5dolls – Charming Five Girls
One of the main problems with some K-pop groups is that they are rushed to fame by adding members who are way too young. Although some of the members in 5dolls are some of the youngest in the genre (with two members being sixteen), they have the right idea on how to perform. They balance out the youth that young vocalists should have with the confidence an older one should have. The songs on their first EP showcase the amount of training some of these girls have gone through (with one member being a part of the original Girls’ Generation lineup and another having already led another successful group) but still maintain their excitement thanks to their rookie members.
Charming Five Girls is available on Core Contents Media.
Kara – Super Girl
Where the girls in T-Ara are classy and the ones in Sistar are aggressive, the members of Kara are charming. Their voices are cute without being too sugary or obnoxious. The beats behind their performances are filled with chimes, which gives the record its own unique sound. One of the group’s main assets is their huge choruses and hooks in English, so American audiences can sing along once K-pop does take over the world.
Super Girl is available on DSP Media.