Singles weren’t the only tracks that caught my attention in 2014. Amidst the plethora of albums released, there were songs that received less exposure but are still worth a listen. Here are some that stood out to me this year.
In chronological order of release:
1. BTS “Tomorrow”
Album: Skool Luv Affair
This group’s fanbase continues to grow, and I’m predicting that 2015 will be their big breakthrough year. Many of their songs aren’t to my usual stylistic taste, but it’s clear that BTS have the talent and drive to forge a lasting career.
2. Sunmi “멈춰버린 시간 (Frozen in Time) (feat. Jackson of GOT7)”
Album: Full Moon
One of the few female soloists to pique my interest, Sunmi had one of the more underrated EPs of the year. The dreamlike R&B vibe of this track is mesmerizing.
3. Girls’ Generation “Wait a Minute”
Album: Mr. Mr.
This song about the overwhelming, dizzying feel of falling in love has a sweet sound. The sweetest part is the group’s unique harmony, a smooth meshing of nine voices that cannot be replicated, and, sadly, will not be heard again.
4. 2NE1 “살아 봤으면 해 If I Were You”
A soulful ballad, this is by far my favorite track on Crush. The lyrics are full of emotion, which is evident in the vocals and doesn’t require translation. CL’s surprisingly delicate delivery of the closing lines is particularly poignant.
5. MAMAMOO “Hi Hi Ha He Ho (히히하헤호) (feat. Geeks)”
MAMAMOO is my newest favorite girl group, which is reason enough to include them in this and many future posts. Their live stages and cover videos showcase their talent and charm, as does this collaboration with Geeks. This song has heart and a dash of humor, and it’s a departure from their upbeat, old-school 2014 singles that hints at the group’s versatility.
6. f(x) “All Night”
Album: Red Light
My first thought when I heard this song: “I bet Teddy Riley produced this.” Sure enough, the New Jack Swing pioneer and brains behind a slew of hits spanning the past three decades gave life to “All Night,” which has a sound that’s straight out of 1980′s pop and R&B. Red Light mostly features complex, contemporary production that can overwhelm an unaccustomed listener, but “All Night” is lighter, refreshing fare.
7. Infinite “Diamond”
Album: Be Back
A new track for the Season 2 repackage, “Diamond” is a welcome addition that shows off the vocal prowess of this group known for its performance synchronization. As expected, the primary vocalists, Sunggyu and Woohyun, deliver, but so do the other five members. This is especially true of Dongwoo and Hoya, who continue to defy the expectation that rappers can’t sing.
8. SISTAR “Sunshine”
Album: Touch N Move
SISTAR has a tendency to touch my heart when they go the disco route, and “Sunshine” is no exception. True to its title, the song has a bright feel which made it a suitable closer for this summer release.
9. Block B “보기 드문 여자 (Unordinary Girl)”
If you say “Block B,” I automatically think of wild music videos and even wilder outfits. But “Unordinary Girl” makes me wonder what else there is to this seven-member ensemble. It turns out that even the circus-terrorizing, bank-robbing Block B knows how to tone things down, and of course, they do it without being boring.
10. Hyuna “Blacklist (feat. LE of EXID)”
Album: A Talk
It’s a song by two female artists who co-wrote brash lyrics like “I’ll tell you straight up, I don’t like you,” so what’s not to like? It’s the type of material that K-pop needs more of, and it breaks what can feels like a monotony of female acts who are either oversexed for the gratification of men, or made innocuous via a cute image.
11. Taemin “Ace”
The cliché is true: SHINee’s maknae is all grown up. Ace was arguably the best album released by an SM Entertainment artist this year, and the title track is both a gem and a jam.
12. Ailee “미치지 않고서야 (Crazy) (feat. Dynamic Duo)”
In short, “Crazy” sounds like a single. Ailee’s singing and such high-profile featured artists make me wish that it had been promoted; I could easily imagine performances and a music video built around this track. And, as is often the case when it comes to Ailee, there isn’t much else to say. Instead, just listen.
13. GOT7 “너란 걸(Magnetic)”
Like much of this group’s first album, Magnetic has many retro elements that are freshened for today’s audiences, but remain generally familiar to listeners of my parents’ generation. Though GOT7 is marketed as a hip-hop influenced group, this funkier sound suits them well.
14. “Love Love Love (Acoustic Version) [Studio Version]” EXO
Album: Exology Chapter 1: The Lost Planet
The original Korean version of “Love Love Love” was featured on EXO-K’s Overdose EP and was performed by that subunit’s six members. This version comes from EXO’s first concert album and all ten current members can be heard. The new “Love Love Love” is layered without being overproduced, which was a major drawback of the original, and replaces the “rap” with swoon-worthy singing.