This is peak music that I for some reason took an extra month to actually write up. Oops.
10. ENHYPEN – Go Big Or Go Home
The bop to end all bops the slapper to slap the hardest and my absolute favourite ENHYPEN song yet, Go Big Or Go Home is house music at its absolute peak, harnessing a relentlessly addictive percolating groove that is engaging as it is populist, skirting the fine line between unique and generic to excellent effect. It’s a track full of effortlessly sticky hooks that wonderfully complement each other to create a satisfying package that just gets better and better every listen. I would love to see them tackle this sound for a title track sometime in the future.
9. The Boyz – Prism
While technically a track from a J-pop album, Prism gets a pass considering it’s performed all in Korean. Far from the throw away hip hop or the disastrous noise of what would follow later in the year, The Boyz delivered pure perfection with the sleek, incredibly cool Prism. Introduced by a stunning electric guitar that instantly captures the attention of the listener with an atmosphere that radiates a real sense triumph. This combined with an equally slick club ready pulse that underlines the pulses results in a track that doesn’t try too hard to be cool but manages to be so thanks to its effortless performance and irresistible production. The pre-chorus especially harnesses a certain kind of energy that just makes you feel like you’re levitating. And just when you think you’ve experienced it all, the layered high note at the tracks climax cuts through the silence with a resounding sense of drama.
8. SHINee – CØDE
A song that can basically be considered Prism’s older brother, CØDE saw SHINee once again fully embrace one of their absolute best genres to stunning effect. This incredible electro pop stomper is a perfect display of push and pull, pulling the listener in with its evocative, pulasting verses before absolutely exploding into a rousing blend of electronics and shots of anthemic melody. And despite the performance coming off as quite sinister and the melody conjuring up quite a dark atmosphere, the euphoric production acts as an unparalleled contrast, resulting a track that never feels boring. It’s a thrilling example of a group working at the peak of their powers, blending the old and new to create a stunner that doesn’t lay down a single misstep. If boy groups want to go big whilst still maintaining their “we’re so cool” image, this is exactly how you do it.
7. SEVENTEEN – Anyone
Many groups go for the dark, moody dance track but few ever manage to get it exactly right. Especially now a days. But SEVENTEEN showed everyone how it was done with broody, atmospheric Anyone. The groups strongest song in years, Anyone hinges itself on simplicity, harnessing a pulsing bass heavy backbone and distorted guitar to craft a complete knockout. The dark, brooding percussion and guitar laced instrumental is incredibly compelling and this added texture really accentuates the largely instrumental led hook to be something much more interesting. And at less than three minutes, its taut structure allows for a near indefinite number of replays, each eliciting additional levels of satisfaction that only make the hidden desperation and gorgeous melody more evident. An excellent template for future singles.
6. Lucy – Stove (review)
A majestic epic spanning more than six minutes in length, Lucy reached the height of the evocative power with the utterly beautiful Stove. Though too long and likely too slow to promote effectively as a single, Stove‘s snowballing structure was ideal for an album track, harnessing the kind of majesty and slow burn energy of some of the greatest movie soundtracks whilst still maintaining the exact elements that make Lucy such an exciting prospect. Opening with nothing more than the sound of a fireplace and the closing of a door, Stove starts with the quietest of openings before it blossoms into a rousing cry during its extended climax. Its final two minutes remain one of 2021’s most striking musical moments, acting as a perfect release to what the previous 4 minutes were building upto, breaking free into a collage of perfectly executed high notes and a swirling symphony of strings.
5. ONF – My Genesis (Übermensch)
In a year that is sure to go down in K-pop history in the minds of K-pop and ONF fans alike, it’s incredible to think just how prolific and excellent the groups output was throughout the year. Not just in the case of singles, which were all incredible but within the b-side department too. City of ONF, Popping and Goosebumps were all excellent projects that furthered the groups sounds whilst still giving us tracks that felt distinctly ONF. I’ve already talked about the brilliance of The Realist but with all things considered, My Genesis was the album track that distilled everything so great about ONF into one bizarre but incredibly addictive package.
A mishmash of Jazz, Rock and power pop, My Genesis (Übermensch) was one of the years most experimentally successful tracks, moving from one disparate element to another without ever feeling disjointed or messy. An incredibly charming track powered almost solely by the boys personalities and that rambunctious two part hook, My Genesis comes together in a big way for its extended finale, which recalls past hits and performances in a live studio setting to stunning effect. We simply don’t get this kind of ambition anymore in 2022 and that’s such a shame.
4. Golden Child – Fanfare
When concerning certain styles that I really wish more groups would revisit, the idea of a carnival or festive style concept instantly comes to mind. Not only is it endlessly interpretable (is that even a word?) and endlessly performed, but it allows for the performers to really let loose and have fun. Such is the case with Golden Child’s blistering Fanfare, which starts at a 100 and refuses to let up during its three minute run time. It’s a relentless dance track, stealing the show from its accompanying title track, the rather stale ra pam pam, on release and instead throwing the listener into a blender of immense dance floor fervour. It’s chorus is potent and instantly memorable, opening with a soaring melody that just keeps growing and growing before culminating in a dramatic “ba pa bara bara bam” chant. And through this relentless pursuit of dance pop greatness, Fanfare ultimately shatters its own limits with a soaring high note and majestic brassy bridge that sends the track off on an immense high that put it right up there with Breathe and Burn It.
Yes the next part is actually happening……. IT’S A THREE WAY TIE
1. DRIPPIN – Reach Out Your Hands
When DRIPPIN debuted with a mini album that contained the immense one two punch of Nostalgia and Overdrive, I was instantly won over but at the same time apprehensive. If their debut efforts showed them at the absolute peak of their powers, then how would any follow up measure up? Especially within the B-side department considering that Overdrive was my second favourite b-side of 2020?
Well it turns out that there was there a b-side that not only lived up to the greatness of Overdrive but rather surpassed it in almost every way possible. Reach Out Your Hands is a pop masterpiece, right up there with some of the best k-pop songs in recent memory, perfectly harnessing the kind of gorgeous melody and daring production that I just adore. It’s a track of two contrasting halves that theoretically shouldn’t work but come together to form a near flawless pop package that wears its structural and musical shifts on its sleeve and puts its big, glossy chorus at the forefront. This unique arrangement could have resulting in many misfires but instead acts as the ideal playground for the young groups charisma and a showcase for one of the years most gorgeous centrepieces. This is as perfect as modern pop music can get and would have been an excellent choice for a Last Romeo-esque music video.
1. SHINee – I Really Want You (review)
Despite ruling much of the early to mid 2010’s, many veteran groups are having a hard time adjusting to the modern k-pop climate. Most comeback songs and projects as such are taking the safe route, choosing to go the mid-tempo or ballad route instead of embracing the very charms that made those same groups so exciting during their prime. Thankfully, SHINee embraced exactly that during their grand return in early 2021, gifting fans with one of their strongest projects and by extension, an undeniable highlight in a discography that’s already packed with more masterpieces that I can count.
I Really Want You is a rhythmic monster, harnessing everything great about this kind of loose, undiluted pop sound popularised by the Jacksons in the 70’s and 80’s and covering it with a glossy, modern sheen that lets the entire package Pop with a capital P. It’s the ideal playground for SHINee’s diverse and oh so engaging collection of vocal tones, allowing the boys to contort their voices to suit almost every melodic shift, causing the final product to really feel ALIVE. There’s such a palpable sense of joy emanating from this track, a feeling that you just don’t get anymore. The two part hook moves from anthemic to funky with such ease before that dynamic call and response bridge just makes you transcend into a new plane of existence. This song right here is what funk dreams are made of and is so quintessentially SHINee that I loved it from the very first listen. There’s a reason why they’re my absolute favourite K-pop group alongside INFINITE.
1. ATEEZ – Take Me Home (review)
There have been many songs of the years that people have claimed would have been perfect singles. Many of which I also agree with. But sometimes you have to look back and understand that despite how great some songs are, there are things that hold it back from being actively promoted. Maybe it wasn’t ripe for exciting choreography. Maybe the song wasn’t striking enough. Maybe it was too far of a departure from the groups current sound to make it a viable single. All valid reasons. But then there are songs like Take Me Home which have all the signs of a great single but for some reason, get almost no promotion.
Let’s break this down shall we.
Does Take Me Home feel like a single?
YES! Not only is it a great song but it’s literally pop perfection, harnessing an immensely atmospheric synth laden beat that fits perfectly with modern day trends whilst positioning its darker melody to being more in line with the sound that a group like ATEEZ have become associated with. It’s also ripe for choreo as demonstrated by this performance of the song. It even has an English version for crying out loud!
Rant aside, Take Me Home is ATEEZ at their absolute best, taking the hallmarks of all great ATEEZ tracks and mixing them into an invigorating synthy brew that commands the listeners attention from the very first minute. The performance is dramatic but not overtly serious, conveying the tracks somber tone through a melody that soars during the chorus with such yearning that it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama of it all. But what turns a great song into a legendary song is how it climaxes and Take Me Home‘s trump card is a majestic, transcendent sax solo that caps off the song with a sense of unrivalled euphoria that few songs can ever come close to matching.