The retro trend has taken hold of Kpop and I’m here for it. July had a great mixture of fun summer tracks and retro tracks that I still can’t get over months later. Kpop summer is probably my favorite season this year with so many outstanding tracks. August tracks are incoming!
Yukika - Yesterday (안무 영상)
Yukika’s entire album deserves so much more attention. The album is worth getting lost in. From start to finish, the retro sound is consistent and each track warrants its place on the album. Yesterday was only given a pre-release choreography video, but I had to mention this song. I love the city pop genre and the retro influence currently in kpop. The instrumental is lively and full of bounce. The vocals in the rousing chorus gives the song the climax it needs as it bops along. Yukika’s performance is just perfect for city pop.
1THE9 - Bad Guy
I must admit I have forgotten these guys from the show Under 19. Out of all their tracks, Bad Guy is by far my favorite track from them. The biggest draw is the power and emotional melody throughout the song. The two-part chorus is where the song shines and makes up most of the song. Instead of the typical moody boy group release, Bad Guy is bigger and more dramatic. Thumping percussion and layers of synths give this song the heft it needs to stand out.
Red Velvet - Irene & Seulgi - Naughty
Irene & Seulgi bring another great track with Naughty. The deep house sound features crunchy synths that give this song some great textures. I think this track should have been the title track with its hypnotic appeal. Irene & Seulgi bring the sass with this expressive performance. Naughty’s chorus is easily the most addictive part with its staccato melody and energy level. The excitement is palpable and gets better with every listen.
TOO - Count 1, 2
Count 1, 2 is so refreshing to listen to. Upbeat and lighthearted, the song is just “feel good” vibes all around. The bright, sprightly instrumentals make you just want to groove throughout the whole song. The vocals are nicely layered and give off this old-school sound you don’t often hear. Count 1, 2 is a perfect bright and colorful summer song.
Yukika - Soul Lady (서울여자)
The eponymous single for her album, Soul Lady gets its own music video. From the get go, the song has this bustling yet moody vibe. The instrumental is packed to the brim with gorgeous synths, guitars, and brass. Yukika shines brilliantly with her vocal performance. I love the thematic cohesiveness of the track from the title, to the music, and its video, Soul Lady is complex, intricate, and hypnotic.
Boyhood - Retro Love (레트로러브)
Boyhood is the stage name of Nam Donghyun of Produce X 101. Retro Love is pure 80s retro goodness. I really do love this retro trend in kpop currently and hope it continues. From the beginning, listeners will notice similarities to A-HA’s Take On Me with its synth beats and chords. However, this clone stands out with its second verse. I love the moment the instrumental pulls back and claps take center stage giving that good old pop goodness.
Lee Hi - Holo
The wait is no more! Lee Hi’s first release with AOMG after leaving YG Entertainment and she is back to her soulful ways. Her vocals have been sorely missed in the kpop soundscape. Holo is a great welcome back song showcasing the intricacies of Lee Hi’s voice. The ballad throws in some blues and gospel for that extra oomph. I love how the song gradually builds and grows during the first verse leading to the powerful and heartfelt chorus. The comforting message is much needed for this year. Stunning!
ATEEZ - Inception
ATEEZ over the past years have put out some great music. Fever is the new musical series they are embarking on and Inception is the first single for this new era. Right from the start, the instrumental is moodier than what we are accustomed to from ATEEZ. The verses are propulsive and exciting even with the staple electronic trap production heard in their discography. Inception’s anthemic chorus is what brings me back everytime with its dramatic melody. I felt like there was room for the song to be bigger like in the final segments of the song. The climax hit harder and I wish the first chorus had the same intensity, but that might just be my problem.
GFriend - Apple
GFriend’s latest release strays from the sound of their previous release and I love this new side. Sultry and riveting, Apple’s instrumental pulses on a great groove and has plenty of atmospheric synths that I love. Vocally, GFriend deliver their most sensuous and entrancing performance yet. The various elements work flawlessly together and the song becomes more addictive as it ages. Apple is a successful masturation of GFriend’s sound and is one of the strongest comebacks this year.
The Midnight Romance - Midnight Romance
One of the most surprising finds of the year for me that I need to share. The Korean indie scene is filled with some great music and I’m happy I was able to stumble upon this song. Wasting no time setting the atmosphere, the hazy synths just teleport you back into the 80’s. The vocals, production, and music video just feel like they came from decades ago. No Minue of TRAX delivers an incredible performance with his airy vocals. The song is just pure bliss with its ethereal instrumentals, perfect for those late night drives.
April - Now or Never
April has released back to back bops with this latest release after Lalalilala’s breakthrough. Another summertime fun track, Now or Never may be one of my favorite summer tracks this year. I love how the vocals are bright and cheerful without being too cutesy. But the best part for me is the instrumental. The use of brass in the pre-chorus was such a great tease for the catchy chorus. The song could do without the rap section, other than that April have provided a fresh summertime song.
SSAK3 - Beach Again (다시 여기 바닷가)
What a legendary co-ed trio of Rain, Lee Hyori, and Yoo Jae-suk! SSAK3’s goal was to sweep the music charts and they delivered. Beach Again is a retro yet modern summertime bop. The beat is great at keeping the energy going all the time making you want to dance along. I’m a sucker for brass and those mini explosions of brass are just what I want. SSAK3 deliver with so much affection, the song never feels silly. Beach Again is pure, joyful pop goodness.
Chungha - Play (ft. Changmo)
When is this supposed 2020 album dropping? Chungha has been dropping single after single. Play is reminiscent of Chungha’s previous tropical pop release, but this time there is a bit of Latin influence. At first, the instrumental may sound stale with the same sounds we are used to, but the fact that instrumental stays grand really keeps it interesting. Chungha’s vocals are perfectly suited to this track and are never drowned by the bombastic instrumental. Changmo is a welcome addition giving listeners a reprieve before Chungha’s power note.
SF9 - Summer Breeze (여름 향기가 날 춤추게 해)
Summer Breeze is one the most refreshing tracks this year! The spaghetti western feel from the opening synths set us up for some amazing drama. The track immediately launches into a brisk electro beat with great percussion and an even better melody. The vocals become more airy the closer we get to the chorus, which is a way many EDM tracks use to build hype. I felt like the song could have been more explosive and exciting to bring it to another level, though it is still an enjoyable song.
Red Velvet - Irene & Seulgi - Monster
On my first listen, I didn’t enjoy the song as much as I do now. I still think Naughty is the better choice for the title track, but Monster holds its own. Irene & Seulgi are Red Velvet’s first sub-unit (SM should’ve thought of a better name) and they delivered. One can never guess the direction of Red Velvet’s sound and Monster is no different. The distorted, high-pitch ‘na na na’ in the beginning set the stage with its sinister tone. The song could have been better with less repetition and introducing even more intriguing textures. Irene & Seulgi are the reason why this song shines with their performance.
Keembo - 99 (Gu Gu)
After Scandalous, I eagerly awaited another track from KEEMBO. 99 is the perfect song to drive along the beach type of song. It is bright with a pleasant beat and the occasional brass. KEEMBO effortless glide across the instrumental while delivering a great vocal performance with plenty of runs. Although not very dynamic, the song has a nice groove and great energy to keep the listener engaged. I wish KEEMBO had more promotions as they are very under-the-radar, but I’ll do my part and spread the news.
Somi - What You Waiting For
To me Birthday was underwhelming with someone with as much star power as Somi. Thankfully, this latest release is a step-up. What You Waiting For is the kind of track I thought Somi would debut with. Overall, the song does feel slightly basic with its plucked xylophone loop and EDM club instrumental during the chorus. However, the song is oddly refreshing giving off an old-school club feel from the 2010’s. I love how the song quickly turns into a club track and continues that momentum into the next verse.
Hwasa - LMM
LMM continues to explore Hwasa’s vulnerable side after Maria. Although the song is simple and doesn’t stray, the song has a lot of emotional heft. Emotionally, the song feels so personal and we are given a chance to see Hwasa in this state. The dramatic strings and piano set the mood for such a type of song. Ther traditional power notes during the climax are potent as Hwasa continues moving up to her head voice. The song almost becomes transcendent but it could use a more dynamic vocal performance for even more emotional depth.
Jeong Eunji - AWay
Another adult contemporary track like Hwasa’s LMM, however, AWay is an inspirational pop track that feels like a self-help book. I’m a sucker for these type of tracks which can be found often on the radio. I just love the emotional belting of Eunji making the song pleasant and timeless. The chorus is catchy from the first listen and the positivity makes you feel all warm and good inside. This song may not be for everyone, but I love the feelings I get when I listen to this track.