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Red Light's Top 25 Female K-pop Songs of 2018 - FINALE

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Red Light

#5

Spoiler

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Interestingly enough, this particular review is being written on the day of my hearing this song (October 13th), since I’m already sure it will end up somewhere rather high on the list. Damn, Weki Meki is really knocking it out of the park this year. I’m officially in love with them. This is straight out of 2014, and anyone who knows my music taste knows that couldn’t be any higher of a compliment. It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard this brand of colorful, action-packed banger--the kind that’s at that perfect midway point between light and dark, rather than just light (like Red Velvet’s bangers) or dark (like CLC’s bangers). The versatility of the track, I would imagine, will keep it from getting stale any time too soon... Well, I guess I’ll know that by the time it’s actually time to post this review.

 

For one thing, this is one of only two songs where I actually like the incorporation of the current inescapable pitched voice synth trend (the other being in Gugudan’s A Girl Like Me). The abrupt, clipped breathiness of this particular case has a glitchy feel to it that fits the rest of the instrumental well. Beyond that, the entire song is like a dynamic mishmash of songs that I already love: The manic, high-pitched synth stabs and gritty guitars remind me of Girl’s Day’s spectacular Expect; the sharp, dirty, glissando bassline harkens back a bit to the robotic bassline in Red Light; and the choruses are explosive, dramatic, and emotional in a way that is usually doled out by EXID--in fact, the melancholy sharp featured in the chorus is exactly what makes Up & Down and DDD’s choruses, as well as Hot Pink’s pre-chorus, so epic and impactful.

 

It’s also a carbon copy of As If It’s Your Last--it even has the same bassline fade-in at the start, and the exact structure of bright, peppy moombahton-infused verses and more subdued, mature EDM choruses. Crush has one huge difference from its BLACKPINK predecessor, however: The chorus in As If It’s Your Last is just okay, while the chorus in Crush is the highlight. As If It’s Your Last had a chorus that was well-mixed, but a bit underproduced, which made it slightly anticlimactic. Crush’s chorus, meanwhile is complete, overproduced, high-octane sonic madness. For once, I actually prefer the overproduced option.

 

With all these easy comparisons at the ready, you could almost convince me that Crush is an homage to the old K-pop days of yore. This is likely a reason for most people to dislike it, but for me, it’s one of the many things that make it so special.

 

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Red Light

#4

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Maybe more than any other genre that K-pop artists experiment with, swing music is the genre that I most mindlessly devour; practically guaranteed to earn a spot on my year-end lists. Hell, on my preliminary 2016 list, I included the universally forgotten MAMAMOO album track Cat Fight in my top 10. So it isn’t any surprise that this has placed a spot on my list, particularly in a year as dry as 2018. But, that also shouldn’t take any praises away from Is Who, as I feel it ranks among the most authentic and well-done swing tracks in female K-pop since IU’s legendary Modern Times album. As a matter of fact, Is Who is basically a more fleshed out, instrumentally-diverse sister of the Modern Times' gypsy jazz album opener, Love of B. The song borrows the same kind of warm, deep double bass foundation that helped make Love of B such a delight, but goes in a slightly less minimalistic direction with it, instead building upon it with light percussion, cinematic strings, and upright, jazzy piano riffs.

 

But my absolute favorite feature of the arrangement is the ferocious, screeching violin, which perfectly complements the tense, frantic tone of the song. It was apparently the producer’s favorite feature as well, because the bridge builds up to the epic violin solo like it’s a dubstep break. Minseo’s voice has that same kind of dirty, smokey quality to it that fits so well in retro-pop, which is another trait shared with IU that helped make Modern Times the masterpiece that it is, not to mention BoA’s swing foray in Jazz Club, which is still in the running. There’s something about that softer, more straightforward vocal style that helps sell this style of music’s believability, even during its campiest moments, such as the vocal followup to the violin solo, whereupon Minseo breaks into falsetto scat singing. MAMAMOO, for example, in spite of how strong and soulful their vocals are, probably wouldn’t have sounded quite as believable in doing that. I suppose the more understated nature of voices like Minseo’s helps play into that sly, playful mysteriousness that makes swing so great. As a whole, Is Who is catchy, nicely produced, subtle, and classy in every sense of the word.

 

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Red Light

I tried one more time to get my MacBook to come on and, what do you know, it started right up like nothing had ever happened to it. :lipton: Anyway I uploaded the Black Dress instrumental snippet I mentioned I had been making in my Black Dress review when it crashed. It's actually not the finished one that I was hoping I'd saved, which is really disappointing. The synth line was much better in the finished intro and it also had the basslines and some extra sound stems so it didn't sound so bare. But this one is good enough to show the kind of percussion I would have liked to have been in the actual song. :) I'll edit my Black Dress review post to include it as well.

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Red Light

#3

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While the Woman album was no slouch, the real gems that the Queen of K-pop bestowed upon us this year were hidden under the Japanese side of her discography. The lead single--which, like another finalist this year, actually came out at the buttcrack end of 2017--was actually a dream that I had been waiting to come true for quite a long time.

 

I have what’s labelled on my phone as The Ultimate Female K-pop Playlist--a collection of songs from as wide a variety of female artists as I can stand; with as wide a variety of genres that I can find. It’s a 100-song-playlist split into roughly five sections of 25 songs, give or take. The third section of this playlist is everything retro-pop, spanning from blues to big band to ballroom tango (also courtesy of BoA).

 

But there was one thing that was always sorely missing from the retro category: Electro-swing. f(x) hinted at it with Pink Tape’s Snapshot, but settled for plain synthpop with the choruses--and while the song was strong for an album track, it isn’t strong enough to represent its parent genre on a playlist of the best of the best. With Jazz Club, BoA finally delivered the full-fledged, Caravan Palace-esque electro-swing track that I’ve been waiting for for years.

 

More importantly, it’s just a good song--a catchy Up & Down-ish sax hook; a punchy, treble-heavy house kick; a swanky scat-singing bridge that fully solidifies the swing background; and a short running time at under three minutes that makes the song profoundly addictive. Jazz Club is excellent also in its subtlety: No element of the song is flashy or in-your-face in the slightest, which establishes a vibe of understated mysteriousness that is absolutely perfect for the wily, caddish sound prevalent in all the finest electro-swing. The instrumental is beautifully minimalist, with practically no instrumentation in the chorus besides the light, acoustic guitar strokes.

 

Finally, BoA’s smokey vocals could make a dirty rap song sound classy, much less an electro-swing habitat that those vocals can fully thrive in. And thrive is precisely what BoA does in Jazz Club: The pre-choruses, with a swooning background choir of oohs-and-ahhs, is positively heavenly--and BoA herself knows this, as in the music video, she closes her eyes and sways her head in the exact same fashion as I do every time I hear it.

 

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RUNNER-UP:

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This song… is perfect. I’ve never even heard of this woman before, but if she ever releases anything half as beautiful as this again, I’m stanning. No, it wasn’t perfect enough to win, because it unfortunately got stuck behind the ultra rare god-tier song that has had reservations for the #1 spot literally since the year started, but that doesn’t take away from the perfection that this song possesses.

 

K-pop has always tried its damndest to copy whatever sound is popular in the west and run it into the ground, but it’s never been quite as noticeable as it is in the current musical climate, because the trendy “It” flavor of mainstream pop at the moment--tropical house and future bass--has almost as little sonic variety to its name as the dubstep fad back in the early 2010’s. That’s why unapologetically eastern-sounding tracks like Goodbye are so admirable--and also so impressive when, as this song demonstrates, it still manages to sound fresh and modern.

 

Goodbye is trot music done completely and totally right. The formerly most reliable distributors of trot music were the sorely missed Orange Caramel, whose distinctly European-influenced catalog was frequently comprised of theatrical instrumentations, aegyo-styled vocals, and the unmistakable uptempo duple-metered bounciness that made the group so one-of-a-kind. Goodbye is essentially like Orange Caramel at their best, without all the cutesy affectations that always, at least in my book, set them back somewhat.

 

With crystal clear production and pristine sound mixing, Good Bye seamlessly whips the listener through a dazzling array of tonal and sonic variety, opening with the song’s trademark athletically modulated falsettos; flamenco string accents; high-energy, brass-loaded, mischievous verses; and gut-punching, emotional choruses with exotic lute-family synthesization that I swear are supposed to emulate the sounds of balalaikas, complementing the vocals from the background. Finally, the song goes above and beyond, with an addictive post-chorus sax riff that ranks up there among the best of any Seo Yeong-bae & Iggy, or Shinsadong Tiger-composed classics--and the handclaps featured in this segment have to be the most infectious and hard not to clap along to since the Friends theme song. It may have gotten lost in the shadows of a stellar year like 2014, but in the dystopia that’s been 2018, it’s comforting to know that songs like this still pop up every now and then, and I’m glad to give it the recognition it deserves.

 

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WINNER

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LOOΠΔ's discography in 2018 compared to 2017 is sort of a pile of ****, but even so, I think I still prefer 2018 LOOΠΔ, all because it gave me this one beautiful, beautiful song. The verses are Girl’s Day’s I’ll Be Yours all over again--in fact, I still have the urge during the “You attack my heart” hook to follow it up with, “Baby I’ll be yours!” Other similarities it bears to last year’s #3 finalist are the English-speaking, deep-voiced male interjections in the background (I’ll Be Yours with its blood-pumping “You betta work” chants, and Heart Attack with just one simple “DAYUM” before each verse), as well as the anachronistic 808’s running in stark contrast to the bluesy, upright pianos and swing-ish rhythms.

 

The song’s most notable, glimmering quality (and anybody who has heard the song and begun to notice patterns in my reviews probably knows what I’m getting ready to say) is the nostalgic gourmet of semitonic scale progressions. The first half of each chorus kicks off with a melancholic sharp that drove me crazy for the first few days of listening to the song (and I had the song on repeat 24/7 for days), because I knew it reminded me of a Western song that I used to love for the same reason. One day it finally hit me that the song I was thinking of was If We Ever Meet Again by Timbaland and Katy Perry, and then I just felt blasphemous for drawing the comparison--but that goes to show more than anything just how powerless I am to a few bittersweet sharps or flats.

 

The brief sharp taking place in Heart Attack, however, is just an appetizer for the main course, which lies in the second half of, well... the chorus. Layered heavily into the instrumental, as well as emerging in the form of a truly stunning set of Barbershop Quartet-ish backup harmonies, the track becomes drenched in a flood of exuberant nostalgia with a stunning chromatic tetrachord that descends step by step to the resolution of each chorus. The resolution of each chorus is accented with a more soulful vocal switchup from Chuu in tandem with a dramatic split in the bass kick, and each of these final punches is delivered more effectively than the last.

 

For somebody as picky as me when it comes to what I like and dislike in music, there have been very few first-listen experiences that have been legitimately perfect--where all the right ingredients just happened to come together in one track, and delivered everything that I needed and more. Many of my all-time favorites, in fact, were not ones that delivered that rush of rousing immaculateness. There are, however, a subset of favorites that made me feel as if they were one step ahead of me during that first listen--like the songs were produced specifically for me.

 

Heart Attack, with its soft, percussion-barren, lullaby-ish bridge just before the one final explosion, joins that exclusive group.

 

Stripping down eventually to Chuu’s voice alone, as she starts a vocal run in a long, drawn-out “Heeeeeeyyyyy,” Heart Attack acclimates you to the grand finale in a similar manner to Expectation by Girl’s Day, using ad-libbed vocals to harmonize with an absolutely hair-raising key change. It’s natural, then, that Heart Attack possesses the most effective key change I’ve heard in years. Every element that already made the track so brilliant is amplified in such a way that you feel as though, until that moment, you had been listening to the song in the “Wrong” key. Ridiculously, it still isn’t done hurdling yet another curveball your way, packing a double chorus for the end in the manner of Ice Cream Cake.

 

Every transcendent ad-lib, every punchy bass kick, every triumphant cymbal crash; every grain of production down to the last nanosecond of audio is chillingly beautiful. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that, to this day, I cannot listen to the song without getting goosebumps during the final chorus. It's as though the chord progression is like a neurological passcode that unlocks a treasure chest of happy chemicals and sets them free. It sounds like joy and warmth and love and excitement and nostalgia and peace and it's just so... beautiful. It's perfect.

 

With this textbook perfect tour de force masterpiece, Chuu doesn’t attack your heart so much as she warms it, and if you don’t feel at least a twinge sentimental and starry-eyed listening to it, I can only assume you need to get your ears checked… or your heart.

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Red Light

NEXT YEAR: THE ULTIMATE COUNTDOWN.

100 songs. 100 graphics. 100 in-depth reviews. The biggest YTT thread I'll ever do--I'm actually starting work on it as early as tomorrow. 

My Top 100 Female K-pop Songs of the Decade! 

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