The Best of K-POP 2019: Part 1

2019 has been a rough year for K-pop, being that there were a lot of scandals, drama, passings, and other situations that loomed throughout. It almost seemed like the music itself was taking a nose-dive from its previous years, as well.

Still, as a devoted Korean pop music fan, I persevered through the year, through all the devastating moments (my poor IZ*ONE ladies to hoping Hara and Sulli are happier together, as examples of how rough it’s been). In the end, I found myself listening to tons of K-pop songs that felt fresh and felt awesome. It showed that things are going to get better in the K-pop world and that with all that’s been going on, we have to persevere.

As we now reach the end of the year (and decade, for that matter), it’s time to see which songs have kept K-pop fans going, particularly myself. I’ve picked 30 out of the hundreds of songs that came out this year that I’ve found myself drawn to, whether it be out of hilarity, lyricism, catchiness, whatever. My 30 may not be the same as others, and that’s okay!

But… I want you to know what my favorites were from this year (lol). And so… without further ado… here’s part one!

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Continuing in the Utada Hikaru series is the single “FINAL DISTANCE”, which was originally meant to be a re-cut single from her second album, formerly titled ‘DISTANCE’.

A little bit of history behind the single itself: the single was made in honor of student Yamashita Rena who was tragically killed in a Japanese school shooting. Rena had won an essay competition with her dreams to be a singer much like Utada, and having heard this, Hikki remade the planned single to pay respect to Rena.

Having the same lyrics as its original counterpart, “FINAL DISTANCE” takes on a new approach; I won’t say anything snarky or pun-like here. Is “FINAL DISTANCE” a beautiful tribute to Rena?

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宇多田ヒカル | 光

Bet you were waiting for this!

Next up in the Utada Hikaru series is a single that Westerners who know of Hikki know all too well. Having the exclusive tie-in to the Square Enix-Disney video game Kingdom Hearts (a formidable video game, at least by my standards), “Hikari” is one of Utada Hikaru’s most-beloved songs and continues to be by the PS2 gaming generation. With this being said, it has been nearly 17 years (holy), and one has to wonder if this song and its single still holds through the test of time. Is it a light enough song that it is still accessible to this day, or has its light flickered out?

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ITZY (있지) | IT'z Different

The hype train is real! This is the case for five-member pop group ITZY, introduced to the K-pop world under the JYP Entertainment umbrella, featuring members you might have already been familiar with under the likes of SIXTEEN, MIXNINE, and Stray Kids. ITZY’s hype was so huge at the beginning of 2019, being that they are TWICE’s ‘little sisters’ and that they were the group that even JYP’s former starlet Somi was supposed to be in.

But with that hype comes the actual delivery, and when the delivery doesn’t hold up, the hype becomes unsatisfactory. Is ITZY really all that different from every act on the K-pop scene, or are they just the same as everyone else?

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宇多田ヒカル | Addicted To You

Next up in my Hikki series is the hugely-successful single “Addicted To You”, a single that does not even bear an original mix, but two ‘mixes’ with different nostalgic appeals. With this single, Hikki continued to reign, having dominated the Japanese music scene with her fresh R&B sound that was already making waves in the West. Being one of her best-selling singles of all time, Hikki joins forces with famed R&B recording duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who Westerners may be familiar with from the tunes of Janet Jackson, Boyz II Men, Usher, and the like.

Here’s the question I pose now: Is this single addicting to you, or is it just a one-time thing?

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宇多田ヒカル | traveling

If you haven’t already figured out, I’ll be reviewing more of Hikki’s older discography.

Next up is another from the album ‘DEEP RIVER’, known as “traveling”, which is the first of Utada Hikaru’s transition into different experimental genres, stepping outside of her usual late 90s-early 00s R&B sound. In fact, this was one of my very first Hikki songs outside of her more well-known songs! Going for a more electronic sound with this release, is this single worth the travel or is it simply a waste of vacation time?

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NATURE who? Uh, get into it!

Korean-pop group NATURE made their debut in 2018, and they have yet to make any dent into the K-pop industry as a one-year-old group. That being said, NATURE looks to have pulled a trick up their sleeve with the addition of new member Sohee, who people might actually recognize to be Produce 101 alum Kim So Hee, who was in project groups C.I.V.A, I.B.I, and Girls Next Door. Here, the light is on Sohee to bring NATURE to better recognition, but are we bound for NATURE WORLD, CODE A, or are we headed off in the opposite direction?

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