2017 Favorites: Pop
A look at pop albums by Kehlani, Wednesday Campanella and more that kept me company in 2017
During a time when so much was happening, I wanted to be entertained by something more dumb and elementary. That mentality lies at the forefront of dance-pop trio Wednesday Campanella. The main thrill behind the group’s music, from its fizzy future-house-like beats to Kom_I’s ad libs, derive from a surface level. Their word salad favors sound over meaning, and it often reads nonsensical like auto-generated Bing translations.
There’s an urge to qualify Wednesday Campanella’s music as an actually-serious piece of work, but it can be complicated to explain just why. Looking for any meaning or intent behind their creative choices beyond feel-good qualities seems pretty tedious. The process can feel like you’re ruining a good joke or overthinking simple fun. And personally, there’s a fear that without doing so, it can be sold as quirky novelty. Perhaps it’s all it is, who knows? And really, at the end of the day, who cares? They made an album with a single telling me to take a break once in a while. It’s been good advice.
Here are 20 pop albums that kept me company throughout 2017. Here is a YouTube playlist of singles from the selections, plus some more of my favorite (non-Korean) pop songs of the year. Happy listening!
Ame to Kanmuri
Former Koutei Camera Girl member strikes it solo with a stash of tinny house beats, foggy from a nostalgia of the ’90s. She records verses like an on-the-fly demo, though her millennial issues read as if they chipped her away for years.
The five-track EP brings a tightened presentation of the range as well as the appeal behind the “punk band without instruments.” Voices by different members share the recklessness, bitterness and wholesomeness of the group as a whole.
Not Not Me
Hanging up her day job only broadened MC Itsuka’s writing, which go beyond dissatisfaction from the 9-to-5 to touch on the still-complicated millennial experience. The nightlife beats, meanwhile, settle for an equally wiser sound.
MCs Rachel and Mamiko together explore the in-betweens of young adulthood — getting with and falling out with a guy, mostly — with instinctive cool but also not afraid to make a fool of themselves once in a while.
Gang Parade Takes Themselves Higher!!
Gang Parade puts together some bruised pop with preset synths bleeding over compressed guitar riffs, but what smacks the hardest are the members, who keeps on stomping through despite their limits.
From the Outside
The mall-pop band’s bright synths, blown-out pop-punk riffs and especially those bratty hooks spread a mess over their debut so hot, it’s kinda cringe-worthy. It takes a gang of wholesome youths not only to record but to sell it so real.
The innocence behind IU’s collection of bedroom pop might strike naive as her album’s quaint thesis: “never mind the future, what’s shining brighter is ‘the now.’” Whatever: her youthful whimsy was delightful comfort food.
Aughts pop nostalgia, millennial lingo, and flexes that double as subtweets, all shrouded by a major-label touch-up of Soundcloud R&B: if Kehlani’s full-length doesn’t encapsulate what 2017 sounds like, then what album does?
Take Me Apart
Kelela has worked to create her own dance-floor sanctuary within her after-hours R&B, and her debut LP fully realizes the private space she always imagined. The silver synths glow the warmest, and her songs about love envelop so tenderly.
Max & Match
Odd Eye Circle
On top of the main group’s usual spotlessness, the second LOONA sub-unit impresses with stylish flair. Dazzling synths align into dynamic constellations while the trio of Kim Lip, JinSoul, and Choerry navigate the terrain effortlessly.
The shimmer and slickness on the surface of the ’80s-influenced pop only mask the anxiety and cynicism Hayley Williams and co. try their best to hide. When they finally say “fuck it” at their fake smiles, it brings the most liberating pop.
Beneath the pop sheen, women in Wildhorse fight to rise above their own issues rooted from break-ups to divorce. The title hangs more of an aspiration, but the voice of the young country rookie embodies redemption for those in the same shoes.
The first-wave K-pop icons prove to be an enduring template for new groups, so why not return for a celebration of their two-decade legacy to show just how it should be done? Their takes on R&B and dance totally shine ’90s, but it sounds fresh as ever.
’80s J-pop geeks pay quality homage to their beloved pop era. The trio’s care for the genre shows through and through, from the decade’s pop sounds, tone to turns of phrases. What cuts through is how the style and stories still prove relevant today.
► “Don’t Graduate, Senpai!” by Satellite Young
Don’t Say No
Seohyun has been overdue for a solo debut, and she delivers her best when she’s got no one to satisfy but herself: Ariana Grande worship, nostalgia via acoustic slow jam, jazz-assisted bad romance — like really, who’s she trying to impress?
Desire spills over from Suzy like the sloshing sounds flowing over this bittersweet R&B. The heady moodiness best captures Suzy’s head space, caught between right and wrong, and it made the best companion during the late nights.
Asako Toki continues to write sweet city pop, a term here which describes more of its thematic schemes — vignettes featuring a young woman adapting to her life in busier streets — than the beloved J-pop era of the past.
Jessie Ware’s album on life after marriage and motherhood featured soul music full of earnest bliss as expected, but she also laid bare the sheer terror of giving total trust of her heart in the hands of someone else. Her honesty is still a gift.
Wednesday Campanella still play by no one’s rules but theirs. The group’s wildly imaginative dance-pop each unpacks its own universe like a deep Wikipedia dive, all driven by an intense, ever-changing momentum of creative impulse.
The fantasy-obsessed singer-songwriter elevates the whimsy of her twee jazz-pop to new heights. But while she adds more rococo flourishes to her music, her renowned fables get more grounded to earth — bittersweet, even.