10 Best K-Pop Albums of 2016: Critic's Picks
While many K-pop fans find it difficult to enjoy full albums in the singles-focused K-pop scene, these 10 releases proved that the format is far from dead and worth listeners’ ears — even if every song doesn’t boast glossy music videos.
From releases that immortalized the sound of 2016 to acts that delivered timeless tunes, these are our picks for the best albums of the year.
10. GOT7, Flight Log: Fly
Boy band GOT7 landed in a sweet spot with Fly that saw the septet focusing more on airy, R&B-pop sounds to great results. From the falsetto-driven tracks like “Fly” and “Begging on My Knees,” this is one smooth flight from start to finish.
9. Mamamoo, Melting
While Mamamoo‘s been known for their throwback-tinged singles, their full-length Melting LP showed their full capabilities as the vocal quintet dipped into slinky hip-hop (“Taller Than You”), dreamy soul-pop (“Friday Night”) and acoustic territory (like “Words Don’t Come Easy” and “My Hometown”) to prove themselves to be multifaceted along with powerhouse vocalists.
8. Seventeen, Going Seventeen
Quickly rising boy band Seventeen continued to show their promise with genre-spanning releases that bring everything from snappy pop (like lead single “Boom Boom”) to lush EDM (“Highlight”), plus showing more mature side of themselves in the rather sultry “Lean On.” All the more impressive: Various members write and produce on every track with member Woozi writing two tracks on his own.
7. Tiffany, I Just Wanna Dance
Famous for her cheery demeanor, Tiffany surprised K-pop fans with her chilled-out, synth-pop solo debut “I Just Wanna Dance.” The accompanying EP also boasted more surprises with the trap infusion on “Talk,” gooey harmonies for “Fool,” plus “What Do I Do,” which had Korean lyrics written by her Girls’ Generation band mate Sooyoung and English lyrics by Tiffany herself.
6. BIGBANG, Made
It’s an album a year-in-a-half overdue, but its value as a standalone piece of work is undeniable. Made is the last album the phenoms will release before members enlist in South Korea’s mandatory military service and the result is career-exemplifying tracks that bring playful electronic hip-hop (see “Fxxk It” or “Bae Bae”) along with heartrending emotional jams (“Let’s Not Fall in Love” like 2015’s K-Pop Song of the Year “Loser”) and other treats for one of the most universally loved acts on the scene. Altogether, it’s a testament to the versatility K-pop acts can show in the music and just how truly hard it is to call K-pop a “genre.”
5. Dean, 130 Mood: TRBL
Dean made his mark on the scene with this expertly crafted EP that spotlights his versatility to handle turn-up jams and tender tunes more suited for the bedroom. With impressive collaborators on board — from Jeff Bernat to Zico — the much-too-short release just makes one all the more eager to find out where Dean will go next.
4. Akdong Musician, Spring
The brother-sister duo Akdong Musician follow up on the promise they displayed in their debut album, Play, with an EP that feels like an even deeper dive into their unique personalities and quirky musical styling. Spring still has the folk-pop sound that made listeners fall in love with AkMu initially, but most songs boast a more theatrical feel to them to show the young duo is growing an exciting pace.
3. EXID, Street
The strongest girl-group output of 2016, EXID finally got the chance to show what they were capable of with a full-length album of offbeat-yet-trendy dance tracks that delivered on the promise they showed so early in the career. “L.I.E” is an aggressive pop banger, but slick songs like “Cream,” “Don’t Want a Drive” and “No Way” rival it for best and most accessible song on the album — an issue for a band picking the right single but excellent experience for the listener.
2. DAY6, Daydream
DAY6, thee underrated rock-pop band under K-pop super-label JYP Entertainment, proved they should not be ignored with their expertly crafted sophomore release. Songs like lead single “Letting Go” and “Sing Me,” display their knack for moving compositions that grow with every verse. Meanwhile, the guys hint at their versatility on cuts like the sassy funk cut “Blood” and bombastic “Hunt.” Don’t count them out.
1. BTS, Wings
Nevermind the fact that BTS blew away all K-pop chart records on the Billboard 200 when their sophomore album debuted in the Top 30, Wings is an accomplishment all its own. Co-writing and producing on nearly every track, the K-pop phenoms proved how they can compete with top pop acts. There’s forward-thinking production (the guys flip Major Lazer‘s tropical sound for “Blood Sweat & Tears” and make Calvin Harris-esque EDM all their own on “Interlude: Wings”) coupled with lyrics discussing topics important to their listeners like the dark side of adulthood and mental health issues.
Not only that, but each member is given a solo song to showcase his own vocal color and preferred genre style. Wings is a good model for any band trying to move itself forward while concurrently establishing its different members. If anyone was confused about BTS’ global appeal, one listen to Wings will make that inherently clear.