The following notion bears repeating: 2013 was a fucking awesome year for music, and the nominees in this year’s Korean Music Awards reflects that. Some nominees I only just heard of, while others have been on repeat the second I was able to get my hands on them. Where else can you see an awards list so diverse that both Asian Chairshot and Crayon Pop get nods? Nowhere.
The following is my list on who should win, and due to my limited knowledge of the KMA voting public, I won’t put my two cents on who might win. Varied as hell this list, but dive in.
Album of the Year
Out of all the nominees for Album of the Year, I thoroughly enjoyed Sun Woo Jung Ah’s “It’s Okay, Dear”. The record is uplifting, heartfelt, vibrant and fun, as well as diverse in musical styles. Sun Woo Jung Ah did a great job producing and writing this excellent second album.
Song of the Year
C’mon, how can you not like this song? A much better ear-worm and summer hit than that other megahit, Crayon Pop’s “빠빠빠” was infectious and cavity-inducing bubblegum pop. And it was one of the few songs in the k-pop sphere that was age appropriate. And who can forget those helmets?!
Artist of the Year
Not only did she release an outstanding sophomore effort, but Sun Woo Jung Ah was every where, writing and producing music for other artists. She was even a guest performer on other KMA-nominated material. Sure, every other nominated performer released stellar music, but which of them went beyond their own music?
Rookie of the Year
For me, 2013 was the year of challenging music, whether new genres for me to explore or changes in the genres I already enjoy. No one exemplified that more than Oki Kim and his take on saxophone-led jazz. That he went the free jazz route in a landscape that adores smoother, easygoing jazz, and that well, puts him at the top of the rookie heap, and a talent that deserves recognition for years to come.
Best Rock Album
If you had told me last year that I would struggle between a punk and a metal record for my KMA Rock choice, I would’ve laughed in your face. Gladly, Vassline’s “Black Silence” and Yellow Monsters’ “Red Flag” were such exceptionally good LPs that I, indeed, struggled. In the end, I went with “Red Flag”. Insanely raucous and surprisingly touching (even at the same time!), that LP was more than just punk, but a group-defining record.
Best Rock Song
I may not have liked the EP as a whole, but there is no doubt in my mind that Asian Chairshot’s “소녀 (Girl)” was THE rock song of 2013. Eerie, dirty and a touch of sexy, “Girl” was, and is, perfect. The live performances of the song were epic as well, especially the one for Nanjang.
Best Modern Rock Album
Jaurim’s “Goodbye, Grief”. No contest. I just love this record too much and won’t stop preaching about it.
Best Modern Rock Song
One of the saddest songs ever, and so well executed, Jaurim’s “스물다섯, 스물하나”. That’s it.
Best Pop Album
I adore Sun Woo Jung Ah, but when I saw Han Hee Jung’s record at the end of the list, I knew I had to change my choice.This quirky record was my go to summer relaxation record, and just grew on me months after the heat left. May not have the name recognition of Jung Ah or Jang Pil Soon, but I’m rooting for this underdog.
Best Pop Song
In all honesty, I listened to “Soony Seven” twice and moved on. It wasn’t until I heard the live version of “맴맴” on Yoo Heo Yeol’s “Sketchbook” that I was convinced Jang Pil Soon’s lead single is a shoe in. Cal, beautiful and full of emotion, Jang Pil Soon did an amazing job on this song.
Best Dance & Electronic Album
Dubbed the “k-pop category”, I have to go with f(x)’s Pink Tape. I know this is an indie blog, but I could not stop listening to this record. Nearly universal praise from everyone on my Twitter feed, “Pink Tape” was the best k-pop album released last year. Full disclosure: this is also a revenge pick for their MAMA snub.
Best Dance & Electronic Song
f(x)’s “Rum Pum Pum Pum”, or anyone really, as long as it’s not EXO.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Album
I had no idea of three of these nominees, which is a problem of my ability to find k-hip-hop music and a larger problem of international availability of Korean music. When I corrected this oversight, this category came down to the velvet productions on Paloalto’s “Chief Life” and the indie-skewed touch of P-Type’s “Rap”. The latter gets my vote. Varied in tone, approach and in its guest list, “Rap” has Sun Woo Jung Ah, Jinbo and Paloalto, fellow KMA nominees. Guy has great taste, and it shows.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Song
Hands down, this goes to Bullhandang Crew. Not only are the guys exceptional rappers, and P-Type kills, but the traditional percussion production and chanting were genius.
Best R&B and Soul Album
This was the hardest category for me. Every single artist on this list did exceptional work, but the dynamic was interesting. On one side, traditional R&B was polished in the releases of Lee Hi, Soulciety and Mayson the Soul, and on the other hand, R&B met electronics in the hands of Jinbo and Zion.T. No surprise to anyone, though, but my vote is for Jinbo. Already a KMA winner, “Fantasy” is an amazing follow-up to “Afterwork”. Extraordinary stuff.
Best R&B and Soul Song
Zion.T’s “Red Light” took me by surprise, but it was “Two Melodies” that put him on the map as a solo artist, and with good reason. A heartbreaking ballad with exceptional production and superb singing by the Zion.T and Crush, “Two Melodies” is one of those songs to silently cry to.
Best Jazz Album
This category, and Crossover Record as well, are difficult to assess because most of these releases are not available in its digital entirety, making a further case for Chris’ argument for increased bandcamp use by Korean indie artists. Like I mentioned early on, Oki Kim is an extraordinary talent, and “Cherubim’s Wrath” excelled above all others in substance and style. (Not to mention that is available on bandcamp.)
Best Crossover Album
I wish I had more experience with this category, especially Salon De O Soo Kyung‘s “Salon de Tango”, but I give my vote to Yiruma’s “Blind Film”. I’ve enjoyed his piano compositions for years now, but his LP’s dark and melancholic tone grabbed me immediately.
Best Jazz & Crossover Performance
(Note: why is this one category? Not enough good performances for two? Seriously doubt that. Anyway.) Seo Young Do’s Electric Ensemble brought much needed joy to this category. The double climatic points in the title track of this second LP are so jubilant that my eyes blur with tears. This is one of those tracks that stops me from what I’m doing to just sink into it. No lyrics needed to get the song’s full impact. (Listen to it here.)
Is it possible to fall in love with your favorite music again after they get nominated? Yes, and when the winners get announced February 28, I will rejoice/anguish over the results.