Over time, many artists improve either musically, in performances, or their concept. This year, a few of them have stood out or gained favor in our eyes. Therefore, here are our most improved artists of 2013.
Last year, I saw the potential BIGSTAR had, naming them one of my male Rookie Reserves. You could see they had talent, but it was lost behind the image they were portraying. Admit it, “Hot Boy” was simply pompous and gimmicky. (I blame Brave Brothers for this. When it comes to those at Brave Sound, he just sucks, in my opinion.) However, at the end of 2012, with their song “I Got the Feeling,” there was a glimpse into the group’s personalities (ADORKABLE!) and how they have natural talent to showcase. This year, BIGSTAR came back with their mini album, Hangout. The boys had clearly matured, both musically and in image (Hello there, Baram.) A humorous, colorful, and bright MV, coupled with a catchy tune and enthusiastic dance, their title track “Run&Run,” was a vast improvement. It was hard not to dance and sing along with BIGSTAR (I still do, honestly.) That’s not to say that BIGSTAR has stopped being bombastic. Look no further than “Be Brave.” (Seriously, listen to it. It’s supposedly Electroboyz’ Maboos with the infamous line, but still. hahaha.) From the album, my personal favorite is “Hooligan.” It’s a song full of “fighting.” BIGSTAR truly came out from under the shadow with their winter track, “Standing Alone.” Just to remind readers, BIGSTAR is a hip-hop based group, which means emotional tracks can be difficult to pull off. However, BIGSTAR does it beautifully. The group portrays the loneliness, not only vocally, but also visually. The music and MV are simplistic and smooth. I think BIGSTAR has solidified themselves as group to watch. Chika Chika Boom Boom ♪♪
It may seem weird to have a group like EXO on this list, considering how popular they were last year and how successful they were this year. However, I think their success may be due to their improvement. When EXO debuted last year, it seemed like they would be just another typical, overexposed SME group. “What Is Love” was like almost every SM ballad ever, “History” was TVXQ regurgitated, and “MAMA” was typical Engrish-filled nonsense. After a year-long wait, EXO returned with XOXO. With the exception of the horrid lead single, “Wolf,” the album was great. Admittedly, I was disappointed that a track like “Wolf” was promoted, but the group redeemed themselves with the “Growl,” the title track from the repackaged album. One of the best songs this year, “Growl” was catchy for all the right reasons: great music, dance, generally solid lyrics. From XOXO, I also recommend “Don’t Go, “Heart Attack,” and “My Lady.” (and “Baby, Don’t Cry.” the Mandarin version of the album is my favourite) EXO only added to the great music with their Christmas album, “Miracles in December.” I will plainly say, this was the most solid and the best Christmas album put out by a kpop artist. The single by the same name was simply beautiful and emotionally stirring. The MV was also fantastic (Korean and Chinese Versions). I admit, I cried. Safe to say, EXO has gained a new fan (though, I’ll never be an EXOtic/EXOstan. Weirdos.) Hopefully, they’ll keep up the good work and continue to release fantastic music.
To me, this has been a great year for dance-pop group, Nine Muses. It seems like the ladies have found themselves. After struggling through member changes, it appears the lineup has been solidified (I really hope, since they work so well together.) Their music has taken a giant leap forward. That’s not to say that Nine Muses didn’t have good tracks before. “Ticket” and “News” were good songs, in my opinion. However, this year’s tracks have been great. Even after four separate comebacks, each song is still new and fresh. The ladies have showed they are more than just pretty faces. Various members have uploaded covers that show their talent. Although the group is known for dance pop, they also showed they can take on more emotional tracks. To begin the year, Nine Muses released their single “Dolls,” which climbed to #7 on the charts. The slower paced tracks gave room for their vocals to come through. Their second release, “Wild” peaked at #2 and was stacked with four impressive tracks. Their first full-length album, Prima Donna, was great. The intro song, which was a combination of rock, jazz, and blues, was a showcase for the pipes of the vocalists. The album is full of different styles of music: blues, classic rock, 80s-90s pop, acoustic, jazz, etc. I personally recommend “A Few Good Man.” The clapping is infectious. Their digital single, “Glue” is an ear worm, and the dance is catchy, with its simple hip shakes. This year, it seems Nine Muses is finally gaining ground. The group was invited, by SBS, to appear on their first ever “Gayo Daejun.” Even Minha, the maknae, has scored a MC position. I hope their momentum continues.
Girl’s Day had a great year in 2013. They came back with a sexy concept, and it matched them perfectly, showing how they have matured and are no longer obnoxiously cute (though I’m sure that side of them still pops out of them once in a while.) The girls came back with their full studio length album, “기대” (Expectation), and their single from it, “기대해” (“Expect“), was just great. With their sexy choreography (suspenders, anyone?) and lyrics full of resentment, want, and confidence, the girls themselves exuded aloofness and self-assurance (with some cute facial expressions thrown in; it is KPop, after all). The track is simply awesome, and addictive. They came out with a re-package of the album and called it, “여자대통령” (“Female President”), releasing a single with the same title. “Female President” lyrically shows maturity in its encouragement of girls to take charge, be confident, and be active, instead of reactionary, in their relationships. There are other tracks on the album that are worth a listen to: “I Don’t Mind” is nice and soft, lulling you with its quietness, same with “White Day”, and “Easy Go” is upbeat and fun. There are also the girls’ older songs on the album; “나를 잊지마” (“Don’t Forget About Me”) being one of my favourites. All in all, the album’s a good listen (plus, it’s nice to know that they had some say in it: SoJin wrote the intro to the album, and the four girls helped write one of the songs as well). While their company mentioned adding a trainee to their line-up later down the line, I hope that doesn’t happen, as the combo and chemistry the four girls have currently suits them just fine, and adding another member might interfere with the dynamics and balance the four have. We hope the group continues to mature and show off that they have the talent to compete with other girl groups. (Update: The girls came out with a new, sexy single, “Something”, on January 3, 2014 and are coming out with their third mini album, “Everyday 3”.)