Much like 2011, 2012 was a year when I didn’t listen to a lot of music but that doesn’t make me any less excited about the Korean Music Awards. Since they launch in 2004 I’ve used the KMAs to find gems among music I wouldn’t usually listen to (and in later years, finally getting me to listen to albums I’ve picked up but have had yet to unwrap) and after getting the 10th Korean Music Awards Nominees series going this year I feel like it is only in 2004 – when the categories were far fewer and time infinitely more on my side – that I actually been more familiar with the artists, albums and songs in the competition. So, who do I think will win?
Album of the Year
If you had asked me two weeks ago, before I had a listen to it, I would’ve said 3rd Line Butterfly was my favorite by far in this category. Then I had to realize that while those songs are amazing live, on album they don’t quite work for me. I also found that I reacted to 9 and the Numbers‘ latest release the same way I reacted to their first album – it’s nice enough music and I really do enjoy listening to it, but it’s not all that special. Then we have Lowdown 30 which is a band I respect greatly but can barely stand listening to because of my aversion towards blues rock. Then there’s Jeong Cha Sik, who’s an amazing vocalist that does sound as amazing on album as he does in concert – also for his second release. And finally there’s Primary that has done a great job getting some of Koreas best rappers together, producing such that even I who am no longer much of a hip-hop fan could enjoy it.
Who I want to win: Jeong Cha Sik. Plenty of variety and vocals so intriguing it doesn’t matter that I can’t understand all that he’s singing. I had him down for Album of the Year already last year, but this year competition is even stronger so my hopes are lower.
Who I think will win: 3rd Line Butterfly. Dreamtalk already topped a lot of year-end lists and I see no reason why the critics invited to make the decision here should think any differently.
Song of the Year
When I first began listening to my KMA 2013 Song of the Year playlist I had a clear favorite in 3rd Line Butterfly, but after a few hours of repetition I started warming up also towards Kim Dae Jung and G-Dragon that I at first found more annoying than anything. Then of course there’s Busker Busker and Psy with songs that are both good, but have been played far too much everywhere for me to still be able to enjoy them the way I did when they were new.
Who I want to win: 3rd Line Butterfly. The way “헤어지는 날 바로 오늘” progresses makes it an incredible song suitable for repeat all by itself, hours and hours on end.
Who I think will win: Psy. “Gangnam Style” is the song of the year worldwide and should be awarded as such also in Korea. Very catchy, and written by one of my favorites in 90’s k-pop.
Artist of the Year
This is a difficult one and I don’t have any clear favorite. I wasn’t all that familiar with Choi Baek Ho prior to writing about this category but he does seem very interesting. Busker Busker have been doing remarkably well, but aren’t really making my kind of music. And Psy’s nomination, while obvious and fair, is on a totally different planet. So it’s down to Jeong Cha Sik or 3rd Line Butterfly for me. Jeong Cha Sik is probably my favorite artist out of the two, but when it comes down to achievements during 2012 3rd Line Butterfly’s resumé including a North America tour and an international album looks more impressive.
Who I want to win: 3rd Line Butterfly. I almost walked out of a live show before they started playing because I recalled how boring they were when I last saw them three years ago. I ended up staying through the encores and didn’t have one dull moment because of Nahm Sang Ah‘s stage presence and how awesome the band as a whole are now.
Who I think will win: Psy. Again, worldwide success on this scale deserves to be awarded.
Rookie of the Year
I’d be fine with either of 404, Mukimukimanmansu or The Electric Eels sweeping home this award, but I fear the competition is too strong. I’m perhaps most glad to see 404 nominated though, especially considering that they belong to the part of the scene which doesn’t usually get a chance in the spotlight. Mukimukimanmansu do come from that part of the scene too, but being signed to Beatball it is less of a surprise that they’d be recognized by the selection committee.
Who I want to win: Mukimukimanmansu. Fantastic girls that impressed me more than any other artist in 2011. Their 2012 album debut – produced by one of my old electronica heroes Dalpalan nonetheless – is as good as actually seeing them perform in front of you.
Who I think will win: Busker Busker. With a nomination also for Artist of the Year, how could they not win this category?
Best Rock Album
As far as rock nominations go, I find that there’s a lot of variety here. There’s the raw, dirty sound of 404; the more refined blues rock of Lowdown 30; trash metal à la Method; and Jeong Cha Sik who is more undefinable than rock, especially compared to what he used to make of the genre.
Who I want to win: 404’s 1. A solid rock album recorded in one of my favorite venues.
Who I think will win: Lowdown 30’s 1. Both Lowdown 30 and Jeong Cha Sik have nominations for Album of the Year, but considering that Jeong Cha Sik lost out on the award before with an, in my opinion, even stronger album I expect Lowdown 30 to go winning out of this.
Best Rock Song
Just like with the rock albums, the rock songs offers plenty of variety. Ranging from the undefinable to blues to a brand of metal with, in my opinion, only Yellow Monsters contributing a straightforward rock song. I have warmed up to Gate Flowers considerably since their time on Top Band, but I still can’t appreciate them as much as I should. And while I love Yellow Monsters “K.O” is probably my least favorite song of theirs.
Who I want to win: 404 – “숲속에서”. Sort of in the same ballpark as Jeong Cha Sik in this category, but with my limited knowledge of Korean I’ll go for the song that I feel better.
Who I think will win: Kim Dae Jung’s “300/30”. Because it’s the only one also nominated for Song of the Year.
Best Modern Rock Album
All good releases that I’d be happy to see take home the price.
Who I want to win: Noisecat’s Sunday Sunset Airlines. I’ll be honest and say I haven’t listened to it all, but I know his music from previous releases and what I have heard from Sunday Sunset Airlines is absolutely delightful.
Who I think will win: 3rd Line Butterfly’s Dreamtalk. If I put it down as the likely winner for Album of the Year I couldn’t very well not put it down also for the genre category in which it’s nominated.
Best Modern Rock Song
There are too many good choices here! Although I do like the 9 and the Numbers’ songs, “아카시아꽃” is my favorite from that release so I’m writing both of their songs off. I already admitted to liking 3rd Line Butterfly’s “헤어지는 날 바로 오늘” the most out of the songs up for Song of the Year, but then The Electric Eels’ “송곳니” is no doubt the biggest earworm of the bunch. But then there’s Lang Lee. And she’s outstanding in a number of ways.
Who I want to win: Lang Lee’s “잘 알지도 못하면서”. It’s not my favorite song on the album, but it is still a very good song. Also the one I’ve listened to the most out of those nominated.
Who I think will win: 3rd Line Butterfly’s “헤어지는 날 바로 오늘”. Because it’s the only one of these also nominated for Song of the Year.
Best Pop Album
I haven’t listened to any of these albums and, with the exception of Busker Busker and Yoon Young Bae, only familiarized myself with the artists behind them when writing the nominees post. I did hear a fair bit of Busker Busker’s album anyway owning to their popularity, but it’s not really my style and I haven’t seen the album itself on any year end lists either.
Who I want to win: Jung Tae Choon, Park Eun Ok. What little I’ve heard of 바다로 가는 시내버스 sounds exquisite.
Who I think will win: Yoon Young Bae. I do think Jung Tae Choon & Park Eun Ok stand a fair chance here as well, and Choi Baek Ho did get that nomination also for Artist of the Year, but Yoon Young Bae seems to be the favorite among critics.
Best Pop Song
All good songs. I’d be happy to see either one win this.
Who I want to win: Choi Baek Ho. I like the idea of a veteran singer successfully treading on new territory and the song is my favorite in the bunch.
Who I think will win: Busker Busker (“여수 밤바다”). I’m very tempted to say Gain instead, but “여수 밤바다” did get nominated also for Song of the Year.
Best Dance & Electronic Album
Usually the most idol filled category, but not so this year. I haven’t been listening to Cassette Schwarzenegger nearly as much as I should, but then it was only just this week that I learned Eniac is the producer in the duo.
Who I want to win: eAeon. No doubt about it. I used to be a big Mot fan and have loved just about everything eAeon has laid his hands on. Great album, more accessible than anything I’d dared to hope of from his solo works.
Who I think will win: f(x). Neon Bunny snubbed this award from them last year, but this year they’ve gotten even more popular with the indie crowd and, I’m assuming, critics.
Best Dance & Electronic Song
There’s a lot of good idol music I’d like to see nominated here, but I’m afraid most of my own personal favorites don’t have enough credibility to qualify. A pity.
Who I want to win: f(x) (“Electric Shock”). I found it very weird the first few times I’ve heard it, but the power of k-pop loving friends led me to hear it over and over again and as a result I’ve become quite fond of it myself.
Who I think will win: Psy. Because “Gangnam Style” is the only song in the bunch also nominated for Song of the Year.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Album
A genre I’ve been meaning to get into again since itta‘s Re:POPS!, but still I haven’t really taken the time. Even so I listened a fair bit to Primary’s album end of 2012 and enjoyed it all. Beenzino I’ve been hearing so many good things about from friends that are into k-hiphop, but it was only this week I actually listened to him. I quickly became fond of “Profile”, but unfortunately his not really for me once he goes softer.
Who I want to win: Primary. Fantastic album with a little something for everybody.
Who I think will win: Primary. Because Primary and the Messengers LP is also nominated for Album of the Year.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Song
I found Noise Mob strangely amusing when I first looked them up because of this nomination, but in the end it’s really just Primary and G-Dragon that I see competing over this.
Who I want to win: Primary. Because “독 (Poison)” was one of the best songs of 2012.
Who I think will win: G-Dragon. Because “One of a Kind” is nominated for Song of the Year. It’s strangely addictive.
Best R&B & Soul Album
My least favorite category of all.
Who I want to win: Lena Park. Because I loved her on I Am A Singer and the collaboration with eAeon on Parallax is gorgeous.
Who I think will win: Naul or Junggigo. Both have proven popular in the KMAs before.
Best R&B & Soul Song
While I may rarely be able to listen through a complete R&B or soul album, I am capable of enjoying the occasional song. I found myself positively surprised by Lee Hi‘s debut song, and it’s probably the one I’d listen to the most, but overall I found the nominations in this category to be fairly dull.
Who I want to win: Kumapark. Because I’m a sucker for 90’s k-pop and for some reason like Kumapark as a band even though their music isn’t really my style.
Who I think will win: Junggigo. He already won it last year, and this year the song is more interesting thanks to DJ Yst. At first I didn’t think much of it, but then I heard a piece from JYP’s “날 떠나지마” in the mix and all of a sudden the song turned into a puzzle waiting to be solved.
Best Jazz Album
After treating jazz with skepticism for as long as I can remember, in 2012 a friend in Tokyo gave me a chance to re-evaluate my stance on the genre and I came out with a new appreciation both for the music itself and for the musicians that dedicate their lives towards it. Still, I haven’t explored the world of Korean jazz as perhaps I should’ve, but again it’s a matter of time and priorities… The artists with albums nominated for this category I listened to first time last night, while writing the KMA jazz & crossover post.
Who I want to win: Francesca Han. While I may have warmed up to jazz as a genre, there are still many forms of it that feel inaccessible to be Francesca Han, on the other side, offers a perfect blend of jazz and classical music.
Who I think will win: Kang Tae Hwan. With his history he could’ve gotten the special merit price if he didn’t have a new album out.
Best Crossover Album
Often the albums nominated for crossover are quite bland and nonsensical, but this year I think it offers a few interesting choices. Bard with their Irish folk could be a good candidate, seeing the awards they won as 2nd Moon at the Korean Music Awards in 2006, but then their style is fairly different now so perhaps that doesn’t matter. Timirho’s “달의 바다” was subject to plenty of repeated play from my side a year ago, and then again last night. Jung Jaeil has been one of my favorite composers for a decade. And then of course we have Jambinai – my favorite band out of all nominated this year.
Who I want to win: Jambinai. There’s nothing else quite like Jambinai, neither inside nor outside Korea.
Who I think will win: Jung Jaeil. He’s been a darling of the KMAs since his debut, and with his many qualities who can blame them?
Best Jazz & Crossover Performance
I find this to be the more prestigious of the jazz & crossover awards categories, perhaps because it used to be one of the main awards offered by the KMA. It’s not as simple as who’s made the better music, but who’s been doing better when creating music – both subjective qualities, but of very different character. Kang Tae Hwan has got his half a century of acquiring and mastering new techniques behind him, Jambinai play their traditional instruments in ways that would make traditionalists cringe, and Check Kim appears to be some sort of virtuoso when it comes to free jazz improvisations. The other musicians nominated all seem very proficient with their instruments as well.
Who I want to win: Jambinai. The way they play their instruments, it’s truly an extraordinary performance.
Who I think will win: Jambinai. I sort of think this will go to Check Kim & Jean Oh anyway, but seeing as Jambinai are well on their way to become one of Korea’s finest cultural exports it’d be wise for the KMA to acknowledge this.
Here’s the one category I haven’t covered yet in the KMA nomination series, and as I’ve had absolutely no time to prepare those posts in advance that also means I have little to no clue about what’s going on here. I also haven’t seen any of the movies to which these soundtracks belong, although I am familiar with The Heaven is Only Open to the Single ! (설마 그럴리가 없어), as the Sister’s Barbershop‘s Lee Neung Ryong was the music director, and Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁) as I really enjoyed Chang Kiha & The Faces‘ cover of Jung-A Ham & Yankees‘ old “풍문으로 들었소”.
Who I think will win: The Heaven is Only Open to the Single ! (설마 그럴리가 없어). Because Lee Neung Ryong tends to know what he’s doing.