I love sports, but one look at my March Madness brackets or World Cup predictions will tell you that I don’t have the best luck when it comes to predicting outcomes of things. (Super Bowl prop bets would probably ruin me.) But the KMAs? Well, maybe I can get a break here.
It’s encouraging to see how much authority this award has gained over the years – it’s still got a ways to go, but the best music award in Korea is at least being recognized as a real honor even in the public eye.
I feel like 2015’s crop of nominees is more consonant with my tastes than any other in recent memory. The selection committee made sure to slip in a few surprises, though. Here are my thoughts:
Album of the Year
Hwaji’s the unexpected pick here. I wasn’t as hyped about this as, say, Rhythmer was, but I can understand the reasoning: it was a hugely intrepid and directed piece of work in a hip-hop scene that is in need of more of each. The other nominees were more expectable, though I didn’t realize that the 9 and the Numbers album was being regarded this highly.
Personal Pick: I loved W.A.N.D.Y, but it’ll have to be Danpyunsun and the Sailors’ Animal for me. It’s an adventure to listen to each time, what with its turbulent performances and unparalleled fidelity. I liked its vision as much as I do its technicality.
Prediction: The fact that the committee did not reward Hoegidong Danpyunsun’s Virgin last year gives me a tad bit more confidence that they will do so with this spiritual extension of that EP. I think it’s going to be Animal.
Song of the Year
I had somehow missed Zion.T’s “Yanghwa BRDG” when it came out and didn’t catch up until I was preparing my 2014 review for Hellokpop. It’s great and lyrically outstanding in particular, but I wouldn’t include it in the conversation for this category – same goes for Yoon Sang’s transformative single.
Personal Pick: While Kim Sawol X Kim Haewon’s “Secret” has been growing on me tremendously the last few weeks, I’m going to be part of the crowd picking Soyou and Junggigo’s “Some” here. It’s not only an infectiously catchy song, but also a social achievement – I write about it in more detail here.
Prediction: “Some”. I agree with Sangha and Anna on this. Given the committee’s history, I think this is the easiest pick of the last 3 years’ KMAs except for “Gangnam Style”.
Artist of the Year
No slam dunk pick this year. It’s good to see Gonne Choi here, and Lee Wonsool had a fantastically unpredictable follow-up to an eclectic debut effort (though he probably didn’t eclipse it). The only one I’m unsure about is Lee Seung-hwan. Good album, but not amazing. Surprising to not see Kim Sawol X Kim Haewon, when they seem to be stealing the show everywhere else.
Personal Pick: I picked IU when I did this personally, for being so ubiquitous in featured performances and for a great remake album. The category was really a draw from the hat this year. I would like Choi to get this and rep the folk scene.
Prediction: Most difficult. I’m thinking Seo Taiji. He generated more buzz this year than anyone else here, on the one hand because he’s Seo Taiji but also because of another polished release that bucked expectations. (And look, also because he brought in IU for a song.)
Rookie of the Year
There’s also no slam dunk pick here, but not for a lack of exceptional candidates; I think these folks are all exceptional picks for this category. I’ve only listened to one song by Kwon Tree so I can’t say, but I think each of the other four have legitimate arguments to win in any given year. (And that’s not including Lee Jung-ah or Alshain or any number of other deserving people.)
Personal Pick: Goodness. Probably the Barberettes for their delicious, anachronistic, creative revival of old swing and bossa nova.
Prediction: I dabbled with the idea of Akdong Musician winning but I don’t think they have the body of work to justify it to the committee. It’ll be Kim Sawol X Kim Haewon, making up for the lack of nomination for the above category.
Best Rock Album
I did not get to listen to the Unchained album – only its single “Hedgehog” when it came out in 2013. Stiff competition as always.
Personal Pick: It would be the Danpyunsun and the Sailors album, but I like to make general-category winners ineligible. So next up is Hollow Jan’s Day Off. It’s a sonically and emotionally devastating album with an incredible amount of philosophizing built into its development.
Prediction: Animal, for the above reasons.
Best Rock Song
Good crop again, though I don’t think any Hollow Jan tracks can realistically win this category. They’re best listened to in long breaths and stretches. Wasn’t too hot on the Guckkasten lead single, either.
Personal Pick: Asian Chairshot’s “Dear Sun”, for bold direction and rock-ability. I like the Sailors’ “Ball” a lot, but I wouldn’t put it in this category.
Prediction: I’ll go out on an uncertain limb and say “Ball”, since it’s in the category and I’m already predicting them to sweep. Kiha and the Faces wouldn’t surprise anyone, though.
Best Modern Rock Album
I never really understood the KMA’s distinction between rock and modern rock. I feel like Hollow Jan’s work is materially more akin to the post-rock stuff found in this category, and same goes for the experimental sound of the Sailors.
Personal Pick: Loro’s and W.A.N.D.Y. Loved the expositional approach and enthrallingly dreamy atmospheres. Glittering Blackness, Fall would be second but it’s not that close.
Prediction: W.A.N.D.Y. It’s nominated for Album of the Year and I think it has to have a slight edge on 9 and the Numbers. Nunco is the dark horse, but outside of the lead single and a few other tracks it falls clearly short.
Best Modern Rock Song
The album category minus the post-rock albums. I never gave Boys in the Kitchen a proper listen during the year, but I do like “Bivo”. I wasn’t too high on the Thornapple album but I’ve got no gripes with “Abnormal Climate” nominated.
Personal Pick: Nunco’s “Future Luv”. Quirky delivery of a simple but addictive sound.
Best Folk Album
Good to see folk with its own category. The picks are reasonable and it is nice to see Siwa recognized, though I would have liked to see Monoban as well.
Personal Pick: Really, really enjoyed Gonne Choi’s I Was, I Am, I Will all the way through. I actually still have only listened partway through Kim Sawol X Kim Haewon’s Secret, which may well have changed this pick.
Best Folk Song
In my opinion, the biggest omission from the KMAs is Sarasu’s “Little House on the Hill” being excluded from this category. Hard to argue with what’s here and I suppose Lee Jang-hyuk deserved a nomination or three, but Sarasu would have been an easy pick for me.
Personal Pick: Gonne Choi’s “Monster” for the fierce energy and identity it evokes through simple sounds. But I consider “Secret” to be the 1b to “Monster”’s 1a.
Best Pop Album
I haven’t listened to Kyo’s Spade One, though I found the lead single a tad underwhelming. The Lalasweet album is a surprise: while good in its niche, I felt it was weaker than the duo’s sophomore album. Impressive achievements for the Barberettes and AkMu albums to be nominated. Still, I would probably take three or four other pop albums over Lalasweet and AkMu’s work.
Personal Pick: Lee Seung-hwan’s Fall To Fly. I heard shades of the old and new Lee, voices predictable and not, stories lithe and hard-hitting.
Prediction: I think it’ll be Fall To Fly. Lee has the gravitas of name and track record, and I think the new album did enough to win.
Best Pop Song
I could think of some reasons why one would put “Ain’t Nobody” here, but I don’t think any of them are legitimate enough that it can’t be in the Dance and Electronic category. This really should be recognized as a genre song. It makes me happy that the fantastic “Melted” was recognized out of the AkMu album.
Personal Pick: If it weren’t for “Some”, it would be the Barberettes’ “Little Gals”. See the rookie category above.
Prediction: It’s got to be “Some”, surely?
Best Dance & Electronic Album
Out of this list, I have not listened to Saram12Saram. The Infinite album is a curious choice; they have a great track record, but among 2014’s idol albums it ranks behind HA:TFELT, F(x), and Taemin for me.
Personal Pick: HEO’s Structure. I loved its unpredictability and Rainbow99-like ambience.
Prediction: Idiotape has claimed this before and Ludistelo looks strong, but I’m going to pick HEO. I think it’s the right balance of viscera and experimentalism to win. (This is admittedly one of my shakiest picks, though.)
Best Dance & Electronic Song
In addition to HA:TFELT not being considered, I’m bummed that Neon Bunny’s sublime “It’s You” is not found here. “Poly Evil” has distinct texture but I’m not sure it was even the best track on its EP. These are good songs, but I would probably have replaced all five nominees with others.
Personal Pick: I enjoyed Haihm’s “Bird No Singing” the most out of these. “Christmalo.win” is as weird as it’s kinetic, and a close second.
Prediction: Yoon Sang’s “If You Want To Console Me”. It’s a surprising and polished change of pace from Yoon, and seems to have a lot of buy-in from critics.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Album
There’s a trend this year: none of these albums feature the most technically flashy emcees. I see a heavier emphasis on narrative coherence and vision in these nominations, and that’s a great thing. (One downside: that rules out Qim Isle’s debut album.) I’m a little iffy on the Vasco album but the others are richly deserving.
Personal Pick: B-Free’s Korean Dream. The man’s frankness and moments of vulnerability make it easier to invest in the album; the sleek production do the rest.
Prediction: No-brainer – it will be Hwaji’s Eat.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Song
Whenever Beenzino gets his next full-length album out, this category will probably be packed up. Would have liked to see P-Type and E-Sens here, though the latter’s still in hot water so that might not work practically.
Personal Pick: Chaboom’s “Ansan Noir” was a pleasant surprise. Weighty boom-bap production and unhurried flow that defined swagger. “Dali, Van, Picasso” was nice, but not impactful enough.
Prediction: I think the two most mainstream songs, while perhaps underrated, are still not up to par. I’m calling Hwaji to take home two awards with “Don’t”.
Best R&B & Soul Album
Didn’t expect to see Taewan here, but fairly standard picks otherwise.
Personal Pick: Alshain’s Natural Hi-Fi blew me away. Vibrant and varied production that doesn’t skimp on catchiness.
Prediction: Ra.D is trendy, but Crush even more so. He had his cake and ate it too with the critically acclaimed and popular Crush On You, and I think he’ll get this as well.
Best R&B & Soul Song
Stiff competition! Good to see Alshain also appearing here.
Personal Pick: Crush’s “Hug Me”, for reasons above. The Zion.T track is close.
Prediction: I’m actually thinking it’ll be Taeyang rather than Zion.T. (Though I suppose that makes three now.) There’s an austere appeal, and the popularity helps.
Best Jazz Album
Have not listened to The Shining Sea at all, and I think I may have listened to just one song each from Tranquility and Coexistence last year. It would have been nice to see Bonam and Lee Bal-cha but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not too well versed in jazz!
Personal Pick: Fairly easy pick with Lee Wonsool’s Into the Time for me. Amazing management of tension and controlled chaos throughout.
Prediction: They gave it to Lee a couple years ago, and also to Juju Song the year before that. I think it will come down to these two again, with Song’s gorgeous Between getting a little edge to avoid recency bias.
Best Crossover Album
Oh man, I’ve only listened to two albums out of these. Surprised that TAN+EMOTION’s self-titled album is missing; it’s been doing reasonably well on the awards circuit. I would have liked to see Koh Sang-ji and Whang Bo-ryung featured as well.
Personal Pick: Han Seung-seok and Jung Jae-il’s Bari, Abandoned was the runner-up to my Album of the Year. It had impressive depth and breadth in its reinterpretation of a folk legend and application to contemporary issues.
Prediction: Jung Jae-il seems to be popular among critics (for good reason), and I imagine that the visionary nature of Bari, Abandoned will win him and Han this one.
Best Jazz & Crossover Performance
Yup, unfortunately very limited experience in this category too.
Personal Pick: I found Sunji Lee’s play in The Night of the Border dazzling!
Prediction: It’s very difficult to do this with little background information, but I think Sjq’s uncommon instrumental combination will be as good to them as it was to Lee Wonsool.