In less than a day the winners of the 14th Korean Music Awards will be announced. Although I usually love this time of the year–dedicating most of February to listening to and blogging about the nominees and the winners–this year I had to prioritize differently. Even so I’m very excited for the awards and have looked forward to sharing my predictions.
Album of the Year
I was so happy to see Wings of the ISANG in this category. Although I didn’t really keep track of critics’ opinions last year my impression was that the band still went under the radar of most people. Danpyunsun and the Sailors‘ sophomore album was another remarkable release from the quartet. The other nominated albums I found agreeable enough, though not quite as captivating. I had rather expected a few of the folk albums to be listed here instead.
Personal Pick: Wings of the ISANG’s Stream of Consciousness was my favorite album of 2016 so it’s an easy pick for me.
Prediction: 2016 was a great year for Danpyunsun and the Sailors. Shofar has a little something for everybody, so may have the broadest appeal in spite of its unique qualities.
Song of the Year
The nominations for Song of the Year all seem so random to me. It would appear I’ve been more out of touch with Korean music in 2016 than I expected, only having noticed two of the songs beforehand.
Personal Pick: I loved Jun Bum Sun and the Yangban‘s first album and it’s been really great to see them finally get some attention with the second album. “Revolution” is such a powerful song and definitely deserves an award.
Prediction: Although “Revolution” is the song in the bunch I have played the most, Twice‘s “Cheer Up” is no doubt the song that I’ve heard the most. Statistically it’s time for another idol song to win this category and it should be this one owning to the frequency at which I heard it play while visiting Korea last year.
Artist of the Year
Several worthy names, though I failed to notice the comebacks of both Jay Park and Im In Gun.
Personal Pick: I’m torn between Jambinai and Danpyunsun and the Sailors here. I love, love, love Jambinai and travelled to see them live in three countries during 2016, finding that the band continues to grow and improve. The album that granted them a nomination for Best Rock Album is exquisitely produced and means one can now enjoy even more of the band’s music at home. On the other hand, Jambinai being super awesome is nothing new. I thought highly of Danpyunsun and the Sailors ahead of Shofar, but appreciated the album even more than I had expected to. Seeing Danpyunsun and the Sailors take on the stage in London, charming the audience by awkwardly speaking English between songs performed with extreme intensity in spite of severe lack of sleep, was one of the most memorable shows I’ve ever seen.
Prediction: Although there’s that nomination for Album of the Year and double UK success for Danpyunsun and the Sailors, the world-wide recognition of Jambinai among critics and music fans alike should play in Jambinai’s favor.
Rookie of the Year
Like Jung I find myself questioning the selection for this category, but it’s happened several times throughout the years that KMA recognizes “rookies” that by other criteria could be considered established artists.
Personal Pick: The only choice for me is Silica Gel. The debut EP from 2015 was great and the full-length album from 2016 broke new ground, being breathtaking at times.
Prediction: Twice. Also not a rookie by the standard of most K-pop fans, but as far as I can tell this girl group has made a solid impact. Not least in the demographic that I suspect most KMA judges belong to.
Best Metal & Hardcore Album
Metal & Hardcore is a much better name for this category than “Heaviness”, as it was launched under last year. I really though we’d get to see Animal Anthem‘s Bones nominated in this category. At least I thought it was one of the best albums of last year.
Personal Pick: Haven’t yet had a chance to listen to Venom myself, but for old times’ sake I’m gonna go with 13Steps.
Prediction: Remnants of the Fallen‘s Shadow Walk is the only of the nominated albums that I’ve seen getting noticed elsewhere. Albeit with limited exposure on my part to any kind of media covering this kind of music.
Best Rock Album
Unusually strong selection this year, but I wonder why Wings of the ISANG were nominated under Modern Rock instead of here. Not that I really mind though, given the competition.
Personal Pick: Jambinai’s A Hermitage! I also really liked Danpyunsun and the Sailors’ Shofar and Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans’ Revolution Songs, but Jambinai offered such a good combination of old favorites and new, cool songs that I couldn’t well pick anything else.
Prediction: Both ABTB and Danpyunsun and the Sailors also have their albums nominated for Album of the Year so should be either of those. For consistency I’m gonna go with Danpyunsun and the Sailors also in this category.
Best Rock Song
I wonder why no Jambinai song was nominated? Good selection otherwise.
Personal Pick: Jun Bum Sun and the Yangbans’ “Revolution”. Although it was just a few days before the KMA nominees were announced that I found myself playing Sons of Tiger‘s and The Veggers‘ collaboration track “The Bottom of My Heart” on repeat.
Prediction: Ought to be “Revolution”, owning to its nomination for Song of the Year.
Best Modern Rock Album
Like Jung I’m surprised to find neither Mot nor Kiha and the Faces nominated. Both have been KMA darlings in the past. What happened there?
Personal Pick: Wings of the ISANG’s Stream of Conciousness all the way.
Prediction: Keeping the Album of the Year nomination in mind, the jury will be with me on this one.
Best Modern Rock Song
Again, glaring omission of both Mot and Kiha and the Faces. Considering the album nominations I would’ve also expected to see both Wings of the ISANG and Silica Gel represented here. Personally I would’ve chosen other songs from bbdTrio and Secret Asian Men, but I’m nevertheless happy they get at least some recognition also on this level.
Personal Pick: Any track from Wings of the ISANG’s Stream of Conciousness would’ve been it, alas given the selection I have to choose differently. It took me a while to warm up to Raw By Peppers, but “3” helped to change that and has since grown a lot on me. Given the category, however, I feel like The Black Skirts‘ “Everything” is a more suitable choice with its Air-esque sweeping sounds.
Prediction: 3rd Line Butterfly is something of a KMA favorite, but KMA also has a history of favoring 9 and the Numbers although I can rarely hear why myself. With a nomination also for Song of the Year I’m gonna go with 9 and the Numbers here.
Best Folk Album
So many great albums! I didn’t get the chance to check out Honggap‘s album, but Lang Lee‘s Playing God, Lee Minhwee‘s Borrowed Tongue, and Ehosuk‘s Philosophy of Secondee were all among my favorite albums last year. Add to that the very interesting and diverse Gentrification compilation from which nearly half the songs ended up on my rotation playlist. The only album missing is Kwon Tree‘s Love is Flowing from High Places.
Personal Pick: Such a tough choice! I always love whatever Lang Lee does, be it music, comics, or anything else, and I really liked how the album was bundled with a book (though I have yet to attempt to read it…). But then I probably listened more to Lee Minhwee. I just can’t seem to make up my mind.
Prediction: Lang Lee. Last time she was nominated she might not have won, but at least her song was the last thing to play before the broadcast came to an end. The new album is even stronger than her first.
Best Folk Song
I’m so very happy the folk category was introduced and continues to exist. So many good songs, although I would’ve picked different songs for all the artists.
Personal Pick: It would be so much fun to see Kwon Tree give himself the award one more time! Though I would’ve rather seen it be because of “Finding You” that I had down as one of the best songs of 2016.
Prediction: Kwon Tree’s “Love is Flowing from High Places” is such a pretty song. Perfectly in line with the songs that have already granted Kwon Tree the awards two years in a row.
Best Pop Album
I’m surprised to see so few idol albums nominated in this category this year, but I find the selection as a whole to be a lot more interesting than I’m used to.
Personal Pick: Although curious both for bahngbeck and Echae Kang when the albums came out, I enjoyed Savina and Drones‘ Our Time Lies Within more.
Prediction: Jo Dong Jin and bahngbeck both have their albums nominated for Album of the Year so it could be either. Jo Dong Jin’s As A Tree was the more accessible of the two which should speak in its favor given the pop label.
Best Pop Song
Aha! This is where we find the idols!
Personal Pick: I would love to say Savina and Drones’ “Don’t Break Your Heart”, but even though it’s a nice song it’ll have to be Twice’s “Cheer Up” for me. I took a liking to it already the first time I listened after mishearing the refrain as “shut up baby shut up baby” and I have yet to grow tired of it. The “shy shy shy” part of the lyrics has become “shot shot shot” in company of friends, further increasing its appeal.
Prediction: Twice, Bolbbalgan4, and Wonder Girls all have their songs also nominated for Song of the Year, but I’m going to continue to believe in Twice.
Best Dance & Electronic Album
No idols here either. This is a genre where the Korean indie scene has gotten really strong in the past few years and it’s noticeable also from the nominations this year.
Personal Pick: Out of these Kirara‘s Moves was the most intriguing listen for me.
Prediction: Although Aseul seemed to be rather well received, I think Neon Bunny‘s very well-produced Stay Gold will be the winner.
Best Dance & Electronic Song
I find this selection to be very curious. Not that the choices are bad, but just because again we’re missing the usual idol nominations. And there are so many other songs I would’ve thought more likely to see nominated.
Personal Pick: Maybe it’s mostly because of the music video but Hitchhiker‘s “$10” worked surprisingly well for me.
Prediction: KMA likes Idiotape and everybody likes Kim Chang Wan, so when the collaboration to remake Sanullim‘s “Don’t Go” turned out this well I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Album
I remain completely lost when it comes to Korean rap and hip-hop. Although I listened through what I could find among the nominated albums on Spotify it was not enough for an informed opinion of any sort.
Prediction: Hwaji has done well in the past, but somehow I’ve gotten the impression that people were more excited over Nucksal‘s first full-length album so that’s where my guess is.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Song
I would so have loved to find Jambinai and Ignito nominated for “Abyss” in this category!
Personal Pick: The only song I had listened to before the nominees were announced was Jerry.k‘s “Call Center” because of OOHYO being featured, but after listening through all of the alternatives I think I like BewhY‘s “Forever” more.
Prediction: I’m gonna go with Nucksal again.
Best R&B & Soul Album
Another genre where I remain poorly informed.
Prediction: Jay Park‘s nomination for Artist of the Year has to count for something.
Best R&B & Soul Song
Now this is more exciting!
Personal Pick: Somehow I had missed that Jay Park has collaborated with Kirin. I love Kirin!! “City Breeze” even comes with a Kirin style music video. This is all kinds of great!
Prediction: I recognize both Dean and Samuel Seo from previous years, but I’m gonna go ahead and guess another win for Jay Park. Although for “All I Wanna Do” rather than the Kirin collab.
Best Jazz Album
I have made a conscious effort to get a little bit more of jazz into my listening, yet I clearly haven’t done enough to be able to have any preference of my own for winner.
Prediction: Because of the Artist of the Year nomination my guess is that Im In Gun’s Janus, the Reminiscence will win this.
Best Crossover Album
Although I’ve come across Black String on multiple occasions and even listened to Mask Dance, I don’t have much to compare with to make any personal pick for the crossover category this year.
Prediction: With 2nd Moon nominated for Artist of the Year, and 2nd Moon having proven popular with the KMA jury in the past this should be it.
Best Jazz & Crossover Performance
The final tricky category, especially considering how little I’ve actually heard and read about the nominated albums.
Prediction: I’m still somewhat surprised Trio Closer didn’t win anything in 2015. Maybe this will be the year.