Doing this the last couple years taught me that I’m really bad at making award predictions! Still, I think this is a fun exercise for anyone who pays even cursory attention to the Korean music scene, so I’m glad to be back. Without further ado:
Album of the Year
Strong field! After an anomalous year where two (very deserving) hip-hop albums showed up, it looks like the KMAs are back to rock and folk. Nothing too surprising, although ABTB and bahngbek weren’t on my radar as much.
Personal Pick: Danpyunsun and the Sailors’ Shofar was my second pick for Hellokpop’s Album of the Year. Ambitious and ferocious.
Prediction: Critics seem to like ABTB a lot, and Jo Dong-jin surely has a great chance for his first album in 20 years. But I’ll say they agree with me on the Sailors, unlike in 2015.
Song of the Year
Is it just me or are they a little heavier on the idol pop this year? “Why So Lonely” and “Galaxy” are predictable, but “Cheer Up” is a bit of a headscratcher – I thought “TT” was the better song from Twice last year.
Personal Pick: From this field, it has to be “Revolution”. My fifth pick for Song of the Year, originally. It’s got the catchiness of an anthem with a refreshingly different structure.
Prediction: I feel like Bolbbalgan4 could get it given their meteoric rise in the second half of the year. But Wonder Girls made enough waves during the summer and it was their last big hurrah – perhaps some sentiment wins out? This is hard, but I’ll go with “Why So Lonely”.
Artist of the Year
Extremely strong names, and it’s also interesting that it’s four well-known but still non-mainstream teams and then a superstar in Jay Park. Im Ingun is the surprise inclusion.
Personal Pick: As much as I liked all of these artists’ work, for me it’s the Sailors.
Prediction: So perhaps this is where the KMAs makes up for not even including 2nd Moon in the 2015 awards’ candidate list! Let’s go with 2nd Moon.
Rookie of the Year
Grumble grumble Silica Gel are 2015 rookies grumble. For that matter, BewhY had several singles since 2014 and even a full-length paid mixtape too. Twice also released their debut EP in 2015. Julia Dream? A 4-track single in 2014.
Personal Pick: Bolbbalgan4 was my actual pick for rookie of the year, so it’s not just because they’re the only remaining team! They broke into a saturated market for female indie pop duos, and came out on top with raw but addictive melodies and tight arrangements.
Prediction: Bolbbalgan4. KMAs do seem to take popular and cultural impact to some consideration, so Twice could edge them out, but I think the girls from Shofar Music did enough to win.
Best Metal & Hardcore Album
I’ve checked out Venom, New Justice, and The Light of Tornado to varying extents. I’ve listened to Shadow Walk much more, and have not listened to One – though it seems to have been an under-the-radar critical hit!
Personal Pick: I found the textures of Shadow Walk to be a little too abrasive for my tastes, but pretty soon I was convinced by its speed and fierceness anyway.
Prediction: I’m not sure that any one of these really ran away with the acclaim this year! I’ll say Mahatma’s album gets it, if longevity counts for a tiebreaker.
Best Rock Album
What a diverse lineup of genres – love these selections. Kind of surprised that Jambinai is here instead of in crossover, but I could see why.
Personal Pick: Of course it is Shofar, but after that I’d take Revolution Songs in a close one over Julia Dream’s A World of Anxiety. It was a gut-punch of an album throughout, headlined by its power and old-school traditional bombast.
Prediction: Julia Dream. The album was wrought out of a heavy-hearted, thoughtful deliberation of Korea’s social ills and tragedies, and I think that has caused this difficult and brooding album to resonate with critics.
Best Rock Song
“Full Ship” is kind of surprising – I guess I was thinking of the whole album as one of those post-rock pieces that never get singles recognized on their own. Curiously, there are no songs from Shofar – you’d have thought “Lover” or “High and Low” or something would have made the list, as ear-catching tracks out of an acclaimed album.
Personal Pick: “Revolution” as mentioned above, but “Full Ship” after that. Sons of Tiger had a good piece too.
Best Modern Rock Album
Mot is perhaps the most surprising exclusion from the 2017 KMA field. Would have thought that they have a great chance to win, even. Kiha and the Faces and The Electriceels are also notably missing.
Personal Pick: Stream of Consciousness was beautiful and haunting – my second pick for best rock album behind Mot’s Ashcraft.
Prediction: Surely Wings of the ISANG after that Album of the Year nomination!
Best Modern Rock Song
Now this is a strange field: I’d have put in Stereotype’s “Falling” and one of the Stellarjet singles, but could understand the omissions. Not sure that “3”, “A Line in the Sky”, and “I Want You Back”, while all great works, were notably better than their 2016 peers.
Personal Pick: I know songs should be evaluated on their own merit, but sometimes a good song is also part of a good album and that elevates it a little further in my mind. I didn’t know how the 3rd Line Butterfly album would turn out when “Awaken” came out (and honestly, wasn’t sure what to expect), but now it’s 2017 and I know Divided By Zero rocks. So that wins easily for me.
Prediction: I also have this hypothesis that pre-release singles whose album doesn’t come out within the year have a slight disadvantage, due to a grouping effect. Like “Awaken” and “Everything” are contained in albums that came out or will come out in 2017, so it is thought inappropriate to give them a 2016 award. Is that real? I have no idea. But I will still guess that 9 and the Numbers will win it instead.
Best Folk Album
Great list! I don’t think I would change anything here.
Personal Pick: Kwak Pureunhaneul is such a great writer that I’d probably just read her lyrics as poems. But she also has a knack for melody, so here we are. Lang Lee was close, though.
Prediction: I never really got to give Borrowed Tongue a full listen, just a couple of songs. But every review I’ve read of it was positively glowing, so I will guess the former Mukimukimanmansu member will take this.
Best Folk Song
I liked 2016’s obligatory Kim Haewon X Kim Sawol collaboration a lot, but the former Kim made it in here on his own instead. All-around solid selections!
Personal Pick: Lang Lee’s “Playing God” was shocking in its unkemptness and persuasive in the rapid-fire questions that it turned into a conclusion.
Prediction: Could it be that a folk award goes to a member of the Kim X Kim duo for the third straight year? It very well could. I’ll pick Lang Lee, though.
Best Pop Album
This is a pretty clear-cut category, I think. There were a lot of nice and solid pop albums on the year, but only a handful of truly outstanding ones, and I think the KMA committee basically got them all.
Personal Pick: I loved both Radical Paradise and Our Time Lies Within, and having to pick between the two was the hardest decision of this year’s Hellokpop writeup. Echae Kang’s fantastical, attitudinal violin-crossover soundscapes or Savina and Drones’ caressing warmth and gorgeous melodies? In the end I picked the latter.
Prediction: Since Jo Dong-jin is classified here rather than in folk (which, in hindsight, makes sense given this album’s electronic dimension), I think he’s going to win.
Best Pop Song
Lovely to see “Galaxy” recognized: I ran out of room in my dance/electronic category, but the Ladies Code comeback was certainly deserving. Speaking of which, let me rant a little more: Twice, Red Velvet, and Wonder Girls belong more in the dance category. “Russian Roulette”, in particular, is about as canonically electronic as you can get! I hope this is not starting a KMA trend of lumping every idol-group song into “pop” just because. Kind of surprised that Sunwoo Jung-A’s “Sooni” is not here.
Personal Pick: Yikes – these are all so good. “Don’t Break Your Heart” is my favorite of this bunch, and one that has been picking up some awards at other publications.
Prediction: Three Song of the Year candidates are in this category, yet there’s also a powerful alternative contender in Savina and Drones. Hmm. Since I’m guessing Wonder Girls takes Song of the Year, perhaps this will be Bolbbalgan4. (This is not an official prediction, but I suppose Wonder Girls will win this if they don’t win Song of the Year.)
Best Dance & Electronic Album
All expected, except I did not get to check out Kirara until 2017 rolled along. Great to see Room306 and Aseul getting richly deserved recognition, but a glaring omission in Nahzam Sue’s excellent Till the Sun Goes Up.
Personal Pick: Neon Bunny’s Stay Gold was my actual pick. A nuanced, layered work in both its vulnerable emotions and soundscapes that come from diverse inspirations.
Prediction: I think Neon Bunny will pull this out. Of a hat. (Sorry.)
Best Dance & Electronic Song
Cifika’s EP was one of my favorite discoveries of December, and I’m expecting to see it in the album category next year. Overall, this is a highly unpredictable group: I don’t think I would have expected any of these songs to show up, particularly ahead of what I thought were strong mainstream candidates like Tiffany’s “I Just Wanna Dance” and Suran’s “Paradise Go”.
Personal Pick: I liked “$10”, but not quite that much. Idiotape was good too, but “OOZOO” is my favorite here.
Prediction: Boy, this one is hard. Idiotape’s is a remake so that loses some points. I’ll go with Kirara’s “Blizzard”.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Album
Fairly predictable again, I think. The big three seem to be Hwaji, Nucksal, and Beenzino. A little surprising that Jerry.K didn’t make it.
Personal Pick: Zissou, and this time I made sure to listen to Hwaji’s album on release rather than miss it until he shows up on a KMA list. A dense and engaging but never overbearing search for a modern nirvana.
Prediction: We know they like Hwaji, but can he go for two in three years? The field is not as insanely strong as last year, so I’ll give him those odds.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Song
Ah, there’s Jerry.K. I feel like there were better songs to pick from Beenzino’s album, and Nafla’s “Mercy” probably worked better as part of an album than on its own. (I did like it, though.) I think the lack of Code Kunst is lamentable!
Personal Pick: “Not For Sale” was a worthy lead to Nucksal’s action-packed debut.
Prediction: People really loved the narrative and vibe of “Call Center”, and I personally thought it was one of the year’s finest collaborations. I’d say it can win.
Best R&B & Soul Album
Just four nominees! Surely they could have made room for Hwayobi or Chancellor? I never got around to Jeebanoff during the year, though I heard him in a collaboration with 2LSON and Nihwa and thought there was tons of potential there.
Personal Pick: Everything You Wanted was a massive gift basket of sleek production and confident performance, and my actual pick for best R&B album.
Prediction: Critics love Samuel Seo and the sophomore album was impressive, but he did win just last year. (And I will argue that Frameworks-over-Boni’s-Love decision to the grave!) They share the love and Jay Park wins, I’m guessing.
Best R&B & Soul Song
Okay, apparently I whiffed big by not checking out Jeebanoff! None of my personal faves are here – Chancellor’s “Rodeo”, Choyoung’s singles, Jay Park’s “Forever” – but I love the less predictable inclusions like “City Breeze” and “B L U E”.
Personal Pick: “All I Wanna Do” was played very straight, and yet the vocalists put in such effortlessly sweet performances that the lack of surprises didn’t matter.
Prediction: I think Dean is going to get his at this point, after a promising start to his career.
Best Jazz Album
I’ve only listened to about half of these. I still don’t think I really understand Yoon Seokcheol Trio’s “Rhythm of Liberty”, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. Think Cho Jung-hee deserves a mention here for my favorite vocal jazz album from 2016.
Personal Pick: Choi Sung Ho Singularity’s “When the Wind Blows” was the kind of disorganized, vibrant, active avant-garde that I could try to comb over all day long.
Prediction: I think the case for Im Ingun’s Janus, the Reminiscence is very strong. It’s a symbolically important album that ties together decades of Korean jazz history, in both its subject matter and the people involved in creating it. And of course, it helps that the music is sublime.
Best Crossover Album
I remember trying to purchase Mask Dance at some point last year, but it seemed like there was literally no way to buy it in digital format from the U.S. Then I forgot about it and missed what seems like the best-received traditional-crossover album of the year. I also haven’t listened to Ritual or Cosmos 25.
Personal Pick: Pansori Chunhyangga! This collaboration between 2nd Moon and pansori theater was my absolute favorite album of the year. There are sounds in there that I never imagined.
Prediction: Look, I’ll understand if Mask Dance gets it based on the acclaim I have seen, but given the Artist of the Year category, I’ll predict 2nd Moon here.
Best Jazz & Crossover Performance
Didn’t get to listen to Second Session, although I read good things about them. This one is always a hard one to pick for me, even if I’ve listened to the works, because I just don’t have a great idea of or expertise on the criteria for selection.
Personal Pick: Choi Sung Ho Singularity had the overall harmony (discord?) of sound, but Park Jiha’s piri sounds so individually evocative that I think she’s a better fit for this category.
Prediction: This might be where Black String gets their KMA recognition!