The 15th Korean Music Awards are closing in and time has come for me to follow Cessa and Jung in offering my predictions for who the winners will be. This is always a fun exercise to me, especially so this year when I’ve been extra clueless about what goes on outside of my usual rock and folk bubbles.
Album of the Year
Like Jung I would’ve guessed that Sister’s Barbershop would show up in this category, but I’m not at all surprised to find The Black Skirts, Hyukoh, and Kim Mokin here as all seemed reasonably popular throughout the various year-end lists I’ve come across for 2017.
Personal Pick: I had kind of hoped to see PAKK‘s Salpuri nominated here, which seemed sort of possible after Music Y named it the top album of 2017.
Since that’s not the case, I don’t hesitate to pick Kang Taegu‘s bleu as it also made my shortlist for album of the year.
Prediction: This category seems to favor releases also found in the Modern Rock section, which means it’s likelier to be either The Black Skirts or Hyukoh. Considering the nomination for Artist of the Year, I’ll go ahead and guess that Hyukoh will win here.
Song of the Year
I don’t usually feel as lost with this category as I did this year and from the nominated tracks would only have been able to recognize Hyukoh’s Tomboy if I’d heard them anywhere. This might be an indication that I should try to expose myself to a wider range of music this year.
Personal Pick: Even after listening through all of the nominated songs, however, I still prefer to listen to Hyukoh.
Prediction: Since this category is most commonly won by a pop song, and both BTS‘ and Red Velvet‘s nominated songs would’ve likely been nominated in the Dance & Electronic category a previous year this leaves IU to take it all home.
Artist of the Year
I was surprised to see only four nominees for this category this year. Were there really not other also notable displays of artistic prowess in 2017? At least I think Doe Jaemyoung would have been a strong contender, but he was snubbed also of a genre category nomination for Under the Sign of Saturn.
Personal Pick: As much as I recognize the quality of Kim Mokin‘s work, my understanding of Korean still falls short and I come up in favor of Hyukoh.
Prediction: Considering how well they did internationally in 2017, and that Psy won the year after he achieved global recognition, this should be an easy win for BTS.
Rookie of the Year
I’m glad to see as many as six artists nominated for this, but apart from Se So Neon and Shin Hae Gyeong I wouldn’t have been able to guess for either of the other nominees to show up here–especially as I had managed to miss both Rad Museum and Woo Won Jae previously.
Personal Pick: At first listen I didn’t care much for Rad Museum, but after preparing the (yet to be posted) introduction to all Rookie of the Year nominees I gave Scene another listen. Informed by The Kraze’s review it suddenly stood out as a really remarkable debut effort. However, I fell for Shin Hae Gyeong’s My Reversible Reaction as soon as I heard it and am in awe of his musicality so I’d anyway pick him first.
Prediction: When I visited Korea in October last year I could hear Se So Neon played from stores around the streets of Hongdae. That in itself I find remarkable enough to motivate a win here. From what I’ve gathered Woo Won Jae is also a strong candidate, but I’d guess he’s too hip-hop to be able to win here.
Best Rock Album
While this is usually one of my favorite categories I couldn’t really relate to most of the picks this year. Neither finding Lowdown 30 nor Raw By Peppers was much of a surprise although I’m still kind of struggling to fully appreciate their music myself. The biggest surprise for me among all nominees in any category this year was definitely to find Magna Fall here as I thought it was the first time an expat band had gotten nominated, but turns out the members of the band have changed a bit since I last paid attention.
Personal Pick: Se So Neon’s Summer Plumage is the only out of these that I’d listened to in full more than once before the nominees were announced.
Prediction: This could go either way, really, but Lowdown 30 does seem to be popular with the KMA committee.
Best Rock Song
I had somehow completely failed to hear about Grancale until the nominees were announced. At first I thought it was just the regular “Treadmill” from the EP with the same name that had been nominated, but turns out it’s actually the version with Dringe Augh that has received the honor. Very awesome!
Personal Pick: This is tough. There are other songs from Se So Neon that I much prefer to “파도 (The Wave)”, yet it has a strange pull. I’m so weak for Asian Chairshot in general and “산 새 그리고 나 (Mountain, bird and me)” is no exception. ABTB’s “무임승차 (Free Rider)” spent the longest on my rotation playlist out of these all. And though I failed to recognize it at first listen Bitgwasoeum‘s “무당 (Mudang)” is a standout track, too. I’m just not gonna pick either.
Prediction: Out of the bunch I can only recall seeing ABTB on any Korean year-end lists. Plus they already won Best Rock Album last year.
Best Modern Rock Album
2017 was an incredibly good year for modern rock in Korea, and this field of nominees is testament to just that. I’d guess that’s one reason why we find Se So Neon in the rock category rather than here. I may well be mistaken, but I think the inclusion of In the endless zanhyang we are is the first time we see something self-released recognized by the KMAs? The band really did well in attracting attention from Korean music critics, as several year-end lists made clear.
Personal Pick: Either one of these would be a worthy winner as far as I’m concerned, but Hyukoh‘s 23 did manage to place more songs not just on my rotation playlist, but also on my best of 2017 playlist.
Prediction: Although I thought that Hyukoh might win Album of the Year, it’s not necessarily so that the winner of that category will win its genre category. The Black Skirts is also a very strong contender considering the Album of the Year nomination, yet I think this will come down to 3rd Line Butterfly vs. Sister’s Barbershop. So will it be Sung Kiwan‘s last album with 3rd Line Butterfly or Sister’s Barbershop’s last album? My guess is with Sister’s Barbershop as People Who Stay Alone seemed slightly more popular at the end of 2017.
Best Modern Rock Song
Another strong group, but where is Silica Gel this year? I half-expected to see at least “Neo Soul” nominated for something.
Personal Pick: Lots of good songs, but my recent favorites from ADOY, Doe Jaemyeoung, Sister’s Barbershop, and Hyukoh are all different from the ones nominated here. Shin Hae Gyeong’s “Everything To Me” was however the first song on his EP that earned individual repeated play with me, so I’ll have to pick it.
Prediction: Hyukoh’s “Tomboy” has so much going for it.
Best Metal & Hardcore Album
Personal Pick: I have yet to listen to Into Ashes, but I’m so biased towards PAKK I doubt it would’ve made much of a difference to me. I also really liked Abyss‘ Recrowned, and considering the name of the category it might be a better fit, but here we are so PAKK it is.
Prediction: PAKK! I was so glad to see Salpuri included on so many lists covering the best albums of 2017.
Best Pop Album
I find this category to be too idol heavy this year and because of that feel like I’m missing out on quality works from Korea’s more senior artists. Based on the reactions, however, it appears to be the right albums among idol releases that ended up nominated.
Personal Pick: There was something about Taeyeon‘s My Voice that was really appealing to me. It’s like something the teenaged me would’ve been all into without sounding all that dated even now. I appreciate the variety between songs, too.
Prediction: IU. It just seems to be the objectively better album, not least because of all of the many very talented artists that contributed compositions and arrangements.
Best Pop Song
To me it seems clear that most of the nominated songs should’ve been placed in the Dance & Electronic category instead. Is it just my imagination or wasn’t that the case before? My latest interview with KMA president Kim Chang Nam made me second-guess myself, but I went over the committee members for both the Pop and Electronic categories comparing 2017 to 2018 and found that a couple of committee members that judged both Pop and Electronic in 2017 are only judging Pop this year while one committee member switched from Electronic to Pop. On the other hand a couple of committee members that judged only Pop in 2017 are now judging both Pop and Electronic so that doesn’t say much anyway…
Personal Pick: I hadn’t really listened to either of these songs before seeing the nominations, but when I did “Gashina” really stood out. So much excellence.
Prediction: I’m gonna go ahead and guess for a second win for IU’s “Through The Night” here too. While “DNA” and “Red Flavor” were also both nominated for Song of the Year it seems its primarily IU’s lyrics (and delivery thereof) that has the judges excited, which seems to count for more than just the composition or arrangement of a track.
Best Dance & Electronic Album
I had completely missed that Mojave is still active and am very happy to see his music recognized like this. Unfortunately I have yet to hear more than short samples from the album, but I’m hoping to find a copy next time I go CD shopping.
Personal Pick: I don’t really have any strong feelings either way here, but I found Idiotape‘s Dystopian easier to listen to than the rest.
Prediction: Sowall‘s Favorite appeared to be particularly well received.
Best Dance & Electronic Song
While I thought the idols crowded the Pop category, I’m kind of missing them here. Current electronic music really makes me feel old as I can’t really hear whatever it is that makes everybody else so excited about what’s going on in this corner of Korean music nowadays.
Personal Pick: Definitely Idiotape’s “Dystopian”. It’s got such a good drive and everything else that characterizes a great Idiotape track.
Prediction: I feel like this should go to CIFIKA, but considering the nomination for Rookie of the Year I’ll anyway guess that YESEO will be the winner.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Album
I was so lost seeing these nominees…
Personal Pick: What Cessa wrote about Vian X Khundi Panda really increased my appreciation for Reconstruction.
Prediction: My only reference here are the winners of the Korean Hiphop Awards, that last year shared 2/3 winners with the KMAs, so Legit Goons it is.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Song
I’m as lost here as I was with the albums. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that I need to keep closer track of what goes on in Korean hip-hop, but perhaps by now I should just admit defeat.
Personal Pick: Jazzyfact has a laid-back track that I kind of really enjoy listening to.
Prediction: Trusting the Korean Hiphop Awards as well as the nominations for Rookie of the Year and Song of the Year, it would appear Woo Won Jae doesn’t really have much competition.
Best R&B & Soul Album
I’d only gotten around to listening to Hippy was Gipsy‘s Tree prior to the nominees being announced, but at least I felt somewhat more familiar with the names here than I did for the hip-hop category.
Personal Pick: Rico‘s White Light Panorama even compelled me to recommend it to a friend. After listening more I also really liked Rad Museum’s Scene, but it felt much less R&B to me.
Prediction: Ought to be Hippy was Gipsy, again based on the Korean Hiphop Awards win. It also features Kim Oki, which is usually a plus in the KMAs.
Best R&B & Soul Song
These were all new songs to me and I find it hard to feel invested in the category as a whole. I’m not sure exactly what it is about it that makes me lose attention so quickly, but even with repeated listens I can barely tell one song from the other.
Personal Pick: I find the band name objectionable, but that aside Hippy was Gipsy’s “점 (Dot)” isn’t all that bad.
Prediction: offonoff won the same category at the Korean Hiphop Awards. Plus it features Dean, which is another strong point.
Best Folk Album
I’m so glad this category was introduced and continues to thrive. Lots of deserving music that may otherwise have gone unnoticed by most.
Personal Pick: Kang Taegu. No question.
Prediction: Considering that A Day in the Life of Mr. X earned Kim Mokin more nominations than bleu did for Kang Taegu, that’s where my bet is.
Best Folk Song
I had sort of expected seeing Kwon Tree‘s “튀김우동” nominated here, but though it wasn’t released on digital single until December 2016 he had been performing it live well before that. With Kang Taegu’s “bleu” in the race I don’t really care for the competition anyway.
Personal Pick: I love, love, love Kang Taegu’s “bleu”. In terms of repeated play it’s probably my strongest contender for best song of 2017.
Prediction: Kim Mokin, Siwa, and Hwang Puha‘s “집에 가자” should be a solid guess. I also feel like Hwang Puha should be compensated somehow for not getting his album nominated last year.
Best Jazz Album
Jazz is typically the category I struggle with the most when it comes to the KMAs, but I anyway try to make an earnest attempt to listen through whatever has been nominated. For once I had actually listened to two of the nominated albums already before as I’ve known Youn Sun Nah to impress me many times before and Seo Young Do Electric Ensemble tends to keep things interesting.
Personal Pick: This year something interesting happened. I think one of the reasons why I find it difficult to appreciate jazz is that it requires so much active listening and contemplation to be enjoyable that I rarely find the time for it. When I came to Sunny Kim‘s The Dream of the Earth, however, I found it immediately likable and intriguing–both admirable qualities in any type of music.
Prediction: The easy pick would be Youn Sun Nah for all of her history with the KMAs, but I’m gonna go with Seo Young Do Electric Ensemble‘s The Hazy World anyway. The tracks featuring Baik Hyunjhin are particularly compelling and should help sway also the KMA committee members.
Best Crossover Album
I was so excited to see 11 nominated this year! I thought her Transparent Music had sadly gone largely unnoticed, but was happily proven wrong.
Personal Pick: 11! When I interviewed her in 2011 she said that she writes her songs on a piano and integrate the sound recordings, that at the time characterized her music, in production. As a long-time admirer, this piano oriented release feels like a more intimate way to hear her music.
Prediction: I do tend to love whatever Jung Jaeil is up to, but his second project with Han Seung Seok didn’t strike me to be nearly as compelling as bari Abandoned. I doubt the KMA committee shares that view and the album did seem rather popular with Korean critics.
Best Jazz & Crossover Performance
I’m utterly clueless when it come to the performance category this year. I could only listen to a couple of the albums myself, so I can’t really offer any personal pick.
Prediction: After winning Best Jazz Album last year, perhaps now is the time for Choi Sung Ho Singularity to take home the performance award.