Watching the Grammys fumble with genre representation year in and year out makes me appreciate the KMAs a little more. (I’m not even mad about this year, but I’m still salty about 1989 over To Pimp a Butterfly two years ago.) Sure, the KMA also has critics and works in a different environment, but representation has been fairer and it’s provided a stage for conversation-starters like Lang Lee’s trophy auction last year. Will we see something like that again? At any rate, glad to be back for another round of predictions.
Album of the Year
This is maybe the most unexpected Album of the Year field in my years guest-picking. I didn’t think Palette’s reception had been sterling enough to appear, and thought Team Baby and 23, while charming, would get outshone by other works in the same genre. While not a total shocker, I would have guessed Sister’s Barbershop to show up here.
Personal Pick: Hard selection right off the bat. From this group, it’s Team Baby for me with its sparkling lyrics and evocative sound.
Prediction: There’s not a clear frontrunner at all, so I’ll just go with a hunch – Kim Mokin continuing the folk dominance in this category.
Song of the Year
Very idol-heavy! A pretty good field if you ask me – though I felt like BTS had their strength in album-wide efforts rather than any one song.
Personal Pick: “Red Flavor” was my actual pick for Song of the Year, “Tomboy” was the actual runner-up, and “Through the Night” was in the top ten.
Prediction: The last three Songs of the Year have all involved an idol artist (if you count Bolbbalgan4, which I would), so clearly the committee has no qualms about following through with these nominees. I frankly wouldn’t be shocked with any of them except for “We Are”, but I’ll go with my own pick and say “Red Flavor”.
Artist of the Year
The intersection of the above two categories, plus Kim Mokin and BTS.
Personal Pick: Out of these I think it’s Hyukoh: they lived up to the immense expectations placed on them after their breakthrough debut years.
Prediction: Does being named to two major categories give you a leg up here? Then it’s down to IU and Hyukoh. On the other hand, BTS made all the news for international success, and I think the committee may want to recognize that, so I’ll say BTS.
Rookie of the Year
Very pleased with this field, although I’d have expected them to recognize In the Endless Zanhyang We Are. Maybe they don’t consider that band to be rookies?
Personal Pick: Yeseo was my actual pick. Unbelievably prolific (two EPs in half a year!) and talented, and one of my most-listened-to artists on the year.
Prediction: This usually ends up being a band. But I wonder if Shin Hae-gyeong, with his hefty-sized debut effort and intrepid mix of sounds, won’t win the committee’s hearts this year.
Best Rock Album
Summer Plumage, Cosmos, and Irregular are all a little unexpected – but then, I guess I also don’t have great suggestions for replacements given that they split the rock categories. I do think Boys in the Kitchen’s Out of the Kitchen and Day6’s Sunrise were deserving.
Personal Pick: Lowdown 30’s B. I almost take them for granted nowadays, but cheeky songs like “Necronomicon” remind me why I love them.
Prediction: B seems like the safe choice.
Best Rock Song
I think the committee really likes Asian Chairshot, and their single didn’t pass unnoticed this year. Grancale is a surprise inclusion – I thought the album was interesting, but somehow hadn’t seen that much discussion on it elsewhere.
Personal Pick: ABTB’s “Free Rider” had all the raw power I wanted out of them.
Prediction: Think they will go for ABTB again this year.
Best Modern Rock Album
I think they basically covered all the bases! I liked Yi Sung-yol’s Yosedreamyose but it’s one of those albums that are really subject to taste.
Personal Pick: They’re all great, but Sister’s Barbershop hit the emotional notes and pushed technical comfort zones in their beautiful parting album.
Prediction: This is where we start playing the inference game from the Album of the Year nominations. Out of the two that made it, perhaps 23 for its wider reach (though The Black Skirts is no slouch).
Best Modern Rock Song
I think “Laika” was the best song from Adoy’s EP, but everything else is sublime. Interesting that they picked a non-promoted single from People Who Stay Alone. I didn’t pick “Everything To Me” for Hellokpop’s list because I already did in 2016 (it was a single, from when he was The Mirror), but it’s definitely deserving. I thought Parasol and Silica Gel’s “Space Angel” would have been a no-brainer, but guess not.
Personal Pick: The anthemic “Tomboy”, since it was my second favorite song of the year, but after that I like Doe Jaemyoung’s spoken-word storminess.
Best Metal & Hardcore Album
I’ve listened to Recrowned and Salpuri, but not the other two. The word on Into Ashes seems to be good. Frankly thought Magna Fall’s Mad Metropolis would appear here instead of the other category, but I suppose as long as it pops up somewhere. If they did a songs category for this genre, would Vassline’s “Ferocious Reality” have made it?
Personal Pick: The two I heard are both great, but maybe a slight edge to Salpuri – I found it to be a little more consistent, and the dedication to concise, punchy titles gets extra points.
Prediction: Guessing Salpuri here.
Best Pop Album
The elusive all-idol field! Lee Jin-ah is an inspired pick, invoking her jazz major so effortlessly into an ambitious EP. The other picks are all fair, though I am surprised at the snub of Park Ji-yoon’s parkjiyoon9. For some reason Lucia (going by Shim Gyu-sun again in Korea) hasn’t had luck at these KMAs, so Fantasy Pieces Op.1 being excluded is par for the course.
Personal Pick: Taemin’s Move was my runner-up electronic album. (We don’t see eye to eye on this whole pop versus electronic thing, the KMAs and I.) Of the albums that I don’t think should be in another category, My Voice was a really solid effort and gave me one of my most repeated tracks of the year in “Time Lapse”.
Prediction: I’m still not completely recovered from the shock of Weiv picking Perfect Velvet as their album of the year… will KMA pick it here? I know Palette has the higher prize nomination, but I’ll go out on a limb and guess Red Velvet.
Best Pop Song
“Cherry Bomb” was fun but wow, that’s out of left field. And I suppose the razor-sharp “Gashina” makes sense in hindsight. Since this combines general pop music and idol music of any genre (I dislike it but it’s happening), there are about a dozen other songs I might have liked to see over those or BTS’s “DNA”: Loona/JinSoul’s “Singing in the Rain”, Nu’est W’s “Where You At”, Ha Dong-qn’s “The Maze of Reality”, etc.
Personal Pick: As I mentioned earlier, “Red Flavor” was my song of the year and “Through the Night” was actually my best pop song. Other than those, I guess “Gashina” would be next.
Prediction: Red Velvet gets the song of the year in my version of the future, so let’s say the committee decides to split it and IU takes home the other prize.
Best Dance & Electronic Album
I haven’t listened to the Mojave album. Think Kirara’s remix album making it over Rainbow99 or Cifika is a little curious. (I did attempt and fail to call Cifika’s inclusion in last year’s post.) I loved the others.
Personal Pick: Yeseo’s Million Things. Rich, satisfying sounds and inventive compositions all the way through. It’s my actual pick for best electronic album and I had been cross that seemingly none of the major outlets were recognizing it; thanks, KMA!
Prediction: In a perfect world it’s Yeseo, but I don’t know that I get that vibe right now. Kirara won just last year and I don’t think this one is quite at that level. So… Idiotape?
Best Dance & Electronic Song
Haven’t heard “Say Yeah” or “Heart of Steel” until now. I liked “Ooh-Ah-Ooh” better from Cifika and about three other songs better from Yeseo, but these seem reasonable picks to me. Do wish Imlay’s “Shurai” or “Rule the Fire” had been included, as well as Pudditorium’s “AVEC”.
Personal Pick: Okay, so “Heart of Steel” is actually insane. How did I miss this? Clean and active bass, rousing melody, satisfying drops. If something like “My Youth” got nominated from Yeseo that would do it, but from this field I think the Raiden track is my favorite.
Prediction: I feel like the committee tends to not pick fully instrumental tracks, so I think that removes “Dystopian” and “Say Yeah”. (Although if they ever bucked that trend, I suppose Idiotape would be a team to do it for.) I’ll guess the clinical, moody achievement of “My Ego” wins it.
Best Rap & Hip-Hop Album
There’s always something every year that I pretty strongly disagree with, and it’s hip-hop this year. The fact that TakeOne’s Green Ideology, Dok2’s Reborn, and Code Kunst’s Muggles’ Mansion were all excluded is really surprising to me. (And Owen Ovadoz’s Problematic might have been the next best album after those, though the controversial rapper is maybe too toxic right now.) I do think that Reconstruction was underrated, and appreciate that all the candidates are indie artists (yeah, I think Fana still counts there) – perhaps a deliberate choice.
Personal Pick: It comes down to Moonshine versus Sour; the noir-soaked atmosphere of the latter gave me more mileage.
Prediction: I liked it, but maybe a little less than the praise I’ve seen for it: Fana’s Fanaconda is probably winning this year.
Best Rap & Hip-hop Song
In addition to the aforementioned artists, it would have been nice to see TFO recognized for their super weird but super cool “Cone”, or Don Malik or Sleeq for their moody and lyrically sharp efforts.
Personal Pick: Jazzyfact’s “All Day” is a smooth canvas for Beenzino to paint with his best groovy flow.
Prediction: “We Are” has been getting a ton of accolades for reasons that I don’t entirely get: it’s fine, but just doesn’t seem so special to the point where it should be sweeping the awards like that. But I do think the talented Woo Won-jae will get another win here.
Best R&B & Soul Album
This field is so indie, it’s fantastic. I only listened to Rad Museum after putting together my series for Hellokpop, and it gave me a pang to not have known of it earlier. Think Boy II Men was the better album from Minje, but I get that Now was the full-length release. Soma’s Somablu is a notable omission, and if I could have one mainstream album in the field I would pick Taeyang’s White Night.
Personal Pick: White Light Panorama felt like a natural maturation of Rico’s brand of sensuality. “Don’t Talk To Me” had maybe the most lowkey addictive hook of the year.
Prediction: Gee, this one is really difficult. Rico and Minje are known quantities to the KMAs, but Hippy was Gipsy maybe had the most complete album. Let’s go with the latter, assuming the committee spreads the love.
Best R&B & Soul Song
More indie domination. None of my favorites made it, unfortunately – Sumin’s “Sparkling”, Saay’s “Circle”, jams from G.Soul, Maddy, Ovcoco – but I don’t feel as strongly about these picks as the hip-hop field. I had missed out on Horim’s “Temp-Ton”.
Personal Pick: I might have been swayed had a different Rico song come up, but as is I’ll go with the slow and hazy “Temp-Ton”.
Prediction: “NA B YA” picked up some popularity to go with a tastefully crafted track, and seems like a reasonable pick here.
Best Folk Album
Really strong field. The Kim Mokin album came out just days before the November 30 deadline and I missed out on it until January, and I didn’t get to fully listen to bleu. The other four albums are each gems. Hong Haelim’s The Painting Bird being excluded is really unfortunate.
Personal Pick: Dhani Song’s Songs for an Afterlife was my actual pick for best folk album, and Gonne Choi’s Nomad Syndrome was the runner-up. Indelible poetry and beauty in one, unbridled passion in the other.
Prediction: Let’s call it a sweep for Kim Mokin.
Best Folk Song
Dhani Song had about five different songs that could have made it, so it’s a little disappointing to see none. Hard to argue with any individual pick, though. It’s about as perfect a field as I’ve seen in this year’s KMA.
Personal Pick: “Let’s Go Home”, with its austere presentation and emotional backstory, was my actual pick for best folk song. “Highlander” was neck and neck with Song’s “A Buddhist Toast” for runner-up.
Prediction: Briefly considered Jeongmilla, but Kang Taegu might get his consolation prize here with the lushly written “bleu”.
Best Jazz Album
I’ve listened to all of these except for the Lee Jiyeun Orchestra album, and can attest to their excellence. But come on, no love for any of Kim Oki’s three albums in 2017? He’s no stranger to the KMAs, which makes this more baffling. Kangri Kim and Yoonhwa Choi are two other names that would have been nice to see, but other than Kim Oki I think this is the same field I might have picked.
Personal Pick: She Moves On was my actual pick for best jazz album and had basically everything I wanted: expertly curated and exquisitely performed, a breathless listen. The Dream of the Earth was very ambitious and would be a close second.
Prediction: Youn Sun Nah has the clear name recognition and a history of winning: she has won this category a ridiculous four times in its 14-year history. But I actually think She Moves On might be too heavy on covers to get her a fifth award. Certainly won’t be shocked if it won, but I’m going to pick the warm humanity of Seo Young Do Electric Ensemble’s The Hazy World.
Best Crossover Album
Ouch – out of all these And There, the Sea at Last is the only thing I’ve listened to, so I’m gonna have a hard time picking this field. (Will have to go back to check them out!) Obligatory wishes for inclusion are IJM’s Kali Dance and NST & the Soul Sauce’s Back When Tigers Smoked.
Personal Pick: Obviously the Han Seung-seok and Jung Jaeil album; it was my runner-up for overall album of the year, and by extension the best crossover album, and contained my favorite crossover song of the year. The combination of pansori vocals, timeworn language, and orchestra scale make for a transcendent experience unlike any other.
Prediction: Despite my lack of preparation, let me guess the Han & Jung duo. They did win this category three years ago, and I would argue that the newer album actually outdoes Bari, Abandoned.
Best Jazz & Crossover Performance
Out of the list I’ve listened to Joonsam, Myungsup Shin Group, and Choi Sung Ho Singularity. I thought MKS and JéHee Quintet had particularly attention-grabbing performances on the year, and almost anything from Kim Oki would also qualify.
Personal Pick: Choi Sung Ho Singularity, for their thoroughly unpredictable and always exciting brand of play.
Prediction: For this category I don’t have external information to draw inference on, so I’ll stick with the Singularity pick.
I would love to see a song category for Metal & Hardcore. When the Heaviness category was first introduced the idea was that this kind of music is more significant in album form, but I’m hoping it was more of a trial thing. Though perhaps those that are serious about jazz and crossover already feel the same about those categories?
I hadn’t listened to the songs nominated in the pop category before reading your predictions, but the prevalence of idol music is definitely new for this year. If it had been any previous year at least a couple of those tracks would’ve definitely qualified for the Dance & Electronic category instead. This seems unfortunate to me as it leaves less space for other pop, even though it opened up for the indie heavy electronic field this year.
And yes! I can’t really get my head around the lack of Kim Oki this year. fuckingmadness nearly made my own top list for 2017, without me being particularly big on either jazz or hip-hop. But perhaps that was exactly what was wrong with it.
Yes, I definitely would love to see songs categories for both of those! To me a songs category for jazz and crossover just feels natural to have.
Thanks for asking Professor Kim about these in the interview, by the way. That was insightful. I’m not sure that creating a separate idol music category is the right solution for the pop-electronic conundrum (I would rather that they ignore the idol distinction when classifying their music), but it’s good to see that they are continuing to think about these issues.