Block B – "Very Good"
A drawn-out battle between boyband Block B and their old label almost saw them sink into obscurity. But they clawed their way out of the legal mess, found a new home, and leader Zico steered his revitalised group into coming up with this crazed, synth squealing headfuck of a title track. It's their slickest, most experimental MV yet and, despite a few online bores ranting about G-Dragon rip-offs, Block B take the studs, cutlery, leather pants, head platters and skull licking and make it their very own.
BTS – "N.O"
'Hip hop idol group' sounds like an oxymoron but 2013 rookies BTS, who range between 16 and 20, are just one of the growing number taking hip hop as their base and fusing it to pop. BTS' continual beef is with the suffocating expectations of the older generation on their kids to ace exams, get the right job, marry an 'appropriate' partner and procreate by their late 20s. Yeah, well, fuck you, mom and dad, I'm off to make a slammin' music video and drop out of school. With an effective premise, "N.O" looks like sci-fi, and is packed with blatant symbolism and covetable streetwear. See that already glossy K-Pop bar? Just been raised.
SHINee – "Everybody"
SHINee's "Everybody" gets the megabucks video treatment, yet crash lands. I'm talking seven-car K-Pop pile up on the freeway of WTF. This is Springtime for Hitler meets Tron with inserts for those who appreciate Taemin shirtless and Jonghyun with a face vajazzle. Puzzlingly, while 'Everybody' is like sticking your hand into a dubstep blender and pressing HIGH, its B-side, "Symptoms", is superior TVXQ-esque R'n'B but gets short shrift. Perhaps it's time that SHINee's label SM Entertainment took their eye off newer breakout boyband EXO and put SHINee's considerable talents back on the priority list.
G.I – "Gi Yeuk"
Girl band G.I (Global Icon) launched as a 'tomboy' group with their debut single "Beatles" earlier this year – which translated as short hair and choreography with less bending over – but this is K-Pop so hotpants are squeezed on, the camera gets crotch level and life goes on for their follow up "Gi Yeuk". For an audience spoiled with high concept MV's every week releasing such a basic video feels pretty anarchistic, but luckily "Gi Yeuk" is a banger, rattling with Bollywood beats and lovable petulance. Yet G.I need to up their visual game to stay relevant. Your shelf life is measured in GIFability, after all.
Tiny G – "Miss You"
The only girls who can wear animal headbands and copious Lazy Oaf are 16 year olds and Asian popstars. Fact. Tiny G – so named because all measure below 160cms – don the aegyo crowns. Their 2nd single "Minimanimo" was sickeningly sweet to the point of nauseating but "Miss You" has a certain charm and a chorus designed to strangle your brain. If grown women emulating cats through interpretive dance is your bag then this is three minutes of heaven, but actually it's crop-haired Mint who's one to watch. Surely her own Hyuna moment beckons.
T-Ara – "Number 9"
Controversy-magnets T-Ara's new single is named "Number Nine" either because this is their 9th single, or because 9 represents pain (in Japan) and everlasting (in China) and this is a love song about both? Confusion aside, this is the sound of T-Ara back and treading cautiously, after they were almost destroyed in 2012 after they allegedly bulied rapper Hwayoung out of the group. For "Number Nine" they return to songwriting king Shinsadong Tiger "Lovey Dovey", 4minute's "Volume Up") for the perfect T-Ara song – mid-tempo sweetness with a grabby hook. Even so, you miss their 15-minute music video epics in this soft-focus, wind machine friendly non-event of a visual. Sexy but unthreatening, T-Ara's claws have been retracted. It's a shame.
Crayon Pop – "Dancing Queen 2.0"
Responsible for the insane surprise summer hit "Bar Bar Bar" and their image partly borrowed from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Crayon Pop are deeply underestimated – as this reissue of their earlier single "Dancing Queen" proves. A low budget and random schoolgirl horror make for a strange and disjointed video, but the gleeful brass/synth and winsome vocals make for uplifting pop, with a certain magic that catches you unawares.
B.A.P – "Warrior"
K-Pop rarely veers from its native tongue, but if you want to break Japan you do it in Japanese. Songs are re-recorded, MV's re-filmed to suit their squishier pop palate. B.A.P, however, are synonymous with aggressive videos so "Warrior" lessens the Wicker Man sized pyrotechnics that claimed Yongguk's eyebrows and arm in the original, adds smouldering close ups and evens out the jump cuts for a smooth, glossy finish. Rappers Zelo and Yongguk stick to Korean leaving B.A.P's vocalists to make good on the Japanese but "Warrior", with its Stomp-style breakdown, remains a K-Pop masterpiece so Japan will have to accept the flawlessness and deal.
Seo In Young – "Love Me"
Former Jewelry member, Seo In Young (also known as Elly), is a bit of a maverick, ditching her agency to start her own, then honing her image and sound into a indie-ish electronic pop. Much like previous After School member Kahi, she's adopted a Western feel, pitching her video between a moving fashion lookbook and the best Instagram account ever. More than anything it's the relief of seeing a Korean female popstar break free of the mold that churns out sexualised puppets and demonstrate an individuality that K-Pop tends to overlook, and even discourage, in its female performers.
Infinite – "Request"
This is a Samsung advertisement slash Infinite single and no one's being shy about it. In South Korea the relationship between celebs and corporate (and ultimately high school girls' bank accounts) can be symbiotic and creative in ways that Britney and her pill gag can't beat. Though "Request" is by no means stretching them musically, the behind-the-scenes shots and cinematic dance segments bring out the best in Infinite – one of K-pop's most likeable groups. Staring at Myungsoo and craving a tablet, phone or watch? Job done.