NOTE: This is posted a bit late (life and video games got in the way), but better late than never.
Generally, I would be coming back to everyday life in January after my annual year-end Japan vacation. However, COVID has again made travel impossible because Japan isn’t letting anyone in. So it was a quiet post-holiday time for me before getting back to work mode.
Entertainment-wise, January is what I usually consider a dead month. The recovery from Christmas and New Year’s festivities usually means not many exciting things are unleashed upon the masses early in the new year.
Looking back, I may have been wrong in that assumption as there was a lot more that I picked up on than expected. So here is my shortlist of favourites from the start of 2022. Of course, all my stuff is music since the movies I watched, and I played video games from 2020 and 2021.
Kep1er – First Impact
After watching Girls Planet 999, I was insistent on hating this group because it became glaringly obvious early on that the show had nothing to do with creating a “global group” and had more to pandering to Korean homerism as much as possible.
Yet, I gave them a chance because there are two girls in the group I like (Hello Xiaoting & Yeseo.). It would be unfair to hate how the group was formed and solid dislike of certain members ahead of the final product.
So colour me surprised when they released a reasonably decent EP called First Impact. The a-side has nothing to write home about, but the b-side MVSK was a home run. If Kep1er does more of that song, I will begrudgingly be on board their hype train.
WJSN Chocome – Super Yuppers
What do you get when you take a song and concept that sounds like it was meant for a Japanese seiyuu idol group and give it a bunch of K-Pop idols instead? You get the stupidly fun Super Yuppers from the WJSN subgroup WJSN Chocome.
This song has a lot going for it. It has that catchy 80s retro cheese instrumentation, superheroes, cute (but not squeaky) vocals and a Sailor Moon-like monologue thrown in for shits and giggles.
It also makes one crave for Pepsi and Lays potato chips. I wonder why?
AleXa – Tattoo
When it comes to AleXa, I’m not the biggest fan of her musical output so far. Her releases haven haven’t clicked with me for some reason.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like her, I find her entertaining on her YouTube channel, and she was great when she was doing her thing as part of the Dive Studios podcasts.
But yeah, her music wasn’t doing it for me until her most recent release Tattoo. So this I can get with. I can’t put my finger on it, but I like the vibe of this song.
fromis_9 – Midnight Guest
fromis_9 have been on quite a roll since becoming part of the HYBE empire. Midnight Guest continues the group’s hot streak with a more sophisticated and mature sound.
Now that every member is legal (Yay!), it may lead to less girlish music and more womanly type material instead. Midnight Guest is a great starting point for that transition if that is the case.
YENA – SMiLEY
The third former member of IZ*ONE to make a solo debut is Choi Yena (now going by YENA), much to the disappointment of those who wanted to see her join EVERGLOW.
So far, each former member who has gone solo has had a unique vibe, and YENA is no different. Her album is unapologetic pure, bubbly pop music that matches her personality perfectly.
All of it is a joy to listen to.
YUJU – [Rec.]
Former GFRIEND main vocalist YUJU made her solo debut with her first EP [Rec.] in January. But, if you are used to hearing her perform the dreamy pop that GFRIEND was known for, you will be in for a surprise.
This majority of the album has a strong Hip-Pop feel that underscores the heartbreak and pain of the lyrics. However, the final song goes against the trend and opts for a soft acoustic ballad that nicely shows YUJU’s vocal capabilities.
It’s a solid start to her solo career and sets high expectations for whatever she has planned next.
YEIN – Plus n Minus
Of all the former members of Lovelyz, Yein was last on my list to continue in music. However, after hearing Plus n Minus, I’m glad to say that I am sorry for being wrong about that.
This is some chill R&B/Pop that is the complete opposite of the pure and sweet music she performed as part of Lovelyz. If this is the direction she is heading in for her solo work, I’m all for it and will follow her closely.
Usually, you would think that January would be a bit of a dead zone, per Greg’s point. After all, it’s after New Year’s, but right before Lunar New Year’s, so there’s not much to do, right? Dead wrong, at least for me. Not only did some people release some of the best work I’ve heard in ages during this month, but webtoons and manga also continued to maintain their momentum.
Wuxiaworld got bought out by Kakao Entertainment, continuing the trend of significant conglomerate purchases by cash-rich Korean companies. The behemoth that was Solo Leveling finally ended with chapter 179 just at the end of December. (Somewhere, a Kakao Entertainment/Piccoma executive is pissing their pants trying to find a replacement in Japan – understandable given that this work was the majority of the reason why a region-locked application made it to be one of only 15 applications in the world to cross more than a billion dollars in retail sales).
More studios have moved into the co-production game for Korean domestic webtoons, Tapas being one of the latest with their series Preventing the Making of a Tyrant. Not to be outdone, Chinese market behemoth JJWXC has started to gear up for an English language release, so the launch for what is arguably now the world’s largest market for BL (known locally as danmei) series will be a significant game-changer for anyone who consumes any Asian fantasy content.
Exciting stuff, particularly when you realize this is only the first month of the new year!
Something about this song – from its lyrics to its industrial EDM-like sounds – reminds me of the more raw BiS (a la StupiG) and earlier BiSH that I miss a lot.
YENA – Smiley feat Bibi
In a day and age when people seem only to debut groups and avoid soloists together, going forward as a soloist is a precarious decision, and to do something extremely high energy cute as opposed to a pure style (a la IU) or cool (a la Hwasa) is rarer, even when you look for groups that debut like this. Therefore, the classic cutesy high energy concept from Yena is a very welcome respite.
Stray Kids – Christmas EveL
When one of the other staff members of Selective Hearing told me that Stray Kids’ Christmas album wasn’t just your typical dreary filler and good, I was in complete disbelief. But it turns out… they were kind of right??
Asia City Music Disc Guide
Usually, when people talk about City Pop, it is almost always in the context of Japanese music or Jpop inspired music. However, this is a much more exciting expansion on that conversation. Several experts select their favourites from across the region – both concurrent to and inspired by Japanese city pop – with many an exciting selection.