BY SAMMI BRENNAN, SELENE SANFELICE AND JORDAN WALSH
BTS (Bangtan Boys) – “I Need U”
Bangtan Boys have more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Last year, the Big Hit Entertainment group released The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Part 1 and Part 2, with Part 1 peaking at number two on the US Billboard World Albums chart and Part 2 still currently holding the number one spot. At the Mnet Asian Music Awards, BTS received best “World Performer.” On top of that, K-pop fans in America were in for a surprise when the instrumental to BTS’s “Dope” was played during a Pittsburgh Steelers game. “I Need U” revolves around the struggle of yearning for someone during a problematic, “on-again, off-again” relationship. Adeptly balancing rap verses and vocals, “I Need U” is one of BTS’s finest hits. Let’s see what BTS has to offer us in 2016.
iKON – “Apology”
The rookie group iKON made quite the debut last year. From the catchy, hip-hop style “Anthem” to the head-banger “Dumb and Dumber,” the YG Entertainment group produced a substantial pattern of hits. Group members Bobby and B.I. collaborated on the composition and lyrics, eventually leading to the group’s “Best New Male Artist” award at the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards. “Apology” is a slow song exposing the members’ vulnerabilities and regrets. iKON is definitely the rookie group to watch in 2016.
EXO – “Lightsaber”
As the popularity of K-pop continues to grow, more and more songs are being used in American media. 2NE1’s “I am the Best” blasted in a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 commercial, Bigbang’s “Fantastic Baby” played in the background of the Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) trailer, and BTS’s own Rap Monster was featured on the Fantastic Four (2015) soundtrack. Last year EXO collaborated with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) and created the electronic, powerful “Lightsaber.” EXO will soon announce the dates for their upcoming North American tour. For those who were wondering, yes, EXO uses lightsabers in their performance of the song.
SHINee – “View”
The S.M. Entertainment group SHINee are no strangers to producing songs constantly played on repeat. “Lucifer,” “Sherlock,” and “Why So Serious?” are a few amongst their many smash hits. In 2015, SHINee added “View” to that list, a techno, top-down sensation. Earlier this month, SHINee released their fourth full Japanese album which has already topped Japan’s Oricon Number-One Albums of 2016.
Bigbang – “Bang Bang Bang”
At the beginning of each month, from May until August, Bigbang continuously released two singles per album, with each album title assigned a letter. “Bang Bang Bang” is off the A portion. It’s a club hit with an insane beat drop. Earlier this month, South Korea resumed raising their loudspeakers on the North Korean border and playing K-pop to other side in order to protest North Korean tactics. On January 8th, coinciding with Kim Jong Un’s 33rd birthday, several K-pop songs including Bigbang’s “Bang Bang Bang” played into North Korean territory to protest North Korea’s latest hydrogen bomb test. Bigbang’s full length MADE album is expected to be released sometime this year.
Kanye West – “All Day”
This track featuring Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and Paul McCartney was West first hint towards his highly anticipated album, WAVES, slated to drop Feb. 11. For more WAVES prep check out his newest tracks of 2016 on West’s soundcloud (including a feature by Kendrick Lamar).
Chance the Rapper – “Angels” (featuring Saba)
After his many collaborations with The Social Experiment, including Surf, which dropped early last summer, Chance the Rapper is finally about to release his third solo mixtape. Chance and Saba premiered “Angels” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert along with some killer choreography and matching sweatshirts back in October. The track is free on iTunes and is Chance’s first song to go up on streaming services like Spotify.
Disclosure – “Magnets” (featuring Lorde)
After the perfection that was 2013’s Pure Heroin, Lorde has been scarce to put out new music since, aside from a couple of songs for The Hunger Games soundtracks. Fortunately she’s hinted at a new album for the new year on her twitter, tweeting in December, “feeling quietly excited about 2016,” and “whispered the album name to my mum in the car today.” While waiting for more news, fans can enjoy her dreamy, dancy collaboration with Disclosure, which premiered on Saturday Night Live in November.
Angel Haze – “Babe Ruthless”
The tenth track of Haze’s latest mixtape from this past summer, Back to the Woods, brings out a Slim Shady-like alter ego with the tape’s sharpest rapping and most intense beat comparable to the signature grime-y swagger of Haze’s 2013 breakout hit “Werkin Girls.” As the 23-year-old agender rapper continues to shape their image and sound, they can only grow into a stronger, sharper artist with a future for hip-hop heads to anticipate.
IshDARR – “Too Bad”
Featured all over Apple Music, 18-year-old New York rapper IshDARR is the only indie hip hop artist on the “Best of 2015” playlist, and “Too Bad” got him into the “A-list” for hip-hop. This song is the perfect replacement for the overplayed mainstream hits on your workout and pre-game playlists, and can deliver the energizing beats and bars missing from that Future track you’ve heard a million times.
Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities To Love”
The title track from Sleater-Kinney’s first record in almost a decade is a mid-tempo headbanger that thrives on the strange energy of feeling out-of-place. The song is remarkable for its ability to give all three members of the band a space to show off their unique and incredible talent: Carrie Brownstein’s guitar is spastic and groovy all at once; Corin Tucker’s vocals flaunt an extra ounce of soul in that chorus; and Janet Weiss’s drums are as subtly complex as ever. The song focuses on the comfort of the little details through a buzzing desire for escape (“it’s not the cities, it’s the weather we love/ it’s not the weather, it’s the people we love”), making it a must-listen for anyone twiddling their thumbs, waiting to up-and-leave.
The Early November – “Nothing Lasts Forever”
“Nothing Lasts Forever” is a lightning-fast rock and roll tune that closes the curtain on the New Jersey group’s fourth LP Imbue. This massive, loud track is full to the brim with guitar solos and intense vocals which flaunt frontman Ace Enders ever-growing vocal range. But it’s the dual message that makes this song one of the best of 2015, since the track’s central dictum that “nothing lasts forever” can mean two things. It can lament the end of an era, or it can provide solace in the idea that the next one is coming soon. Either way, “Nothing Lasts Forever” closes out Imbue in a blaze of glory.
Oneohtrix Point Never – “Sticky Drama”
“Sticky Drama” is one of the strangest and most beautiful tracks to come out of 2015. An ambient electronic track with heavily distorted, inhuman vocals, the song is enchanting in the same way that a barely remembered nightmare might be. And the song plays out in a similar way, as ”Sticky Drama’s” barely-divided movements arrive and go like snapshots of memory. They’re little moments of absurdity and chaos worthy of days of thoughtful consideration, trying to figure out what exactly is going on here.
Hop Along – “Waitress”
Hop Along’s Painted Shut is a collection of vignettes performed in captivating indie rock songs. Of these vignettes, “Waitress” is the most memorable, telling the story of a meeting between a restaurant worker and a perceived-to-be pretentious customer. Frances Quinlan’s raspy and powerful vocals paint an image of the mutual contempt between the characters atop bright, sunshiney guitars.
Foxing – “Night Channels”
“Night Channels” is the emotional apex of Foxing’s sophomore LP Dealer, a layered and slowly growing ballad with a haunting climax. The song is harrowing and gorgeous, its hair-raising refrain of “future love, don’t fall apart” patiently rising in volume and weight.
Sammi Brennan can be reached at email@example.com.
Selene SanFelice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jordan Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.