Even diehard fans will admit that it’s tough to find an entire K-pop album worthy of being labelled brilliant from start to finish. But there were a select group of artists who proved the notion wrong with cohesive bodies of work in 2014. (And see our list of the 20 best K-pop songs here.)
8. Epik High – Shoebox
Shoebox is not only the best hip-hop album to come out of the K-pop scene this year, but also the most brilliantly dark. There’s arresting lyrical content from the band detailing private struggles (“Amor Fati”), laments (“Happen Ending”) and angst (“Spoiler”), which all get a backdrop of top-notch, lavish productions.
6. Taeyang – Rise
The BIGBANG member’s summer record is the shining example of how to make a good R&B album today. There aren’t many elaborately flamboyant moments, but instead an emphasis on vocal performance (“Eyes, Nose, Lips,” “Let Go”) and strong melodies (“Stay With Me,” “Love You to Death”) with a few tracks allowing for experimentation (“Body,” “Ringa Linga”). America responded to Rise by breaking the record for highest-charting album for solo K-pop acts.
1. 2NE1 – Crush
The phenom’s second full-length proved more than worth the nearly-four-year wait with Crush bringing everything 2NE1 fans were waiting for. The album sees the girls exploring new sonic territory via the reggae/trap hybrid single “Come Back Home,” straight-up R&B cuts “Baby I Miss You” and “Good to You” as well as leader CL rocking out solo on “MTBD.”
But opening the record with “Crush,” with its bewitching Middle-Eastern vibe and aggressive attitude similar to their signature hit “I Am the Best” proved that the girls know where their roots lie and they’re happy to treat fans while still evolving as artists. Fans responded accordingly and Crush debuted at No. 61 on the Billboard 200, marking the highest chart position and biggest sales week for a K-pop album ever.
-Omitted Parts Not Related to 2NE1/YG-
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