Honolulu Wee Woo, It’s the top 10 K-Pop Girl Groups of 2017

We entered this year in K-Pop on a bit of a downer, with several major players either gone for good or good as done for, and it seemed like an impossible ask for the handful of established newcomers to fill that considerable void. They’d need a rare run of incredible form to take that on, and even then they’d struggle to do it alone.

Well, they only went and did it anyway, with some serious support from one of the recently departed groups themselves.

Though never quite achieving the promise their wealth of talent implied, 2016’s short-lived supergroup IOI fractured and blended into several other up-and-comers, energizing the entire scene and helping get eyes and ears on groups who otherwise might have struggled. That we might get a couple of good songs out of that seemed a given. That we’d get some serious contenders and most of the best tracks of the year, well that one I didn’t see coming. But I’ll take it :)

The 2016 list left me digging deep to find a set of songs I’d be happy to stand by. This time there were so many good tracks that a top 10 Best Singles list seemed like sheer folly, so we’re going with the top 10 girl groups of 2017 instead. Even then there have been a few tough calls (sorry Weki Meki, Sonamoo, LOONA & Stellar!), but I had to draw the line somewhere. There’s always next year you guys.

It’s even in order this time. Incremental progress, we live for it.

10. EXiD

Strobing their logo over a lurid red backdrop, sirens blaring with butts in the air and EXiD have never been more BACK. Sexed to the skies and with a soaring chorus right where the shitty drop would be in a lesser song, this is Hani and pals as the megastars they are and I am very there for that.

9. Mamamoo

After a stunning retro-tinged start, the girls from the ‘Moo have struggled a little to bring their powerhouse performance chops and sheer verve over to a more contemporary style. With ‘Yes I Am’, they’ve finally cracked it. Putting the full weight of their personalities behind a genuinely strong pop song, this is Mamamoo knee-deep in their element and loving every minute of it. After years of frustration as a semi-lapsed fan, they finally deliver everything I ever wanted from a MMM comeback and their best single yet.

8. GFRIEND

GFriend have always been a cut above the usual cutesy group, but you’d have to dig a little deeper to find it. For ‘Fingertip’ they decided to screw that noise and go straight for the bop with an absolutely sensational disco-pop banger that’s comfortably one of the best singles of the last few years. It’s one of those rarest of creatures, a pop song that starts strong and somehow improves as it drives to its climax, getting better and better until the dance break hits and oh my very god. The only reason this one isn’t rated higher is that their fanbase didn’t really go for it, deciding that instead of becoming the next KARA they’d rather be the previous GFriend, and that’s a minor bloody tragedy.

7. 9MUSES

It shouldn’t be a shock to have perennial underdogs 9MUSES come back strong once again in 2017, but having them do it twice in a row was a nice surprise. Following the moody yet danceable ‘Remember’ with the irresistible repackage title track ‘Love City’ was a one-two punch that gave us more Kyungri than one set of eyeballs can humanly take and turned an already great album into one of the year’s best.

6. WJSN/Cosmic Girls

After flying under my radar for far too long, WJSN finally caught my undivided attention with their breakout single ‘Happy’. Written by TWICE hitmakers Black Eyed Pilseung, ‘Happy’ sees the girls step back from their typical spacey pop to take on Twice at their own game with peppy, cheer-squad callouts and a driving, effervescent chorus. Add in a breathless dodgeball-battling music video and you’ve got one of the standout singles of the summer. Following it up with the cute-rock promotional bonus single ‘Kiss Me’ wasn’t too shabby either.

This also serves as your regularly scheduled reminded that this year I saw them live and I absolutely will not shut up about it.

5. Dreamcatcher

One of the unlikeliest creative success stories of the year, Dreamcatcher rose from the ashes of sexy-cute also-rans Minx with the addition of a new member and a hell of a change in direction. Few K-Pop groups have even attempted a hard rock crossover, but that didn’t stop DC from absolutely nailing it with their very first single and following it up with a salvo of equally excellent releases that ran from original creations to rocked-up Maroon 5 covers. With an unbroken run of great releases and no sign of stopping following a successful world tour, 2018 is theirs for the taking.

4. TWICE

It’s been a heck of a busy year for TWICE, so much so that covering their 2017 singles alone would take more time than I’ve really got space for, but they started the year of in the best possible way with ‘Knock Knock’. Breathless and punchy in all the right ways with a strangely poignant edge, it was exactly the song I was waiting for, an expertly crafted piece of perfect pop that absolutely sold me on ’em and made me a fan for good. They followed it up with a run of good to great follow ups that only furthered their unassailable lead at the top of the girl group ladder, but for me this is their masterpiece and by far the best thing they’ve done.

3. Red Velvet

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for RV this year. Although they had some major success with the viciously catchy ‘Rookie’ and song of the summer ‘Red Flavor’, it felt like there was maybe something missing. Good as those were, they didn’t quite recapture the crazed pop magic of something like ‘Dumb Dumb’ or ‘Russian Roulette’. Maybe that time had passed, maybe they just weren’t that kind of group anymore?

Maybe I shouldn’t have worried. Saving the best for last, RV dropped their second full-length album ‘Perfect Velvet’ right at the year’s end, coupling the album of the year with what could be their best single yet. Quirkily dark and effortlessly stylish in the way Red Velvet does better than anyone, it takes the ‘Velvet’ side of their sound and twists it in all kinds of interesting shapes until it comes out as compelling as the very best of their repertoire.

2. PRISTIN

Some groups find their feet after a bunch of singles and lots of heavy promo, while others just hit you with a stone-cold bop right out the gate. From the opening bars of their maddeningly catchy ‘Wee Woo’ it was clear Pristin had something truly special. Not since f(x)’s ‘Chu’ has such an irritating earworm of a vocal hook been twisted into such a rousing success, cooing over a tight funk bassline to ever increasing returns as the beat kicks in and the magic quite literally happens, tarot cards gliding through the air as the former Pledis Girlz & IOI veterans preen and strut in every kind of sexy, stylish or just plain silly way they can think of. As a debut it’s a statement with the confidence to scream out ‘we’re here’ and ‘you love us’, and it hits two-for-two.

Now they had our attention good and proper, they stuck the landing with ‘We Like’, a rousing bunch of wonderful nonsense that fuses cutesy verses onto a chorus that just won’t quit, pummeling you into submission through sheer force of fun if it’s the last thing it dududududu-does. Taken together, it’s as good an introduction as any girl group has given in recent memory.

1. Gugudan

Coming out the gate with the uninspiring ‘Wonderland’ may not have been the best start for our third set of IOI refugees, but they didn’t let that hold ’em back too long. ‘A Girl Like Me’ effectively rebooted the group as Ones To Watch, with a distinctive, addictive single riding on a truly exceptional video. Blowing them up to larger-than-life cartoons so narcissistic they spend their time living in rooms papered with posters of themselves or photocopying their own faces for a steady supply of headshots, it’s a visually rich treat of a video, all rendered in retina-searing K-Pop technicolor.

And then things got really interesting.

Formed as a sub-unit from Gugudan’s two youngest members, few fans expected more than a cutesy novelty effort from OGUOGU’s ‘Ice Chu’, but they gave us an absolute treat. Cutesy it might have been, but it also served as the soundtrack to The Kang Mina Ice Cream Massacre, complete with jaw-dropping dance breaks and all the Honolulus your honolulu can honolulu lulu. An amazing single for sure, but surely also just a fun one-and-done bit of inspired madness before they get back to something more serious?

Well, maybe not.

With their AGLM follow-up ‘Chococo’, Gugudan took Ogogu’s crazy and doubled down on it, coming out with a sugar-rush fever dream of a video where giant porcelain dolls rule Willy Wonka-esque factories with an iron fist while their workers dream of Ferrero Rocher in space, chock full of candy ad parodies and backed with a fantastically catchy guitar-led single. As a song it’s fantastic, as a video it’s easily the best of the year. Together it’s a genuinely phenomenal piece of work and I love it like I love not eating calculators.

By the time the girls suddenly donned Hersey’s Kisses for hats and nanananana-’ed their way into the silliest dance break of 2017 I was convinced I wouldn’t see a better MV this year. By the time Sejeong was going Super Saiyan while Mina’s head cracked open in an explosion of Skittles I couldn’t quite believe they actually let them film it. Like ‘Ice Chu’, I love that such a piece of unbridled oddness even exists and for that reason alone Gugudan would have to be my absolute faves of 2017. Add in some of the best songs of the year and there was never another choice.

So there we have it, my list of the ten groups who made 2017 for me, but it still feels like there’s so much to cover. What about the promising nugus, or the best solo performances and collaborations? That’ll have to wait for a possible follow-up, so in the meantime I hope you enjoyed the preceding waffle and have a wonderful 2018. As ever, if you have a comment to add or would just like to tell me how wrong I am, I can be reached over on twitter at the usual address.

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