While we’re closing out a decade (and commemorating it with a list of its own) that marked K-pop’s exponential growth around the world this year, that doesn’t mean 2019 didn’t give us amazing K-pop songs that should be highlighted in their own right.
The year was notably marked by a slew of rookie groups that came out swinging for their debuts, as well as female acts —new, up-and coming, and more established ones — constantly making waves in the scene with innovative concepts and music, and seemingly all the male acts went dark with their concepts, often with a deep house track. 2019 was also the year different groups made even bigger strides in America. Whether that was topping the Billboard charts, performing at festivals, multiple world tours, or going on every other morning and late night TV show, K-pop was hard to overlook this year. As the decade came to a close, it unfortunately also took two K-pop greats: Sulli from f(x) and Goo Hara from KARA, highlighting the need to have conversations on online bullying, misogyny, and mental health and ultimately resolve the issues they raise.
2019 gave us high highs and low lows, on and off the stage, but music continued to be a refuge for many. Here are KultScene’s best K-pop songs of the year.
50. “Picky Picky” by Weki Meki
All of K-pop, past and present, is contained in Weki Meki. They began life with one of the great structure bending songs in “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend,” and have since ridden its giddy waves to great effect. “Picky Picky” feels so classically K-pop thanks in most part to its sense of humour. Who still makes songs that rhymes with their groups name and who so gleefully shouts the name of that group as arrogantly as they can. This verve of Weki Meki’s manifests in extraordinary high pitched vocals, coming in auto-tuned squeals as well as big chants. It doesn’t take a native speaker to know this is a song about supremely confident young girls who know exactly what they want.
49. “Loss” by Colde
Now that it is officially winter, it’s the perfect time of the year to stay in and cuddle up to Colde’s “Loss” again. Released earlier this year as part of SM Station’s third installation, this moody single takes an unorthodox approach to mainstream music by using silence and soundmarks to build an acoustic environment where listeners can explore the theme of loss on an ecological level. The sounds of birds chirping, of tea decanting from pot to cup, of the car door slamming, of heels hitting the pavement. It’s the soundscape of the mundanities of life. Accompanied by an eerie piano piece and a drawling string section, there’s an emptiness and a sense of longing in those pieces of information that don’t require words. Colde knows this too as he keeps his part quite laconic with only eleven lines, all reading like sedative poetry. Maybe that’s why every listen always feel all too short. And maybe that’s why we still haven’t had enough.
48. “Tic Toc” by Neon Punch
Neon Punch made it a successful two for two on their only track of the year, “Tic Toc.” The cosmic symbols of its video try to convey the feeling of a destined love, mixing metaphors with stars and clocks. Similarly, the song itself takes a number of familiar elements and crashes them together to make them fresh once more. The house beats are bolstered by not just being fidgety but relatively scant. They allow the verse to shift around a number of synths leading to a rising pre-chorus. This somehow works thanks to the chorus that comes after it, quite low key in comparison but given a scratchy guitar for more of a disco feel. It’s all very unlikely but so is destiny, if you don’t go for it, it’ll never work.
47. “Maybe It’s Not Our Fault” by Baek Yerin
Baek Yerin flexes her soulful voice for a haunting experience in her lead single, “Maybe It’s Not Our Fault.” Backed with eerie synths, sporadic sleigh bells, and a deep bass, the lo-fi R&B track exudes a somber yet hopeful aura as Baek pieces together the unforeseen turning point in a relationship. Ultimately, climaxing at the realization that some things can’t be salvaged even if there isn’t anyone to blame. “Maybe It’s Not Our Fault” marks Baek’s full leap into experimenting with her sound and reshaping her identity as an artist.
46. “Blue Flame” by Astro
With each release Astro serves up one addicting single after another, and this year’s “Blue Flame” heated things up for the act, serving up a classic, dramatic K-pop boy band dance track and putting their own flair on it. With groovy instrumentals helping the track lean into the popular “newtro” trend of 2019, scattered trapped beat and sonorous EDM melodies, it’s a song that deserves to be played again and again and will brighten up any playlist.
45. “That’s Okay” by D.O
EXO’s D.O shocked fans back in July when he suddenly put his career on halt to enlist in the military, but he did not do so before leaving this comforting parting gift. Written by D.O himself, the acoustic R&B ballad expresses how it’s alright to open up and to live in your emotions. The healing message feels more reassuring when sung by the main vocalist, whose warm colors and vocal runs alone are enough to fill out the stripped down song. Just as “That’s Okay” concludes on a hopeful note, so too should we remain optimistic that he returns from his mandatory services safely. Until then, “it’s okay to be okay.”
44. “Sunrise” by GFriend
Beginning with a whimsical piano, “Sunrise” grabs listeners’ attention with a bouncy vocal entrance by main vocalist SinB. From there, each vocal addition builds into the song’s emotive, pulsating chorus leading into the quintet’s signature sound. From Yerin’s powerful vocals to Umji and Sowon’s heartfelt harmonies, each member takes command of her part. However, it’s Eunha who drives “Sunrise” to its dramatic close with her rich, high notes. GFriend once again proved to be some of K-pop’s best vocalists and performers with their precise choreography. All in all, no one’s doing it like GFriend.
43. “Fear” by Seventeen
Seventeen opens a new chapter in their discography with this angsty R&B track. The group delivers an intensity that they’d yet to reach starting with Wonwoo’s opening declaration of being poison, but it’s Joshua and Jeonghan’s falsettos that add dimension throughout the song’s changing dynamics. Co-composed by member Woozi, “Fear” takes a look into the root of insecurities and the manifestation of our fears. On a surface level, the song is about needing to let go of a toxic relationship but remaining out of fear. However, it also examines how complacent we become in various aspects of life because of fear, and how it can be poison to others and ourselves.
42. “Sweet Chaos” by DAY6
This track may be intense, chaotic, and have a BPM of 200 (the fastest ever title track for DAY6), “but I like” it. It showcases the full range of abilities this band has to offer, with stunning vocal sections and exciting instrumental riffs. Wonpil, in particular, shines here more than he normally does in their other drum-heavy songs, and his traverses up and down the keyboard during the chorus sections are absolutely delicious. Both in its instrumentation and lyrics, the thrill of love despite the massive transformations it brings to a person’s life is conveyed very well, and “Sweet Chaos” was overall an extremely fitting choice as the title track for the musically complex The Book of Us: Entropy.
41. “Adios” by Hoody
The nine to five grind can be a tedious cycle of routine and unwanted events without any time for vacation, and Hoody’s title track from her first full album echoes that yearning for escapism. Composed by Cha Cha Malone, Gray, and Hoody, “Adios” is equipped with mesmerizing piano loops, colorful synths layered over a simple hip hop beat serving as a dreamy background for Hoody’s honey vocals. Hoody’s vocals breezily navigate the song’s ebb and flow before Gray stamps his distinctive sound on the track for a nice break.
40. “Woowa” by DIA
“Woowa” popped up to be the unashamed dance pop song of the summer we sorely needed this year. There has been no true heir to almighty reign of Sistar, but DIA staked a claim last year with the Tinashe-inspired “Woo Woo.” That had clear beach summer vibes, this time it’s the after party rave. “Woowa” is a straightforward blast of rising jigsaw synths, snare heavy beats with a wonderful looping bassline, and utterly unpredictable horns in the chorus. It’s the bassline that producer Shinsadong Tiger uses to constantly pull you back in after another breathless chorus. Eventually, it pulls you in so close to the bodies around you on the dancefloor, you can’t help but fall in love.
39. “Say My Name” by ATEEZ
ATEEZ’s pirate concept requires powerful and apotheotic songs, and “Say My Name” delivers just that, in the catchiest way possible! Its flute melody in the beginning is one of the coolest K-pop intros of the year, and the rest of the song develops with the same level of excitement. Special highlight is the chorus, that builds the tension for the drop in the best hero movie vibe. ATEEZ’s style, enthusiasm, and energy really show through “Say My Name.” The entire song just makes you want to dance, or go out and conquer the world, or call ATEEZ’ name to do it.
— Ana Clara
38. “I Don’t Need Your Love” by NCT DREAM X HRVY
East meets West collabs within K-pop have been historically, and objectively, mostly bad, though the last couple of years have given us a few gems. NCT DREAM’s SM Station song with the English singer HRVY is luckily one of those. Though probably not an organic collab, both acts definitely sold us on the idea that it was. HRVY was woven into DREAM’s fabric seamlessly. Their vocals all blended flawlessly —if you simply listened to this song, you could swear the NCT unit had a new member. And though the bar is on the floor with this one, just the fact that he showed up to film the music video is a feat in itself, but he also attempted to —bless his heart— do the choreography, and spend time with the dreamies in Seoul. The track itself brought DREAM to their softer, dance pop days, which was a refreshing throwback in between “We Go Up” and “Boom” (#JusticeForBoomOnTheKultSceneList). More collabs like “I Don’t Need Your Love,” please.
37. “We Don’t Talk Together” by Heize
In the midst of dropping her first studio album, She’s Fine, and an EP, Late Autumn; Heize gathered an all-star team featuring rapper Giriboy and producer SUGA of BTS fame to bring us the upbeat R&B track “We Don’t Talk Together.” From the smooth synth beats in the beginning of the song to the layering of Heize’s whimsical vocals, there were so many elements that came together to make a great song. Overall, the song has a light and airy feel to it but with Giriboy’s rap, a contrasting hardness was introduced creating a well-balanced song that is pleasing to listen to despite it being about a couple with communication problems.
36. “Shaker” by Sumin
Throughout the entirety of her 2019 album, “OO DA DA,” but never more so than on “Shaker” Sumin makes excellent use of her voice as an accompanying instrument. A variety of ad libs, each unique in sound and edit, counterpoint against her vocal, building layers to quite a stripped back song. It’s only two and a half minutes long, but these vocals and the repetitive, almost counting synth add a sense of constant movement. Sumin always feels like she’s innovating in the electro-pop/indie world, and “Shaker” feels like the most appropriate start to the best work of her career.
35. “Blue” by Ha Sungwoon
The former Wanna One member has consistently been impressive with his solo releases and the OSTs he has released throughout the year. “Blue” is an extremely catchy dance track that also successfully highlights Sungwoon’s powerful vocals, along with his delightful high notes. Though the base beat of the track is slow, Sungwoon manipulates it with ease, changing the speed of his notes to vary the intensity of the song. It is a masterful performance from Sungwoon with a charismatic dance performance as a cherry on top, and I’m excited to see where his artistry takes him next.
34. “Want” by Taemin
Some say seduction is an art; and well, it really does sound like it in Taemin’s “Want.” We’ve had a glimpse of Taemin’s elegant approach of love and sexuality before in singles like “Thirsty” and “Move.” This time, however, the songwriting choices make “Want” even more urgent and direct than the other ones. If “Thirsty” was all about sexual tension’s discharge and “Move” was more about the intoxicating allurement of watching your partner’s body moves than about any interaction at all, “Want” goes several steps further, as Taemin yearns for his partner to feel just as insatiable as he does. Taemin’s sensual entonement of the lyrics, supported by a disco instrumental filled with reverb sounds, and his most typically pop-esque usage of chord progressions so far, shows why the singer is king in making sex and seduction sound even more beautiful —in lyrics such as “I’m your eyes, I’ll make you see a new world”— hard to resist.
— Ana Clara
33. “Love Talk” by WayV
We know, we know. WayV isn’t exactly what we traditionally would consider a K-pop group, and “Love Talk” is an English language song sung by a group that mainly sings in Mandarin. But with at least four members being officially part of NCT (OT21 though, fight me!!), all of them training under SM Entertainment —the birther of K-pop groups as we know them— and the fact that they promoted on a Korean music show, they’ve earned their spot on a K-pop list. Now that that’s out of the way, “Love Talk,” started a frenzy on social media when it first dropped. Has a K-pop group ever been so explicit in their lyrics? Probably not, and we love WayV for it. Not to mention they pull them off unlike others (“Regular” and “Highway To Heaven” English versions, mainly) And the song itself, ain’t bad at all, with every member adding their own personality and vocal color. From Lucas’ husky rap to Xiaojun’s velvety yearns and Ten’s angelic high notes, to paraphrase their lyrics, doing what they do to us is a crime.
32. “Red” by The Rose
In spite of the experimental approach the band has towards their instrumentation this time around, this sound is unmistakably theirs, and its familiarity is extremely comforting. Woosung’s beautiful unique tone stands out as usual, especially since he got almost all the singing parts in this song, but the extraordinary control he has over his voice reflects his growth over the past year, both through the release of his solo album and his experience on JTBC’s “Superband.” The electronic instrumental riffs which pop up throughout the song is somewhat atypical of The Rose, who used to favour more naturalistic instrumental sounds, but it works extremely well to make this track pop.
31. “Nabi” by BIBI
After making it all the way to the finale of survival program The Fan where she first charmed the public with her distinguished voice and smashing stage presence, runner-up contestant BIBI has finally debuted! Signed under Feel Ghood Music, the rookie made her official solo debut with “Binu,” where her lyrics about washing away her sins with soap and sometimes monotonous, sometimes pitchy, but always intoxicating style was only an introduction to the cockeyed concepts that were to come. Enter “Nabi” only a month later. This time, the song approaches the capricious nature of love. A stock talking point in music, until you realize that this one does so through the lens of cat. BIBI’s free-spirited, fluid personality is reflected once again through her vocal agility, switching between highs and lows with ease and sustaining certain notes over others. The hook’s lo-fi drum beat is equally as chill; it’s just the support BIBI needs for her precocious vocals. She’s got that kind of voice that suits all kinds of genres, from R&B to indie, and if this fanciful voyage into her imagination is only the beginning, then we’re scared (in the best way possible) for more.
30. “Blueming” by IU
As “Love Poem” serves as the perfect wrap to the first decade of IU’s career, “Blueming” pays homage to the pop-rock wave that took the world by storm in the ‘80s. The track boasts a syrupy electric guitar, full syths, and a deep, percussive undertone with IU easily flexing her fluttery vocals. A play on the word blooming, “Blueming” also draws on the significance of a blue rose and its double meaning of an unattainable love and a promise of commitment in a relationship in which both are a testament to today’s dating culture. IU proves that she is trying her best to decipher the ins and outs of adulthood after conquering the insecurities voiced in her previous albums, Chat-shire and Palette.
29. “Make It Right” by BTS
When one of the biggest songwriters in the world writes a great song exclusively for you, you don’t say no. But if you’re BTS, one thing you won’t do it either is to take it without making it sound as if it has always been your own. Ed Sheeran might have been the mastermind behind “Make It Right,” but it’s the Korean septet’s unique touch that makes the song so good: their uniquely natural introduction of rap between the sections, as in RM’s; their clever exploration of the vocals of Jin, Jimin, V, Jungkook – and, this time, of the rapper J-Hope too, for the surprise of many! Also, the group’s thoughtful and inspired lyrics. Special highlights are SUGA’s emotional rap and J-Hope’s verse, which summarizes BTS’ purpose as artists for their fans: “The answer to my journey, I sing to find you.” This track had everything to be a typical, generic pop collaboration crafted for the mainstream, yet it’s just as in tune with BTS’ true roots as it could possibly be.
— Ana Clara
28. “No” by CLC
As previously mentioned in our 100 Best K-pop songs of the 2010s, nothing screamed (self) women empowerment than CLC’s “No.” They might not have set out with the intention of the song becoming an anthem, but it absolutely did! In a society where we’re so used to hearing “yes” instead of “no” to so many things, it was profoundly refreshing to have a song with a bunch of no’s. No, you won’t tell me how to dress. No you won’t tell me how I should look like, and, overall, no you shouldn’t ever tell me what to do. “No” is about not just about having confidence in, well, everything but with holding one’s self pride.
27. “Breathe” by AB6IX
In a big way, 2019 was the year of the super rookies, and one of those groups was undoubtedly AB6IX. After completing a very successful stint with Wanna One, Woojin and Daehwi joined MXM’s Youngmin and Donghyun, plus new member Woong, to form the first boy group to debut under Brand New Music. Knowing most of the members through their respective projects plus their participation on the second season of Produce 101, the expectations for AB6IX were high, and with their debut single “Breathe,” they delivered. The Daehwi penned, deep house track plays into each member’s strengths, like Woojin’s spitfire verses, Daehwi’s airy vocals in the chorus, and Woong’s much welcomed smooth tone. AB6IX represents the new generation of K-pop groups that self-produce, choreograph, and write and aim for the global market. And given that the group has already announced a world tour for 2020, we can safely say it’s working well for them thus far.
26. “Face” by Woosung
Ask me how many times I found myself humming “I like your face” this summer. Actually, it’s an embarrassing amount of times, so please don’t but correct me if I’m wrong, I’m inclined to say that “Face” by Woosung (from The Rose) had one of the catchiest hooks of 2019. It’s memorable and heightens the chorus along with the background bass. As someone who listens to The Rose and is utterly obsessed with soulful and emotional ballads, you didn’t have to watch the music video to know that Woosung had a ball making this song. It’s a light and playful song which made it all the more entertaining and appealing.
25. “We Must Love” by ONF
ONF have cultivated something of a fruitful partnership with producers Monotree, since the group’s debut. Together they make dramatic and EDM heavy songs about intense relationships. Monotree have edited their vocals in such a way that they have their real voices alongside auto tuned versions of them. In “Complete,” it was the members as incomplete people, in “Why” it goes too far and begins to take over them, “We Must Love” is the bridge between these two. The auto tune still mirrors them like in “Complete,” but there’s the slightest feeling of that voice also trying to rip itself out of them on “We Must Love;” it’s a warning of what is to come after. Monotree make things more exciting with subtle shifts in each chorus that have an added bonus of adding to the slight feeling of anxiety. Where “Complete” is euphoric, “Why” fearful, “We Muse Love” is at once hopeful and desperate.
24. “Love Poem” by IU
There is no song that hits quite as hard this year as the gentle, mellifluous “Love Poem” by IU. A warm blanket of a piano-based ballad, the singer offers comfort to listeners, promising to sing alongside them as a source of solace and company. Arriving just a few days after the loss of her close friend Sulli, the release of “Love Poem” felt immensely intimate, and also a reflection of IU’s heartwarming approach to her life and relationships.
23. “I Think I” by Super Junior
The stakes were high for Super Junior’s comeback this year. It would be their first as a “full” lineup since 2011’s “Mr. Simple” after all the members completed their military service and would follow a handful of singles catering to their Latin American fan base. But instead of building on what they started with “One More Time (Otra Vez)” and “Lo Siento,” Suju went back to what they’re known for with their lead single. “Super Clap” was a very on-the-nose dance track in line with every other dance track they’ve done throughout their career, but the pre-release “I Think I” takes the crown for being the better version of the group formed with nine thirty-somethings. “I Think I” does feature a light Latin-inspired vibe, but relies more heavily on the jazzier, funkier melodies and harmonies. Much like the entire album, “I Think I” is a safe track that was probably crafted to resonate with ELF, their fandom, the most. But just because they aren’t pushing genre boundaries doesn’t mean they didn’t deliver a strong track that reminds audiences just why Super Junior is still active —and thriving— 15 years into their career.
22. “Feel Special” by TWICE
First we were getting “Fancy” and now we “Feel Special.” TWICE has once again cranked out another feel-good pop tune produced by JYP. The song starts off with some funky synth beats and, much to our surprise, rapper Chaeyeon singing the opening verse. As the song builds to the chorus, the lyrics go from the subject of being lonely with little self-worth to recognizing how someone lifts up their spirit and ultimately makes them feel special. The vocals during the chorus are uplifting and bright, driving home the theme of the song. During the bridge, the beat drops as Dahyun delivers a solid rap verse leading back to the chorus to close out the song. “Feel Special” is just one of those happy-go-lucky songs that brings warm vibes with every listen.
21. “Platform 9 and 3/4 (Run Away)” by TXT
It’s been a magical debut year for the boys of TOMORROW X TOGETHER, and their fantastical, Harry Potter-inspired “Platform 9 and ¾ (Run Away)” further gave us a glimpse into their artistry. With a flare for inspiring, upbeat electro-pop tunes, “Run Away” takes a turn towards the rock side of things and uses the dynamic as a platform over which distorted, Auto-Tuned versions of the quintet’s voices emote about the “magic named ‘us’.”
20. “Flash” by X1
As someone who no longer watches competitive music shows —the heartbreak is too much to handle at this age— it’s always a joyous occasion when one of your favorites makes it into the group. So, of course, my anticipation was already at a high prior to X1’s release of “Flash. It wasn’t long into the song (maybe a solid 3.5 seconds) and I uttered the words “issa bop” out loud in awe and fascination because in all of its entirety, it truly is. “Flash” accelerated at full speed and was an exceedingly compelling track from beginning to end. The dub-step heavily influenced the song, giving the breaks a powerful punch. Much like its title, it all happened in a “Flash” and even after a hundred and something listens, I’m still grasping each piece and am not over it.
19. “Time Of Our Life” by DAY6
Their first title track of the year seven months after their last, “Time Of Our Life” was a welcome return for the band, and it memorably became the first track to net them music show wins. DAY6 has always thrived in concert settings, where they’re able to really receive the energy of their fans and unleash it out on their various instruments. The fun that they have on stage is unmistakable, and it is fitting that one of their most successful releases to date plays on this concert energy. Its lyrics speak of the excitement and anticipation that the band feels as they prepare to perform for their fans, and captures the idea of that precious page of life that DAY6 and their fans share in this beautiful period of youth. With its higher, lighter instrumentation, it is an extremely cheerful and enjoyable track that will definitely leave you with a smile, if not singing along.
18. “Snapping” by Chung Ha
Chung Ha brought us not only one of the best songs of the year, but one of the best songs of the decade with “Snapping.” A song about ridding yourself of feelings towards an ex with just a snap (if only things in life were that easy); “Snapping” radiates ample amounts of attitude and sass. Chung Ha did a wonderful job with her vocals, portraying a more sultry sound in the verses and bridge and then bursting with power in the chorus. Mirroring the vocals, the song itself also goes through high and lows creating an interesting pace as the song progresses.
17. “Loca” by Favorite
Girl group Favorite kicked off 2019 just as winter was in full-effect (at least in the Northeast region of the United States) with a tropical house influenced dance track with a slight Latin twist “Loca.” Sometimes you don’t need meaningful lyrics to make a song good, every now and then all you really need is an energetic and hypnotic rhythm. “Loca” is exactly that because although the lyrics are a bit lackluster (with the exception of the addictive “na loca loca loca”) as soon as the first beat dropped, the deal was sealed —you’re instantly hooked. There’s no way you can stop swaying once you’ve listened.
16. “Noir” by Sunmi
Branching off of songs like “Gashina” and “Siren,” Sunmi’s early 2019 release “Noir” delivered a dark synth-pop song that describes the deterioration of a relationship. Throughout the song, the word noir is being referenced to, which in this case can correlate to noir films in black and white films pertaining to that they are dull, old, or in the past; like the relationship being described in the song. And Sunmi plays up this theme very well with her nonchalant, almost indifferent sounding vocals, which have a haunting sound that blend well with the synths and electric drums giving it a retro sound without feeling old.
15. “Psycho” by Red Velvet
Lifted by soft R&B coupled with trap stylings, “Psycho” zooms into our Top 15 in spite of its late December release. Red Velvet takes an eery and very much welcome turn from the bright zaniness of fellow 2019 releases “Zimzalabim” and “Umpah Umpah” on this track. Instead, “Psycho” calls back to Red Velvet’s infamous “Bad Boy” days, singing about being completely in love one second, and fighting with your lover the next. Starting with dollhouse horror-style leaps and riffs, the song moves quickly into the trap-driven verses, adding some brass in the chorus for rhythmic complexity and sonic impact. While the song has all the signatures of a Red Velvet song—most notably, the Irene-and-Yeri rap immediately following the first chorus—it is Wendy and Seulgi’s falsetto performance in the pre-chorus that lifts the song to new heights. While I do want to note that the “you got me feeling like a psycho” refrain might have some ableist connotations, the release as a whole shows that Red Velvet’s versatility should not be underestimated, especially with a new decade on the horizon.
14. “Boy With Luv” by BTS feat. Halsey
I’ll be honest — when I first listened to “Boy With Luv” I easily dismissed the BTS single as unimpressive pop unable to measure up to the same integrity they had when they were still considered K-pop’s underdogs, or even from only a couple years ago. Little did I know that the sunny funk-pop tune rife with disco basslines and cruising verses would burrow its way into my inner ear and set up home there indefinitely. After all, who can resist the way vocal line skips around the pre-chorus with little effort or the cheesy enthusiasm in the explosive choruses? Even American singer-songwriter Halsey’s feature came as a welcomed surprise, naturally dissolving into Jungkook and Jimin’s tenors while still playing up her femininity. Although her part is limited, it’s probably the most memorable and invites listeners to sing along: “oh my my my, oh my my my.” Her subtle harmonies are how features should be done, not reserved for a jarring second verse or bridge and definitely not for the sake of an overseas collaboration. Save for Suga’s experimental trap-infused raps, “Boy With Luv” sets itself apart from the group’s past enterprises by eschewing trends and sticking to good clean fun melodies instead. The result is sure to withstand the test of time.
13. “Valkyrie” by ONEUS
This is probably one of the strongest K-pop debuts I have ever seen in my 10 years of being a fan. Their performance is so polished, their raps and vocals are on point, the instrumentation is extremely subtle and catchy —I was a fan from the moment this track began to play. “Valkyrie” and its concept are not particularly new to male K-pop groups, but its execution is flawless here. Leedo, in particular, caught my eye, because of his versatility and his impressive skill at both singing and rapping. In terms of vocal ability, each member fulfills a different role with their varying timbres, and they complement each other well. ONEUS has been busy since this debut with other releases in 2019, but their boundless potential leaves me excited for their future.
12. “Miroh” by Stray Kids
For someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy EDM or “future” genres, “Miroh” can be a little intense. Actually, intense is an understatement. But look past the warped synths and obnoxious beat drops, music purists, and you just might be able to appreciate the galvanizing energy and call to arms lyrics enough to make up for any prejudices. With the song’s use of animal vocalizations (the majestic call of a hawk comes to mind), “Stray Kids” warcries, and Congolese-inspired chants throughout the climaxes, any listener would feel as if they had just embarked for some kind of wilderness adventure. Anyone would feel amped up. Stray Kids never seem to fail in the hype department, but for being able to let out the beast within all of us, including those who were slow to love, they earn extra marks here.
11. “Bon Bon Chocolat” by Everglow
Everglow exploded onto the scene with multi-dimensional “Bon Bon Chocolat.” While blending electric EDM synths and robust hip-hop beats isn’t new to K-pop, Everglow manages to deliver the trend in a novel way through a clap-heavy pre-chorus and a peculiar, trap-influenced chorus. Everglow’s voices contrast the beat’s intensity with softer tones but still keep listeners captivated with their melodies and impudent chants. The song’s lyrics are as much of a call to confidence as its beat with the group expressing their excitement for debuting and taking their place in K-pop. The ladies lived up to their lyrics’ message charting both domestically and internationally.
10. “Pinky Star” by GWSN
Never has forgetting about a group’s debut happened so quickly and in such necessary fashion. GWSN’s “Puzzle Moon” from last year was a well-produced but generic foray into deep house. “Pink Star” is similar, but so much more lavish and detailed, proving for GWSN that more is better. A skittering sharp beat accompanies a bell-like synth that’s interlaced with dubs and other synths. The members are appropriately staccato in this first verse, which contrasts well with the following pre-chorus filled with the breathy voices of Seoryoung and Lena. The genius of this song lies in its quite long chorus, though. In order to get the best out of a house track they not only have the dancey, melody heavy chorus of “Runner, I’m runner,” but that also leads again into a hook heavy chorus. It’s the best of both worlds and it absolutely works thanks to great range of voices in GWSN, the dramatic vocals of Seoryoung and the sweet but matter of fact words of Miya, Seokyung, and Anne.
9. “Come See Me” by AOA
For a long time, AOA’s brand relied mostly on the members’ looks (“the pretty girls are AOA,” rapper Jimin used to chant). And while they’re still as beautiful as ever, in 2019 the group proved for once to be much more than that. “Come See Me” is AOA’s second comeback without ChoA and first without Mina, and was released in the last weeks of 2019, just in time to crown a year in which they shone in the reality show “Queendom.” It’s almost ironic that the song combines nostalgic elements, like western movies soundtrack features, and a chord progression that evokes the sound of previous generation’s K-pop girl groups such as T-ARA; but still sounds perfect to showcase the growth of AOA. While some of the group’s remarkable traits are still there (like an ultra catchy and repetitive hook, and Jimin’s famous “Hey!”), “Come See Me” shows a more mature and united AOA in a much more powerful performance, with a “love in the dark” type of vibe. The pretty girls are, after all, fascinating women as well.
— Ana Clara
8. “Obsession” by EXO
Upon first listen, “Obsession” is an absolutely wild listening experience. And that’s precisely the point: the song is a discordant tune that vacillates between smooth moments and grating ones, with EXO warring with themselves, or rather their X-EXO clones. A conversation between two oppositional forces, the single has all the best of EXO – pristine production, layered harmonizing, dynamic dance breakdowns, and sleek R&B elements – and turns things on their head with all the quirky digital modulations bringing the song, and EXO’s artistry, to new heights.
7. “Crown” by TXT
Being the first group launched by Big Hit Entertainment after BTS, and still on the trail of their seniors’ legendary success and impact, the expectations for TXT’s debut were high. Nevertheless, the group responded in the best way possible: embracing their position of legatees of today’s greatest fictional content developers in the music industry (BTS with their Bangtan Universe), but also as teenagers and rookie artists. A new jack swing song with summery electropop vibes, and cute lyrics about a boy who has to get used to growing horns in his head, “Crown” is amazing exactly because it doesn’t try too hard. It’s fun, fresh, and youthful; with just enough storytelling to give TXT’s’ artistry a bit more of meaning, but not too much to the point that it would sound pretentious.
— Ana Clara
6. “PIRI” by Dreamcatcher
Masters of mixing dance pop and rock genres, Dreamcatcher brought us another gem with their early 2019 release “PIRI.” Being the last installment of their nightmare concept, “PIRI” brings an eerie and somewhat frantic vibe with the lyrics, which describe a feeling of helplessness, and the desperate cry for help, which is represented by the flute. The beats are fast-paced and the girls do a great job changing up their vocal styles for the different parts of the song. The chorus is as powerful as ever along with the rock track reaching its climax, SiYeon and SuA’s vocals expressing the desperation represented in the lyrics. Not to be out done, the rap verses by Dami and hooks are heavy and dark in contrast to the light sounds of the flute. Dreamcatcher is one of the few groups to go 100 percent with their concepts and execute them near flawlessly.
5. “Gotta Go” by Chung Ha
Although the trap-inspired production of “Gotta Go” is cool and catchy enough, it’s Chung Ha’s vocals that make the song worth listening to many times. The melody on the chorus just slides and develops in such a satisfying way, with Chung Ha holding a note over the charmer flute hook, making the section truly hypnotic. Opening her second full year as a solo artist with “Gotta go,” Chung Ha seems to have found her sound and secured her name as one of today’s main K-pop divas.
— Ana Clara
4. “Fancy” by TWICE
Whenever TWICE and the songwriting duo Black Eyed Pilseung (“Like Ooh-Ahh,” “Cheer Up,” “TT,” “Likey”) come together on a project, it’s guaranteed to succeed. This was no exception here. “Fancy” retains the group’s trademark cloying vocals and bouncy pep in the choruses, but unlike their previous hits, that’s really where it ends. Rather, for much of the song’s entirety, there’s a sophisticated edge in their tone that can only come from doing this for years. This holistic sound rests on a bed of sultry, retro synth riffs and lurching tempos evocative of the now defunct JYP girl group, miss A, before shifting into the sticky hooks that we so “fancy” about TWICE. There are no bad TWICE songs, but this foray into more mature styling just may be their best to date.
3. “Focus On Me” by Jus2
Can we talk about how Jus2 became the duo we never knew we needed and how “Focus On Me” is the thot anthem we didn’t deserve but thankfully got in 2019? Stemming from GOT7, seeing Im Jae Beom and Kim Yu Gyeom pair off as a duo was a pleasant surprise, as through their EP Focus and especially on this title track “Focus On Me,” listeners were able to see their vocal range and diverse tones. Both members exuded just the right amount of appeal and seductiveness and modulated their tones to give off a serene and relaxed environment, to compliment the images that are being painted throughout the song.
2. “%% (Eung Eung)” by Apink
Apink started off the year with the release of “%%,” and it’s a song that has been impossible to stop listening to over the 12 months of 2019. Though they used to be known for their bright and innocent musical concepts, this song and last year’s “I’m So Sick” have showed the world what it means to be Apink at the end of the decade: a girl group maturing musically as they members age. A blend of atmospheric and addicting digital elements drive “%%,” and the sleek song exudes confidence as the members sing about not compromising in relationships, never settling because it feels like it’s something a person should be doing. Impactful and addicting, “%%” has us saying “Eung Eung” to it for all eternity.
1. “You Calling My Name” by GOT7
There are two things that GOT7 has trained us to expect from them with their comebacks: complex, intense choreographies and high energy dance tracks. And we got that with “Eclipse” earlier this year, but GOT7 turned the tables on everyone with their second release of the year, “You Calling My Name.” Fans had been begging the group for a sexy concept for the longest time, and though the group teased it, nothing could have prepared any of us for what they put out: a yearnful, ridiculously smooth yet funky alt-R&B gem performed in pleather suits, complete with waist and thigh caressing moves and bedroom eyes for three minutes and 14 seconds straight. But most importantly, we got the chorus drop that broke the internet (Jinyoung’s breathy falsetto alone deserves a daesang!). Going into their sixth year active, “You Calling My Name” is the culmination of each member’s artistry as performers. Both the vocal and rap verses are sleek and perfectly in sync with each other without being monotonous, instead, their deliveries go down easy —the best they’ve sounded yet on a single.
“You Calling My Name” doesn’t sound nor look like anything the group had done before — it actually seemed more in line with what Jus2 did earlier in the year,— but it did open the door to a more mature and sophisticated side to them that is welcomed as we head into a new decade. The shift is reminiscent of when they changed things up and delivered probably their best single to date “If You Do,” and now “You Calling My Name” right up there with it. GOT7 did not come to play with “You Calling My Name.” They were out for blood, and hopefully 2020 will bring them the recognition they are long overdue for.
What was your favorite K-pop song this year? Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.