K-pop & SoundCloud: An idol’s safe haven

jay b v taeyong soundcloud jb jaebeom taehyung idol nct bts got7

By Rachel Collucci

K-pop idols, such as Taeyong, Jay B, and V, are all creatives. However, within their groups, their personal sense of creativity can’t always thrive. The most dedicated fans are already aware of this side of these idols, but it is a side that the general public often does not see. Enter SoundCloud

Since its launch in 2008, SoundCloud has gained a reputation as one of the biggest music sharing platforms on the internet. The site allows artists, both big and small, to share their music on a global scale and has even given some of the biggest artists popular today their start. For K-pop fans, SoundCloud holds a world of treasures. 

Although idols creating SoundCloud accounts is nothing new, it has become a more prevalent part of certain idols’ identities in recent years. SoundCloud has become a safe haven, a place to express and experiment with music in a way they don’t always have the chance to with their respective groups. 

For the aforementioned members of prominent K-pop groups like BTS, GOT7, and NCT, SoundCloud has proven to be a space for them to share with the world their own style. Though they’re far from the only K-pop stars, or even members of their own groups to use the site, these three exemplify the trend as they use SoundCloud to share musical aspects of themselves not typically revealed through their respective band’s musicality.  

Taeyong From NCT, NCT 127, & SuperM

Recently, an idol’s SoundCloud that has been gaining attention is NCT and SuperM’s Taeyong. After teasing unreleased songs during his livestreams on the app V Live, Taeyong created his account and released these songs for fans to enjoy. His latest release, “Swimming Pool,” may be the most emotional song on his account since, gaining over 1.32 million streams to date.

Although Taeyong has had a song officially released through SM, “Long Flight,” his choice to upload his songs one by one on SoundCloud rather than through the company or on a compiled mixtape is an intriguing choice. When he released said track back in 2019 through SM Station, the song received promotions and even a music video. However, Taeyong’s SoundCloud has remained off of NCT’s official accounts, with only the artist himself announcing his new tracks, usually through Instagram. The only indication of his SoundCloud on any official SM account is from a recent vlog uploaded onto NCT’s YouTube channel, where Taeyong gives a behind-the-scenes look at developing the concept for his recent track “Rose (feat. Seulgi).”

Songs featured on Taeyong’s SoundCloud are filled with raw emotion, both in their lyrics and in his ability to capture his feelings vocally. Taeyong has earned writer’s credits on a few NCT songs, including the love songs “Baby Don’t Like It” and “Whiplash.” However, Taeyong’s SoundCloud is almost the opposite, where most of his songs are discussing himself. He explores themes of expressing one’s emotions and the need to let them out, such as in his song “Blue.” On “Dark Clouds,” he sings, “In between the black clouds/The whales that sprout out light/All the planktons inside it are born from the stars to shine on you,” painting an image of suffering from dark times, but having bits of positivity peaking through. In a recent V Live, Taeyong shared that “Swimming Pool” was about how he felt at the beginning of the year, of being trapped in a dark, unsure headspace, emphasizing how his recent releases directly relay his own thoughts and feelings.

With SoundCloud, Taeyong is honest about his mindset. More specifically, how he has been struggling with his mental health and life in general. He is giving listeners a peak into his mind. While he is open about his struggles, he still offers comfort by letting them know that these feelings are okay to have and should be expressed. On this platform, Taeyong has not only taken on the role of songwriter,  producer, and composer, but also marketer, art director, and seemingly everything that comes with releasing a song. Unlike his official releases with NCT, Taeyong is now in total control. Listeners get to see a side of Taeyong that has existed all along but now can flourish with very little holding him back. 

Taeyong’s personal voice on his SoundCloud account is more vulnerable than the voice we hear with NCT. While NCT have their fair share of emotional songs in their discography, the general public knows them more so for their upbeat hype songs. With little to no worries of the burdens associated with promoting an official release, Taeyong’s SoundCloud is all about the music and his vision. The lack of promotions means that Taeyong can focus on the music — music that is created for himself and his fanbase. Most of the English translations for his songs have been provided by fans, which gives fans the opportunity to interpret Taeyong’s in a way that relates to them. 


Also on KultScene: 2PM’S COMEBACK, 2ND GEN NOSTALGIA, & BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO OLDER K-POP ACTS

Jay B From GOT7

Like Taeyong’s SoundCloud, Jay B, whose SoundCloud is dubbed Def, has used his account in the past to share music different from most GOT7 official tracks. Songs such as “Sunrise” and his sub-unit work on Jus2 and JJ Project have been some of the few official releases more similar to what fans would find on his account. ​​Many of GOT7’s tracks have heavy instrumentals, leaning towards a sound that is a mix of pop, hip-hop, R&B, and EDM. Sure, the group’s sound has matured, from their debut track “Girls, Girls, Girls” to their most recent release “Last Piece,” but it has consistently remained in the realm of the pop forward genre. As the leader of GOT7, Jay B would ultimately have a hand in the songs that GOT7 would release, but not the final say. 

For example, through V Live, Jay B has shared instances where his demos were drastically changed by JYP Entertainment, the group’s former label. His demo for what would become GOT7’s lead track “Eclipse” went through many changes before becoming the song included on their mini-album Spinning Top. From changes to lyrics and instrumentals, the vibes of the two versions are starkly different. Jay B’s version is more laid back in comparison, and built more around R&B and alternative-pop elements. Like in the original demo, Jay B’s productions focus on the vocals rather than being performance-oriented instrumentals, which is the forefront of most of GOT7’s title tracks. 

Now that GOT7 has left JYPE, it has allowed the members to explore solo projects. Signing with H1GHR MUSIC, Jay B has begun the transition from idol to pop-R&B artist, releasing official music that rings similar to what he has produced and shown on his SoundCloud. His first single, “Switch It Up,” gives a taste of the music listeners can expect from Jay B in the future. But having his SoundCloud as a reference, this transition is no surprise. SoundCloud allowed Jay B to explore his own style while still being a part of GOT7. Now, Jay B is able to further explore this style, and bring this aspect of himself to center stage, rather than keeping it on the side. 

“Switch It Up” fits in with tracks like “Be With You” and “Come Back To Me.” All of Jay B’s SoundCloud tracks are similar in genre, heavy with lo-fi beats and soulful vocals. Much of the subject matter for Jay B’s songs have to do with relationships, but take a deeper look at the emotional aspects that come with love and sex. While Jay B’s lyrics in songs such as “Sunrise” and “Come Back To Me” are similar, they carry their messages differently. “Sunrise” discusses a great love, with lyrics such as “My forever sunrise/Sunshine above my head/An angel for me/Hold my hand and leave,” while “Come Back To Me” is more somber in its tone and carries the message of yearning for a lost love. We see this in the lyrics, “So much time has passed but/I want to stop giving up/Come back to me now/I still need you.” Jay B’s SoundCloud tracks carry more nuance in its emotions, in both their lyrical and instrumental compositions. We also hear this emotion in his vocals — it’s more raw, less fine-tuned, and a bit more blunt in their message than that we would hear in official releases. 

SoundCloud has provided a space for Jay B to showcase his original, unaltered work and tap into subject matters that can be deemed risqué for idol music, which is more representative of him as an authentic artist. His SoundCloud allows him to explore these subjects with only his hands touching them. 


Also on KultScene: BEST BTS SOUNDCLOUD SONGS

V From BTS

While BTS have often been credited as a self-produced group for their songwriting and producing of their formal releases, their SoundCloud account has become an outlet for members to explore other sides that fans often do not see through the group’s work. BTS’ SoundCloud is home to many covers and special releases for fans — namely gifts during their annual FESTA, a celebration marking the anniversary of their debut. While all the members of BTS have uploaded their individual songs onto the account, even before the band’s debut in 2013, V has been able to tap into a side of himself that is, in a word, beautiful. 

While his songwriting has been credited to official group works (“Blue & Grey” from BE), their SoundCloud account holds a vulnerable side of V that many may not be aware of. 

“Blue & Grey” is a song about feelings of sadness and depression, particularly during 2020 and the pandemic. It is a deep subject matter, carried out by a guitar, to give fans a beautiful pop ballad. The instrumental and vocal harmonies from the members only amplify the serious meaning of the song, creating a song that is chill inducing. 

On BTS’ SoundCloud, though V’s songs have similar instrumentals and tone as “Blue & Grey,” their subject matters are vastly different. His songs, “Scenery” and “Winter Bear,” are not only a testament to his songwriting ability, but tie in other creative sides to him. “Scenery” plays on V’s love for photography and how he uses the song to capture a moment to remember, but as he does with his pictures. The music video for “Winter Bear” also taps into his role as director (as stated in the music video’s credits) and further showcases this creativity, by featuring footage taken by V himself. While “Blue & Grey” is a universal song for everyone to relate to with a darker subject matter, the songs by V on SoundCloud are personal, and a great introduction to who he is exactly. 

These are aspects of V that the public may not see at first glance, but one that posting his songs on SoundCloud has allowed him to express and show. V is known for his baritone vocals, being more on the quiet side during interviews, but letting his quirky personality shine when he does speak. To the general public, they may not realize that past the surface lies a creative soul. SoundCloud has provided fans the chance to get to know V more, and for V to embrace these sides of himself. BTS’ songs show who V is, while SoundCloud shows us Taehyung. 

A New Era

Going forward, we could expect more K-pop idols to use SoundCloud as a way of personal expression. It has already proven to be a powerful outlet for Taeyong, Jay B, and V, who allow the walls put up by idoldom to come down — or at least chip on them. SoundCloud has provided them a creative outlet that allows them unprecedented freedom in their careers, and these three artists have shown that it could very well be an essential part of idol life. Sonically, K-pop is the mix of many genres and concepts, but with companies having their hands dipped in their group’s music, the creativity peak that some idols could achieve is curtailed. 

Jay B, Taeyong, and V each showcase how SoundCloud can be a tool for idols’ true personas to co-exist with their personas on stage. It allows for the chance to explore new sounds and themes in their music, without the worry of needing to please a certain audience. While many of their accounts are accessed by fans, the music posted is ultimately for the artists themselves more than anyone else. It could very well inspire other idols to do the same and start a new era of creativity and self expression in the K-pop industry that has not been seen before. SoundCloud allows for more creative growth, and in turn more creative freedom. 

SoundCloud has allowed for not only the artists to be their true selves, but for fans to get to know who these K-pop idols truly are. It opens the door for a deeper understanding of not only who these idols are, but where they stand creatively. With there being no pressure that comes from an official release, K-pop idols have free range in terms of the music and the message they want their fans to hear — if they choose to share their accounts. Those who have, are already thriving from them, and with the warm reception that they have received from fans, we can either expect more idols to post their SoundClouds, or the bridging of the music posted on these accounts to become official releases in the future. It’s music on their own terms.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our articles.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more, please consider contributing to KultScene’s writers fund. KultScene’s writers are compensated for their work, time, and insight. Email us for more details.

Omega X’s ‘Vamos’ mini album review

OMEGA X vamos kpop debut review album mini
Courtesy of Spire Entertainment

By Júlia Henn

Giving up when something does not go the way we hoped it would might be most people’s first instinct. Well, not for the members of Spire Entertainment’s newest boy group, Omega X. All 11 of them come from the same scenario in the K-pop industry: they were part of groups that are currently inactive or have disbanded, or, in some cases, never even got the chance to debut.

Each of the 11 has a particular story in this industry, but some of them were not strangers to each other before joining Spire Entertainment. Xen and Jehyun were members of the group 1TEAM, which disbanded on March 2021; Kevin, Junghoon, and Hyuk were part of the group ENOi, which also announced disbandment early this year; Jaehan, – the eldest in Omega X – and Taedong were both contestants on the second season of the K-pop survival reality show Produce 101, placing 75th and 30th. Also, they were also part of the now defunct boy groups SPECTRUM and GIDONGDAE, respectively.  

As for the remaining members, Hwichan is still part of the currently inactive group Limitless; Sebin is a member of the inactive SNUPER; Hangyeom placed 6th on the survival reality show Miximine – which later canceled the debut of the winning contestants –, and was a member of the now disbanded Seven O’Clock; and the maknae, Yechan, ended up in 4th place on the reality show Under Nineteen, debuting as a member of the group 1THE9, which had its disbandment announced on August 2020.

In a business as competitive as K-pop, where young people with a dream train for years for the opportunity of someday making their big break, where new groups debut (and fail) every day, it is hard enough to secure a first chance when it comes your way. But a second chance, it is practically a miracle, and the boys of Omega X are eager to prove they deserve it.


Also on KultScene: LOOKING BACK AT THE LEGACY OF K-POP COMPETITION SHOW ‘PRODUCE 101’

Now, they finally have the opportunity to prove themselves and show the world what they are made of with Vamos, their first mini album that brings together heavy hip-pop and EDM beats along with Latin rhythms. About the group’s expectations, Jaehan says on the group’s press release, “The 11 of us are thrilled about the release of Vamos, our new start, and meeting the fans.” Regarding the process of making the album, he adds: “We poured our hearts into this album, and now we’re ready to share that energy with our fans.”

With only five tracks on the EP, each of them showcases a different layer of the group, each song allowing the listener to understand a bit more who Omega X are. For those who are just being introduced to them, it is a chance to get to know their personalities and particularities; for old fans of the boys, it is a chance to appreciate a different side of them in a new journey.

The first track is “OX Win Ha!,” which if you have watched their Youtube reality show Loading – One More Chanx, you might have recognized it as their group slogan. This is an instrumental track filled with energy and featuring samples of shots being fired, which make you feel like you have been hit by the intensity of their music. In mere 42 seconds, Omega X already manages to make a statement of their power and intensity. 

Next we have the title track “Vamos,” filled with strong beats and a melody that mixes Latin rhythms, hip-hop, and pop together, which is reflected in its multilingual lyrics, with parts in English and Spanish, besides Korean. It is a dancing track that presents the best the group has to offer – be it vocals, rap, or choreography, as it is noticeable from the music video. The music video for the song is a celebration in itself; colorful, stylish, and fast. It doesn’t offer a storyline but, instead, quality entertainment.


The third track on the album is “Ice Tag.” While still keeping up the energy the group has already made it clear it has to spare, this album cut is not as intense as the two previous tracks — it’s sexier. Both in rhythm and in lyrics, which might feel like a call back to the sensation of flirting with someone at a party, a feeling more perceptible in parts such as “Before the city lights go out, let’s run away just the two of us.” Arguably the most romantic song on the album, “Ice Tag” is a banger.

The second-to-last track on the EP is the self-titled “Omega X.” This EDM piece is a sibling to “OX Win Ha!” Both songs fulfill the same role, which is to show the world who are Omega X in all their powerful, intense, and determined glory, reminiscent of a group that so wishes to prove themselves. Thanks to the confident lyrics and the crowd vocals effect present in the chorus, giving an epic feeling to the tune, “Omega X” is even more powerful and successful in its mission than the album’s first track.      

Closing out the very first mini album of a group is not an easy task, but “Younger” seems to be the perfect choice for it. With an innocent child’s laugh playing, the track shows it is the most different and personal song on “Vamos” from the first few seconds, and it is also the only piece on the EP with lyrics by the members. A sweet and hopeful melody cradles lines that talk about staying young and enjoying the best moments of our youth. It is a message that certainly carries a special weight for a group formed by boys who are being given a second chance to achieve their dreams.


Also on KultScene: GUIDE TO EXO AS SOLOISTS: CELEBRATING 9 YEARS TOGETHER

Overall Thoughts

One thing that gets clear once you get to know Omega X is that they might have preferences but are never stuck in a specific role. For example, Yechan has a great singing voice, but at some moments shares the rapper role with Hangyeom, who shines in the lowest parts of the songs on the EP. Same goes for Xen. Even in a group with so many members, everyone has something to add to the dynamic and shine for their versatility — a trait that will come in handy in determining the longevity of the group.

Overall, Vamos is a solid debut mini album, managing to showcase both the strengths and tenderness of the artists. During their reality show, the boys mentioned they wanted to have a concept that was pure, sexy, and fresh. And with this album, they got their wish granted. Listening to Vamos is an opportunity to get to know a new K-pop group that is bound to be successful, thanks to their determination, talent, and camaraderie.

Omega X's "Vamos"
4.5

How did you like Omega X’s Vamos? Before you dive into the mini album, let us know how much you liked his latest releases! And don’t forget to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more, please consider contributing to KultScene’s writers fund. KultScene’s writers are compensated for their work, time, and insight. Email us for more details.

Guide to EXO as soloists: celebrating 9 years together

exo tempo anniversary debut

By Chyenne Tatum

As a group, EXO’s built quite the resume over the last nine years: they’re known to be an incredible powerhouse group from their vocal prowess to their catchy pop hits and their elaborate concert performances. But as a mainstay in K-pop, the group has ventured out to multiple fields beyond idol music. They’ve also conquered the fashion world by partnering with high-end brands such as Gucci and have been invited to fashion shows for others like Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton. Many of the members have also acquired critical acclaim through acting in films, dramas, and musicals. And if that weren’t impressive enough, they’ve become a quintuple million-selling group starting from 2013’s Growl up until 2018’s Don’t Mess Up My Tempo.

Like many other acts under SM Entertainment, EXO had an experimental concept that worked in a lot of ways and didn’t go quite as planned in others. Regardless of the setbacks they faced, each year since their 2012 debut brought new successes and greater opportunities to explore deeper sides of themselves as a group. So when fans’ inevitable questions came up regarding potential solo opportunities, it was never a question of “if” they could, but “when” and exactly “what” would that sound like?

Now that they’re nearly a decade into their careers, we finally have answers to those questions. Through the lens of each member, we’re able to get a better glimpse of the person underneath the “EXO image” and embrace his creativity — although, for some, it’s one and the same. This is a guide, recap, and overall celebration of how EXO’s soloists (with full albums or EPs) have taken the reigns in their careers and sculpted a distinct sound and image to suit their tastes.

Baekhyun: The R&B Connoisseur

Starting with the member who’s arguably garnered the most prominent solo praise in South Korea with nearly two million albums sold, Baekhyun currently has four EPs: three sung in Korean and one in Japanese. His debut with City Lights in 2019 marked a departure from the 28-year-old’s comical personality, and instead opted for a darker R&B and electro-pop showcase with just the slightest hint of his usual playfulness (“Betcha”). Baekhyun’s unforgivable lungs of steel allow him to experiment with different tones in his voice and a range of emotions, from sugar-coated singles like “Candy” to the dripping sensuality of his newest release, “Bambi.”

Truthfully, Baekhyun’s solo career could’ve been a toss-up considering how well-versed he is in various styles — he could’ve taken a more pop route or maybe even soft ballads. However, his sound is almost entirely rooted in R&B, hip-hop, and the occasional coffee shop tune, cementing himself as an all-around, fully recognized entertainer, and even channeling his inner MJ and Maxwell along the way. It’s the reason why he’s now known as the “Genius Idol” among industry peers who respect him and his craft. Every inflection in his voice, cheeky smile at the camera, and smooth dance step is all by design, so if R&B and jazz are your vibes, Baekhyun’s discography will surely be your haven.


Also on KultScene: SUPER M’S ‘SUPER ONE’ SONG RANKING

Chen: Korea’s Ballad Dream

If there are two things that best define Chen’s artistry, it’s breathtaking high notes and soothing ballads. Whereas Baekhyun’s voice is full of character and depth, Chen’s is even more agile and refined, carefully tip-toeing the line of power and delicacy. 


As EXO’s second soloist, Chen favored the more subdued route for his debut with “Beautiful Goodbye” and its accompanying EP, April and a Flower, in 2019. The album in its entirety is poetic at best and focuses on stories of heartache, as songs like “Portrait Of You” and “I’ll Be There” start with a soft piano and gradually build to a soaring crescendo with Chen’s captivating belts leading the way. His second installment — Dear My Dear — on the other hand, highlights all the best parts of falling in love in a dazed and nostalgic way but still maintains that dove-like softness in his touch. Even casual listeners have been enamored by Chen’s ability to bend the sonic atmosphere at his will and command attention with a single note.

Although many fans had hoped for a rock album from the loud and boisterous artist, it’s not hard to see why ballads were his genre of choice. As energetic as he can be, Chen is also a soft-spoken and private person who cares deeply for the people around him and shows his gratitude in small gestures. He uses his falsettos and vocal riffs with conviction to tell the story of two loved ones as if he were there and it’s a chilling experience with every listen.

Suho: Quiet Indie-Rock Artist

EXO’s selfless leader is the essence of grace and comfort personified, always willing to place his team’s needs and fans before himself. This is especially apparent in his first solo EP, Self-Portrait, a six-track journey of the mellow indie-rock variety — with a touch of pop —  in which he co-wrote all of them. In its lead single, “Let’s Love,” Suho lives up to the meaning of his name (“guardian”) in every facet, dedicating the title to his group’s timeless cheer before they go out on stage.

Throughout the steady drums of “Self-Portrait” and the piercing sorrow of “Starry Night,” Suho unlocks yet another side of himself and the things he’s capable of as a soloist that many people outside of EXO-L may not have known. In an interview with Billboard, he revealed that he purposefully listened to soft-rock and band music only to draw inspiration for his album. There are certain easter eggs hidden for fans to find and connect to familiar themes within EXO, but musically, it’s quite the opposite of everything he’s done within the group. 

There’s a level of growth that Suho’s experienced over the last nine years. He’s carried himself with a maturity that’s beyond his years, and we see it here as he expresses himself and continues to show his undying gratitude to the ones who helped him get to this point in the first place. “Made In You” is that exact love letter to EXO-L with every ounce of appreciation worn on his sleeve.


Kai: Serving Ethereal R&B

One positive aspect of EXO’s group activities being put on pause, at least for now, is the flexibility and time it gives the artists to step out of their comfort zone and do the unexpected. The emphasis placed on Kai’s role within the group was always to be the main dancer, main center, and the overall face of EXO. Regardless of not having as many opportunities to showcase his vocals, he’s still one of the most recognizable among the general public and gained notoriety through his advanced dance skills and strong stage presence. So when fans realized Kai would debut as a soloist, there were far fewer clues pointing to what that would look or sound like compared to other members.

Thankfully, the answer was well worth the anticipation as Kai delivered one of the most stunning EPs of 2020 titled KAI (开). What’s so fascinating about the dark and sultry soundtrack is the way it pushes the “EXO R&B” agenda even further yet successfully sets itself apart from what Baekhyun is currently doing and what EXO has been known to do. Each song protrudes the same seductive energy as Kai himself and acts as an extension of his stage persona. “Ride Or Die” portrays the slick, ‘80s version of himself with the most gorgeous retro synths playing behind him. And the breathiness of his voice in “Mmmh” is probably the most sinful thing you’ll ever hear, but it’s part of what makes him, well, him.

As confident as he is on-stage, there’s always been this shy and reserved part of him that will constantly doubt whether or not he’s good enough. However, it seems like all of those thoughts were thrown by the wayside when it came down to perfecting his sound and doing something he could be proud of. Kai can sing, and if you didn’t know before, he’s letting you know now.


Also on KultScene: EXO-SC’S ‘1 BILLION VIEWS’ ALBUM REVIEW

Lay: A Melting Pot of Genres

As the first member to go solo in 2016, Lay’s become an artist that’s hard to pin down when it comes to trying to define his catalog within a certain genre, but maybe that’s the point. He’s deeply intrigued by the different cultures and always seems eager to learn more about the world around him, which is why his music is a mirror image of himself. He covered R&B with his first EP, Lose Control, hip-hop and EDM with Sheep, tropical dance-pop for Namanana, hip-hop and R&B again in Honey, and finally, traditional Chinese music for Lit and PRODUCER. More importantly, though, he’s learned to combine and blend all these different nuances under one Mando-pop genre and make it work for him.

It’s become a running joke within the fandom that he eats, sleeps, and breathes music. Lay is heavily involved with every aspect of his work, which is a probably stark contrast to what he experienced working in Korea. But, that very drive is what led him to found his entertainment company, Chromosome Entertainment Group in 2020 — paying it forward to other artists and songwriters who aspire to be in his position.

It’s been a very strange transition for longtime EXO-L to see Lay suddenly so far removed from the group as he started promoting more in China and less in Korea. But with every con, there’s also a pro, and the level of consistency in Lay’s music is one of the most rewarding pros yet. While he’s been building a literal empire in the Chinese music industry over the last five years, he’s adamant in reminding everyone that EXO still means the world to him.

Putting Together the Puzzle Pieces

Understanding EXO as individuals helps better understand EXO as a unit and vice versa. With each soloist, you take away something new that you’ve learned about them and hopefully even relate to them a little better. Although Chanyeol, Sehun, D.O., and Xiumin have yet to release solo albums of their own, we’re still able to get a sense of their identities in other ventures through EXO-SC, EXO-CBX, and the many SM Station projects they’ve participated in so far. It was revealed earlier this year that D.O. is working on a solo project to release at some point, so it’ll be interesting to see if he takes up R&B, as fans are predicting, or will he be another wild-card?

With a group that’s covered such a wide spectrum of music and continuously exceeds expectations, it’s hard to believe that there’s anything left for them to overcome. But, with nine years and a slew of awards already under their belt, sales and charts are no longer a priority for them. EXO’s gone from young, hungry rookies hoping to leave their mark on the industry to confident, highly respected performers who solely make music for their enjoyment, just as it should be.

What’s your favorite EXO song? Let us know 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.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Best K-pop albums of 2020

best kpop albums 2020 top ep korean k pop bts

Looking back on 2020, it was both the best of times and worst of times on the K-pop front of things: there were a lot of great releases, but also a lot of disappointments. On the album front, long term faves delivered great bodies of works, while some newer acts shared surprises that bode well for their future as they develop their discography. Retro sounds, especially disco and ‘90s-inspired R&B, resonated through many albums as artists across the industry leaned into revitalizing eternally familiar pop sounds for a time when everything seemed topsy-turvy and these blasts from the past brought comfort.

Rather than a ranking, like our annual Best of Song’s list, this year some of KultScene’s writers opted to share their takes on the best albums that particularly resonated with them on a personal level during the year that was 2020.

What do I Call You by Taeyeon

Be it for the familiarity (after all, she’s been in the game for almost 15 years) or just for its beautiful timbre, Taeyeon’s voice inspires comfort and warmness. And 2020 was a year when we all could use these feelings.

In What do I Call you, her voice and technique breathe life into five elegantly written tracks, one of them co-written by her (“To the moon.”) Songs like “Playlist” (the perfect lyrical picture for the intimate mood of the album) or “Galaxy” (which obediently follows the rule that every song called “Galaxy” is dreamy and ethereally gorgeous) shows how suitable Taeyeon is for sweet R&B tracks, while “Wildfire” is probably the least blending song in the album, recalling the Taeyeon from “Why.”

But still, it’s a harmonic 15-minute set, the same length of a phone call, or the same amount of time it takes to buy a coffee. Indeed, in a year most of us spent locked at home, listening to What do I Call you might be the closest one could feel to entering a calm cafe on an autumn day.

And if the impressionist-reminiscent cover makes the album look like a work of art, it’s because it is.

— Ana C.

Delight by Baekhyun

It’s difficult to make a no-skip album — especially within the K-pop landscape, where artists and companies generally want to include and experiment with every genre known to men in order to secure something for everyone. But that’s exactly what Baekhyun did with his sophomore EP, Delight, and he did it with ease, style, and a lot of sexiness. A collection of multiple R&B stylings, Delight has something for everyone. And we can talk in circles about how the moods were sexy and the lyrics were provocative throughout the entire EP. But speaking frankly, Delight was a very horny album. From what exactly he’s referring to with all the mentioned flavors on “Candy” or the specific logistics of “R U Ridin?” to maybe being a one night stand on “Ghost,” Delight was selling one thing and it wasn’t Tootsie pops. And given that 2020 was the year the entire world had to social distance, it was quite appropriate. However, at no point was Delight literal or overt, but was a class act through and through, and Baekhyun proved yet again why he’s spearheading the R&B pop movement within the K-pop industry.

— Alexis

Love Synonym #1: Right For Me by Wonho

In South Korea, leaving behind a stable music group on (albeit unfounded) allegations of illegal drug use could be the final nail in the coffin for an idol, but for Wonho it gave him the push he needed to finally jumpstart his solo career. And for the former Monsta X member who regularly participated in the group’s song writing, composition, and arrangement process, this transition to independent artist was only natural.

With his debut extended play Love Synonym #1: Right For Me, Wonho was able to bring his skillset to new heights as he took on diverse sounds, such as with the stripped-back pre-release ballad “Losing You” or the aptly named interlude “Runway,” which bounced with the same charismatic high fashion energy it was inspired by. Wonho’s penchant for higher registers, airy vocals, and breezy melodies also continues to influence his music as the hallmarks that distinguished his songs (“From Zero,” “Do You,” “No Reason”) from his time with Monsta X survive in “I just” and “Lost in Paradise.” The mini album has something for every listener, be it suggestive lyricism or raw poignancy, and with credits on six of the eight tracks Wonho is already proving to be quite the versatile singer-songwriter.

Aside from giving us some of his best output thus far, this album challenged Wonho in other ways, namely by embracing K-pop’s global appeal. Both remakes of “Losing You” and the electro-funk title track “Open Mind” are done entirely in English, and at a proficient level to boot. On “With You,” he sings hypnotically in Spanish (“Adicto a tu cuerpo, mueve tu cuerpo”), a Romantic addition to an even more romantic song. Somehow waxing poetically about how you would go to war for your love or whispering sweet nothings about an addiction to their body hits differently when it’s in a language you can understand. This extra effort to communicate with fans around the world in this way remains the EP’s most attractive quality.

— Shelley

–77.82x-78.29 by Everglow

Everglow delivers (electro)pop perfection with their second mini album, –77.82x-78.29; the number represents the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of Antarctica, a place that has been a constant reference in the sextet’s concepts and mentioned in their previous mini album, in the lyrics of “NO LIE.”

Co-composed by the experienced Hayley Aitken – who’s been involved in writing hits for Red Velvet, Twice, Girls Generation, LOONA, and more – and co-written by Everglow’s very own E:u, “LA DI DA” is a strong opening for the cohesive EP. Produced and mixed as an ‘80s dance hit, the track, which was voted by KultScene as the best K-pop single  of 2020, fortifies the Everglow brand through cheerleading vignettes (“Everglow forever, let’s go”) and boldly positions the group as heroes of the retro sound candidates, while they’ve already proven, in previous releases like “Bon Bon Chocolat,” how fit they are for more contemporary approaches of electronic dance music too.

The David Anthony & Dsign Music-coined “UNTOUCHABLE” is a sexy and addictive song that shall stand proudly both in the songwriting collective’s amassed history and the K-pop girl group’s one that is being written. Built off delicious synth pop beats, “UNTOUCHABLE” counts on the Everglow vocalists to help set the perfect vibe for its composition, which thrives in rhythmic duality: it’s sultry and slow in the verse and post-chorus, rapid and high-pitched in the pre-chorus. The chorus is an encapsulation of the song’s formula, alternating between a spaced repetition of the lyric “UNTOUCHABLE” and agile following vocals. This melodic back & forth makes a trip that leaves you wanting more: “UNTOUCHABLE” is undoubtedly one of the best K-pop b-sides of the year.

The second half of –77.82x-78.29 is less addictive, yet charming. Even the weakest track of the mini album, “GxxD BOY,” could be a single; and the electro-R&B “NO GOOD REASON” closes the project in style, elegantly adorned by good vocal moments like Aisha’s low note in the second verse. The lower register is not a frequent guest in K-pop (or at least in songs from girl groups,) so this small yet remarkable moment of “NO GOOD REASON” is worth being repeated.

While –77.82x-78.29 is a complicated name, listening to it, and becoming obsessed with it, is very easy.

— Ana C.

The Book of Us: The Demon by DAY6

The third part of DAY6’s The Book of Us series, this mini album is full of surprises. From the relatable title track “Zombie”, which ironically speaks about the importance of continuing to live, to “1 to 10”, a catchy song which contains unexpectedly creepy lyrics describing an obsessed romantic, the whole album covers many (admittedly dark) aspects of love and heartbreak, both lyrically and musically. The band’s foray into EDM with “Love Me or Leave Me” also paid off, and the track became a huge hit when the album was released because of its addictive melodies and beat.

Even as they try out new genres and styles, DAY6 does it all with lots of heart, and this sincerity explodes in leader Sungjin’s self-written ballad, “Afraid”, a heart-wrenchingly beautiful track that talks about the fear of being a burden to the people we love. Considering that members Sungjin and Jae went into a hiatus right after this album was released, this song and the painful emotions it conveys really hit fans hard, as it proved that idols are ordinary humans as well, equally affected by the unpredictability and tragedy of this world. However, the way DAY6 is able to incorporate such human fallibilities into their music is a part of what makes them truly great musicians – with their true-to-life songs, they bring comfort to listeners and prove that no one is truly alone in the struggles they face in this life.

— Anna

NCT 2020: Resonance by NCT

If you’re familiar with Spider-man, then you know with great power comes great responsibility and thankfully, NCT rose to the occasion to save 2020 with their second installment to include every member under the diverse NCT brand.

NCT 2020 Resonance delivered new and refreshing lineup combinations that fans had been dying to see ever since WayV debuted a year after NCT 2018 Empathy. And although Empathy was already exciting enough, it only offered a taste of what NCT was capable of as a whole and didn’t exactly utilize the “mix and match” concept of NCT U to its fullest potential. But, that’s where Resonance comes in. Each new unit shines in its own right and was strategically put together to highlight and even challenge the members to match each other’s energy and strength — “Make A Wish” would be a great example of Xiaojun grabbing its concept by the horns and completely obliterating it in a way we haven’t seen him do thus far in WayV. For this, he’s still living in our minds rent-free.

What sets Resonance apart is the theme’s continuity throughout the album. The tracklist is broken down into three sections: past, present, and future with interludes placed thoughtfully between each section to signify a change in time. Resonance Pt. 2 (a combination of songs from parts one and two) in particular enhances the experience, as it transports the listener on a journey through space and time with exceptional storytelling.

Sonically, the ’90s presence is clearly felt during the past songs like “90’s Love”, “Misfit”, and even “Light Bulb,” which opted for a softer spoken-word delivery from rappers Taeyong and Sungchan — reminiscent of late night poetry slams from back in the day. However, the soothing 1950’s inspiration for “Dancing in the Rain” should not be overlooked, especially since some of its lyrics were penned for the first time by Mr. Valentine himself, Jaehyun. Subsequently, the “present” portion of the album is where we heard a lot of current trap and R&B motifs (“Dèjá Vu”, “Nectar”) and the future introduced plenty of future synths, techno, and lo-fi elements (“Work It”, “I.O.U”). It’s a musical tale of what used to be, what is, and what will be popular through the eyes of NCT — ambitious, yet extremely satisfying.

— Chyenne

BE by BTS

Career peaks are when some musicians are their loudest, using bigger sounds and even bigger ideas to try to beat both the competition and their own past releases. Not BTS, though. As their albums hit new peaks on global charts and break their own sales records, they’ve chosen to zoom in on the smaller, more quotidian parts of our lives. The bedroom, the falling leaves, the ongoing winter (as both a season and a state of mind).

2020 may have been a year of triumphs for BTS, but BE tells us that they, too, felt the weight of all that 2020 was. On the mid-tempo opening single “Life Goes On,” Jungkook sings, “One day, the world stopped without any warning.” And while the travel industry, the economy, and even everyday life screeched to a halt, the earth itself didn’t (“Spring didn’t know that it had to wait / Showed up not even a minute late”). BE is full of these acknowledgements of both doom and wonder, an 8-song thesis on the adjustment, pain, and continuities located in global catastrophe. They even reimagine the bedroom — on “Fly To My Room,” it’s not a space of COVID-induced confinement, but instead a space to “get me outta my blues” and help you feel “brand new.”

Buried within these worldly reflections, however, is BTS grappling with the personal reality of their stardom. “Skit” is, at one level, a conversation between friends whose personalities are globally known and adored. But like its counterpart on Love Yourself: Her, the conversation is also a real, honest reflection on growing from humble beginnings to the behemoth that BTS now is. “I couldn’t sleep at all,” Suga speaks of the night he heard that “Dynamite” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. He’s trying to wrap his head around being one of the world’s biggest stars in a moment when the world itself is on the brink of falling apart.

BE travels across tempos, from the slow and somber “Blue & Grey” to the EDM-pop “Stay” and disco smash hit “Dynamite.” Through it all, the album is introspective and thoughtful, rather than brash and bombastic. Among the already small crop of global stars considered “generation-defining,” BTS is a rare breed who navigate the reality of their success through remarkable humility and poignant self-awareness. It’s not about what you have or what you’ve accomplished — rather, it’s about who you choose to  BE.

— Kushal

Reload by NCT Dream

Experiencing the growth of NCT Dream over the years has been like watching our younger siblings as they enter adulthood with pride and confidence. This is especially what it felt like during the Reload era, the last album to feature only six Dream members before welcoming the eldest, Mark, back into the circle after his short-lived graduation from the act.

Although Reload is a rather short EP with only five tracks compared to the group’s previous releases, it could easily compete as one of their strongest to date. Its lead single, “Ridin'”, is a testament to Dream’s maturity and deserved so much more credit than what was given. Notably, Haechan and Renjun’s vocal performances are incredibly clean here and nothing is more comforting than the sound of Renjun’s ethereal vibrato in any song. But when it comes to the stage performances, it’s Jisung who shows the most versatility as he executes each pop and lock with razor-sharp precision.

“Quiet Down” would be without a doubt the runner up as a lead single, if “Ridin'” didn’t exist. Lyrically, it’s one of Dream’s boldest tracks as they address the gossip-loving audience who do nothing but spread rumors and project their insecurities onto others: “There’s nothing I have to prove, you know that. Look at yourself reflected in your eyes.” It’s a powerful hip-hop and EDM based track with an equally powerful message.

“7 Days” and “Love Again” are only two examples of how NCT (across all units) pretty much dominated the ’90s sound in 2020 for both R&B and hip-hop, so it’s no surprise that it’s two of Dream’s best tracks so far. “7 Days” captures the listener’s heart and soul with lo-fi vibes and adolescent schoolyard memories. While “Love Again”, on the other hand, wouldn’t sound out of place at a ’90s house party with the bass thumping against the walls as a crowd of people sing along to, “Hey, my first and last!” An appreciative ode to Dream’s humble beginnings. As the EP comes to a close, you’re brought back down to earth with the beautiful acoustics of “Puzzle Piece,” co-written by Jeno and Jaemin. By that point, you’re probably wishing this EP didn’t have to end so soon. Lucky for us, we have so much 7Dream to look forward to in 2021.

— Chyenne 

Map of the Soul: 7 by BTS

As paradoxical as it may sound, BTS expanded their artistic universe to go even deeper into their self-reflection with Map of the Soul: 7. Everything about the album was purposefully huge: the launching promotion included a global art curation series, the tracklist follows a Jungian psychology-inspired storyline, each of the singles had two music videos, including an art film, a “Kinetic Manifesto” and one with a biblical narrative enactment; even the physical album was symbolically huge-sized.

Yet nothing seemed vainglorious or out of place. It was the right mix and the right time for the right band. Had it been done any bit sooner, it wouldn’t be the perfectly timed celebration of the seven-member band’s seventh career year; had it been done any bit later, a lot of it wouldn’t probably been done at all, since the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world weeks after the album’s release.

For the ARMY (BTS’s fandom,) the band’s music has always been a source of strength and support, and Map of the Soul: 7 was that too.

Starting with the philosophical rap “Intro: Persona,” which first appeared in BTS’s 2019 EP Map of the Soul: Persona, and finishing with the resilient, serotonin-infused “Outro: Ego”, BTS travels through different states of consciousness in 7, from the self to the collective and back — or, more accordingly to Carl Jung’s archetypes that inspired the album, from the persona to the ego, linearly. In the hauntingly beautiful tracks “Black Swan,” “Louder than Bombs,” and in the hip hop rhapsody “Interlude: Shadow,” the members speak of their fears; and in the energetic “ON” and “UGH!,” they fight them.

Each of the seven BTS members has their chance to shine alone in the album, in moments of vulnerability and versatility in style and songwriting — one of these solo moments, by the way, is a tribute to versatility itself: Jimin’s “Filter.”

Mega and meta, 7 is a timely self-tribute of BTS’s relationship with themselves individually (“Inner Child”,) as a group (“Respect,” “Friends,”) with their fans (“Boy With Luv,” “Moon,” We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal,”) and with music (“Dionysus”, “Black Swan.”) Of course it is. BTS and their fans have mastered the art of celebrating themselves before waiting for anyone else to do it, so it’s only right that 7 does just that too. As SUGA raps in “Louder than Bombs:” “if not us, who will do it?”

— Ana C.

When We Were Us by Super Junior K.R.Y

This album took a long time (14 years…) to materialize but boy was it worth the wait. While the genre of ballads might sometimes be unfairly criticized as being boring, When We Were Us is a brilliant model example of the beauty of this genre. Apart from “The Way Back to You”, the jazzy R&B offering where Ryeowook gets to display his fairy-like falsettos, the other five tracks are ballads through and through – complete with string instrumentation, emotional vocal performances and reflective lyrics.

While all three members of this subunit are all celebrated vocalists individually, the highlight of K.R.Y and this album as a whole is definitely their powerful harmonies, which feature heavily in “I Can’t,” “Home,”  and also the title track “When We Were Us.” The technically challenging harmonies definitely required a lot of practice on their part, but they prove that they are truly better together.  It is also impressive that despite their varying vocal tones and singing styles, they do not clash but instead complement each other to create the richest songs possible. While Ryeowook’s bright vocals add innocence, Kyuhyun’s velvety voice brings in warmth, and both balance well with Yesung’s melancholic singing. When We Were Us”\ was released in June, but the album is wonderful to cuddle up and listen to at this time of the year, or anytime you’re in need of a good cry actually.

— Anna

Minisode 1: Blue Hour by Tomorrow x Together

With a barely two year old career, Tomorrow By Together (TXT) is already one of the most consistent K-pop acts, never lacking in terms of music, videos and performance. Their third EP, Minisode 1: Blue Hour, takes their precociously solid discography to a whole new level.

In less than 20 minutes, TXT delivers disco, rock, tropical house and R&B, with catchy pop-molded songwriting like in the groovy “Blue Hour” — the best pre-chorus of the year and a chorus that is no less captivating; — the unexpectedly sad yet danceable “We Lost the Summer,” with which TXT could rival their label mates BTS’s “Life Goes On” if there was a “Songs That Best Describe 2020” contest; and the warm, sophisticated “Way Home.”

But TXT also shines in their rock-star-potential moments, making it even sadder that 2020 brought little opportunities for the band to perform live — songs like the The Drums-a-like “Ghosting” and the energetic “Wishlist” would have definitely been amazing jumping, “put your hands in the air” concert moments.

Minisode 1: Blue Hour makes full use of the five members’s youthful energy, displaying a range that surprised their fans, amassed new ones and consolidated their potential to make music for a long time — and even pivot to new band formats if they ever want to.

— Ana C.

DYE by GOT7

Seven years into their careers as a group, the members’ specific styles when it comes to producing and writing lyrics have become pretty distinct — and DYE was the perfect collection of all the different characteristics that make up the GOT7 sound. Throughout the years, whether produced by JYPE or the members themselves, we’ve come to expect something from the group’s singles: big, house-y productions with intricate choreographies. On their self-penned and produced b-sides, however, is where we’ve been able to see how they marry their individual colors with the collective one of the group. Though DYE was an EP, it’s their most mature body of work to date. JB brought a stronger, smoother R&B influence with “Crazy;” Youngjae’s “Aura” was yearnful; Jinyoung’s “Love You Better” features an array of different styles and flows that compliments each member; and the Yugyeom co-written “Poison,” well, Jackson said it best: it’s a daddy song. Overall, DYE is a sexy album — the members are more in touch with their emotions and how they emote them musically. With the group leaving JYP Entertainment, it’s uncertain what the future holds for GOT7 as a group. But if anything, DYE was the testament that each member is ready and fully capable of shining individually.

— Alexis

Dystopia: The Tree of Language by Dreamcatcher

Owners of one of the most cohesive musical identities in K-pop, Dreamcatcher did it again in their first Korean studio album. “Dystopia: The Tree of Language” is a solid, entrancing work with the best of the dark, punk rock sound the group is known for, as well as bits of the EDM-punk rock infusion that they’ve also explored before, and some punctual moments of calmness between the storm.

While nothing can be more Dreamcatcher than the guitar riffs from “Tension” and “SAHARA,” the group’s distinctive colors also shine in the production of “Scream” and “In the Frozen”, full of electronic touches that add to the haunting mood of the album; and the trap beats of “Black or White” and “Red Sun.”

But the modest star shining in the middle of Dystopia is “Jazz Bar,” an elegant piano and guitar-driven track that transports you to a lobby bar. The vocals here are lowered and smooth; a perfect break in the perfect place amongst the other electrifying tracks.

And speaking of things you didn’t expect to hear in this album yet you’re so glad you did, Siyeon’s solo, “Paradise,” is a highlight too – especially if you, like me, is crazy about that 2010s K-pop template of dance-pop ballads such as Ailee’s “Rainy Day” and Song Jieun & Bang Yongguk’s “Going Crazy” – they all share the same chord progression and sentimental print as “Paradise.”

Dystopia: The Tree of Language is one more addition to Dreamcatcher’s consistent discography and one more evidence that sometimes, even if choreographies and visuals are just as important for a K-pop group, the music can do well alone as it is too.

— Ana C.

Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum, Anna Cheang, Shelley Foo, Kushal Dev, Ana Clara Ribeiro, and Chyenne Tatum contributed to this article.

What was your favorite K-pop album of 2020? Let us know 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.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

50 best K-pop songs of 2020

Hopes were high at the beginning of the year. Different Korean artists were reaching new grounds throughout the entire world and K-pop was starting to see mainstream attention and success. Groups were starting to tour more and in new countries, different music markets were being explored, monster rookies were debuting left and right —  it just seemed like nothing could deter K-pop’s escalation to world domination. And then the pandemic happened. 

No one needs a refresher on how terrible it got, so to put it simply, it was a tough year for everyone around the world. Luckily, as fans, we had K-pop to get us through these tumultuous times and offer a small glimmer of normalcy and joy, even if it was for the duration of a song. Given the industry’s quick adaptation to the new normal, the constant stream of new music never faltered. And despite artists not being able to tour or fully promote their new material, they did not skimp out on quality, and instead gave us a great year in music.

From throwback genres like disco and 80’s synthpop to city pop, newtro dominated K-pop in 2020. We also saw solo acts come out in full force, giving bigger ensembles a run for their money. Female acts were also the driving force of the industry this year. Soloists, rookie groups, and the more established ones — 2020 was a year owned by women. 

With that said, after weeks of arguing, plotting, and a few injured friendships and professional relationships, the KultScene team came up with the 50 K-pop songs we mostly objectively think were the absolute best of 2020.

50. “Don’t Touch Me” by Refund Sisters

No debut has or ever will be as ambitious or serendipitous as Refund Sisters’. Formed through the MBC variety show Hangout With Yoo, the seasonal supergroup is Lee Hyori’s accidental brainchild, which consists not only of the 2000’s K-pop diva herself, but also her role model and ‘90s legend Uhm Jung Hwa in addition to current chart-topping soloists Jessi and Hwasa. She could not have predicted then that her fantasy girl group picks made in passing would actually bring the eclectic (not to mention multi-generational!) bunch together under a new brand, let alone result in a hit worthy of its PAK (“perfect all kill”) status. 

With Rado, one half of hitmakers Black Eyed Pilseung, on board production, “Don’t Touch Me” was always destined to succeed. Everything from the blaring sirens in the intro to the dynamic, zipping synths in the hooks had the group’s ssen unnie image in mind. Amidst this high energy, each member had her moments to flaunt her charms, with some of the more memorable ones being Jessi’s soulful vocals in the beginning and Uhm Jung Hwa’s steady notes in the bridge in spite of compromised vocal cords due to a 2010 thyroid cancer surgery. Refund Sisters are truly a class act, proving that age is not how old you are, but how old you feel. 

— Shelley

49. “Hmph!” by WJSN Chocome

In a year when K-pop took us back in time through retro genres like disco (Sunmi & JYP, TXT, GFriend) and electropop (Everglow, Twice), WJSN’s first unit joined the party by bringing 2010’s K-pop, in a tune worthy of comparison with K-pop girl groups such as Orange Caramel, T-ara, and Crayon Pop: Chocome’s catchy and brassy “Hmph!” Newer K-pop fans might be somewhat familiar to the style if they were around when Momoland released “Bboom Bboom” and “BAAM” – and, in fact, the structure of “Hmph!”’s post-chorus is reminiscent of these songs too. But the amount of similarities with other groups does not mean WJSN Chocome is not adding much to the table; it’s actually the opposite. With its catchy chorus and brass line, “Hmph!” is a track that doesn’t take itself too seriously – the type of fun that is very welcome in 2020.

— Ana C.

48. “R.o.S.E BLUE” by Dreamcatcher

A K-pop group taking on a mobile game soundtrack is an understandable balancing act of giving up their identity just the right amount, in exchange for a quick paycheck. That is until “R.o.S.E BLUE” was given to heavy metal icons Dreamcatcher, a group so solidified in sound that there’s nothing one could do to strip it from them, regardless of how pathetic of a cash in it may be. Not to mention the fact that Dreamcatcher’s heady mix of guitars, choirs, and disruptive electronics is the perfect match for the likely melodramatics of an RPG by the name of Girl Cafe Gun. Regular video game soundtrack producer ESTi is aware of this and does nothing to mess with the formula, but instead merely gives the girls a lot of space around the song. This does two important things, one it mirrors the rhythms of a video game, and two it allows each of the girls to sell the potentially overbearing emotions of a song like this. The second point clicks the entire song into place, each line lingers and each members’ part so tactile, the memories of which they sing about are truly going to last forever. 

— Joe

47. “Zombie” by DAY6

“What kind of day was it yesterday? Was there anything special? I’m trying to remember but nothing much comes to mind.” This song and its lyrics came at a time when my country had first gone into lockdown, and each day really felt the same. I had settled into a comfortable routine, but there was absolutely nothing to look forward to or live for. This restlessness and despair is conveyed well through the monotonous way the band sings the first few verses and choruses, but the explosive instrumental break (and that gorgeous electric guitar riff!) in the middle of the song really gets things going. The catharsis finally comes with the emotional climax that is the bridge, where the protagonist gives in to his sadness and just wants to cry. Honestly speaking, who hasn’t felt that way, especially in the past few months? Coupled with a heartbreaking music video of a zombie-like working adult caught in the fast pace of society, this release from DAY6 was all kinds of relatable.  

— Anna

46. “Kick It” by NCT 127

When some of the industry’s best songwriters and producers get together, you know a certified bop is trickling its way to your ears. That’s exactly what Wutan, Rick Bridges, Dem Jointz, Chikk, Ryan S. Jhun, and Yoo Young-jin did when they created “Kick It.” The track’s heavy EDM opening preceded the catchy, “Let me introduce you to some new thangs” boasted a bravado that only NCT 127 could live up to. Booming bass, powerful beat drops, and peculiar percussion elements drive guide “Kick It”’s punchy raps and refined vocals. While its music video drew inspiration from 1970’s martial arts movies, “Kick It” takes listeners through the actions of martial arts. The vocals are controlled like movements and the raps give the excitement of a roundhouse kick. The pauses throughout the track build the same anticipation as someone calculating their next move. 

NCT 127 proved to be in a league of their own with this track as it served as the turning point in the groups career. It allowed them to become million-dollar sellers and gave the legendary “Bass, kick, swinging like I’m Bruce Lee.”

— Nnehkai

45. “Love Killa” by Monsta X

Monsta X never skimp out on delivering a robust number of releases every year. And after dropping a full English album, Korean and Japanese comebacks, plus Joohoney’s mixtape, I.M still felt compelled to tease us with the opening of “Love Killa,” “Have room for one more?” Yes, yes we do. Put simply, “Love Killa” is a knockout — it’s Monsta X at their beast-dol best. Their signature sexy bravado paired with fiery one-liners (“I’ma slay, I’ma chill, I’ma kill,” “I want you eat me like a main dish,” “Oh I’m sorry, did I make you anxious?”) and just as impactful vocal performances, which are all elements we’ve seen from the group before, but perfected from top to bottom. Following Wonho’s departure from the group, 2020 was the year Monsta X was searching how to move forward without a key element in their genesis. “Love Killa” was a testament that they’re still the sexy and powerful group they’ve always been releasing banger after banger, but a lot more grown.  


— Alexis

44. “Tag Me (@Me)” by Weeekly

The relentless pace and drama of social media should really be a more common theme for K-pop songs given the obvious similarities. Maybe no one thinks they could ever top Twice’s “Likey,” and who could blame them. That leaves only the most confident of creatures, the rookie girl group. Weeekly debuted in unstoppable style with “Tag Me (@Me),” a song about detesting being perceived purely through your timeline. It’s powered by cheerleader chants and electric guitars, propelling the girls into an ex3citing mish-mash of singing, chanting, and rapping. Crucially, they often chant in unison, “Once I post something, my timeline goes crazy, From my head to my toes, eyes on me, stop stop,” reinforcing the idea of this collective experience. Social media’s ubiquitousness is hard to get away from, and as energetic this song is, and as frustrated the girls are with it, there’s little for them to do but point out the obnoxiousness. 

— Joe

43. “Punch” by NCT 127

Where to begin with this powerhouse of a group in 2020? Dysfunctional is NCT 127’s middle name, and they’ve got the robotic video game intro to prove it. After hitting a massive breakthrough with “Kick It,” NCT 127 pulled out all the stops and broke every “rule” in the book when it comes to song structure. From the unexpected whispers in the verses to the scary smooth piano and synths of the pre-chorus, “Punch” is anything but ordinary. Fans even joked about how they could barely remember what the song sounded like after one listen because there’s just so many sonic changes within a short amount of time. One thing is for sure: the song amps up the listener and lyrically encourages them to keep fighting no matter what —  this is also indicative of the “fight night” anthem beautifully intertwined into the dance break and final chorus. An unorthodox song like this doesn’t typically seem like it would work… but maybe that’s why NCT 127’s confidence continues to reach new heights as they repeatedly demolish every single concept thrown their way.

— Chyenne

42. “Nineteen” by Natty

There’s something about a K-pop act titling their song after the age they are when they made it, that makes it immediately timeless despite that specificity. It’s something that perennial runner up Natty needed badly as she released “Nineteen” this year. We’d been waiting five years for her to finally debut, and to think she was still a teenager is certainly a surprise. But for her, it’s the end of one chapter in her life. Rather than focusing on looking back, “Nineteen” looks and moves forward, driven by the most insatiable bass line of the year and an exemplary vocal performance from Natty. Her voice is so stable, filled with the experiences of someone so young but so ready for what’s ahead of her. The confidence in her delivery comes from the fact that she’s singing for herself. “I’ve been looking for you, I’m Natty Nineteen,” she calls out in the final chorus, as the music cuts to nothing but the bass line affirming the still youthful voice of Natty. But most importantly, highlighting the assured change in her perspective. 

— Joe

41. “Nae tat” by BLOO & nafla

Before the MKIT RAIN marijuana use scandal this past October, the LA-based hip-hop collective had actually enjoyed a relatively auspicious year. Nafla had released u n u, a two part EP project that explored a new, more stripped-back direction for the tight boom-bap rapper, to positive reception amongst fans; meanwhile BLOO had gone viral with “Downtown Baby” two years after its initial release. Now both at the peaks of their careers, the duo naturally collaborated on “Nae tat,” a joint single that blamed their success on… well… themselves. The lyrics express how everything is “nae tat,” or “my fault,” including being born different, the beats they make, and their appearances. Even while stunting his newfound (but long overdue) fame, BLOO keeps it real with the pressures he faces going “mainstream” (“Now I can’t even just go get numbers because I’m famous/ I gotta watch my mouth, I can’t even curse”). Throw in a chilling yet hauntingly beautiful beat from Big Banana and “Nae tat” has all the makings of good flex music with none of the pretenses. It’s songs like these that we will miss going forward now that the label is laying low, and that Nafla who recently terminated his contract on mutual terms is no longer a part of the team.

— Shelley

40. “Nonstop” by OH MY GIRL

Fresh off the heels of an impressive run on Queendom, OH MY GIRL had a breakout spring with their charismatic track “Nonstop.” Its upbeat tempo and dreamy verses take listeners through the excitement of having butterflies for a crush. It’s smooth yet exhilarating. The earwormy “saljjak seollesseo nan” or “my heart fluttered” is one of the track’s standout moments, along with MiMi’s rap that gave the song more dimension with her husky voice. “Nonstop” is fun, light with a beat that captures the playfulness of spring and summer. If the septet wasn’t on your radar, they should be now.


— Nnehkai

39. “Breath” by GOT7

GOT7 has made a name for themselves throughout their careers as a dance group with intricate and impactful choreographies. But if you were to ask a fan what GOT7’s style is, the answer wouldn’t be “Hard Carry” or “If You Do.” Instead, it would be revered b-sides like “Page” and “Teenager,” and now “Breath.” Written by Youngjae, the song is nonchalant and playful, devoid of pretense or trying to be something they’re not. There’s an effervescence and overall joy that the song emanates, which is exactly what we needed in 2020.  

— Alexis

38. “Jogging” by Lucy

Where Lucy’s debut release “Flowering” is a beautiful, emotional and uplifting piece, their August release “Jogging” feels like a breath of fresh air, a perfect match for their sunny personalities. The song captivates from the get-go, with Yechan’s addictive violin riff and Wonsang’s underlying bass line fronting the introduction. As always, the high production quality of the track shines, especially considering the difficulty of combining such a range of instruments in a cohesive and complementary manner. The song is a light-hearted, joyous one, but the band still manages to tug on their listeners’ heartstrings with reflective lyrics such as “If you lose yourself, can you really call yourself happy?” Sangyeob’s powerful voice and Yechan’s violin admittedly play a huge role in creating this pathos, and it is wonderful to watch this band play to their best strengths. With their colourful atmospheric music, Lucy offers a musical getaway from regular daily life, and “Jogging” is the summer vacation we all needed this year. 

— Anna

37. “Pit A Pat” by XIA

XIA is one of those distinguished K-pop vocal powerhouses who could put his whole solo career on hold and still come back as strong as he left. That’s exactly what happened with “Pit A Pat,” his first single since he was discharged from military service in 2018 and since he last released an album in 2016. The wait was well worth it though, as this arguably may be his best one yet. Propelled by electronic hooks and XIA’s own exuberance, “Pit A Pat” reeks of early 2010’s nostalgia when K-pop was at its finest. He is Peter Pan, whisking his listeners away to a world far removed from the one they know; the pan flutes in the opening just further elevates that Neverland experience. For an upbeat dance track, it’s pretty emotive, almost melancholic, yet the same could be said about any XIA song. That said, let’s just hope the next won’t take another four years, but if it has to come to that: read first sentence.

— Shelley

36. “When We Were Us” by Super Junior K.R.Y.

Though Super Junior celebrated their 15th anniversary this year, and K.R.Y. was their first subunit ever 14 years ago, the trio of balladeers released their first Korean EP back in June with lead single “When We Were Us.” Indisputably some of the best vocalists in the K-pop industry, Super Junior K.R.Y. Even without looking at the lyrics’ translation, the beautiful vocal and emotive performance by Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, and Yesung is all you need to experience an emotional assault — heartbreak is the same in every language. “When We Were Us” perfectly exemplified why K.R.Y., and Super Junior as a whole, are still around and thriving in an industry that values youth above all else: pure talent.  

— Alexis

35. “Daisy” by PENTAGON

It’s not like PENTAGON’s repertoire was lacking, but adding “Daisy” was like receiving flowers — an unexpected yet welcomed surprise. This dramatic rock song, which reminisces K-pop groups such as Big Bang and Winner and pop-rock bands like 5 Seconds of Summer and Panic at the Disco, fits PENTAGON very well too. And, given that it was written and co-produced by the very own group, with the members delivering an emotional vocal performance, this song is a triumphant moment in the consolidation of their artistic identity. “Daisy” surely deserves to sit beside “Shine” as one of PENTAGON’s best singles.


— Ana C.

34. “YES” by Demian

Anyone else feeling there was something in the water this year for new solo artists? Because all three singles from Demian this year have been nothing but vibes, specifically his most recent single, “YES.” Feeling as if you’re trapped in a dream-like haze, Demian’s honey vocals croon the idea of new love and the butterflies you feel around that special someone. “I’d like to kiss, but you’re like a secret. If you say no, then nobody knows,” the singer moves with fluidity throughout the hook and captures the listener in a wonderland of daydreams. Although he’s still so fresh to the industry, Demian writes and produces with knowledge and emotion beyond his years almost like listening to an old soul. Right now, he’s in a league of his own, and if 2020 was any indication, Demian will most certainly be the soloist on everyone’s radar in 2021.

— Chyenne

33. “Then, Now and Forever” by CNBLUE

After completing their military service, CNBLUE finally made their return with a mini-album “RE-CODE” and the nostalgic title track “Then, Now and Forever.” Yonghwa’s warm vocals are as lovely as ever, and while a familiar band sound is still present, the instrumentation is definitely more subtle than before, as greater emphasis is placed on synthesised sounds rather than raw instruments. This works to create a unique soundscape for the song, allowing more focus to be on its meaningful lyrics and emotion. With certain catchy melodic lines and memorable phrases scattered throughout the song, CNBLUE’s formula for success remains the same, even as their sound as a whole has matured. “Then, Now and Forever” is a great new direction for the band now that they’re down one member from the original lineup, and I’m looking forward to how they will continue to move forward from here. 

— Anna

32. “Stay Tonight” by Chung Ha

Let’s get one thing straight: “Stay Tonight” is not a song. It’s the Met Gala, Mnet Asian Music Awards, and the Apollo launch to the moon combined. The song’s opening, with its climbing chords, crescendoing pulse, and rhythmic exhales, quickly prepares you for liftoff, and the rest of the track takes you on a ride even more exciting than the initial blast. Chung Ha’s vocals are sassy and dynamic, easily climbing up to falsettos and back down within fractions of a beat. In the pre-chorus, she executes a high-note so pristine that the following drop almost feels empty in comparison. But the space is quickly filled by a deep house EDM beat, which Chung Ha complements brilliantly with yet another wondrously dynamic melody: “Tonight, let’s get drunk on the scent.” Of each other? Of this moment? It’s a song so grand and full, you almost forget about the global pandemic happening around you. 

“Stay Tonight” and the utter behemoth that is its choreographic performance undoubtedly represent everything 2020 could have been, but wasn’t. You can imagine the award show stages rising and falling with Chung Ha’s belts. The massive, apocalyptic bridge filling the stadium with vibrations, hundreds of dancers surrounding the delicate angles her arms form. It’s a whole drag ball waiting to happen, and Chung Ha’s work with LGBT dance groups on this choreography (as some Reddit users highlight) makes this work all the more important and worthy of critique, if the lack of Black and brown people in a choreography centered on voguing bothers you, which is valid and heard. It’s a release this dense, complex, and full of glow that will stay on our minds for post-pandemic years to come.  

Kushal

31. “Losing You” by Wonho

There was never any doubt that Wonho would be back doing music again following his departure from Monsta X just a year ago. After all, it would be a waste of producing, writing, singing, and dance skills if he were to leave the industry completely. So when he dropped “Losing You,” the pre-release single for his debut EP Love Synonym Pt. 1: Right For Me, it might or might not have just redeemed the hot mess that was 2020 for us. As the prologue to this new chapter in his career, “Losing You” has that sort of mainstream, piano-backed ballad appeal that even the uninitiated can enjoy. Of course, it helps that the music video version is also performed entirely in English, which can only mean his upcoming plans for one thing: world domination.

But as much as the song sets up Wonho’s future endeavors, it also conveys his untold stories that led him to this point. It’s a serenade to his fans who have always supported him disguised as a generic love song. The refrain’s tender repetition of “Losing me is better than losing you” is an unmistakable reference to the time he almost lost his fan base while on hiatus. He injects as much emotion into singing the lyrics as he did to writing it, which once again speaks to the singer’s well-rounded musicality. With a part two to his two-part album on the horizon, Wonho is certainly an artist we will be watching out for!

— Shelley

30. “Dumhdurum” by Apink

With its fiery disco-synths and brilliant use of onomatopoeia, “Dumhdurum” demonstrates Apink’s ability to adapt to 2020 K-pop while maintaining their uplifting sound, buoyed by the members’ characteristic upper registers and expressive vocals. Produced by 3rd generation hitmaker duo Black Eyed Pilseung, the track’s dance breaks echo in your ears for hours after even a single listen—it’s no wonder why this earworm gave a group that debuted in 2010 their first TikTok trend (#DumhdurumChallenge check!). Even in the midst of Apink’s darker rebrand, “Dumhdurum” is full of charm, airiness, and bounce. It proves that Apink isn’t trying to survive, or pretentiously hold the “upper tier girl group” crown over their heads until they crumble under the pressure. Instead, they’re allowing themselves to breathe, bringing new life to their music, and attracting a new generation of fans in the process. Let’s hope their exhale continues as gracefully as it has thus far.


Kushal

29. “HOLO” by Lee Hi

This song is haunting and comforting in equal measure, and this vibe is well-conveyed right from its mellow piano riff and the introduction of Lee Hi’s velvety voice. Her first release under AOMG, “HOLO” is clearly an extremely personal story of Lee Hi’s, as she sings candidly about loneliness and comparing herself to others. The accompanying music video is also very moving and empowering, and while it took a while to decipher, once I understood the whole narrative it really struck a chord within me. Fittingly, she does not prescribe a solution to these depressive feelings, rather, it’s enough to acknowledge the difficulty of having these emotions, and pressing on with life anyway. After all, “one day it will stop”. 

— Anna

28. “ON” by BTS

As 2020 went on, it felt more and more like “ON” was prescient: the marching band-bolstered anthem from BTS is interpreted by many to fit into their Jungian philosophical exploration featured throughout many of their recent releases, but it kicks off with “I can’t understand what people are sayin’” and goes on to exult in the idea of “gotta go insane to stay sane” and “bringing the pain on.” “ON” came out before this whirlwind of a confusing, oftentimes scary and heartbreaking time really arrived. But as the year progressed, it felt like a little bit of hope. Listening to BTS take-on this determined, uplifting tone that so reflects the intensity and hope of humanity in this year. It’s an interpretation of this moment, but a good song gives meaning to any moment you experience it in, the experience of “ON” will live on forever. 

— Tamar

27. “Say My Name” by Hyolyn

“Watch me while I do it,” Hyolyn sings in the reggae-infused “Say My Name.” And of course we do, how can we not watch her? This woman never played around since her debut, delivering outstanding vocal and dance performances – and since 2017, as her own boss. She’s now also showing she has a good vision for picking and co-writing tunes, like this one. Hyolyn is a queen – say her name.

— Ana C.

26. “Gravity” by Ong Seung Wu

Ong is a bit of a wild card, in that he’s very not one: K-pop fans around the world came to know him through his time on Produce 101 and as a member of Wanna One, and through several acting roles and even a few prior releases. Then when he dropped his first mini album Layers this year, he showed a whole new side to himself, as a glorious, smooth pop star that the year was waiting for. “Gravity” as a lead song is an experience: it’s very typical in a way; a very familiar sounding dance song that weaves in and out of acoustic instrumentals, intense EDM, and trap bridges. But like gravity, which is always there until you’re reminded, usually suddenly, of its existence, “Gravity” and Ong’s powerful vocals arrive the same way the impact of something falling against the ground does, going from skittish intensity to the soaring chorus to whisper sing-song post-choruses. Ong has always been here, and now we’re all falling for him as he shows new sides to himself.  

— Tamar

25. “Tiger Inside” by SuperM

“Tiger Inside” gave us the growl that sent the world into a frenzy. SuperM hit back at haters with the dub-step track that encouraged them and their fans to release their inner tiger. From the beginning, the song imitates a tiger as the beat echoes a tiger stalking its prey. The track fluctuates between softer moments and an aggressive energy that’s intimidating and enjoyable. SuperM proved to be as lethal as they are majestic. “Tiger Inside” is full of exciting, energetic moments that demonstrate the group’s cohesion despite being from different groups. SuperM taking control of their sound and direction. The seven-piece group refuses to be pigeon-hold into one narrative for their music. 


— Nnehkai

24. “Better” by BoA

BoA proves once again that she does it “Better” than everyone else with this single that is so quintessentially her. Everything about it demands to be danced to, and to be sung in BoA’s typical mellifluous timbre. There’s a dance break, because of course BoA needs one, and there’s a sing-song rap, because it’s BoA, she can pull it off in the most engaging of ways. There are moments where it feels as if she’s having a conversation with herself, with the singer using various tonal inflections and singing styles to drive the song along, and reassuring the listener “you better than this” all the while. 

— Tamar

23. “Paradise” by Eric Nam

If there’s anything Eric Nam will not do, it’s pigeonhole himself into one category. From four EPs over the last four years, three podcasts within one year, and two world tours within the last two, this man just refuses to sit still. But, the great thing about being Eric Nam is that he doesn’t have to. With the release of his two previous English EPs, Eric had seemingly stepped away from the “K-pop sound” and decided to create music that he was personally influenced by from many Western artists with the goal of catering towards the U.S. market as opposed to Korea. Just when it seemed like this would be the route for him from now on, he went in the opposite direction with the lead single “Paradise” from his latest Korean EP, The Other Side.

Co-written by DAY6’s YoungK, “Paradise” is a surprising return back to that K-pop style production that Eric had been familiar with when he first debuted in Korea in 2013. However, this one is much more interesting and trippy as the instrumentation introduces several types of plucky synths and funky grooves in the chorus. The song is vibrant, tropical, and holds a bit of a dancehall flair to it as he sings about being “lost in this paradise.” To put it plain and simple, Eric Nam can literally do no wrong.

— Chyenne

22. “Chocolate” by MAX CHANGMIN

At a time when the kids on social media are having petty arguments about who’s the best vocalist in K-pop, TVXQ’s Changmin burst through the wall like the Kool-Aid man with a ranging “I’m not scared of electricity” and crescendoing “shock me” runs for his solo EP debut. Because instead of releasing a ballad that would show a more tender yet powerful performance (he got married this year, after all), the Hallyu legend delivered the self-written vampy dance-track and vocal rollercoaster “Chocolate” instead. The song is a testament to Changmin’s years of experience, highlighting his vocal prowess and dancing chops. Once an idol hits 30, many stop seeing them as innovators. But with “Chocolate,” Changmin told the public we haven’t seen the last of him yet.   

— Alexis

21. “Mmmh” by Kai

If there was ever a moment to release K-pop’s biggest thirst trap, it was at the close of 2020. That’s exactly what Kai did with his solo debut. Though he’s been known as an integral member of EXO and SuperM, Kai proved he could stand on his own with “Mmmh.” The R&B track echoes Kai’s elegance and sensuality; it’s slow and breath-taking. Sonically, the track gives Kai room to flex his vocals which we never get to fully enjoy in his respective groups where he operates as main dancer. “Mmmh” is a groove reminiscent of mid-2000s R&B — a welcomed dose of nostalgia.

— Nnehkai

20. “Q” by ONEWE feat. Hwasa

K-bands have proven to be quite the treasure within the K-pop community — whether you’re into pop, hard, or soft rock, there’s probably a band out there for every personal aesthetic. Luckily, ONEWE fits into its own little niche and has been stylistically diverse throughout the number of singles (and one studio album) that they’ve released this year. 

“Q” is best described as a jazz band/bossa nova type treat that you would faintly hear playing during the fall season at your local coffee shop. It boasts a warm and homey atmosphere with just the right amount of R&B sprinkled in between the bass and guitar chords — played by members CyA and Kanghyun respectively. It also doesn’t hurt that the band recruited fellow RBW labelmate and Mamamoo member Hwasa to add a dash of femininity in contrast to the five men. Contrary to her confident image, she actually doesn’t outshine them but rather elevates the listening experience as a whole as she effortlessly weaves in and out to harmonize with CyA and main vocalist Yonghoon —  it’s easy-listening at its finest. However, it’s Yonghoon’s wide and spacious high note at the very end that really hits the nail on the head. Ladies and gentlemen, watch out for him. That’s what we call lungs of steel.


— Chyenne

19. “Turn Back Time” by WayV

Whether you’re here for impactful, gritty rap or melodious choral verses, WayV’s proven in its brief career to be the kings at both of these things: the group is pretty distinctly divided between those who rap and those who sing, and they come together on their songs to create a perfect blend. “Turn Back Time” is the epitome of this, fronted by kinda bouncy quirky beats and squelching warped synths as the members rap and sing aggressively before the chorus arrives by slowing things down for a moment before speeding full blast ahead with a soaring vocal array, and then dipping down into a chant of “stop-rewind-turn back time,” and then setting the whole thing up again. As much as they’re singing about turning back time, WayV are playing around with bpm and the flow of what typically is a tune, which is something that NCT as a whole is great at playing around with, and it makes “Turn Back Time” one of the most engaging songs of the year.

— Tamar

18. “Naughty” by Red Velvet – Irene & Seulgi

When Red Velvet – Irene & Seulgi first dropped the Monster mini album, K-pop Twitter was confused. “Where is ‘Naughty’?” fans trended as they investigated why a song listed on the original tracklist was nowhere to be found. 

Everything about “Naughty” is bold, including the way it was released after its constituent album had already come out. Irene & Seulgi reach the pinnacle of their musical identity as a duo, combining smooth, groovy dubstep with a varied and dynamic vocal performance to deliver one of 2020’s slickest and most boppable tracks. “Naughty” was made truly memorable, however, through its choreography, which catapulted across through internet virality for its immaculate (and scrutable) use of tutting. The track is fashion-forward and cutting-edge, making you wonder how these two members, as part of the full Red Velvet, were chanting “Zimzalabim” and “Umpah Umpah” on stage only a year before. More than anything, “Naughty” is a testament to Irene & Seulgi’s versatility. The duo can invent and reinvent themselves over and over, so well that it feels like it shouldn’t be allowed.

Kushal

17. “EVITA!” by DeVita

As the “Newtro” wave seeped into this year’s music trends across the board, it’s no surprise that artists took full advantage to explore and experiment with their sounds, both old and new. More on the borderline of future retroism, R&B artist DeVita was ready to show the world what she’s made of in her debut single, “EVITA!” A friendly kick snare drum opens the song before it’s rudely — but amazingly — interrupted by a loud and boisterous jazz accompaniment that’ll get you up on your feet in an instant. From most of the comments on the music video, it seems as though a number of people discovered and became interested in the AOMG singer after her slew of tweets calling out K-pop and Asian artists who use and profit off of Black culture in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement. In an industry where non-Black musicians were put to the test in speaking out against their peers, DeVita did not shy away from speaking her mind online, nor did she in her music either.

“EVITA!” is the epitome of sass, defiance, and playfully confronting someone who switches up their behavior everytime you’re around them: “Why you ain’t never talk to me when I’m around? Thought you had something to say,” DeVita boldly asks with probably the best line of the song. With a captivating voice as strong as her image, she switches up the rhythm in her verses quite poetically, and for a moment, displays moments of vulnerability and uncertainty that add a pleasant finishing touch to the soulful number.

— Chyenne

16. “Blue Hour” by TXT

Tomorrow X Together gave listeners a light dose of funk with their pop track “Blue Hour.” The song is a metaphor for admiring something beautiful despite being in unfamiliar surroundings and uses Seoul’s sunset as imagery. The track continues 2020’s retro and nostalgia trend in music. It’s upbeat tempo and whimsical melody showcase the group’s youthfulness and curiosity for life. “Blue Hour” has everything for a bubblegum pop track but amps up the ante with an infectious bridge that serves as the song’s peak. TXT continues their journey of adolescence and early adulthood and their future looks bright as they explore different musical sounds and their identities.

— Nnehkai

15. “Black Swan” by BTS

Music is many things to many people. To some it’s fun, or maybe it’s healing, and to others it is purpose. To BTS, it is all of this, and especially the latter. So much that losing passion for music is compared to a “first death” in the melancholically beautiful “Black Swan.” In concept and lyrics, the song is the group’s biggest artistic statement – which is not saying little for a group that has been pretty ambitious with their concepts for quite some time now. Starting with a crying guitar and bursting into a trap beat, “Black Swan”’s lyrical hook is the seven men’s conversation with music: “Do your thing with me now.” And whether this means surrendering or a call for help, it comes to show, like many times before in their career and discography, that one of BTS’s biggest strengths is their artistic vulnerability. 


— Ana C.

14. “Answer” by ATEEZ 

Acting as a victorious epilogue to their Treasure series which began in 2018, “Answer” combines elements from the group’s previous releases (with lyrics such as “Say My Name,” referencing their 2019 single) while bringing something fresh to the table. With the group diving into high notes and powerful raps within less than twenty seconds of the song, the layers just keep building from there. That being said, there is a great balance of loud and quiet moments – the song never gets overbearing and listeners have ample opportunity to appreciate the sick underlying beats that keep the song dynamic and alive. The members all show off stable vocals, but Jongho in particular stands out with his ad-libs towards the end of the song. His transition from the bridge to the chorus is seriously impressive, as are the explosive high notes he throws out in his parts. The quality of ATEEZ’s releases have proven to be consistently good, and there is much we can continue to anticipate from them.

— Anna

13. “Wannabe” by ITZY 

The first listen of any ITZY song is never the smoothest of experiences, and “Wannabe” is no exception. From instrumentation to lyrics to melody, the song is hyperactive, even overwhelming at times, and that’s precisely the point. Dropping right at the start of international lockdown in March, “Wannabe” gave listeners a welcome and exciting distraction from global catastrophe. Starting with Ryujin’s shoulder dance (arguably the dance move of 2020) to the fast-paced dance break during the bridge, the song is power-packed with iconic moments. “Wannabe” and its accompanying choreography are so memorable that they, alone, accelerated the growth of K-pop TikTok at the beginning of quarantine with the endless dance challenges that they created. The song is dense, tightly organized, and so quintessentially ITZY that it feels like a full-body workout even when you’re just listening. “Wannabe” demonstrates ITZY’s ability to put method to madness, establish coherence through chaos. Through the song’s many moving pieces sits one, resounding message: no matter the noise, they are no one but themselves.

— Kushal

12. “So Bad” by STAYC

Production duo Black Eyed Pilseung could put in a major claim for defining the K-pop girl group sound of the last five years. They are the creators of Twice’s most iconic hits, the architects of Apink’s extravagant resurgence, and now are leading rookie girl group STAYC into the stratosphere. STAYC’s debut single “So Bad’ is very much a follow on from Pilseung’s work with Apink, with one key difference. The silky retro synths similarly glide but along a more modern drum ‘n’ bass beat. Gone is the elegance of the more experienced Apink, replaced by the natural exuberance of a newly debuted group. In a song like this, those synths are always the draw, and they do their job wonderfully, but the kicks and snaps of the beat are what make it. Pilseung understands so well how to fit a song to a particular group, and this is all topped off by the natural variety of pitches in STAYC’s voices. It makes “So Bad” completely unpredictable, even in its familiar sounds, which in turn also makes STAYC the most exciting prospect in all of K-pop right now.

— Joe

11. “How You Like That” by BLACKPINK

“How You Like That”’s opening brass notes announce the arrival of royalty, and BLACKPINK spends the next three minutes convincing you that they’re not only queens, but also legends  in-the-making (a loving step higher in stan terminology). This song’s nasty, bone-deep drops make clear that these women will not hesitate to get ugly with you, but remain effortlessly pretty while doing so. The choruses compose a loud, angry proclamation that, in spite of naysayer complaints, the Teddy Park formula for BLACKPINK singles works, even with their lyrically sparse choruses and nonsensical chants (“bada-bing bada-boom boom boom!”). With the ending dance break outro, they take the formula to its absolute infinity, the metallic piano notes and syncopated drums screaming to the skies that they truly couldn’t care less what you think of them. 

“How You Like That” is the main character anthem of 2020. It’s the track you listened to while taking your quarantine walks and pretending you were doing anything other than taking a quarantine walk. Lisa and Jennie may have left you feeling a little bit introspective and insecure with their “Look at you, now look at me”’s, but honestly, you’re okay with that. And we all are. It’s legend behavior, after all.

— Kushal

10. “Eight” by IU ft Suga

One of the most anticipated collaborations of the year, “Eight” manages to surpass expectations with its perfect combination of relatable lyrics, a beautiful music video, and stellar performances by both IU and Suga. It is melancholic yet uplifting, which is a common theme for many songs released this year, but it stands a class above the rest with its high production quality and energetic instrumentation. With IU and Suga both being 28 this year, this song flows well with IU’s stream of age-related songs, all of which describe the complexities of adulthood. In this case, “Eight” focuses on the tension between time that flows relentlessly by and the desire to remain in the more blissful past, highlighting this inner conflict with thoughtful lyrics that really touch the heart. 

As the years go by, IU’s artistry continues to shine, because her music matures along with her – her deepest thoughts, her reflections and realisations, all of these are poured into the music that she creates, and it is truly a pleasure to continue following her on this musical journey. 


— Anna

9. “Candy” by Baekhyun

After releasing the touchstone of K-pop solo debuts that was 2019’s “UN Village,” EXO’s Baekhyun had some large shoes to fill. His answer to this was this year’s “Candy,” which seems to be cut from the same R&B cloth, just with less of the groove. Instead, it’s fortified with a subtle trap beat as delicious as the confectionaries he likens himself to. “Pop rocks, strawberry, bubble gum” probably sits at the same best one liners of 2020 lunch table as TWICE’s “Risky risky wiggy wiggy,” and it is here where Baekhyun unleashes his slickest of harmonies. With its undulating synth work and generous ad-libs, there’s something inherent in this kind of R&B production that feels old school, sort of like the generation of K-pop when artists like Big Bang’s Taeyang used to dominate the genre. It’s also the kind of music we have been missing from EXO, so we will take any form of it we can get be it from the group or from its main vocalist (who is basically the representative vocals of EXO anyway). Like “UN Village” that came before it, “Candy” is a bop and a brilliant measure of Baekhyun’s nascent solo career. That makes it two for two now.


— Shelley

8. “+5 STAR+” by CL

The cutest love song of the year came from the “baddest female” — which just shows, and not for the first time, how versatile CL is. The cleverly produced and composed “+5 STAR+” gifted us a softer side of the all rounded rapper and singer, yet it’s still marked by her known style. CL delivers lots of attitude in high pitched vocals over hip-hop beats, while also sounding ridiculously cute with lyrics like “I’m your ocean, you’re my star,” and sweet, typical bubblegum pop chord progressions. With the risk of sounding tacky, I can say “+5 STAR+” deserves a five star review – it’s a lazy pun, but hey, not all of us can be cool when talking about their feelings like CL can.


— Ana C.

7. “From Home” by NCT U

We all know the story of the foreign K-pop idol in Korea. Oftentimes in their mid-teens, they left everyone and everything they knew behind in their home country and moved to a new one —  where they knew no one, didn’t know the culture nor spoke the language— all to pursue the crazy dream of becoming a singer with no guarantees of it coming to fruition. Though not exclusive to them, of course, this is the story of many of the 23 members of NCT. And this year via their NCT 2020 project, NCT U released a song to acknowledge and honor their long journey together. 

“Who I was yesterday and who I am now, And who we will be tomorrow, it all starts from home,” Taeil, Yuta, Kun, Doyoung, Renjun, Haechan, and Chenle sing in a seamless unison on the chorus of “From Home,” a warm yet powerful ballad about finding their home with each other in the group. But the song’s highlight is not only the touching lyrics, but the absolutely beautiful melodies and vocal performance from most of NCT’s power vocalists. Not to mention it is sung in four different languages native to the members (Yuta in Japanese, Kun, Chenle, and Renjun in Mandarin, the rest in Korean and the usual English sprinkled here and there), adding a more authentic touch to an already heartfelt song. From Chenle’s angelic-like falsettos to Haechan’s soulful runs to Taeil’s unmatched belts, “From Home” was a warm hug among the various bangers released by NCT this year. It was a good reminder that, as an entity, NCT is a well-rounded ensemble that excels in pretty much anything they put out.   

— Alexis

6. “IDEA” by Taemin

KultScene’s writers and editors have vastly different tastes, so it’s not easy to get two songs in the top 10 of our year-end list. But who better to accomplish the feat than Taemin? Since his solo debut in 2014, he’s managed to create a kind of banger that is fully his own, and reimagines itself across instrumentations, years, and generations of K-pop. “IDEA” fits perfectly into this catalog — it’s slick and sexy like “MOVE,” but carries the bounce and bombast of earlier releases like “Danger.” Arguably, the song’s most exciting part is the second chorus, when the repeated “My” syllable builds extra rhythm and power into an already explosive section. It’s this kind of pop — that so carefully balances choreographic performance and vocal melody, and achieves ultimate braggadocio without sacrificing humility — that can unite listeners of all tastes and backgrounds around a performer so prolific and evergreen that his releases grow more beloved over time. “IDEA” is evidence that Taemin is, more than anything, a genre of his own.


— Kushal

5. “I Can’t Stop Me” by TWICE

Much has been made of the transformation that TWICE have made from the aegyo-laden music of their earlier career to now. Their latest single “I Can’t Stop Me” is a gorgeous retro track with the most sleek and serious throughline of deeply felt synths that solidifies TWICE as “grown up.” Yet, the feeling can’t be shaken that this is still the TWICE we always knew. “I Can’t Stop Me” is not the culmination of a miraculous change for TWICE, but another step in their drawn out progression as the greatest girl group of a generation. 

Jihyo belts out in the first chorus, “I’m surrounded by that spot spot spotlight, As it shines on me, I’m swept into the darkness,” TWICE have come to understand that there is action embedded in them. The absolute desires in them have always been there, but only now can they get how strong it is. “I already know the answer, But I still keep going,” Momo raps, ushering in the climax for a song that shouldn’t be stopped. It’s the vocal performance of members like Momo, Sana, and Dahyun that retain the TWICE identity, the opposing melancholic or comedic sides of the desperation they feel in a twisted world. They set up these ideas to be then smashed into clarity by Jihyo, Nayeon, and Jeongyeon. Their voices so clear and loud so as to leave no trace of hesitation when we think of the girl group TWICE. 


— Joe

4. “Criminal” by Taemin

At this point, I think we can all agree that any single Taemin touches becomes an experience. Part musician, part dancer, part thespian, and all performer, the SHINee member has come into his own. Taemin as a soloist may not be breaking records left and right, but the pursuit of artistry is what moves him forward continually, and few have defined themselves quite so distinctly — and “Criminal” is the epitome of this. A dramatic tune that’s both creeping and intense in style, the groovy tune breathes with charisma and power, with Taemin taking center stage as a seductive, daring “Criminal.” The sleek ‘80s beat and the atmospheric synths create the perfect environment for Taemin to alternatingly seduce listeners in the verses and to perform chill-inducing adlibs in the off-kilter chorus, only for a police radio to make an appearance before a drop that drives everything off into the deep end, surging forward towards the sudden end of the song as it’s sweeping high that leaves you wanting more. Luckily, he followed it up with the glorious “Idea,” leaving us both satiated and wanting oh so much more from this bright-burning star.


— Tamar

3. “pporappippam” by Sunmi

Whether it’s too much reliance on formulas or simply because it’s the #Sunmipop style, Sunmi’s comebacks tend to be a bit hit or miss. Fortunately for the “Gashina” singer, her latest with “pporappippam” belongs to the former. Working once again with FRANTS — who had produced “Lalalay” and “Siren” — the pair took inspiration from the city-pop genre in order to infuse the song with the ethereal and fresh quality the lyrics demand. The scintillating ‘80s-style synths situate themselves perfectly amongst the breezy, purple-tinged night sky of the chorus, while the overlaying flutes add a nice, signature Sunmi touch. “Pporappippam’s” arsenal of sounds don’t stop there, however; the standout moment actually comes in during the bridge when it reels back and welcomes a soaring electric guitar solo without warning. What sets this apart from her previous works is precisely this kind of unpredictability that sends us into ever more euphoria. With its retro influences and dramatic flair, “pporappippam” is a refreshing track that only Sunmi could have pulled off and is just what 2020-era K-pop needed so badly again.


 — Shelley

2. “Kazino” by BIBI

Bitches, ice, and homegirl: the three words you’ve probably been repeating in your sleep if you’ve had this song on loop all year long. When it comes to solo artists, BIBI is one of the most intriguing and fascinating of the bunch — she’s fun, she’s bold, she’s a breath of fresh air for women running the game in Korean music. Compared to the light-hearted singles she released in 2019, “Kazino” is downright gritty and even spine-chilling at times as it teeters back and forth between the feather-soft vocal layering in the pre-chorus and bridge, to the earth-shattering trap beat of the chorus.

The song makes several gambling references — as does its music video set in an underground casino — and ultimately depicts how far she’s willing to bet her life on winning the literal and metaphorical game of roulette: “Risk it, risk it, risk it ’til the last dime.” Many have pointed out the parallels and inspirations BIBI had drawn from Korean movies like Tazza: The High Rollers which revolved around a “group of gambling drifters” in 2006. Although shown as dirty and violent in the video, BIBI displays an incredible duality to her musical persona — the ability to be perceived as something sweet and quirky, to completely flipping the switch and bringing that unapologetic attitude that makes her twice as appealing. Combined with her cool laid-back style of singing and desire to remain authentic to herself, “Kazino” is but one example of the 22-year-old’s creative prowess and potential to be an incredibly versatile soloist in the industry. 

— Chyenne

1. “La Di Da” by Everglow

Frank Miller-esque cinematography. Sequins. Synths. Voguing. EVERGLOW gave us everything newtro with “La Di Da.” The ladies are a force from the beginning with vocals backed by 80’s synths before venturing into an aggressive rap and slick pre-chorus that slips the catchy “EVERGLOW, forever, let’s go.” It ascends into a chorus with a repetitive “la di da” before dropping into an unexpected trap bridge that spotlights E:U rap skills. “La Di Da” maintains its momentum before presenting a dance break before the chanty “Turn it up loud. Turn it, turn it up loud. Shake it up now. Shake it, shake it up now.” It’s a moment we haven’t seen since the sextet’s debut. EVERGLOW let their vocals do all the heavy work without being overshadowed by onomatopoeias and adlibs. Here, they are effortlessly incorporated into the group’s vocals.

EVERGLOW proved that they are a mainstay with “La Di Da.” They showed that women were the backbone of this year’s K-pop run. And if you’re a hater, they don’t have time nor can they hear you. With “La Di Da”’s staying power, the possibilities for EVERGLOW are endless moving forward. It’s time for a new it girl group, and “La Di Da” demanded it be them.


— Nnehkai

Check out the Spotify playlist with every song on the list:


Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum, Tamar Herman, Joe Palmer, Anna Cheang, Shelley Foo, Kushal Dev, Ana Clara Ribeiro, Nnehkai Agbor, and Chyenne Tatum contributed to this article.

What was your favorite K-pop song of 2020? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Fast Take: BLACKPINK’s “Lovesick Girls”

Pull the windows down. You’re going 80 an hour on the freeway, and you and your friend just pulled into one of those long tunnels with endless rows of yellow, almost-strobing lights.

“What can we say?” Jennie sings, her trademark attitude audible even in a four-word question. She has a point—what can we say? We’re 200 days into quarantine, at a point so deep in hopelessness that it has morphed into strained, almost shameful optimism. Like a faint, approaching light at the end of a dimly lit tunnel…

And suddenly, you emerge into the night. “We are the lovesick girls,” the four women of BLACKPINK chant into the sky, and you hear it ricochet off of the clouds and airplanes and into your eardrums. It is the kind of stratospheric pop that makes us all feel warm and cold at the same time, like when you stick your torso out of the window of a fast car, cruising away from all of the bullshit and heartbreak you don’t yet want to face. “But we were born to be alone / Yeah, we were born to be alone,” they belt, letting the pain fray away like the seams of the thin sweater you’re wearing to stay warm in the early fall dusk.


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Perhaps one of 2020’s defining releases, “Lovesick Girls” is a chanting, pulsing, screaming love letter to no one and nothing but our own aching hearts. For the four women, who have effortlessly kept a world of listeners on their toes for the better half of a horribly turbulent year, the track is a meditative, mind-blowingly impressive effort at blending the group’s normally disparate “BLACK” and “PINK” sonic identities into one song. Instead of fearing the turbulence, they jump into it — head first, nosedive. The duality of BLACKPINK has never felt so uniform and coherent. It’s comfortable, but daring. Familiar, but electrifying. 

“Everyone eventually leaves / I’ve become numb to crying / Hurt over and over again,” Rosé sings in one of her most pristine, emotionally powered vocal performances to date. Don’t even bother denying it — no matter what “it” is and how much you think you’re over it, you never really are. We’re all “Lovesick Girls” in the end. Pull the windows back up, and go home. 


What are your thoughts on “Lovesick Girls?” Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Super M’s ‘Super One’ song ranking

By Maddy Myer

Fresh off two pre-release singles, a new partnership with the superhero media franchise Marvel, and performing their title track “One (Monster & Infinity)” on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, SuperM are on a roll. The super K-pop group dropped their debut studio album Super One on Sept. 25, almost a year after their debut. 

The group billed “the Avengers of K-pop” is composed of Taemin from SHINee, Baekhyun and Kai from EXO, Lucas and Ten from WayV, and Mark and Taeyong from NCT 127. Even though the members are from different SM Entertainment groups, they mesh together to create the ultimate group. 

Much like the group itself, Super One is the perfect debut full album from the group. With slower R&B songs like “So Long” and faster EDM style songs like “100” all in one album, there is something for everyone to enjoy. 

That being said, it’s always fun to rank your favorite songs when a new album drops. Not to mention an album with 15 tracks is very rare in K-pop, where EPs are usually the norm. Though the album has no skips, I do have songs that I prefer over others. This may change as I listen to the album more and more, but for now, here is my ranking for Super One songs.

15. “100”

It’s sad to say, but this song is all over the place. I’m not a fan of the “we go 100” being in the beginning and the chorus as well. I didn’t think too much energy in a song could exist, but it seems this song accomplished that. With so much going on, there is not time for the listener to appreciate the song. You come out listening to it and only remembering “we go 100.” After listening to the whole album multiple times, they could have picked a different song for the first pre-single, in my opinion, but if you’re a big EDM fan, this song may be better for you.


14. “Line Em Up”

The song feels almost incomplete to me. Similar to “100,” it is also another chorus that only used a few repeated phrases for catchiness. I prefer real choruses, so that is my main grievance for this song. I did like how they tried out a new style, but with that kind of track, I think the lyrics could have been better. Nevertheless, the ending is my favorite part simply because of the vocals.


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13. “Monster”

After hearing “One (Monster & Infinity),” the chorus on “Monster” is not as good. The chorus is lackluster in comparison because of the same beat being used as the start of the song, rather than switching it up. I think I would have appreciated this song more if I hadn’t heard “One” first. And with other “Monster” songs from SM artists, it’s the weakest. Regardless, the vocals are still very nice and I can see this being played a lot next month as the “Monster” theme fits well with Halloween season.

12. “Drip”

I was excited about hearing “Drip” in full after the preview in the Beyond LIVE concert, but I was somewhat disappointed. I honestly thought it would be a subunit song since SuperM’s first mini album had a few songs without all the members. The beginning isn’t as good as it could be and the background noise during the majority of the song is unnecessary. That being said, it would be great for making a TikTok challenge. People could strike different poses with jewelry while “drip” is repeated. It is also very short which in most cases makes a song stick in your head, but this had the opposite effect on me.

11. “Big Chance”

“Big Chance” is really close to being in my top 10, but I just liked “With You” a little bit more. Kai’s rap verse is unexpected, yet incredible. The lyrics and vocals are very sweet as well. I just wish the song was longer. I can see it being in a soundtrack for a feel-good movie because I couldn’t help but smile while listening to it. I get the message that whatever chance you have at achieving something, you should take it. Songs that resonate messages with listeners always tend to make me listen to them more. With the perceived message and lyrics, I know I can listen to this song anytime I’m feeling down.

10. “With You”

“With You” was another song performed as unreleased during their concert last year. The energy from the members during the concert was infectious. Even though at the time people didn’t know the song, the energy transferred from them to the fans in the arena. For certain parts of the song, I can picture people jumping up and down while it is played at a club. It’s a nice song with almost love song lyrics and overall a good closer for the album.

9. “Together at Home”

“Together at Home” gives me an ‘80s feel. It’s always cool to see songs written by the artists performing them. It’s not necessary, but if the artist took part in writing a song, they most likely have an even stronger connection with it. Finding out that Mark and Taeyong wrote lyrics for this song made it that more special. I really like the heavy bass and synth vibes in the song and the experimentation the track did.

8. “Wish You Were Here”

“Wish You Were Here” is an amazing lively song. Even though you’re wishing for someone, I still feel like it’s a positive song. The raps are also well placed before returning to the impressive vocals. I can honestly see an acoustic version of this song coming out and being a big hit as well. You know those songs you can just lose yourself in if you close your eyes. That’s exactly what this presents. When the “ba-ba, ba-ra..” starts, that feeling really sets in.

7. “Infinity”

“Infinity” is the more rap heavy of the two songs featured in “One (Monster & Infinity).” It is also the better of the two songs. With how much energy this song has, you could do anything from workout to daily household chores while listening. Then the switch up to almost a robotic sound completely throws you for a loop before returning to its set tone. This was also the chorus I preferred out of “Monster” and “Infinity.” Even the vocals are high energy, but not in a bad way, in a way that makes you want to repeat the song over and over again.

6. “Better Days”

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“Better Days” is such a beautiful song. It is very relatable right now with everything going on in the world. We have to remember there will be better days and songs like these are good escapes from the current rough days. One could slow dance to this or even be serenaded. If concerts were happening right now, this would be the song where the arena would be filled with swaying iPhone flashlights. All in all, it is the most emotional song on the album.

5. “One (Monster & Infinity)”

“One (Monster & Infinity)” is the song I was a little hesitant to listen to. After learning that it was a combination of “Infinity” and “Monster,” but listening to the song you couldn’t tell it was a mashup. The song flowed really well and honestly took the best parts from both songs. I think it is a great pick for the title track. Seeing it performed on Ellen also made me like it more. The music video was also really good and since it came out before the rest of the album, I listened to it a lot and already almost have it memorized.


4. “Step Up”

“Step Up” may just be the song you hear before you enter the gates of heaven. Baekhyun and Taemin’s voices at the beginning prove why they are two of the best male vocalists in K-pop. And they don’t just sing well, they also put so much emotion into their singing, listeners can’t help but feel it. This song has it all and by the time it gets to the “step-up” chorus, it makes me feel like I’m running in a video game. Now with all the different elements at play here, people may wonder why it’s not in my top three. The reason is “Dangerous Woman.”

3. “Dangerous Woman”

I won’t lie, when I first heard “Dangerous Woman” live at Super M’s concert in Dallas last year, I thought they were about to cover an Ariana Grande song. But as the intro started, I realized this was their own song and it was a damn good one. I think it is my favorite example of a song where the members harmonize together for a big chunk of the song. Their voices complemented each other so well. The iconic back and forth between Ten and Mark is another great highlight of the song. Then at the end, Lucas and Mark come in with a fire rap to top it off. This song had everything a hit song should have, but there was one song that had an even more iconic part that couldn’t go unnoticed.

2. “Tiger Inside”

Simply said, “Tiger Inside” is top-notch. Out of all the songs billed as singles, “Tiger Inside” is the strongest in my opinion. Any song that features Taeyong growling would have to be ranked high. His part of the song went viral on Twitter prior to it’s official release and rightfully so, it is very captivating. In all seriousness, “Tiger Inside” is a super catchy song with an infectious beat. Just when you think the song is over after a high note, in comes a fast tempo rap. The song was performed in full during the group’s Beyond LIVE concert back in April, and waiting those several months was pure torture. It is also my favorite music video out of all the singles. The next song is the best song on the album is one that I think deserves its own music video or at least a THE STAGE performance.


1. “So Long”

Coming in at No. 1 as the best song on the album, we have “So Long.” The thing that makes it stand out is its balance between vocal power and rap flow. It also has harmonies between the members that I’ve been praising. The rap isn’t a high tempo, yet it still remains compelling. The song starts off with silky smooth vocals before the beat picks up. You can’t help but want to snap your fingers and dance. The chorus is an actual chorus rather than just a repetition of one word seen often in songs nowadays. The slow rap is also the icing to the strong vocals throughout the song. After ¾ of the song is done, the strong vocal ending before “I throw ‘em up” is the best in the whole album as well.

Final Thoughts

After a successful mini album, Super One was an appealing full album that showed the group’s evolution. For their debut full album, the members harmonized together more, the songs flowed better, and the raps were even more crisp. Since there were more than just five songs, they were able to show off more styles and distribute lines a little bit better. They had a reinvigorated confidence and edge that solidified that they are indeed K-pop’s supergroup and they’re here to stay. 

With so many songs on the album, there was no way there wasn’t a song for everyone. If you want a song to play on a rainy day, Super One has it. If you want one to turn the bass up to in your car, it has that as well. Try showing your favorite songs from the album to a few of your friends and see what they think. I bet they’ll find a few they like as well, even if they aren’t Super M fans, maybe they will be soon.  

There are sure to be more surprises in store for fans, whether it be another Beyond LIVE concert or exclusive interviews. Let’s see if SuperM can repeat a No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with this excellent album Super One

What’s your personal ranking of Super One? Let us know 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.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene‘s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Time flies: 5 years of Wonder Girls’ ‘Reboot’

Few K-pop groups have such a cohesive body of work as the girl group Wonder Girls. The use of time’s relationship with music was a central element through their entire career, as highlighted in songs like “Nobody” and albums like Reboot, in which they proved exactly how they were queens of the concept. Five years later, Reboot still holds up to the testament of time.

Looking back at “Nobody,” the 2008 Wonder Girls single that was the group’s breakthrough and an important mark in the history of K-pop’s relationship with international audiences, the impact of the track was an interesting artistic paradox. The concept for the song and music video was inspired by the 1960s, but bringing up a “concept” was something fairly new in K-pop. Basically, the Wonder Girls used something “old” stylistically to inaugurate something new.

“Nobody” wasn’t the Wonder Girls’ first time tapping into “retro” sounds, as that was the basis for much of the act’s music, but it was definitely their most impactful song at the time it was released, resulting in remakes in Mandarin, Japanese, and English, and it would go on to become the first K-pop song to make waves in the world’s biggest music market chart, U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. 

Seven years later, the group would stay true to their retro signature with their third studio album Reboot. But make no mistake: sticking to the old formula by no way meant they’d be in their comfort zone. Reboot introduced Wonder Girls’ final group formation, made of Yubin, Hyelim, Sunmi, and Yeeun as a band, with all members playing instruments after several prior lineup changes.


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In terms of sound, Reboot was an album in which they would “go back in time,” — more specifically, to 1980s synthpop and hip-hop — as well as celebrate themselves and their career. And what better way than music nostalgia to celebrate the history of a group who would be known as “retro queens?

To hear the ladies singing “We’re back” over an old school hip-hop beat on the track “Back” was a super cool sonic metaphor: the Wonder Girls were back to going back in time. Indeed, what they did best.

Reboot would be full of these interesting semiotic parallels. The album’s title, as well as songs like “Rewind” and “Gone,” and the general musicality all hint at the past, while, interestingly, bringing the ladies’s most empowered and outspoken version to date. From beginning to end, all tracks would fit perfectly in ‘80s throwback playlists of a wide range of genres that were popular in that decade, be it Miami bass and freestyle (“I Feel You”), electropop (“One Black Night”), hip house (“Oppa”), old school female rap (“Back”), Japanese city pop (“Faded Love”), or Debbie Gibson-ballad style (“Remember”).

Whether you’re familiar or not with the genres and the times the album  evokes, it’s hard to resist the bubbly synths, reverbered drums, and catchy vocals; this is definitely an album to dance to. But Reboot is also worth remembering for bringing powerful affirmations of the members’s autonomy as K-pop idols and creatives.

The very fact that this comeback presented the members as a band was symbolic, as the members co-wrote and co-produced all 12 songs in the album. Commonly, bands are made of musicians who perform authorial works, while in K-pop, authorial work is not really the norm — although it’s definitely less rare nowadays than it used to be. The merit in performing music made by others is its own discussion. But for the Wonder Girls, Reboot was an important album in the sense of giving them a platform to share their perspectives about their place in the K-pop industry. As one of the key names in the history of K-pop, their perspectives are indeed valuable.


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You can see the ladies’ presence in the music and in the lyrics, and they sounded like they were really enjoying being themselves and the unique position they were in. But it’s also good to hear them addressing their own perceptions, as well as how they were affected by people’s perceptions of them. For example, in “Back,” Yubin raps about the expectations on their comeback (in a verse she would later repeat in her participation in the reality show Unpretty Rapstar 2), and Hyelim does wordplay on the world “idol,” whose pronunciation both parallels the Korean word for “children,” and also evokes the word  “doll,” to denying being either of those things. For things like that, alone, Reboot would be an interesting album — but, more importantly, it is fun and the music is great. 

It would be, sadly, the Wonder Girls’s last studio album — the group would disband one year later. Today, Sunmi is a successful soloist, Yeeun still releases music while also writing for artists like Twice, Yubin has her own record label, to which Hyelim was the first signed artist. To see them currently in such control of their lives is reminiscent of their 5-year-old masterpiece: a record in which they challenged their audience, and, mainly, challenged themselves, just like they continue to do until today.

What are your thoughts on Reboot? Let us know 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.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

Fast Take: CL’s “+POST UP+”

A lot can happen in a decade. It’s true for all of us, but if you’re CL, you especially know what I mean. You ride the wave of success with 2NE1, only to face long hiatuses and disbandment near the group’s peak of international popularity. You mount a plan for global conquest, only to be passed around by management, promising releases that would sparsely materialize. You go from household name in the K-pop scene in 2015, to wondering ever-so-slightly if the K-pop’s millions of new fans even know who you are in 2020.

If CL’s December 2019 EP In the Name of Love was a long-awaited exhale, an emotional and physical release in response to years of pent-up tension, then “+POST UP+” is finally breathing fire.

The track was produced by Bauuer and engineered by Colin Leonard, who are some of the minds behind Kris Wu, Rico Nasty, and Cardi B hits. It’s a noisy, bounce-clap production ripe with heavy syncopation, and carries the raw, steampunk energy of an angry mob holding fiery torches, poised for attack. But CL isn’t angry—“even if I get knocked down 9 times, get up 10 / Deep breath, zen”—she’s calm, composed, and ready.

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“Baddest female Asian, that is the status.” “Honey, world is mine ain’t no running from it”—the bars ooze with her trademark confidence and conceit. But unlike her more commercial releases, 2013’s “The Baddest Female” and 2015’s anthemic “Hello Bitches,” you can hear the rookie mindset in her lyrics and delivery. She talks of a “fresh start right away, reoffense,” and “big dreams, whole lot of bigger things.” CL knows that, after years of dipping in and out of the spotlight, she has a lot to prove. But this time, she’s hungry for the challenge. 

This is a big moment for her. She’s no longer the loudest voice among Korean artists’ global movements. In a world where K-pop is now at the cutting-edge of global music, she’ll need to build a new home within, or perhaps outside of, an influx of increasingly international Asian and Asian American acts. And in a global music industry where understandings of cultural appropriation, call-outs of blaccent and AAVE in non-Black rap, and consciousness of anti-Black racism in music are at an all-time high—a world that is, in many ways, vastly different than that of when she stepped out on the scene 11 years ago—CL has and will have to continue to reckon with the “Baddest female Asian” identity.

But none of this changes the cold, hard truth—it’s been more than a decade of CL in the game. She says, “I go by the name of… you already know.” And even if you don’t know, you do.

What are your thoughts on CL’s “+Post Up+”? Let us know 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.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.

EXO-SC’s ‘1 Billion Views’ album review

By Chyenne Tatum

Although SM Entertainment has yet to reveal any 2020 plans for a full EXO album thus far, there really hasn’t been a single shortage of content from the members individually. Right on the heels of solo albums released by Suho, Baekhyun, and Lay, SM confirmed that EXO-SC would be making a comeback with their first full length album on July 13, titled 1 Billion Views. Similar to their first EP, What a Life, the album credits hip-hop artist and Dynamic Duo member Gaeko as a lead producer, as well as Chanyeol and Sehun participating in every track both lyrically and in music production. 

This isn’t the first time that the pair have been so heavily involved in their music, especially considering Chanyeol has been working with his studio, Studio 519, as a producer and songwriter for a while now. However, there is a notable amount of hip-hop and R&B artists who have contributed in helping make this album sound as authentically chill as possible, including Gray, Boi B, THAMA, and SOLE, Penemeco, and 10cm.

It’s already been a year since EXO’s main rappers debuted as EXO-SC, marking the second subunit to form from the nine member group after EXO-CBX – consisting of Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin – debuted as a trio in 2016. EXO is usually known for their ‘90s and early 2000’s inspired pop, R&B, and hip-hop songs – music that’ll remind you of Backstreet Boys (“Call Me Baby”) or Boyz II Men (“What If….”). However, both subunits have taken bits and pieces of these musical elements that fans may be familiar with and have molded them into entirely new identities that are distinctively their own.

Taking on a more retro approach to hip-hop, the first track and lead single “1 Billion Views” features R&B singer Moon and is very much in-the-pocket with its funky guitar rhythm riffs and disco themed visuals. The lyrics are playful and witty while expressing the members’ desire to replay a video of their significant other one billion times without getting bored – a sure-fire way to make any fan’s heart flutter if they were to be serenaded by the two rappers. The “I cry, I cry” melody of the pre-chorus is undeniably addictive and one of the many times throughout this album where we can hear the two rappers sing, which is a treasure in and of itself. Moon’s velvety vocals in the bridge also brings another soft layer to the song and fits in perfectly as she continues to add vocal riffs on top of the final chorus.


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The funk essence of “1 Billion Views” can also be found in upbeat EXO songs like “Love Me Right” and “Lucky One.” In fact, most of EXO-CBX’s sound is based off of funk and ‘80s synth-pop which is more dance oriented and a lot of times, very high energy compared to the relaxed aura of Chanyeol and Sehun. While EXO, CBX, and SC have all incorporated the same genre, they’ve all done so with different variations, which offers something new every time and will cater to all kinds of eclectic musical tastes.

The music video for “1 Billion Views” also captures the retro essence of the song, but with a modern twist that seems relatable to every teen or young adult right now. Throughout the video, images of text messages and phone notifications pop up, and they even use TikTok as a visual reference by creating a ”1 Billion Views” dance challenge within the video that fans can enjoy and recreate in their free time.

The second track off the album is “Say It,” featuring rapper and singer-songwriter Penemeco, with lyrics written by R&B artist THAMA. The summer vibes are strong with this one as the guys plead their lover to honestly express their feelings, since it’s driving them crazy not knowing how they truly feel. Penemeco sings most of the chorus, and it’s so easy to sing along to that it would brighten anyone’s day and make you feel cool on a hot summer day. The most memorable line is when Sehun says, “No longer in our relationship R N P, set the gear on D,” representing the gear shifts in a car. It’s an interesting metaphor to think about when he’s basically saying, “Let’s not put this relationship in park or go backwards, let’s just drive head-on and see where it takes us” – relationship advice 101 with Oh Sehun.

Next is “Rodeo Station,” which was co-written by Gaeko and co-produced by THAMA. The intro starts out with beautiful, yet simple guitar riffs before the beat kicks in with Chanyeol’s husky vocals. The theme of this album just screams “easy-listening” and is once again reinforced with this track, never seeming too hype or too much. Lyrically, the song seems to reference their trainee days when they would take bus number 4419 to dance practice in their sweatpants. 

Later on in the song, the members acknowledge that many things have changed in their lives – new cars, new tours, making headlines with everything they do – but no matter how famous they are, they’d still like to meet their special friend or loved one back at the Apgujeong Rodeo Station, just like old times.

Next is “Telephone,” which served as a pre-release single to “1 Billion Views,” features vocalist 10cm, and also has an accompanying music video. The upbeat staccato piano and heavy bass gives off that classic, fun sound that is largely popular with Korea’s general public – it’s considered very public friendly and easily marketable in the eyes of South Korea’s music industry. At first, it seemed like a nice song to have playing in the background while you’re doing homework or chores around the house, but not necessarily the most interesting song I’ve ever heard. However, within the context of the rest of the album, it makes me so much more sense sonically and is refreshing to hear after the first three tracks.

The first collaboration we saw between 10cm and EXO was with Chen’s 2017 SM Station titled, “Bye Babe.” It seems as though 10cm never disappoints, especially when working with EXO. Like with “Bye Babe”, 10cm’s light voice gives it more of an indie vibe and his higher vocal tone adds an amazing contrast in the bridge and final chorus. Although he doesn’t show up in the music video, it’s still quirky and fun to dive into when you feel like turning off your phone for a bit and in need of a smile.

Taking an emotional turn, “Jet Lag” expresses the main character’s frustration with not being able to meet their loved one easily, considering they’re always miles apart and time never seems to be on their side. This one is co-written by rapper Hangzoo and, again, co-produced by THAMA, who’s soulful influence is clearly heard throughout. The tune starts out with Chanyeol singing about the time differences from L.A. to London, and finally Paris. Sehun follows with listing off all the things he’s scheduled to do that week – walking on a runway, standing on stage, and going to the studio the next day – all the things that are keeping him from flying back to Seoul to see his love. The calming R&B influence along with the yearning that lingers in the pair’s voices, easily makes this a stand-out track and worthy of multiple repeats.


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Continuing on the mellow trend, “Fly Away” features Gaeko and is the second EXO-SC song he’s vocally participated in, following “Just Us Two” from last year’s What a Life. From the first listen and even after looking into the meaning behind the sixth track, “Fly Away” is an inspirational journey as Chanyeol and Sehun touch on the dreams and experiences they had growing up while learning to spread their wings and fly high. So far, a lot of the duo’s featured guests have taken the chorus and it’s no different with Gaeko when he sings, “We have to fly higher than anyone else, we have to find the top,” through each chorus, urging the listener to feel like they’re literally soaring through the air, weightless, and ready to seize the next opportunity.

Next up is probably one of the most emotional of them all and it’s Chanyeol’s solo, “Nothin’.” This was an attention grabber from the start when the deep toned rapper starts to sing with a filter over his voice saying, “I don’t ever worry bout nothin’.” Chanyeol participated in writing and composing this track as well, which leads the listener to believe that these in particular are the most personal to him, and it shows. “Nothin'” is lyrically described as “one’s determination to go on their own way silently and without paying attention to the surroundings.” He mentions that people may call him names, but he’s going to continue to walk down the path that he paved, confident in his choices and indifferent to anyone else’s opinions. A music video was released with a shortened version of the song and shows Chanyeol looking confident at times, but then battling with his own inner thoughts and feelings – a fascinating distinction between what he wants to feel and how he’s actually thinking. 

Finally, the last track (aside from the “1 Billion Views” instrumental), is Sehun’s solo titled “On Me,” which is actually the most energetic one of them all and the first to incorporate trap and synthesizers that allow the song to pop. Likewise to Sehun’s older counterpart, he was able to compose and write the lyrics for this piece that capture the true essence of always trying his best in every given moment. The hip-hop beat is even a little reminiscent of the intro and outro to EXO’s “Damage” from 2018’s Don’t Mess Up My Tempo, but without the reggae rhythm. As Sehun’s very first solo in his ninth year with EXO, this was especially exciting for fans who have watched the youngest member grow as an artist and finally get the recognition and opportunities that he deserves. He was able to show off his sharp dance skills alongside a group of female dancers, while also cutting to majestic scenes of him on a white horse – EXO-L approves this message.



Overall Thoughts

If the duo’s 2019 EP, What a Life, was any indicator on how different their sound would be from EXO, then 1 Billion Views proves to solidify EXO-SC’s signature style as the cool, laid-back subunit of the group compared to EXO-CBX, who’s music is loaded with hyperactive beats suited for the dance floor. Although they were already leaning towards the hip-hop and R&B route, the presence of all the other artists that have worked on this album runs deep and it’s pretty cool to see Chanyeol and Sehun work with people whom they admire themselves and are close to. It’s musically cohesive throughout and another example of how diverse and creatively fluid EXO’s discography can be.

EXO-SC's '1 Billion Views'
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What are your thoughts on EXO-SC’s 1 Billion Views album? Let us know 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.

KultScene is a writer-driven website dedicated to creating a platform where diverse voices’ takes on K-pop can be heard. If you like this post and would like to see more by helping support KultScene’s writers fund, please email us for more details.