50 best K-pop songs of 2019

While we’re closing out a decade (and commemorating it with a list of its own) that marked K-pop’s exponential growth around the world this year, that doesn’t mean 2019 didn’t give us amazing K-pop songs that should be highlighted in their own right. 

The year was notably marked by a slew of rookie groups that came out swinging for their debuts, as well as female acts —new, up-and coming, and more established ones — constantly making waves in the scene with innovative concepts and music, and seemingly all the male acts went dark with their concepts, often with a deep house track. 2019 was also the year different groups made even bigger strides in America. Whether that was topping the Billboard charts, performing at festivals, multiple world tours, or going on every other morning and late night TV show, K-pop was hard to overlook this year. As the decade came to a close, it unfortunately also took two K-pop greats: Sulli from f(x) and Goo Hara from KARA, highlighting the need to have conversations on online bullying, misogyny, and mental health and ultimately resolve the issues they raise. 

2019 gave us high highs and low lows, on and off the stage, but music continued to be a refuge for many. Here are KultScene’s best K-pop songs of the year.

50. “Picky Picky” by Weki Meki

All of K-pop, past and present, is contained in Weki Meki. They began life with one of the great structure bending songs in “I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend,” and have since ridden its giddy waves to great effect. “Picky Picky” feels so classically K-pop thanks in most part to its sense of humour. Who still makes songs that rhymes with their groups name and who so gleefully shouts the name of that group as arrogantly as they can. This verve of Weki Meki’s manifests in extraordinary high pitched vocals, coming in auto-tuned squeals as well as big chants. It doesn’t take a native speaker to know this is a song about supremely confident young girls who know exactly what they want. 

— Joe

49. “Loss” by Colde

Now that it is officially winter, it’s the perfect time of the year to stay in and cuddle up to Colde’s “Loss” again. Released earlier this year as part of SM Station’s third installation, this moody single takes an unorthodox approach to mainstream music by using silence and soundmarks to build an acoustic environment where listeners can explore the theme of loss on an ecological level. The sounds of birds chirping, of tea decanting from pot to cup, of the car door slamming, of heels hitting the pavement. It’s the soundscape of the mundanities of life. Accompanied by an eerie piano piece and a drawling string section, there’s an emptiness and a sense of longing in those pieces of information that don’t require words. Colde knows this too as he keeps his part quite laconic with only eleven lines, all reading like sedative poetry. Maybe that’s why every listen always feel all too short. And maybe that’s why we still haven’t had enough.

— Shelley

48. “Tic Toc” by Neon Punch

Neon Punch made it a successful two for two on their only track of the year, “Tic Toc.” The cosmic symbols of its video try to convey the feeling of a destined love, mixing metaphors with stars and clocks. Similarly, the song itself takes a number of familiar elements and crashes them together to make them fresh once more. The house beats are bolstered by not just being fidgety but relatively scant. They allow the verse to shift around a number of synths leading to a rising pre-chorus. This somehow works thanks to the chorus that comes after it, quite low key in comparison but given a scratchy guitar for more of a disco feel. It’s all very unlikely but so is destiny, if you don’t go for it, it’ll never work. 

— Joe

47. “Maybe It’s Not Our Fault” by Baek Yerin

Baek Yerin flexes her soulful voice for a haunting experience in her lead single, “Maybe It’s Not Our Fault.” Backed with eerie synths, sporadic sleigh bells, and a deep bass, the lo-fi R&B track exudes a somber yet hopeful aura as Baek pieces together the unforeseen turning point in a relationship. Ultimately, climaxing at the realization that some things can’t be salvaged even if there isn’t anyone to blame. “Maybe It’s Not Our Fault” marks Baek’s full leap into experimenting with her sound and reshaping her identity as an artist. 

— Nnehkai

46. “Blue Flame” by Astro

With each release Astro serves up one addicting single after another, and this year’s “Blue Flame” heated things up for the act, serving up a classic, dramatic K-pop boy band dance track and putting their own flair on it. With groovy instrumentals helping the track lean into the popular “newtro” trend of 2019, scattered trapped beat and sonorous EDM melodies, it’s a song that deserves to be played again and again and will brighten up any playlist.  

— Tamar

45. “That’s Okay” by D.O

EXO’s D.O shocked fans back in July when he suddenly put his career on halt to enlist in the military, but he did not do so before leaving this comforting parting gift. Written by D.O himself, the acoustic R&B ballad expresses how it’s alright to open up and to live in your emotions. The healing message feels more reassuring when sung by the main vocalist, whose warm colors and vocal runs alone are enough to fill out the stripped down song. Just as “That’s Okay” concludes on a hopeful note, so too should we remain optimistic that he returns from his mandatory services safely. Until then, “it’s okay to be okay.”

— Shelley

44. “Sunrise” by GFriend

Beginning with a whimsical piano, “Sunrise” grabs listeners’ attention with a bouncy vocal entrance by main vocalist SinB. From there, each vocal addition builds into the song’s emotive, pulsating chorus leading into the quintet’s signature sound. From Yerin’s powerful vocals to Umji and Sowon’s heartfelt harmonies, each member takes command of her part. However, it’s Eunha who drives “Sunrise” to its dramatic close with her rich, high notes. GFriend once again proved to be some of K-pop’s best vocalists and performers with their precise choreography. All in all, no one’s doing it like GFriend.     

— Nnehkai

43. “Fear” by Seventeen

Seventeen opens a new chapter in their discography with this angsty R&B track. The group delivers an intensity that they’d yet to reach starting with Wonwoo’s opening declaration of being poison, but it’s Joshua and Jeonghan’s falsettos that add dimension throughout the song’s changing dynamics. Co-composed by member Woozi, “Fear” takes a look into the root of insecurities and the manifestation of our fears. On a surface level, the song is about needing to let go of a toxic relationship but remaining out of fear. However, it also examines how complacent we become in various aspects of life because of fear, and how it can be poison to others and ourselves.  

— Nnehkai

42. “Sweet Chaos” by DAY6 

This track may be intense, chaotic, and have a BPM of 200 (the fastest ever title track for DAY6), “but I like” it. It showcases the full range of abilities this band has to offer, with stunning vocal sections and exciting instrumental riffs. Wonpil, in particular, shines here more than he normally does in their other drum-heavy songs, and his traverses up and down the keyboard during the chorus sections are absolutely delicious. Both in its instrumentation and lyrics, the thrill of love despite the massive transformations it brings to a person’s life is conveyed very well, and “Sweet Chaos” was overall an extremely fitting choice as the title track for the musically complex The Book of Us: Entropy

— Anna

41. “Adios” by Hoody

The nine to five grind can be a tedious cycle of routine and unwanted events without any time for vacation, and Hoody’s title track from her first full album echoes that yearning for escapism. Composed by Cha Cha Malone, Gray, and Hoody, “Adios” is equipped with mesmerizing piano loops, colorful synths layered over a simple hip hop beat serving as a dreamy background for Hoody’s honey vocals. Hoody’s vocals breezily navigate the song’s ebb and flow before Gray stamps his distinctive sound on the track for a nice break. 

Nnehkai

40. “Woowa” by DIA

“Woowa” popped up to be the unashamed dance pop song of the summer we sorely needed this year. There has been no true heir to almighty reign of Sistar, but DIA staked a claim last year with the Tinashe-inspired “Woo Woo.” That had clear beach summer vibes, this time it’s the after party rave. “Woowa” is a straightforward blast of rising jigsaw synths, snare heavy beats with a wonderful looping bassline, and utterly unpredictable horns in the chorus. It’s the bassline that producer Shinsadong Tiger uses to constantly pull you back in after another breathless chorus. Eventually, it pulls you in so close to the bodies around you on the dancefloor, you can’t help but fall in love.  

— Joe

39. “Say My Name” by ATEEZ 

ATEEZ’s pirate concept requires powerful and apotheotic songs, and “Say My Name” delivers just that, in the catchiest way possible! Its flute melody in the beginning is one of the coolest K-pop intros of the year, and the rest of the song develops with the same level of excitement. Special highlight is the chorus, that builds the tension for the drop in the best hero movie vibe. ATEEZ’s style, enthusiasm, and energy really show through “Say My Name.” The entire song just makes you want to dance, or go out and conquer the world, or call ATEEZ’ name to do it.

— Ana Clara

38. “I Don’t Need Your Love” by NCT DREAM X HRVY

East meets West collabs within K-pop have been historically, and objectively, mostly bad, though the last couple of years have given us a few gems. NCT DREAM’s SM Station song with the English singer HRVY is luckily one of those. Though probably not an organic collab, both acts definitely sold us on the idea that it was. HRVY was woven into DREAM’s fabric seamlessly. Their vocals all blended flawlessly —if you simply listened to this song, you could swear the NCT unit had a new member. And though the bar is on the floor with this one, just the fact that he showed up to film the music video is a feat in itself, but he also attempted to —bless his heart— do the choreography, and spend time with the dreamies in Seoul. The track itself brought DREAM to their softer, dance pop days, which was a refreshing throwback in between “We Go Up” and “Boom” (#JusticeForBoomOnTheKultSceneList). More collabs like “I Don’t Need Your Love,” please.  

— Alexis

37. “We Don’t Talk Together” by Heize

In the midst of dropping her first studio album, She’s Fine, and an EP, Late Autumn; Heize gathered an all-star team featuring rapper Giriboy and producer SUGA of BTS fame to bring us the upbeat R&B track “We Don’t Talk Together.” From the smooth synth beats in the beginning of the song to the layering of Heize’s whimsical vocals, there were so many elements that came together to make a great song. Overall, the song has a light and airy feel to it but with Giriboy’s rap, a contrasting hardness was introduced creating a well-balanced song that is pleasing to listen to despite it being about a couple with communication problems.

— Katherine

36. “Shaker” by Sumin

Throughout the entirety of her 2019 album, “OO DA DA,” but never more so than on “Shaker” Sumin makes excellent use of her voice as an accompanying instrument. A variety of ad libs, each unique in sound and edit, counterpoint against her vocal, building layers to quite a stripped back song. It’s only two and a half minutes long, but these vocals and the repetitive, almost counting synth add a sense of constant movement. Sumin always feels like she’s innovating in the electro-pop/indie world, and “Shaker” feels like the most appropriate start to the best work of her career. 

— Joe

35. “Blue” by Ha Sungwoon 

The former Wanna One member has consistently been impressive with his solo releases and the OSTs he has released throughout the year. “Blue” is an extremely catchy dance track that also successfully highlights Sungwoon’s powerful vocals, along with his delightful high notes. Though the base beat of the track is slow, Sungwoon manipulates it with ease, changing the speed of his notes to vary the intensity of the song. It is a masterful performance from Sungwoon with a charismatic dance performance as a cherry on top, and I’m excited to see where his artistry takes him next. 

— Anna

34. “Want” by Taemin

Some say seduction is an art; and well, it really does sound like it in Taemin’s “Want.” We’ve had a glimpse of Taemin’s elegant approach of love and sexuality before in singles like “Thirsty” and “Move.” This time, however, the songwriting choices make “Want” even more urgent and direct than the other ones. If “Thirsty” was all about sexual tension’s discharge and “Move” was more about the intoxicating allurement of watching your partner’s body moves than about any interaction at all, “Want” goes several steps further, as Taemin yearns for his partner to feel just as insatiable as he does. Taemin’s sensual entonement of the lyrics, supported by a disco instrumental filled with reverb sounds, and his most typically pop-esque usage of chord progressions so far, shows why the singer is king in making sex and seduction sound even more beautiful —in lyrics such as “I’m your eyes, I’ll make you see a new world”— hard to resist.

 — Ana Clara

33. “Love Talk” by WayV

We know, we know. WayV isn’t exactly what we traditionally would consider a K-pop group, and “Love Talk” is an English language song sung by a group that mainly sings in Mandarin. But with at least four members being officially part of NCT (OT21 though, fight me!!), all of them training under SM Entertainment —the birther of K-pop groups as we know them— and the fact that they promoted on a Korean music show, they’ve earned their spot on a K-pop list. Now that that’s out of the way, “Love Talk,” started a frenzy on social media when it first dropped. Has a K-pop group ever been so explicit in their lyrics? Probably not, and we love WayV for it. Not to mention they pull them off unlike others (“Regular” and “Highway To Heaven” English versions, mainly) And the song itself, ain’t bad at all, with every member adding their own personality and vocal color. From Lucas’ husky rap to Xiaojun’s velvety yearns and Ten’s angelic high notes, to paraphrase their lyrics, doing what they do to us is a crime.        

— Alexis

32. “Red” by The Rose 

In spite of the experimental approach the band has towards their instrumentation this time around, this sound is unmistakably theirs, and its familiarity is extremely comforting. Woosung’s beautiful unique tone stands out as usual, especially since he got almost all the singing parts in this song, but the extraordinary control he has over his voice reflects his growth over the past year, both through the release of his solo album and his experience on JTBC’s “Superband.” The electronic instrumental riffs which pop up throughout the song is somewhat atypical of The Rose, who used to favour more naturalistic instrumental sounds, but it works extremely well to make this track pop. 

— Anna

31. “Nabi” by BIBI

After making it all the way to the finale of survival program The Fan where she first charmed the public with her distinguished voice and smashing stage presence, runner-up contestant BIBI has finally debuted! Signed under Feel Ghood Music, the rookie made her official solo debut with “Binu,” where her lyrics about washing away her sins with soap and sometimes monotonous, sometimes pitchy, but always intoxicating style was only an introduction to the cockeyed concepts that were to come. Enter “Nabi” only a month later. This time, the song approaches the capricious nature of love. A stock talking point in music, until you realize that this one does so through the lens of cat. BIBI’s free-spirited, fluid personality is reflected once again through her vocal agility, switching between highs and lows with ease and sustaining certain notes over others. The hook’s lo-fi drum beat is equally as chill; it’s just the support BIBI needs for her precocious vocals. She’s got that kind of voice that suits all kinds of genres, from R&B to indie, and if this fanciful voyage into her imagination is only the beginning, then we’re scared (in the best way possible) for more.

— Shelley

30. “Blueming” by IU

As “Love Poem” serves as the perfect wrap to the first decade of IU’s career, “Blueming” pays homage to the pop-rock wave that took the world by storm in the ‘80s. The track boasts a syrupy electric guitar, full syths, and a deep, percussive undertone with IU easily flexing her fluttery vocals. A play on the word blooming, “Blueming” also draws on the significance of a blue rose and its double meaning of an unattainable love and a promise of commitment in a relationship in which both are a testament to today’s dating culture. IU proves that she is trying her best to decipher the ins and outs of adulthood after conquering the insecurities voiced in her previous albums, Chat-shire and Palette.

Nnehkai

29. “Make It Right” by BTS

When one of the biggest songwriters in the world writes a great song exclusively for you, you don’t say no. But if you’re BTS, one thing you won’t do it either is to take it without making it sound as if it has always been your own. Ed Sheeran might have been the mastermind behind “Make It Right,” but it’s the Korean septet’s unique touch that makes the song so good: their uniquely natural introduction of rap between the sections, as in RM’s; their clever exploration of the vocals of Jin, Jimin, V, Jungkook – and, this time, of the rapper J-Hope too, for the surprise of many! Also, the group’s thoughtful and inspired lyrics. Special highlights are SUGA’s emotional rap  and J-Hope’s verse, which summarizes BTS’ purpose as artists for their fans: “The answer to my journey, I sing to find you.” This track had everything to be a typical, generic pop collaboration crafted for the mainstream, yet it’s just as in tune with BTS’ true roots as it could possibly be.

— Ana Clara

28. “No” by CLC

As previously mentioned in our 100 Best K-pop songs of the 2010s, nothing screamed (self) women empowerment than CLC’s “No.” They might not have set out with the intention of the song becoming an anthem, but it absolutely did! In a society where we’re so used to hearing “yes” instead of “no” to so many things, it was profoundly refreshing to have a song with a bunch of no’s. No, you won’t tell me how to dress. No you won’t tell me how I should look like, and, overall, no you shouldn’t ever tell me what to do. “No” is about not just about having confidence in, well, everything but with holding one’s self pride.

— Tam

27. “Breathe” by AB6IX

In a big way, 2019 was the year of the super rookies, and one of those groups was undoubtedly AB6IX. After completing a very successful stint with Wanna One, Woojin and Daehwi joined MXM’s Youngmin and Donghyun, plus new member Woong, to form the first boy group to debut under Brand New Music. Knowing most of the members through their respective projects plus their participation on the second season of Produce 101, the expectations for AB6IX were high, and with their debut single “Breathe,” they delivered. The Daehwi penned, deep house track plays into each member’s strengths, like Woojin’s spitfire verses, Daehwi’s airy vocals in the chorus, and Woong’s much welcomed smooth tone. AB6IX represents the new generation of K-pop groups that self-produce, choreograph, and write and aim for the global market. And given that the group has already announced a world tour for 2020, we can safely say it’s working well for them thus far.  

— Alexis

26. “Face” by Woosung

Ask me how many times I found myself humming “I like your face” this summer. Actually, it’s an embarrassing amount of times, so please don’t but correct me if I’m wrong, I’m inclined to say that “Face” by Woosung (from The Rose) had one of the catchiest hooks of 2019. It’s memorable and heightens the chorus along with the background bass. As someone who listens to The Rose and is utterly obsessed with soulful and emotional ballads, you didn’t have to watch the music video to know that Woosung had a ball making this song. It’s a light and playful song which made it all the more entertaining and appealing.

— Tam

25. “We Must Love” by ONF

ONF have cultivated something of a fruitful partnership with producers Monotree, since the group’s debut. Together they make dramatic and EDM heavy songs about intense relationships. Monotree have edited their vocals in such a way that they have their real voices alongside auto tuned versions of them. In “Complete,” it was the members as incomplete people, in “Why” it goes too far and begins to take over them, “We Must Love” is the bridge between these two. The auto tune still mirrors them like in “Complete,” but there’s the slightest feeling of that voice also trying to rip itself out of them on “We Must Love;” it’s a warning of what is to come after. Monotree make things more exciting with subtle shifts in each chorus that have an added bonus of adding to the slight feeling of anxiety.  Where “Complete” is euphoric, “Why” fearful, “We Muse Love” is at once hopeful and desperate. 

— Joe

24. “Love Poem” by IU 

There is no song that hits quite as hard this year as the gentle, mellifluous “Love Poem” by IU. A warm blanket of a piano-based ballad, the singer offers comfort to listeners, promising to sing alongside them as a source of solace and company. Arriving just a few days after the loss of her close friend Sulli, the release of “Love Poem” felt immensely intimate, and also a reflection of IU’s heartwarming approach to her life and relationships. 

— Tamar

23. “I Think I” by Super Junior

The stakes were high for Super Junior’s comeback this year. It would be their first as a “full” lineup since 2011’s “Mr. Simple” after all the members completed their military service and would follow a handful of singles catering to their Latin American fan base. But instead of building on what they started with “One More Time (Otra Vez)” and “Lo Siento,” Suju went back to what they’re known for with their lead single. “Super Clap” was a very on-the-nose dance track in line with every other dance track they’ve done throughout their career, but the pre-release “I Think I” takes the crown for being the better version of the group formed with nine thirty-somethings. “I Think I” does feature a light Latin-inspired vibe, but relies more heavily on the jazzier, funkier melodies and harmonies. Much like the entire album, “I Think I” is a safe track that was probably crafted to resonate with ELF, their fandom, the most. But just because they aren’t pushing genre boundaries doesn’t mean they didn’t deliver a strong track that reminds audiences just why Super Junior is still active —and thriving— 15 years into their career.            

— Alexis

22. “Feel Special” by TWICE

First we were getting “Fancy” and now we “Feel Special.” TWICE has once again cranked out another feel-good pop tune produced by JYP. The song starts off with some funky synth beats and, much to our surprise, rapper Chaeyeon singing the opening verse. As the song builds to the chorus, the lyrics go from the subject of being lonely with little self-worth to recognizing how someone lifts up their spirit and ultimately makes them feel special. The vocals during the chorus are uplifting and bright, driving home the theme of the song. During the bridge, the beat drops as Dahyun delivers a solid rap verse leading back to the chorus to close out the song. “Feel Special” is just one of those happy-go-lucky songs that brings warm vibes with every listen.

— Katherine

21. “Platform 9 and 3/4 (Run Away)” by TXT

It’s been a magical debut year for the boys of TOMORROW X TOGETHER, and their fantastical, Harry Potter-inspired “Platform 9 and ¾ (Run Away)” further gave us a glimpse into their artistry. With a flare for inspiring, upbeat electro-pop tunes, “Run Away” takes a turn towards the rock side of things and uses the dynamic as a platform over which distorted, Auto-Tuned versions of the quintet’s voices emote about the “magic named ‘us’.” 

— Tamar

20. “Flash” by X1

As someone who no longer watches competitive music shows —the heartbreak is too much to handle at this age— it’s always a joyous occasion when one of your favorites makes it into the group. So, of course, my anticipation was already at a high prior to X1’s release of “Flash. It wasn’t long into the song (maybe a solid 3.5 seconds) and I uttered the words “issa bop” out loud in awe and fascination because in all of its entirety, it truly is. “Flash” accelerated at full speed and was an exceedingly compelling track from beginning to end. The dub-step heavily influenced the song, giving the breaks a powerful punch. Much like its title, it all happened in a “Flash” and even after a hundred and something listens, I’m still grasping each piece and am not over it.

— Tam

19. “Time Of Our Life” by DAY6 

Their first title track of the year seven months after their last, “Time Of Our Life” was a welcome return for the band, and it memorably became the first track to net them music show wins. DAY6 has always thrived in concert settings, where they’re able to really receive the energy of their fans and unleash it out on their various instruments. The fun that they have on stage is unmistakable, and it is fitting that one of their most successful releases to date plays on this concert energy. Its lyrics speak of the excitement and anticipation that the band feels as they prepare to perform for their fans, and captures the idea of that precious page of life that DAY6 and their fans share in this beautiful period of youth. With its higher, lighter instrumentation, it is an extremely cheerful and enjoyable track that will definitely leave you with a smile, if not singing along.

— Anna

18. “Snapping” by Chung Ha

Chung Ha brought us not only one of the best songs of the year, but one of the best songs of the decade with “Snapping.” A song about ridding yourself of feelings towards an ex with just a snap (if only things in life were that easy); “Snapping” radiates ample amounts of attitude and sass. Chung Ha did a wonderful job with her vocals, portraying a more sultry sound in the verses and bridge and then bursting with power in the chorus. Mirroring the vocals, the song itself also goes through high and lows creating an interesting pace as the song progresses.

— Katherine

17. “Loca” by Favorite

Girl group Favorite kicked off 2019 just as winter was in full-effect (at least in the Northeast region of the United States) with a tropical house influenced dance track with a slight Latin twist “Loca.” Sometimes you don’t need meaningful lyrics to make a song good, every now and then all you really need is an energetic and hypnotic rhythm. “Loca” is exactly that because although the lyrics are a bit lackluster (with the exception of the addictive “na loca loca loca”) as soon as the first beat dropped, the deal was sealed —you’re instantly hooked. There’s no way you can stop swaying once you’ve listened.

— Tam

16. “Noir” by Sunmi

Branching off of songs like “Gashina” and “Siren,” Sunmi’s early 2019 release “Noir” delivered a dark synth-pop song that describes the deterioration of a relationship. Throughout the song, the word noir is being referenced to, which in this case can correlate to noir films in black and white films pertaining to that they are dull, old, or in the past; like the relationship being described in the song. And Sunmi plays up this theme very well with her nonchalant, almost indifferent sounding vocals, which have a haunting sound that blend well with the synths and electric drums giving it a retro sound without feeling old.

— Katherine

15. “Psycho” by Red Velvet

Lifted by soft R&B coupled with trap stylings, “Psycho” zooms into our Top 15 in spite of its late December release. Red Velvet takes an eery and very much welcome turn from the bright zaniness of fellow 2019 releases “Zimzalabim” and “Umpah Umpah” on this track. Instead, “Psycho” calls back to Red Velvet’s infamous “Bad Boy” days, singing about being completely in love one second, and fighting with your lover the next. Starting with dollhouse horror-style leaps and riffs, the song moves quickly into the trap-driven verses, adding some brass in the chorus for rhythmic complexity and sonic impact. While the song has all the signatures of a Red Velvet song—most notably, the Irene-and-Yeri rap immediately following the first chorus—it is Wendy and Seulgi’s falsetto performance in the pre-chorus that lifts the song to new heights. While I do want to note that the “you got me feeling like a psycho” refrain might have some ableist connotations, the release as a whole shows that Red Velvet’s versatility should not be underestimated, especially with a new decade on the horizon.

— Kushal

14. “Boy With Luv” by BTS feat. Halsey

I’ll be honest — when I first listened to “Boy With Luv” I easily dismissed the BTS single as unimpressive pop unable to measure up to the same integrity they had when they were still considered K-pop’s underdogs, or even from only a couple years ago. Little did I know that the sunny funk-pop tune rife with disco basslines and cruising verses would burrow its way into my inner ear and set up home there indefinitely. After all, who can resist the way vocal line skips around the pre-chorus with little effort or the cheesy enthusiasm in the explosive choruses? Even American singer-songwriter Halsey’s feature came as a welcomed surprise, naturally dissolving into Jungkook and Jimin’s tenors while still playing up her femininity. Although her part is limited, it’s probably the most memorable and invites listeners to sing along: “oh my my my, oh my my my.” Her subtle harmonies are how features should be done, not reserved for a jarring second verse or bridge and definitely not for the sake of an overseas collaboration. Save for Suga’s experimental trap-infused raps, “Boy With Luv” sets itself apart from the group’s past enterprises by eschewing trends and sticking to good clean fun melodies instead. The result is sure to withstand the test of time.

— Shelley

13. “Valkyrie” by ONEUS 

This is probably one of the strongest K-pop debuts I have ever seen in my 10 years of being a fan. Their performance is so polished, their raps and vocals are on point, the instrumentation is extremely subtle and catchy  —I was a fan from the moment this track began to play. “Valkyrie” and its concept are not particularly new to male K-pop groups, but its execution is flawless here. Leedo, in particular, caught my eye, because of his versatility and his impressive skill at both singing and rapping. In terms of vocal ability, each member fulfills a different role with their varying timbres, and they complement each other well. ONEUS has been busy since this debut with other releases in 2019, but their boundless potential leaves me excited for their future. 

— Anna

12. “Miroh” by Stray Kids

For someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy EDM or “future” genres, “Miroh” can be a little intense. Actually, intense is an understatement. But look past the warped synths and obnoxious beat drops, music purists, and you just might be able to appreciate the galvanizing energy and call to arms lyrics enough to make up for any prejudices. With the song’s use of animal vocalizations (the majestic call of a hawk comes to mind), “Stray Kids” warcries, and Congolese-inspired chants throughout the climaxes, any listener would feel as if they had just embarked for some kind of wilderness adventure. Anyone would feel amped up. Stray Kids never seem to fail in the hype department, but for being able to let out the beast within all of us, including those who were slow to love, they earn extra marks here.

— Shelley

11. “Bon Bon Chocolat” by Everglow

Everglow exploded onto the scene with multi-dimensional “Bon Bon Chocolat.” While blending electric EDM synths and robust hip-hop beats isn’t new to K-pop, Everglow manages to deliver the trend in a novel way through a clap-heavy pre-chorus and a peculiar, trap-influenced chorus. Everglow’s voices contrast the beat’s intensity with softer tones but still keep listeners captivated with their melodies and impudent chants. The song’s lyrics are as much of a call to confidence as its beat with the group expressing their excitement for debuting and taking their place in K-pop. The ladies lived up to their lyrics’ message charting both domestically and internationally. 

— Nnehkai

10. “Pinky Star” by GWSN

Never has forgetting about a group’s debut happened so quickly and in such necessary fashion. GWSN’s “Puzzle Moon” from last year was a well-produced but generic foray into deep house. “Pink Star” is similar, but so much more lavish and detailed, proving for GWSN that more is better. A skittering sharp beat accompanies a bell-like synth that’s interlaced with dubs and other synths. The members are appropriately staccato in this first verse, which contrasts well with the following pre-chorus filled with the breathy voices of Seoryoung and Lena. The genius of this song lies in its quite long chorus, though. In order to get the best out of a house track they not only have the dancey, melody heavy chorus of “Runner, I’m runner,” but that also leads again into a hook heavy chorus. It’s the best of both worlds and it absolutely works thanks to great range of voices in GWSN, the dramatic vocals of Seoryoung and the sweet but matter of fact words of Miya, Seokyung, and Anne. 

— Joe

9. “Come See Me” by AOA

For a long time, AOA’s brand relied mostly on the members’ looks (“the pretty girls are AOA,” rapper Jimin used to chant). And while they’re still as beautiful as ever, in 2019 the group proved for once to be much more than that. “Come See Me” is AOA’s second comeback without ChoA and first without Mina, and was released in the last weeks of 2019, just in time to crown a year in which they shone in the reality show “Queendom.” It’s almost ironic that the song combines nostalgic elements, like western movies soundtrack features, and a chord progression that evokes the sound of previous generation’s K-pop girl groups such as T-ARA; but still sounds perfect to showcase the growth of AOA. While some of the group’s remarkable traits are still there (like an ultra catchy and repetitive hook, and Jimin’s famous “Hey!”), “Come See Me” shows a more mature and united AOA in a much more powerful performance, with a “love in the dark” type of vibe. The pretty girls are, after all, fascinating women as well.

— Ana Clara

8. “Obsession” by EXO

Upon first listen, “Obsession” is an absolutely wild listening experience. And that’s precisely the point: the song is a discordant tune that vacillates between smooth moments and grating ones, with EXO warring with themselves, or rather their X-EXO clones. A conversation between two oppositional forces, the single has all the best of EXO – pristine production, layered harmonizing, dynamic dance breakdowns, and sleek R&B elements – and turns things on their head with all the quirky digital modulations bringing the song, and EXO’s artistry, to new heights. 

— Tamar

7. “Crown” by TXT

Being the first group launched by Big Hit Entertainment after BTS, and still on the trail of their seniors’ legendary success and impact, the expectations for TXT’s debut were high. Nevertheless, the group responded in the best way possible: embracing their position of legatees of today’s greatest fictional content developers in the music industry (BTS with their Bangtan Universe), but also as teenagers and rookie artists. A new jack swing song with summery electropop vibes, and cute lyrics about a boy who has to get used to growing horns in his head, “Crown” is amazing exactly because it doesn’t try too hard. It’s fun, fresh, and youthful; with just enough storytelling to give TXT’s’ artistry a bit more of meaning, but not too much to the point that it would sound pretentious.

— Ana Clara

6. “PIRI” by Dreamcatcher

Masters of mixing dance pop and rock genres, Dreamcatcher brought us another gem with their early 2019 release “PIRI.” Being the last installment of their nightmare concept, “PIRI” brings an eerie and somewhat frantic vibe with the lyrics, which describe a feeling of helplessness, and the desperate cry for help, which is represented by the flute. The beats are fast-paced and the girls do a great job changing up their vocal styles for the different parts of the song. The chorus is as powerful as ever along with the rock track reaching its climax, SiYeon and SuA’s vocals expressing the desperation represented in the lyrics. Not to be out done, the rap verses by Dami and hooks are heavy and dark in contrast to the light sounds of the flute. Dreamcatcher is one of the few groups to go 100 percent with their concepts and execute them near flawlessly.

— Katherine

5. “Gotta Go” by Chung Ha

Although the trap-inspired production of “Gotta Go” is cool and catchy enough, it’s Chung Ha’s  vocals that make the song worth listening to many times. The melody on the chorus just slides and develops in such a satisfying way, with Chung Ha holding a note over the charmer flute hook, making the section truly hypnotic. Opening her second full year as a solo artist with “Gotta go,” Chung Ha seems to have found her sound and secured her name as one of today’s main K-pop divas. 

— Ana Clara

4. “Fancy” by TWICE

Whenever TWICE and the songwriting duo Black Eyed Pilseung (“Like Ooh-Ahh,” “Cheer Up,” “TT,” “Likey”) come together on a project, it’s guaranteed to succeed. This was no exception here. “Fancy” retains the group’s trademark cloying vocals and bouncy pep in the choruses, but unlike their previous hits, that’s really where it ends. Rather, for much of the song’s entirety, there’s a sophisticated edge in their tone that can only come from doing this for years. This holistic sound rests on a bed of sultry, retro synth riffs and lurching tempos evocative of the now defunct JYP girl group, miss A, before shifting into the sticky hooks that we so “fancy” about TWICE. There are no bad TWICE songs, but this foray into more mature styling just may be their best to date.

— Shelley

3. “Focus On Me” by Jus2

Can we talk about how Jus2 became the duo we never knew we needed and how “Focus On Me” is the thot anthem we didn’t deserve but thankfully got in 2019? Stemming from GOT7, seeing Im Jae Beom and Kim Yu Gyeom pair off as a duo was a pleasant surprise, as through their EP Focus and especially on this title track “Focus On Me,” listeners were able to see their vocal range and diverse tones. Both members exuded just the right amount of appeal and seductiveness and modulated their tones to give off a serene and relaxed environment, to compliment the images that are being painted throughout the song.

— Tam

2. “%% (Eung Eung)” by Apink

Apink started off the year with the release of “%%,” and it’s a song that has been impossible to stop listening to over the 12 months of 2019. Though they used to be known for their bright and innocent musical concepts, this song and last year’s “I’m So Sick” have showed the world what it means to be Apink at the end of the decade: a girl group maturing musically as they members age. A blend of atmospheric and addicting digital elements drive “%%,” and the sleek song exudes confidence as the members sing about not compromising in relationships, never settling because it feels like it’s something a person should be doing. Impactful and addicting, “%%” has us saying “Eung Eung” to it for all eternity.   

— Tamar

1. “You Calling My Name” by GOT7

There are two things that GOT7 has trained us to expect from them with their comebacks: complex, intense choreographies and high energy dance tracks. And we got that with “Eclipse” earlier this year, but GOT7 turned the tables on everyone with their second release of the year, “You Calling My Name.” Fans had been begging the group for a sexy concept for the longest time, and though the group teased it, nothing could have prepared any of us for what they put out: a yearnful, ridiculously smooth yet funky alt-R&B gem performed in pleather suits, complete with waist and thigh caressing moves and bedroom eyes for three minutes and 14 seconds straight. But most importantly, we got the chorus drop that broke the internet (Jinyoung’s breathy falsetto alone deserves a daesang!). Going into their sixth year active, “You Calling My Name” is the culmination of each member’s artistry as performers. Both the vocal and rap verses are sleek and perfectly in sync with each other without being monotonous, instead, their deliveries go down easy —the best they’ve sounded yet on a single. 

“You Calling My Name” doesn’t sound nor look like anything the group had done before — it actually seemed more in line with what Jus2 did earlier in the year,— but it did open the door to a more mature and sophisticated side to them that is welcomed as we head into a new decade. The shift is reminiscent of when they changed things up and delivered probably their best single to date “If You Do,” and now “You Calling My Name” right up there with it. GOT7 did not come to play with “You Calling My Name.” They were out for blood, and hopefully 2020 will bring them the recognition they are long overdue for.

— Alexis

Alexis Hodoyan-GastelumTamar HermanJoe PalmerTam HuynhShelley FooKushal DevAna Clara RibeiroNnehkai AgborKatherine Villalon, and Anna Cheang contributed to this article.

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

The 100 best K-pop songs of the 2010s

best kpop songs decade 2010s top

The last 10 years in K-pop have been monumental —we’ve experienced the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Music-wise, the 2010s gave us a myriad of different Frankenstein monster-like songs that only K-pop fans can love. The soundscape experienced many shifts, going from the electropop productions that made the late aughts great, to the transition into EDM, then there was that weird dubstep phase we prefer to forget, to the dark deep house stuff all the male groups are playing with nowadays.

As K-pop reached a wider global audience and more and more acts emerged, The K-pop Sound evolved and ushered in an age of diversification, where nothing was off limits or too crazy.

To celebrate all the amazing music that the 2010s brought us, the KultScene staff came up with the 100 best songs of the decade. We’re not focusing on impact involving numbers, but on the lasting impressions these songs had on the public. Or, you know, just whatever we liked for the past 10 years.

100. “A” by Rainbow, 2010

Rainbow kickstarted this decade with the relentless sonic force that is “A.” Surf guitars propel the song’s double chorus while horns boom throughout to hold down the rhythm. All this gleeful energy helped to build Rainbow into a group of unending fun for a decade that sorely needed them.

— Joe

99. “Sixth Sense” by Brown Eyed Girls, 2011

Brown Eyed Girls threw themselves onto “Sixth Sense.” The rolling orchestra is constantly tempting them further, pushing their bodies and voices to the limit. They are a match for every moment, not once relenting but embracing this sense that is “more than emotion.”

 — Joe

98. “Shampoo” by After School, 2011

The original, and still best, melancholic K-pop house banger, the delicate balance of Daishi Dance’s twinkling pianos and fuzzy synths alongside the punchy vocals and legendary performance of After School, is unmatched to this day.  

— Joe

97. “What’s Your Name?” by 4Minute, 2013

4Minute’s venture into experimenting with more traditional hip-hop sounds was, of course, a bubbly Brave Brothers production, following the success Hyuna had with her solo “Ice Cream” just the year before. It marked a transition in the group’s emphasis, centering Hyuna’s rap verses in every single until their ultimate disbandment. “What’s Your Name?,” with its inoffensive and fun electronic hip-hop, sounds and looks like what every innocent, girl crush-lite girl group is doing nowadays.   

— Alexis 

96. “I Need a Girl” by Taeyang, 2010

Perhaps because it is often eclipsed by Taeyang’s other single “Wedding Dress” off of his first studio album Solar, people often forget that “I Need a Girl” was actually its head song in charge. Everything we love about him is there — the R&B influence, his steady falsettos, the thirsty lyrics. A playful rap featuring from fellow Big Bang member G-Dragon is always a plus, too.

— Shelley

95. “Rollercoaster” by Chung Ha, 2018

Covered in neon lights and projections of fireworks, Chung Ha sings of newfound love with a certain electricity. “Rollercoaster” pulsates with energy, like a beating heart full of excitement and nerves. Her vocals are tender yet commanding, “ooh ahh”-ing and riffing through the choruses with the fragile confidence of getting closer to a lover. Dropping one of 2018’s catchiest songs, Chung Ha would hit her stride on this track, leaping to new heights as I.O.I’s first solo alumnus. As 2020 approaches, “Rollercoaster” not only recalls Chung Ha’s biggest hit, but also describes the craziness of the years ahead of her as her star continues to brighten. 

— Kushal

94. “4 Walls” by f(x), 2015

To f(x), love is a shower in technicolor lights, a glare in your eyes as the sun hits your face, a geometric structure whose insides are impossible to navigate. “4 Walls” itself is a metaphor, but the track evokes new ones in your head as you listen and imagine. A trance-pop number with electronic dance fusions, the song is as catchy as it is ethereal and shiny. It’s almost as if someone took the glimmer of a sun-lit lake, or the clear starry sky and put it to a melody for Luna, Victoria, Krystal, and Amber to sing. And it lingers in our heads as one of the 2010s’ most beautiful, but also enigmatic, songs.

— Kushal

93. “Run Devil Run” by Girls’ Generation, 2010

An iconic moment often overshadowed by predecessor hits like “Gee,” “Genie,” and “Oh!”, “Run Devil Run” made clear that the most powerful characteristic of a Nation’s Girl Group is none other than versatility. Musical acts around the world whose heydays were before and after that of Girls’ Generation have rarely been able to pull off such a 180 degree turn in appearance, vocal tone, and performance. An angry breakup song, “Run Devil Run” offered layered vocals and explosive jazz in a way that was simultaneously abnormal, yet somehow current and on-trend with 2010 K-pop nonetheless. It was from here and on that GG would begin to depart from its cutesy origins, and demonstrate new confidence as the decade’s premier K-pop act.

— Kushal

92. “Bad Boy” by BIGBANG, 2012

The start of the decade was a tricky time for music, given that the trends were a very specific kind of pop-EDM that didn’t age well just a few years later. BIGBANG survived this by not going this route with their lead single “Bad Boy” (instead reserving it for “Fantastic Baby,” which albeit a bop, sonically is very representative of the time it was released in) and going a mellow hip-hop route. This track transcended K-pop, as it garnered attention from the locals outside of the fandom. It defined what a boy band looked and sounded like in 2012.

— Alexis

91. “Limitless” by NCT 127, 2017

Having played a big role on what K-pop sounded like since its inception, SM Entertainment fell behind with the sonic shift towards quote-unquote authentic hip-hop that the growing global audience prefered for most of the decade. NCT 127 was the answer to that change, and the R&B, grungy, electronic, and anthemic hybrid “Limitless” was the song that marked the group’s arrival into the game as tastemakers and disruptors.  

— Alexis

90. “LATATA” by (G)I-DLE, 2018

Amidst a girl group landscape saturated with cute-concept songs and performances, (G)I-DLE took the time-honored alternative approach of debuting with the opposite concept to get heads turning. “LATATA” is a well-brewed mix of electronic dance and tropical house, with reggae and hip-hop influences to boot. The track progresses with impressive momentum, starting from bouncing, seductive verses and Minnie’s hypnotic pre-choruses only to explode into the Miyeon’s dramatic chorus lines and subsequent EDM dance break. Every second of the track was engaging and sonically interesting—a foreshadowing for the exciting career and discography (G)I-DLE had coming.

— Kushal

89. “Day by Day” by T-ARA, 2012

T-ARA was the type of group that could pull a sad song, with the nostalgic vibes of Korean traditional music, and still make it sound powerful and modern. “Day by day” is one of these songs. The combination of flute and acoustic guitar stands out amongst the other singles of the group, which are heavily focused on electronic beats. Although T-ARA’s unapologetic take on ludic, fun dance tracks was a big part of their brand, “Day by day” brought us a very refreshing side of the ladies that I would’ve love to see more as well.   

— Ana

88. “Oh! My Mistake” by April, 2018

On “Oh! My Mistake,” April finally hit their peak thanks to focusing on their members’ strengths. It’s a pitch perfect slice of ‘80s pop and each member has a part to play that fits them, as well as helping the group as a whole. They sustains the playful bouncing feeling of the song built so well by those lolling synths and processed beats. 

— Joe

87. “Neverland” by U-KISS, 2011

After a lineup change, U-KISS came back stronger than ever. The layering of all the vocals in “Neverland” showed just how well they complement each other while also showcasing their vocal talents. And with its synth-pop beats and repetitive but catchy chorus, the song was bound to be a hit.

— Katherine  

86. “Very Very Very” by I.O.I, 2016

This electropop earworm, which was I.O.I’s final single as an act, will run itself around your brain for a very, very, very long time, with the members of the act exuberantly hitting the mark perfectly with the delivery of each paunchy verse and catchy refrains. 

— Tamar

85. “No” by CLC, 2019

CLC wanted to start 2019 with a big splash, with female anthem of the year, “No.” Like the title suggests, these ladies aren’t afraid to say no to others’ opinions and desires; they’ll live however they wish to, wear what they want, and will do as they feel like. In a society where women empowerment is looked down upon and where people shy away from doing what they want while on their own terms, “No” let’s you know that it’s perfectly okay to be your own person. No one owns you, only you do.

— Tam 

83. “Bboom Bboom” by Momoland, 2018

Even plagued with plagiarism allegations, “Bboom Bboom” was still able to climb the charts making it the groups most popular song to date. The quirky and fun tunes were a perfect fit to Momoland’s playful images.

— Katherine   

82. “Tonight” by BIGBANG, 2011

More than the song itself, the filming for BIGBANG’s “Tonight” music video is what made it shine (in my eyes). “Tonight” could’ve been just another song that was on every club’s rotation that was overplayed. But when accompanied with the video, it becomes more relatable and transparent and a bit contrary to the lyrics; that at the end of the day, everyone just wants to have a good time, no matter where they are. It reminds you of all the beauty that is in the world and to live out the moment while you’re in that moment. 

— Tam

81. “Snapping” by Chung Ha, 2019

Chung Ha has been slowly working her way up the ranks of solo female K-pop artists, and “Snapping” is a great stepping stone. The sensual dance track exudes a ton of drama and attitude with the vocals. With its more intense chorus and slower hooks, the dynamic pace keeps the listener absorbed in the song.

— Katherine 

80. “This Is War” by MBLAQ, 2012

Dramatic is an understatement when it comes to MBLAQ’s “This Is War.” The full orchestra playing throughout the song provides softness that is complemented by the sorrowful lyrics and vocals of Lee Joon and Thunder, while creating a contrast with the powerful vocals of G.O and Seungho and the rap verses from Mir.

— Katherine

79. “What’s Happening?” by B1A4, 2013

Jinyoung’s layered vocals, Baro’s fun raps, guitar-driven instrumentals, sudden chord progression changes… “What’s Happening?” showcases everything that is great about B1A4’s music. Be it with sad or upbeat tracks, the group never fails to make you feel something; their music is so full of life! And amongst the tracks that prove that, “What’s Happening “ certainly deserves honorary mention.

— Ana 

78. “B.B.B” by Dal Shabet, 2014

“B.B.B” builds the greatest ‘80s nostalgia piece of the decade over a bed of heavy, satisfying synths. They allow for some fun to happen around them, so Dal Shabet don’t just fit in with them but grow alongside. They open with Subin’s sexy, almost pained questions, its then anchored by Woohee in the chorus whose pain is not being hidden, and then crushed by the maternal cries of leader, Serri. 

— Joe

77. “Warrior” by B.A.P, 2012

“Underneath the sky, you cannot be hidden. Even if you hide, you will kneel before the truth.” It’s a villainous world out there, wrongful acts are done around the clock and B.A.P ignited the flame to get people to start thinking and acting against it with their debut track “Warrior.” The song encompasses ways to which one can little by little stop the acts of war, rebellion and corruption in our society. Topics that are not spoken off as much as they should be because the thought of repercussion and the aftermath embodies one’s thoughts versus the changes that could be made if acted upon. These guys weren’t playing around when this was decided to be their title track, as these are heavy topics. B.A.P, a group that’s been fighting destruction since debut and “Warrior” a song before it’s era.

— Tam

76. “Fly” by GOT7, 2016

When a new group debuts, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what their core concept will be, for they will try many things before getting to really know their identity. This was GOT7’s case, until “Fly” came out. “Fly” was the perfect cover letter of what GOT7 had grown to be and would showcase from then on: intricate and precise choreography, hype-beast aesthetics, and the perfect blend of crazy electro amalgamations with R&B vocals.    

— Alexis

75. “Like A Cat” by AOA, 2014

AOA and the Brave Brothers pretty much go hand in hand, and in 2014 AOA took over the Kpop scene as one of the most popular girl groups. Throughout the year, the group played the cute and sexy card and “Like a cat” was no exception. With both pop and rock elements, the song gave a more sultry feel compared to their previous releases. 

— Katherine 

74. “Loving U” by SISTAR, 2012

SISTAR take listeners through the realization of falling in love with someone from the strange feeling of having a pounding heart to gathering the confidence to confess. All the while, dance-synths and trumpets create a convivial foundation for the group’s sweet vocals. In its success, “Loving U” sparked the beginning of SISTAR’s legacy as “Queens of the Summer.” 

— Nnehkai

73. “Ah Yeah” by EXID, 2015

After going viral with a fancam and becoming one of K-pop’s top female acts with “Up & Down,” EXID’s 2015 follow-up “Ah Yeah” spends it time taunting and aggressively taking on the typical ways men approach women they’re interested in through its brassy, sassy hip-pop nature.  

— Tamar

72. “Come Back Home” by 2NE1, 2014

With a high-budget “Fahrenheit 451” reminiscent music video, 2NE1 made a full-force return to the K-pop scene with “Come Back Home” in 2014. The song quickly flips genres with surprising cohesiveness. While Minzy and CL carry the reggae-influenced verses, Dara handles the pre-choruses with her trademark tenderness. Park Bom nails the emotional delivery on the chorus, serving what could easily be a ballad’s refrain as the epicenter of an electronic vocal pop moment, all leading up to the song’s iconic EDM dance break. After two years of randomly released singles and comeback delays, the song was not only pleading to a long-gone lover, but also as a message to Blackjacks to return after their many sporadic hiatuses. In the aftermath of 2NE1’s disbandment, however, “Come Back Home” gained a third meaning: a plea from fans for the group to return to their roots and reunite.

—Kushal

71. “Why So Lonely” by Wonder Girls, 2016

Laidback and infused with reggae rhythms and pop-rock melodies drawing inspiration from the ‘70s, “Why So Lonely” brought Wonder Girls’ band concept to the forefront, with the act’s members not only writing the song but also playing the instrumentals for the recording, pushing the boundaries of the act’s musical fluidity and career in a bright direction. It was their last formal single prior to disbanding in 2017, though they released one final song “Draw Me,” and left things on a captivating, groovy high.  

— Tamar

70. “Trouble Maker” by Trouble Maker, 2011

HyunA and Hyunseung shook the table when they debuted as Trouble Maker. Straying from societal norms, the subunit’s suggestive mannerisms caused a stir both on and off screen starting with their teaser performance at Mnet Asian Music Awards in 2011. Their eponymous debut single featured an enchanting whistle while staying true electro-pop’s influence. HyunA’s distinctive rapping and Hyunseung’s smooth vocals were a dream pairing that earned them a triple crown on local music shows. Their accomplishments opened the door for the success of K-pop’s co-ed groups.

— Nnehkai

69. “Girl Front” by ODD EYE CIRCLE, 2017

“Girl Front” is the miracle of the 2010s. Not only does it incorporate the sounds of three previous LOONA solo songs, but the themes of them too. Producers Ollipop and Hayley Aitken smashes them into an unforgettable explosion of teen emotions with an unending list of sounds that includes, thumping kick drums, razor-sharp synths, slap bass, and a killer vocal harmony. 

— Joe

68. “All In” by Monsta X, 2016

Count on Monsta X to drop a title track that will always hit you with an alluring intro, dynamic chorus, entrancing hook and clean outro. “All In” fulfilled every aspect of that and more. Even without watching the music video, you’ll be at the edge of your seat when you’re listening to the song, anticipating and playing out what’s going on with each verse and just when you think the song has slowed down it reaches a climax and sends you on yet another thrill ride. 

— Tam

67. “Heart Attack” by AOA, 2015

Only Brave Brothers could make generic sporting event music sound good in one of his electro-pop songs, and “Heart Attack” is aural proof of that. There’s never a lagging moment among the persisting synthy beats, gung ho stadium chants, or the girls’ honey vocals. AOA peaked with this one.

— Shelley

66. “Overcome” by NU’EST, 2016

Before they rose to fame following their participation on the second season of Produce 101, NU’EST was that group with an impeccable self-produced discography that went largely unnoticed by the general public. With “Overcome,” the group was at their creative and experimental peak and delivered an avant garde, smooth tempo rollercoaster with a cascade of glitchy synths and instrumentals, and a bunch of random sounds and noises that somehow all work together.

— Alexis

65. “Cupid” by Oh My Girl, 2015

No other debuting group this decade had a marching band announce them, so Oh My Girl were stepping way ahead right from the off. The marching drums of “Cupid” are loud and clear and take an age to repeat themselves, giving the track a chance to constantly feel like fresh. It provides a bed for Mimi’s best verse of her career, a chant that doesn’t wear itself out, and enough vigour to sustain an impossible level of pep.  

— Joe

64. “Hero” by Monsta X, 2015

In the mid-2010’s when brass was the choice instrument in pop, Monsta X decided to throw their hat in the ring and came up with “Hero.” The result was a delicious concoction of 8-bit video game soundbytes and erratic saxes, along with a helluva bridge from Jooheon taking it all home (and probably ending a few idol rappers’ careers in the process). “Hero” made enough noise to catch our attention, and we have not been able to peel away since.

— Shelley

63. “Bonamana” by Super Junior, 2010

With heavy Auto-Tuning, a funky beat, and clap-happy electro-pop-meets-house melodies bolstered by a series of chanty phrases, “Bonamana” is explosive in its dynamism and a stalwart example of the sort of brash, earworm-focused songs Super Junior focused on in the first part of this decade. 

— Tamar

62. “Lipstick” by Orange Caramel, 2012

As quirky as ever, Orange Caramel brought us “Lipstick” off of their first full-length album of the same name. With cartoonish horns and accordions, the trio rode the line between cute and strange to create a sort of funhouse pop tune. Staying true to their aesthetics, Orange Caramel creates fun and whimsical songs that continue to delight us.

— Katherine 

61. “%%” by Apink, 2019

Arriving just a few days into the final year of this decade, Apink’s “%% (Eung Eung)” is a twinkling, synth-fueled tune that epitomizes the direction where this girl group is heading in in the second part of their career, and continues relaying the shift from cute girlishness to confident songstresses that they started in 2018’s “I’m So Sick.” It’s atmospheric and propulsive, with clap-happy, tinny beats driving much of the song towards its quirky, digitally-inflected choral melody. All the while, each of the act’s members are given a chance to shine, relaying how each of their distinct tones have helped perpetuate Apink’s legacy as an A-class act in South Korea’s music world throughout much of the decade. 

— Tamar

60. “Tomorrow, Today” by JJ Project, 2017 

“Tomorrow, Today”’s steady percussion beat guides the JJ Project’s harmonies and melodious tones showing the duo’s maturity since their boisterous debut in 2012. The song’s simple composition compliments its intimate lyrics that capture the uncertainty of foraging a meaningful future. 

— Nnehkai

59. “Crazy” by 4MINUTE, 2015

With bombastic confidence and potentially appropriative aesthetics, 4MINUTE set the 2015 winter on fire with “Crazy.” Unlike many K-pop girl group songs, including ones in 4MINUTE’s earlier discography, there is little singing on this track. The verses and chorus are dominated by different rap lines, while Gayoon and Jihyun handle the song’s only melodic parts in the prechours and bridge, respectively. While Hyuna has always been the public darling and center of the girl group, it was Jiyoon who really shined on this track, serving as a fierce rapper and dancer (despite her role as the group’s main vocalist). This song goes down in K-pop history as one of the 2010s’ fiercest bops.

— Kushal

58. “Secret” by WJSN, 2016

WJSN found their ultimate collaborator in producer e.one. His trademark style of editing vocals, a slight but almost alien whine, gives form to the Cosmic Girls’ name and concept, while his always tight and groovy rhythm section grounds it in reality. This combination gave us “Secret,” a masterful balancing act that gives teen girl problems the kind of grand scale that the girls likely feel is truly plaguing their lives. 

— Joe

57. “Someone Like U” by Dal Shabet, 2016

Two entries on this list and two ‘80s throwbacks, Dal Shabet have surprisingly stuck their place in history with an electrified use of nostalgia. This time, alongside Brave Brothers, the rolling synthesized drums, splashes of horns, and big vocal hooks capture the sound but it’s lines like “Hey go meet someone, stupid like you” that catch the spirit so well. 

— Joe

56. “Keep Your Head Down” by TVXQ, 2011

When TVXQ came back as a two-piece band with “Keep Your Head Down,” they came back stronger and more cocksure than ever. Left unchecked, that kind of energy is contagious. From the drum warfare working in time with the triumphant horn section to the visceral cries and grunts, everything about this song begs reaction. So give into your body and music; there is no use in resisting its lure.

— Shelley

55. “This Is Love” by Super Junior, 2014

As the Super Junior members have grown up while being active, their concept has matured with them. Though mostly known for their electronica-heavy singles and point-dance choreographies, the group spent most of the decade crafting a funkier, more soulful side to them, and the jazzy, falsetto festa “This is Love” is a prime example. “This Is Love” opened the door for Super Junior to become Super Grown.  

— Alexis

54. “Bad Girl, Good Girl” by miss A, 2010 

miss A’s take on the girl-crush concept was nothing short of exceptional. From the firm declaration of “you don’t know me” to the gallant “so shut up boy,” “Bad Girl Good Girl” was a warning for gossips to mind their own. While it didn’t present extraordinary moments, the track’s subtlety drove its success. Also, who could forget the iconic choreography?

— Nnehkai

53.  “Whistle” by Blackpink, 2016

Rarely do we see groups debuting with two title tracks simultaneously, but Blackpink’s “Boombayah” and “Whistle” showed they were a force to be reckoned with. While “Boombayah” had all the elements for an expected YG debut, “Whistle” proved the quartet to be juggernaut rookies. Combining spoken word-inspired rhymes, acoustic guitar riffs, and a mesmerizing whistle motif, the minimal hip-hop track was a breath of fresh air among the year’s releases.  

— Nnehkai

52. “Baby Don’t Stop” by NCT U, 2018

What happens when you pair up two of SM’s most talented, young dancers? Electricity. The way Ten and Taeyong bounce off of each other and complement each other in both dance and vocal ability is so effortlessly seductive and entrancing.  

— Alexis

51. “U&I” by Ailee, 2013

If the word “diva” wasn’t already a perfect fit for Ailee until then, with “U&I” she left no doubts. Co-written by Shinsadong Tiger (who crafted iconic K-pop hits such as T-ARA’s “Bo Peep Bo Peep” and 4Minute’s “What a girl wants),” the song showed that, besides being a vocal powerhouse, Ailee is also capable of commanding the stage with just as much style.

— Ana

50. “Some” by Soyou & JunggiGo, 2014

“Some” centers around the “some” phase of a relationship in which each person is developing feelings for the other but are unsure of its reciprocity. Its dreamy falsettos, head-nod inducing beat and relatable lyrics broke records and became an essential to any karaoke night. 

— Nnehkai

49. “You and I” by Park Bom, 2010

Park Bom’s sugary voice never really sounded out of place amongst the overall ferocious vibes of 2NE1’s songbook. But watching her have her own moment in “You & I,” a ballad that showcases her vocal range and her unique delivery, was definitely a needed thing. In late 2019, a revamped and emotional rendition of the song performed by Bom during her participation in the reality show Queendom proved that, almost a decade after its release, the song still has the power to bring people to their softer side, especially with the touch of nostalgia added by Bom’s very own presence, dearly missed by her fans.

— Ana 

48. “Face” by NU’EST, 2012

As Pledis Entertainment’s first boy group, NU’EST did not disappoint with their debut. “Face” set the tone for what it meant to be an urban electro band, playing with vocal distortions and tasteful dubstep breaks without managing to lose their voice. 

— Shelley

47. “Tempo” by EXO, 2018

I can’t believe it took until 2018 for a capella to make its way into the lead single of an EXO track, but it was well worth the wait: “Tempo,” with its bed squeaky approach to groovy, alt-R&B dance track and its lush, layered vocals, was the perfect packaging for the boy band’s artistry, feeling all at once like something brand new and something wholly EXO. 

— Tamar

46. “Lo Siento” by Super Junior, 2018

Riding the Latin crossover trend, Super Junior released “Lo Siento” featuring Dominican-American artist Leslie Grace. While many K-pop groups dabbled in adding Spanish words or phrases in their songs, none went to the extent that “Lo Siento” did by actually having full verses sung in Spanish. The song merges the tropical styling of Latin pop, smooth guitars, dance, and hip-hop, creating a perfectly balanced representation of both its Latin and Korean roots.

— Katherine

45. “You Calling My Name” by GOT7, 2019

THIS! This is just what 2019 needed and GOT7 served it. Just when we thought GOT7 was done for the year, the seven member group released “You Calling My Name” leaving fans in a frenzy of emotions. This time, the group delivered a well contemporary mix of R&B and funk. The fluidity and transitions between genres within the song and sultriness in each members voices is absolutely memorizing. The maturity that transcends this song (and the rest of their album) and an addictive beat that makes one “oh and ah” on repeat. Is it fair to say that this is a great part two to their 2015 masterpiece that was “If You Do?” You’ve come a long way boys and this was the exact glow up we needed to wrap up the decade. 


— Tam

44. “Really Really” by Winner, 2017

No one needed another tropical house song in 2017, but we all really really needed Winner’s. “Really Really” is their entry to the music trend, and while they went on to put out more singles of a similar variety, none had a hook as straightforward or a buildup more climactic as this one.        

— Shelley

43. “Alone” by SISTAR, 2012

516 plays it said on my iTunes by the end of 2012. 516 plays solely on my iTunes for a song and a group that never appeared on my list before. SISTAR’s “Alone” happened and I was hooked. The vocals, falsettos, and rap were all on par and blended well with one another. Each member had a distinctive role for their parts, and it notably showed. The sorrowful and loneliness in their voices were able to depict a story of what happens when one gets left, the grief, heartache, and withdrawnness that you’re left with, was surely felt through this song.

— Tam

42. “Spring Day” by BTS, 2017

It’s hard to say what makes “Spring Day” most special: the lyrics, the melody, the production, the vocal performance of the members, or the memories that the song brings up, as built by the group with their fans. “If I was a snowflake, I could reach you faster” is easily one of BTS’ best lyrics. But, sonically speaking, the entire track evokes just as much poetic despair. Starting with a sentimental hook, and ending with an “oh oh oh” choir that became a memorable concert-closing, the song is amongst BTS’ classics. Until today, almost three years after its release, “Spring Day” refuses to leave the Korean charts, and brings fans from all over the world to tears.

— Ana

41. “Galaxy” by Ladies’ Code, 2016

A dark and enigmatic love song, “Galaxy” brought Ladies’ Code back to the spotlight after some years of hiatus. It also did so within one of the decade’s most interesting and brilliantly crafted instrumental landscapes, mixing jazz influences in the choruses with lush sprinklings of trance in the verses. The circumstances surrounding this comeback were, of course, tragic, but also triumphant nonetheless. I’ve always been a bit perplexed as to why this song never received the critical and commercial acclaim it deserved. Still, it lives on as one of the most musically unique and soulful comebacks K-pop has ever seen.

— Kushal

40. “Easy Love” by SF9, 2017

You know a song (and group) is worthy when a group of people who have different music taste, can agree that said song belongs on not only the top 50 song K-pop songs of 2017, but it was in ninth place. Remember that time, Kultscene? Like others out there, I wish I had discovered SF9 sooner, but am glad “Easy Love” was what lead me to them. One of my favorite things about this song is that although it’s a song about a break up, it was still much alive. Granted, the members are expressive in showing their own emotions on heartache through the song. The instruments are soft but the beat keeps you entertained and vibing, making you too busy to be sad.

— Tam

39. “I Feel You” by Wonder Girls, 2015

Many were skeptical when Wonder Girls returned with a new lineup and concept, but these ladies proved that they aren’t K-pop legends for no reason. Going from a dance group to an instrumental band is a huge feat but they did it with style. The opening electric piano chords suck you in and transport you to a nostalgic delight of ‘80s synth-pop. Between the posh nonchalant singing to the more upbeat chorus, “I Feel You” is the perfect mix of retro style and JYP flare.      

— Katherine   

38. “Ghost of the Wind” by ZE:A, 2013

It’s been six years since ZE:A graced us with “Ghost of the Wind” and it still remains a mystery how the underrated group have not received their breakthrough moment yet. Under the creative leadership of producer Duble Sidekick, the hit favored orchestral strings and operatic backups over the group’s previous reputation for questionable autotune. It was a step in the right direction, and, after peaking at number 21 (the highest for any ZE:A songs) on Gaon, the charts would have to agree.

— Shelley

37. “Red Light” by f(x), 2014

Though it may be called “Red Light,” this f(x) classic is a full blown “go for green” when it comes to listening experience, to the degree that you’ll never want it to come to a stop. An explosion of sounds —it starts with a phone ringing and there’s a tick-tock percussion guiding much of the bass-driven melody— the act’s final song with its original five-member lineup is all at once haunting, quirky, and a true testament of pop perfection that goes nowhere expected yet still lands at the perfect destination. 

— Tamar

36. “The 7th Sense” by NCT U, 2016

The world wasn’t ready for “The 7th Sense” when it dropped. More than a song, “The 7th Sense” is an insanely bass heavy spell that bewitches the listener with the myriad of different sounds, vocal tones, rap flows, and more on its overall dream-like soundscape. It’s incredibly seductive and mysterious, and unlike anything else in K-pop before or even after it. Not to mention the choreography is simply… insanely intricate and artistic. Three years later, “The 7th Sense” is still largely not given the attention it deserves, being one of the most perfect songs to have ever come out of SM Entertainment. 

— Alexis

35. “What Is Love” by EXO-K, 2012

When you got a compelling melody and strong vocalists, you might not need much more than one steady beat to produce a good song. In “What is Love,” the line “Except you, everything is in slow motion,” besides being the best lyric of the song, could very well describe its vocals in contrast to the longstanding instrumentals. The strength of the song is, definitely, leaving room for the competent members of EXO to shine.

— Ana 

34. “Love Shot” by EXO, 2018

“Love Shot” ended 2018 with a much needed bang. Its slick grooves and stacked vocals effortlessly blend into its 808 bass and eccentric synths while adding an edge by including a gunshot before the chorus. The track’s crescendos to full intensity with Chanyeol’s and Sehun’s raps leaving listeners breathless as it shifts back into its reggae-infused melody. “Love Shot” reminded us of EXO stands in its own league when it comes to melding unconventional sounds.  

— Nnehkai

33. “Gashina” by Sunmi, 2017

After Wonder Girls’ disbandment and leaving her long-time record label, Sunmi ventured off and grabbed herself her first solo No. 1 on the Korean charts with “Gashina.” The song delivers trop beats, sassy vocals, and a whining chorus that is strangely appealing, not to mention killer dance moves that everyone was emulating.

— Katherine   

32. “Wedding Dress” by Taeyang, 2010

No matter where you were or if you liked K-pop or not, you knew of Taeyang’s song “Wedding Dress.” The song was the successor to the single “I Need A Girl,” but seemed to rise well above in the popularity ranks. The R&B song was delivered beautifully by Taeyang’s smooth voice and the sorrowful lyrics just pulled at your heartstrings.  

— Katherine   

31. “Hush” by miss A, 2013

Much like its lyrics, “Hush” builds intensity with each verse. Starting with soft vocals, the track builds into a mid-tempo dance track equipped with guitar interludes that offer a twist to the song’s coy lyrics. Reverting back to its slow beginning, “Hush” ends on a gentle note reiterating the anticipation their holding in for an admirer. 

— Nnehkai

30. “Up & Down” by EXID, 2014

Dropping in late summer 2014 with a strange (and annoyingly low-volume) music video, EXID would prove themselves worthy of industry-wide attention with this bouncy track. Written about the difficulties of trying to understanding a lover’s intentions and interests, the song quickly jumps from L.E.’s slow-then-fast, breath-defying raps to Hani’s seductive pre-chorus. It then sticks the landing on the bright, belt-heavy chorus sung by Hyerin and Solji, the stylings of which would become a staple of EXID’s music going forward. The track shows us not only the power of a well-filmed fancam can be, but also the overlooked talent of some K-pop groups that only sometimes get to see the spotlight.

— Kushal

29. “Oh NaNa” by KARD, 2016

For only a warm-up single, “Oh NaNa” did a perfect job at neatly packaging and trademarking the KARD brand into one that promises contemporary sounds and a good time. The sensorial experience from the airy, dancehall synths further augmented by shifts between masculine and feminine energies produces an almost romantic quality that can only be enjoyed by a co-ed group with a gifted production team.

— Shelley

28. “Smoky Girl” by MBLAQ, 2013

MBLAQ’s crowning achievement, “Smoky Girl” is a glossy, utterly satisfying ode to momentary club romances. It is predicated on the smallest of details. Thunder’s slight coo right before the opening dance break, an ever evolving beat always giving the members time to move, Mir’s forceful rap over a four on the floor beat. Each element is part of the romance but equally they are a reminder of the transient nature of love at the club.   

— Joe

27. “Likey” by Twice, 2017

It’s only natural Black Eyed Pilseung would create his masterpiece with Twice, the chaotic nature of his production style becomes laser focused when paired with the anxieties tied to modern technology. Vocally, Twice feel at ease, they throw parts to one another without a hint of drag. Ultimately, it all revolves around the vocal performance of the decade by the unlikely Momo. 

— Joe

26. “Red Flavor” by Red Velvet, 2017

Summer romance is reimagined in what is possibly Red Velvet’s most adored track to date. Heart-thumping basslines, dreamy sighs and a titular earworm allude to the serendipitous feeling of love. The quintet’s sweet vocals accompany the song’s effervescent atmosphere as they compare their favorite summer flavors before deciding their favorite flavor is you. 

— Nnehkai

25. “Focus On Me” by Jus2, 2019

The best outcomes come from having little to no expectations. And that’s not to say that a subunit formed by JB and Yugyeom of GOT7 wouldn’t be interesting, it’s that nothing could’ve prepared us for just how damn good it would be. Jus2 tapped into JB and Yugyeom’s affinity for R&B and paired it with their stellar performance backgrounds by way of deep house. “Focus On Me” is a slick, sultry, ethereal, and delicious R&B marvel —the most sophisticated and grown we’ve seen from any GOT7 member, both as a concept and musically. 

— Alexis

24. “Love Scenario” by IKON, 2018

It was late January of 2018. Would IKON have known ahead of time that they were about to drop what was about to be the song of the year with “Love Scenario”? This song became a sensation, you just couldn’t escape it. It truly became an anthem and could be heard in much of Seoul, South Korea. Whatever business you owned, this song must’ve had played at least once a day on your speakers. But it didn’t stop there. If you had access to the internet, it was almost guaranteed that wherever you were on the internet, especially YouTube or Korean related websites, there was always at least 1-2 “Love Scenario” video listed as suggestions —most of them dance covers (a range of all ages and all ethnic backgrounds). This song did exceptional well with the younger audience, elementary and middle school students. It had an easy tune and chorus to follow. If you didn’t groove with it right off the bat, there must’ve been one point in 2018 (or even now), a song so mellow and cheerful, how could you not enjoy it?

— Tam

23. “Pandora” by KARA, 2012

Everything about this smooth synth and rock-fueled dance track exudes a sense of drama and sleekness, reflecting KARA’s dynamic at this point in their career, when they were one of the top female acts in the Asian market and were showing the world how they could mature in the spotlight while still keeping their distinct, addicting style. 

— Tamar

22. “A.D.T.O.Y.” by 2pm, 2013

 “A.D.T.O.Y.” is 2pm down to a T. Lush R&B vocals, sex and sexiness at the forefront, and questionable dance moves that we hate to love. Even without knowing what the song is about, the anguish and longing for a lover jumps out and hits you right in the feels. Who hurt 2pm for them to be pouring out their souls on this song? Whoever you are, thank you for the art you inspired, but let’s hope Hottest never finds you.   

— Alexis

21. “If You Do” by GOT7, 2015

“If You Do” was a turn away from the bright, hip-hop driven songs of earlier GOT7, and no one seemed to mind. The dark tone of the song was a product of the light synth notes and heavy bass lines and then was elevated by the sorrowful vocals and deep rap verses. This song marked the beginning of GOT7’s evolution into the artists that they are today.   

— Katherine

20. “Eyes, Nose, Lips” by Taeyang, 2014

You can always count on Dong Young Bae, better known as Taeyang, to produce a pass-me-a-kleenex kind of ballad. “Eyes, Nose, Lips” was not only about his break-up with actress Hyorin, but it’s a song of admittance. Admittance to the wrongs that manifested during the relationship and the painful memories that then haunted him, something we’ve probably all gone through or know someone who has at some point which makes this all the more empathic. It was a song that showed the truth behind its words not as a cover up but as a belated apology, something you don’t hear too often, as love/break up ballads get sugar coated. Not only did “Eyes, Nose, Lips” see success on the charts and became the song to perform on Korean music songs, but the outcome was also beautiful, as Taeyang and now wife Hyorin are in a blossoming marriage.

— Tam

19. “I Got a Boy” by Girls’ Generation, 2013

With “I Got a Boy,” Girls’ Generation ensured that 2013 would start off with a bang. A lot has been said about this song, from its musical scatteredness to its bombastic confidence, but critics and fans alike have rarely noted how well this track fits into the larger Girls’ Generation narrative. Here you have a girl group who has already mastered almost all K-pop concepts on the earth putting them all together, mixing them chaotically into one song to, as Tiffany said, “put it down another way.” The song would serve as a turning point in the girl group’s career—from then on, there’s no telling what kind of music they would drop next. And the uncertainty added to the excitement. It was definitely Girls’ Generation, and we were all just living in it. 

— Kushal

18. “This Love” by Shinhwa, 2013

As veterans of the idol industry, Shinhwa has experimented with several musical styles throughout the years so it didn’t come as any surprise when they dropped “This Love” (the voguing still has me shook) in 2013 off of their eleventh studio album. Although it leaned more towards Western musical style, it still has a lively and catchy beat, reminiscent of club-esque music which can be refreshing every now and then. The simplicity of it all made it easy on the ears, even if it’s more of a dance track, especially with the memorable chorus. How can you forget “we live for this love” when it’s repeated 11 times? Hm, 11 “love”’s for their eleventh album? Could there be some sort of correlation? But that aside, despite the members are approaching their 40’s, they continue to show us that they still got it going on. The appeal is truly real and it’s safe to say, once legends, always legends.

— Tam

17. “Breathe” by Lee Hi, 2016

For anyone who has had a long day today or feel especially defeated, please, listen to “Breathe.” Listen to Lee Hi’s warm words of consolation over the beautifully sad twinkle of ivory keys. Listen to them even when they become desperate and when instrumentals weep. Be mindful of the frisson sweeping over your body or the tears that stream down your face the same way raindrops zigzag window panes because everything the late composer and songwriter just said about how things will be okay and how you did a good job is all true.

And then breathe. 

— Shelley

16. “Dope” by BTS, 2015

Around the end of 2014 and through 2015, pop & EDM songs with a sax hook were a big trend in the U.S. and South Korea. BTS, however, was clever enough to ride the trend in a way that would stand the test of time. RM opening the song with “Welcome, is this your first time with BTS?” couldn’t be more propitious, as “Dope” can indeed work as a great introduction to the group: provocative lyrics over catchy instrumentals, creative choreography, and a strong commitment to their brand. Like Jungkook sings in the song’s bridge: “This is BTS style.”

— Ana 

15. “Bad Boy” by Red Velvet, 2018

Versatility is Red Velvet’s very own concept, with the “red” representing their quirky and upbeat songs, and “velvet” representing their smoother songs. “Bad Boy,” however, took the concept to a new level. The glamorous and captivating R&B tune was an interesting moment of Red Velvet’s career, in which the velvet side borrowed a bit of the red, while also bringing a new and sassy color that fits the group’s palette in an incredibly natural way.

— Ana 

14. “Wild” by 9MUSES, 2013

The very fact that this track ranks so high on our list serves, if nothing else, as a reminder that 9MUSES was one of the decade’s most underrated and underserved acts. 9MUSES is “burning for love, love,” and don’t doubt them for a second—they are very much on fire. A sensual track about longing for a lover, “Wild” is 9MUSES at its utter prime—a group of powerful vocalists who execute difficult belts and harmonies with ease, complete with multiple rap lines and impeccably synchronized choreography. It’s a shame that this song—in all of its melodic, high BPM glory—was not a chart-topper around the time of its 2013 release. Still, it will live on in our old iTunes libraries and playlists in the decade to come.

— Kushal

13. “Move” by Taemin, 2017

Many associations can come to mind when listening to “Move” or watching its music video —especially if you’re old enough to have known the golden era of Michael Jackson and Prince. And while such grandiose associations would actually be a compliment to Taemin, they don’t make “Move” less unique. Echoing the drums and basslines of new wave music from the 80’s, along with a sophisticated R&B-influenced melody, the song is an ode to the beauty of the human body (no gender in particular) in motion. But “Move” is not just a song; it’s a moment, a testament of an artist fulfilling a unique layer of his potential, in a way few others – if any – could do. With his magnetic aura shining through every detail of the song, the style with which Taemin leads it is just unmatchable.

— Ana 

12. “Growl” by EXO, 2013

Most groups endure a couple years of trial-and-error before they produce their representative song, but for EXO that arrived to them only a year after their debut. “Growl” is different because, unlike its prequel “Wolf” or any other of their releases, it possessed a winning stylistic consistency and an unmistakable repetition. That immediate beeping, tonal motif which kickstarts the song is the crux of “Growl,” supporting the hook and hammering that passage in even when it is no longer the refrain. It’s original and memorable enough as to define EXO’s best year when they were at the height of their fame, when they were complete. 

— Shelley

11. “Blood, Sweat & Tears” by BTS, 2016

Once again in this list and in BTS’ musical journey, we see the group giving their touch to a trendy sound (tropical house and moombahton, which were huge in 2016), and instantly taking away its ephemerality. “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speaks of temptation, lust, sin, and guilt. As for the vocals, special praise must be given to Jimin, whose voice is, paraphrasing the song’s lyrics, “sweeter than sweet,” but also sensual and bewitching, which makes it perfect for a song like this. But, actually, all members and creators involved did an amazing job on the song, which makes it easy to understand why it was a major turning point in the history of BTS. It was their first track to sell one million copies in their home country, and marked the best week ever for a Korean album on Billboard. And it would only go up from there. Fallen angels might have been amongst the inspirations of  “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” but what followed it was, actually, ascension.

— Ana 

10. “Lucifer” by SHINee, 2010

SHINee’s “Lucifer” draws on the brief biblical story of the angel Lucifer, who met his demise through narcissism and pride. The BeBe Rexha-penned track compares an entrancing whisper to Lucifer and explores the feeling of being trapped in attraction. “Lucifer” effortlessly entwined SHINee’s signature sound and electro-dance. It’s confined geometric choreography and engrossing beat catapulted SHINee into their niche. The quintet explored the vastness of electro and its subgenres establishing them as prominent figures in the genre’s revival. Through “Lucifer,” SHINee set the tone for the decade’s releases challenging artists to push the boundaries of concepts, presentation and vocal colors.

— Nnehkai

9. “Shine” by PENTAGON, 2018

“Shine” is placed in PENTAGON’s trajectory as an embodiment of the two facets of their most expressive year. On one side, it was the group’s biggest hit. On the other, it was their last single to feature the rapper and songwriter E’dawn. Listening to the song, though, there’s hardly room to think of the sad side. “Shine” was neither the only nor the first K-pop song of 2018 to go for the mid tempo hip-hop piano style, but it was definitely the catchiest and most fun. 

— Ana 

8. “I Am the Best” by 2NE1, 2011

After offering the melancholic and relatable “Lonely,” 2NE1 set out to deliver the stuff of K-Pop legends in June of 2011. While this song has been written about time and time again, it ages with grace, becoming increasingly iconic with each “Top 100” or “Best Girl Group Songs” list it makes. From Dara’s bright and bouncy verses to CL’s “billionaire dollar baby,” 2NE1’s four distinctly different personalities fit together perfectly on this track, showing us that there are many sizes, sounds, and shapes that knowing one’s self-worth can take. More than anything, “I Am the Best” cemented the fearsome foursome as one of K-pop’s most globally relevant acts, beginning to open doors alongside a handful of other second and third generation K-pop acts that would ultimately give the genre the massive global following it wields today. K-pop legends indeed.

— Kushal

7. “Call Me Baby” by EXO, 2015

The epitome of EXO’s R&B-infused classic boy band styling with some new jack swing thrown in for good measure, “Call Me Baby” is a song that grooves along to brassy horns and the members’ artful, layered vocalizing that showcases each singer’s distinct tone even while creating a cohesive sound for the group. As the sonic sequel to their megahit “Growl,” this later track perfected the musicality of that song and expanded on it, creating something that was immediately iconic and will be a song to be sung throughout the ages. 

— Tamar

6. “The Chaser” by Infinite, 2012

Two and a half years into the decade and K-pop had no reason to be worried. There had been countless hits from many legends of the industry and an ever creeping but strong international fanbase. Then “The Chaser” happened. “The Chaser” felt like an explosion not just for Infinite but for K-pop as a whole. Infinite and Sweetune dragged everyone into the new modern era with a song that defines the decade. Sweetune’s synths were well worn even by then, but they never felt so alive as they did on “The Chaser.” Layers of them cascade over and over throughout the track, building a heightened sense of drama that they would also never quite replicate. This was thanks to Infinite themselves, and in particular thanks to Sunggyu and Woohyun, the two best dramatic voices in the game. 

— Joe

5. “Expectation” by Girls’ Day, 2013

There’s perhaps nothing brand new about the exuberant sexiness of this electro-pop track, but Girls’ Day’s complete dominance of “Expectation” makes it one of our favorite tracks of the decade. Throughout its entirety, the song is the very definition of an earworm, with the taunting  “ooh, ooh, ooh,” raising expectations at the very start of the song and leading into its dramatic, oftentimes coy, verses, only to pull back its restraint during the pre-choruses, before leading into the explosion of the titular refrain. Towards its end, the song features a dramatic EDM build, which is blended with the members’ building vocals, turning the song from being merely a fun dance track into a prime example of Girls’ Day’s talent as singers. Paired with a music video that features their now-iconic suspender dance, “Expectation” is an experience quite unlike just about anything else out there and still has us playing it on repeat years later. 

— Tamar

4. “View” by SHINee, 2015

SHINee re-envisioned dance music’s influence in K-pop with this LDN Noise produced track. The track consists of easy-going aura that aligns with the liberty displayed in its video as the quintet embark on mischievous adventures across Thailand. Tapping into garage house and retro subharmonics, “View” focuses on fluttery vocals with amusing adlibs against its deep, recurring beat. “View”’s legacy lies within its undeniably impressive vocal delivery and its ability of merging the elements we loved from their debut track “Replay” with the tensity they’ve developed since. “View” is a refreshing moment for the group, foreshadowing their continued exploration into retro-inspired releases. 

— Nnehkai

3. “Be Mine” by Infinite, 2011

“Be Mine” catapulted Infinite into the K-pop stratosphere and they haven’t come down since. Throughout the decade, Sweetune and Infinite were a winning combination that could do no wrong. The group’s amazing and diverse vocals do well to not get lost or muddled in the dynamic synth notes and bold bass beats while the furious rap verses at the end close out the song, stamping their mark as heavy hitters in the K-pop industry. 

— Katherine

2. “Fiction” by Beast, 2011

Many songs by Beast own KultScene’s members hearts, but collectively we all agreed that “Fiction” is the one that everyone enjoys across the board. With its lyrics equating love to a work of fiction, the song fittingly incorporates the scritch-scratch sounds of someone writing on paper into the melody, starting off the song with the effect before turning into pounding beat and haunting, synth and piano melody. Collectively as a group during the chorus, Beast is expressive and despondent about the song’s narrative, while during each individual verse and rap sequence, each man melodically pushes the song further towards perfection as he expresses the anguish of “Fiction.” Though lists like this may be based around individual tastes, it’s hard to deny the fact that “Fiction” is a classic.

— Tamar

1. “Step” by KARA, 2011

If there’s a song that one can point to and say “That’s what K-pop’s about,” that would be “Step” by KARA. It checks all the boxes for what makes a song and its music video “K-pop.” An electric and brassy club banger, check. An alarmingly colorful and vibrant music video, check. An earworm hook perfectly paired with a memorable point dance, check and check. Sweetune defined an age in K-pop when the experimentalism in the production was unhinged and uninfluenced by a global appeal that followed set music trends, making “Step” is one of his crown jewels. There’s a sense of bliss that comes from listening to “Step”: you may or may not know what the lyrics are about, but the combination of all its parts just makes you feel damn good and happy. 

A lot has happened since the decade started, on and off of the stage. From ever-evolving music trends to the disbandments of classic groups to global successes to tragic losses, including that of KARA member Goo Hara. As we step (wink, wink) into 2020, it’s essential to look back at what, at its core, makes K-pop great: Fun. And you don’t know fun until you’ve let loose and danced to “Step.” 

— Alexis

Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum, Tamar Herman, Joe Palmer, Tam Huynh, Shelley Foo, Kushal Dev, Ana Clara Ribeiro, Nnehkai Agbor, and Katherine Villalon contributed to this article.

What was your favorite K-pop song this decade? Share your picks and thoughts 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.

Blackpink’s ‘Kill This Love’ EP review

Last year, Blackpink dominated the summer with hit single “Ddu-du Ddu-du.” The track pushed the quartet to global recognition with the trap beats, catchy chorus, and a message for haters to back off. Fast-forward to almost a year later, the group has solidified their place as a global powerhouse with a U.S. contract with Interscope Records, a world tour, and a ground-breaking spot performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

“Ddu-du Ddu-du” might have broken the glass ceiling, but their latest release established them as global players. “Kill This Love” broke YouTube records and scored the ladies’ their first number one song on iTunes’ songs chart with its hypnotic beat and simple chorus. While the song follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, the EP contains boisterous drums, blood-pumping EDM, and mellow electric guitars that come together to create something that emphasizes Blackpink’s beginnings and their promising future.

The Songs

Blackpink "Kill This Love"

The EP kicks off with title-song “Kill This Love.” Roaring trumpets and horns begin the track as Jennie powers into the first versus followed by a youngest member Lisa’s captivating rap. The addictive beat is paired with Jennie’s beckoning rum-pa-pum-pum for an enticing delivery. Each member holds their own through heavy drums, but members Jisoo and Rosé shine with their unparalleled voices. The two alternate between visceral pre-choruses as the ladies sing of an unsuccessful love. Rosé takes the center with the bridge as the ladies head into a powerful anthem that ends the track. Marching band-like drums meet the groups signature EDM style as they chant, “We gotta kill this love/ Yeah, it’s sad but true/ We gotta kill this love before it kills you too.”

“Kill This Love” explores how we perceive ourselves in weakness while wishing to be stronger. Ending a toxic relationship of any kind is sensible, but the rush of emotions and attachment maintains a strong grip. Overall, the song gives us Blackpink as we know them but ends prematurely. Listeners are just getting into the groove of the ending break before it fizzles out.


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: GIRL GROUP INVASION

The sub-title track “Don’t Know What to Do” is an EDM overload that listeners haven’t heard before. The song leaves out the trap beats, which are a signature for the group. The pulsating beat overpowers Blackpink vocals, but somehow creates a light atmosphere perfect for spring. The beat mirrors the impact of being lost while dealing with the fallout of an event. There’s a subtle desperation that echoes in Jennie and Rosé’s voices when they sing, “I don’t know what to do without you.”  

“Kick It” oozes self-confidence with Blackpink taking control of their personas marching to their own beat. This is their moment. The track is an anthem embodying not knowing a good thing til it’s gone. They’re leaving on their own accord. “Kick It” also takes listeners back to their debut, with the trap beats and acoustic guitar reflecting the same composition found in “Whistle.” It’s a heavy bass track alternating between constant steadiness and unexpected guitar —an odd mixture that works for the group.      

The EP takes a mellow turn with ballad “Hope Not.” The soft electric guitar creates a somber setting that’s authentic to the group. It’s a slow vibe that fans have missed since “Stay,” showing they don’t need the flash and gimmicks; it’s a stripped down version of them. Jennie starts the track with soft vocals that still remind listeners her position as vocalists. Lisa shows her continuous growth in her vocals taking on more verses. Her vocal placement after Jennie offers an ease after Jennie’s powerful voice. Jisoo’s finally found her footing and shines brightly in her pre-chorus and chorus moments. Rosé is in her element with this track —a girl and her guitar. She takes the lead as the main vocalist. She and Jisoo grasp the tenderness of the song with brief falsettos.

Finally, the group returns to their signature sound with a trap and EDM heavy remix of “Ddu-du Ddu-du.” The composition is an odd, risky pairing that displays YG’s hunger for mixing and matching of trends. It’s full of climaxes and beat drops that emulate the freedom found when reconciling with one’s feelings. It’s fun and continues the confident energy from “Kick It.” It reinforces the “take no bs energy” that catapulted the group global stardom. The track leaves room for choreography changes that are such to leave fans in awe.   

Overall Thoughts

Blackpink "Kill This Love"

From start to finish, Blackpink tells the story of finding confidence after the end of a relationship. The EP resonates with listeners because we have been, will be, or are going through the emotions and story expressed. You can always find your way back to yourself and tell the story you wish to tell. Kill This Love was a standout moment for members Jisoo and Rosé. They’ve stepped into their own while maintaining an equal platform with Jennie and Lisa. The latter showcased their versatility as rappers and vocalists.

We haven’t seen many sides of them since their debut. Their delivery of rebellious concepts is impressive. They’re apathetic yet convey just enough emotion to the audience engaged. Blackpink has attitude. Comparisons to 2ne1 and Big Bang are common for the group as Blackpink’s title songs reflect similar tones. The group seems to be a slight hybrid of the two.


Also on KultScene: K-POP IDOL FASHION TRENDS FOR SPRING 2019

Global Appeal

Blackpink KTL

While their move into the global market happened quicker than their seniors, they’re not going in fully with a set identity. They’re trend-heavy and haven’t delivered outside their niche. Strip away the trends and aesthetics, what is left?

Their ability to appeal to America’s ‘90s nostalgia obsession is commendable. They give the boldness of TLC while delivering the harmonies of Xscape.  However, the group’s move into the western market shows they’re not their colleagues and have the momentum to succeed.

Kill This Love is a glimpse of the group’s ability to cater to an expanding audience and potential as artists. They incorporated a sense of vulnerability that had yet to be seen by successfully told an all too familiar story from beginning to end. As Blackpink takes center stage at Coachella and the U.S. leg of their tour, they have an opportunity to show complexity of K-pop beyond the narrow perception the genre’s garnered. Blackpink has traded their guns for bazookas and is poised to take the U.S. by storm.

Blackpink's 'Kill This Love'
3.5

What was your favorite song on Kill This Love? Let us know your pick and thoughts on 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.

Park Bom ‘Spring (feat. Sandara Park)’ song review

park bom, sp

Open a window and take in the fresh air. The sun is returning from hibernation, and what was once dead is beginning to grow again. The equinox may still be a week away, but we all yearn for spring as it approaches.

On her comeback track “Spring,” returning soloist Park Bom made the flowers bloom in our hearts early this year. A lot has changed since her last solo single “Don’t Cry.” At the time of its 2011 release, the singer was still a member of 2NE1, and the controversy over her use of the medication Adderall to treat Attention Deficit Disorder had yet to derail her career.

From the scandal’s outbreak in 2014, her ensuing years of silence were interrupted only by occasional sightings outside the YG Entertainment building, a 2015 performance at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, and an appearance on 2NE1’s 2017 disbandment single “Goodbye.” Even to the singer’s most dedicated fans, prospects for a comeback seemed bleak and distant at best.


Also on KultScene: Subin Talks Gifts From Heaven, Alter Ego, & ‘Katchup’

Fast forward to March 2019. If the opening piano melody and muted riffs of “Spring” say anything, it is that Park Bom has beat the odds. Initially, the song’s airy gospel-influenced instrumental reminds of a lovestruck ballad like Davichi’s “Turtle,” but quickly turns more serious. On the opening verse, Park tells the tale of her suffering (“Pull me down / Into the endless darkness”). She wonders if she’ll “be forgotten this way,” likely referring to the peak of controversy and following years away from the spotlight. Enduring from her 2NE1 days, the uniqueness of her vocal tone shines in curved vowels and enunciated consonants.

Belting over the choir ad libs, she builds tension in the pre-chorus that resolves once the chorus arrives. “Spring for me again,” she declares in the hook, holding her notes in slinky vibrato. As the chorus progresses, the beat remains at a smooth medium-tempo, but Park grows louder, and her voice more emotive. Pained and hurt, she asks, “Will spring ever come to my heart again?” Spring is the happiness she so desperately wants, but still struggles to reach.

Enter the song’s feature: fellow 2NE1 groupmate Sandara Park. Note the use of her full name on the song, not her 2NE1-shortened moniker “DARA.” Her voice is soft as ever, but layered and emotive. Her rap lines employ rhythmic dynamism and trap influence—a welcome interruption to the track’s sonic equilibrium. She executes her feature with not only the gentle prowess of 2NE1’s DARA, but also the growth and maturity of Sandara Park.

“Spring” as a song is a dramatic experience, carrying the essence of a theatrical plot as it progresses. The arc reaches its climax after the second chorus, when the ad-lib choir turns fully gospel, and our protagonist sings of her coming triumphs: “When the pain you gave me leaves / Once the tears on my cheek dry up.” Her emotional resolve is tough and thick like the soul in her voice, singing with almost religious affliction on the final chorus’s high notes and belts. She is on her knees, begging someone or something for release from her sorrows. Just as the seasons change, hopefully so will her fate.


Also on KultScene: Breaking Down Red Velvet’s ‘Redmare’ Show in Dallas

Named after Park herself (“봄” or “bom” translates to “spring” in English), “Spring” is uniquely personal to its singer. As only the third single of Park Bom’s decade-long career, it reveals a new side to the singer unseen in her previous releases. No longer is she singing upbeat love songs or choruses for 2NE1 tracks. The new Park Bom has matured, and is using her music as a vehicle for self-expressing and overcoming her hardships.

Above all, “Spring” tells the powerful story of a musician who has, through the tumults of public fallout and mental illness, made her dreams of singing onstage come true once again. Perhaps the long, dark winter is finally over, and spring will come once again. Park Bom is back.

Park Bom's "Spring"
5

What do you think of Park Bom’s return? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

25 best K-pop b-sides of 2018

best top kpop k-pop b-sides bsides 2018 19

K-pop singles are always celebrated for their catchy beats, stellar choreography, and stunning visuals. But it’s not all just about the main tracks: the b-sides found in albums are often even better. However, unless you’re a fan of a particular artist, you may not dive into full albums. This, we think, is a mistake, since b-sides are often more experimental or touching than the singles. Though it’s next to impossible to review every K-pop album released in 2018 for hidden gems, here are the top 25 that we loved and consider should have their own moment.

25. “22nd Century Girl” by fromis_9

“Give me love!” chant the (then) eight members of the girl group fromis_9 on the opening of “22nd Century Girl,” which is exactly what this retro futuristic pop bop deserves. There’s something very familiar to “22nd Century Girl,” but it’s very fresh too. It’s also everything that made us fall in love with K-pop in the first place: a saccharine production and just as sweet lyrics, a peppy attitude, and a lively choreography. It’s is a bright electropop track that showcases fromis_9’s signature innocence concept well. And though they debuted in 2017, it wasn’t until 2018 that fromis_9 finally found their footing. Staying true to their cute concept always, the group veered into more interesting melodies and sounds with songs like “22nd Century Girl” and their latest single “Love Bomb” (which made it onto our favorite K-pop songs of 2018 list). If fromis_9 continue this eclectic route in 2019, it’ll surely put them above a lot of other groups.

—Alexis

24. “Really” by BLACKPINK

The quartet are usually known for upbeat, lively, adrenaline filled songs, but “Really” was a nice change. It’s fresh and sweet, giving one a slight nostalgic feeling of a first love, really taking me back at least 10 years ago. Blackpink’s voices are truly unique, but they always make it work. The girl’s vocals are smooth, while the raps are steady and aren’t over exaggerated.

—Tam

23. “Come Over feat. pH-1” by MRSHLL

“Come Over” grabbed attention for its cool, relaxed vocals, steady rhythm, and exploration of loneliness. MRSHLL yearns for the companionship of someone who is unideal for him but addictive. While MRSHLL delivers a melancholy ambiance, pH-1 shifts the atmosphere with an uptempo flow. The placement of his rap acts as the song’s pinnacle keeping it from becoming too complacent. The R&B track’s experimentation with soft electro-synths is commendable and meshes well with both artists.

—Nnehkai

22. “Synchronise” by INFINITE

In recent years, INFINITE has largely kept to their more rock leanings for Japanese promotions, but they kicked 2018 off strong with “Synchronise.” Starting off softly and rapidly building towards its energetic climax, there’s a feel of Britpop to the whole thing, with mellow strings driving the intro and kicking into energetic synths and pounding drum beats. The biggest star of the show, as with all INFINITE songs, are the group’s vocals, and “Synchronise” is perhaps one of the act’s best displays of the diverse tones of its singers. Coming after Hoya left the group and shortly ahead of Kim Sungkyu’s enlistment, the song puts an emphasis on Nam Woohyun and none other than Jang Dongwoo, the group’s rapper, as the song soars to its finale. A fun tune with great vocals, it was a great way to kick off 2018 — and give a nod to INFINITE’s reputation for being intensely in-synch.

—Tamar

21. “Don’t Text Me” by (G)I-DLE

(G)I-DLE made their concept clear from the very beginning when they debuted with the fierce “Latata.” “Don’t Text Me” is way more sultry in its vocals and production, but it has the same empowered vibes in the lyrics. This loungy and sensual song shows that (G)I-DLE can explore different sounds while keeping consistent with their identity – although, of course, this is only their first album. The girls still have a lot to show, and we can only hope that they’ll maintain the quality in their music. If the next single will be nearly as good this b-side, then (G)I-DLE will surely keep their place in the sun that they already found even while being just rookies.

—Ana Clara

20. “Good Good” by KEY

I have to be honest—a Key solo was not on my radar going into late 2018. And this may be a cliche, but I truly didn’t know how much I needed it until it actually arrived. On a standout album, “Good Good” is a standout track, on which Key sings about the possibility of a potential lover liking him back. Key’s vocals are rich with vibrato in the verses, and switch with impressive speed to a sharp head voice in chorus, which is delivered over an electric guitar riff completely unique to contemporary EDM-driven K-pop. Both exciting and emotive, Key’s voice is the crowning jewel of the track even within such a rich instrumental landscape. Is there a bright future in store for Key’s solo career? The odds, I believe, are pretty “Good Good.”

—Kushal


Also on KultScene: BEST K-POP MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2018

19. “Love Maze” by BTS

In spite of its title, there is nothing complicated about “Love Maze.” This refreshing R&B track shows us the relaxed side of BTS that sometimes might be neglected under the group’s usually powerful songs and complex storyline. From the instrumentals to the song structure, everything in “Love Maze” flows very naturally; not even SUGA’s intense delivery and J-Hope’s quirky flow when rapping digresses from the song’s chilling vibes. Instead, it has a special break between the sweet verses, in which Jimin and Jin shine the most. “Love Maze” is proof that, like RM raps, some of the best things are the ones we don’t calculate too much, and just go with the flow.

—Ana Clara

18. “Dímelo” by KARD

2018 was a sleepy year for KARD, who knocked it out of the park with their pre-debut singles for the last two years and a strong enough debut. Since then though, KARD have largely failed to be as impactful with their singles. The B-sides, however, are a totally different thing, and such was the case of 2018’s “Dímelo.” Taking one more step into their Caribbean and Latin inspired concept and music, the members of KARD sang a few lines in Spanish on the chorus. “Dímelo” relies on the group’s trusted pop-dembow mixed with EDM sound that perfectly balances the melodies with the rap verses. The song might not be something we haven’t seen from KARD before, but it is something they do well and have been perfecting the niche thus far. “Dímelo” is without a doubt the standout track of their mini album, and deserved to be the single.

—Alexis

17. “Save Me feat. Jimin Park” by Jero

“Save Me” is a somber plead and hopeless effort in preserving an ending relationship. Produced by Cha-cha Malone, the Jimin Park feature is equipped with soulful harmonies and chilling falsettos showing Jero’s full potential as a soloist. His vocal vulnerability on the track is a much appreciated contrast to the hip-hop concepts he performed as a member of now dissolved Lucky J.

—Nnehkai

16. “Flower Garden” by GFRIEND

Since their debut single “Glass Bead” until their 5th single “Fingertip,” all of GFRIEND’s songs used to have an unmistakable GFRIEND sound: fast beats, a delicate piano subtly guiding the harmony in the background, vigorous guitars here and there, strong vocals, and a bright chorus full of strings. In short, a unique blend of sweetness and intensity. After “Love Whisper,” “Summer Rain,” and “Time for the Moon Night,” though, I thought the girls would have lost their characteristic touch. But “Flower Garden,” from their 6th album, has everything I was missing and more. Impeccably produced and beautifully composed, it’s impossible to find any flaw or useless element in the song. Everything is gorgeous and well put: the violins, the chorus that starts dreamy and ends in an erudite note, the contrasting strings and guitar solo that comes after the second chorus, and the type of choreography that the girls of GFRIEND are masters at. Too bad we could never see a live rendition of this amazing song. Had “Flower Garden” been released as a single, it would have been their best one since “Rough.”

—Ana Clara

15. “Magic Shop” by BTS

“Magic Shop” stands out in BTS’ record-breaking Love Yourself: Tear album for various reasons. For one, the lyrics of this song were written by maknae Jungkook, and was produced by him as well. It was written as a fan song, with a message that hope could always be found in the “magic shop” of BTS’ hearts. The despair and subsequent comfort that is expressed through the honest and relatable lyrics of the song feel especially moving paired with the sincere voices of the members. In particular, Jin’s and Jungkook’s emotions really shone through even in their multiple challenging high notes. The biggest surprise of this track was its instrumental; while dormant for most of the song, allowing the members’ vocals to be foregrounded, it emerged center stage during the intense instrumental breaks of the song. This genius inclusion definitely spiced the track up and added dimension to it, without taking away from the sentimentality and emotion of the song.

—Anna

14. “Fly Away With Me Baby” by NCT 127

Though the group’s singles are almost always quite bombastic and experimental, “Fly Away With Me” is one of their most mellifluous b-sides to date, putting an emphasis on NCT 127’s sweet, airy vocals over a groovy, twinkling electro meets R&B melody. Doyoung and Taeil in particular are given the chance to truly let their smooth tons fly free through the track, while other vocalists in the group are also given an opportunity to shine. The B-side ended up being released through a self-filmed music video the group took while in California, showing them enjoying the trip while flying high on their overseas pursuit.

—Tamar

13. “Who Waits For Love” by SHINee

Veteran group SHINee had an extremely busy 2018, with their release of the three-part album The Story of Light and its subsequent epilogue toward the end of the year. While all their releases were quality ones, “Who Waits For Love” from The Story of Light EP. 2, was a gem. It is fascinating to see how each of the members have such different music styles but are still so compatible with each other. They take turns belting out their power vocals while doing ad libs, and Key proves again how diverse of a musician he is with his impressive rap verse, which added a layer of roughness and gruffness to the track. They have always been masters at balancing delicate emotions with the strength in their voices, but Taemin does this exceptionally well here, when he softly croons out the last few lines of the song. “For once, please find me,” —it is full of longing, mixed with a little hope, a little despair, and it is downright beautiful.

—Anna

12. “SOS” by Samuel

It’s a shame Samuel did not come back with his second mini album, One, during last summer, otherwise this would have been an obvious pick for A-side. Regardless, consider “SOS” on heavy rotation year-round. Percolating with every lush 808 drum kit beat, the song takes it back to the basics when music was just about the good vibes and teen heartthrob lyrics about picking “[ya girl] up in [a] Rova.” So what if he is underaged and can’t legally drive? Rather than coming off as try-hard, Samuel knows how to play up his youth, and even the smatterings of skrts and brrts can’t incriminate him.

—Shelley

11. “Myself” by Monsta X

Did you say this is a Monsta X song? “Myself” has a different sound then what Monbebe’s are used to, and it’s great! The song has a sensual aura, even without a choreography, as it sends you off into Neverland with a sense of euphoria with its tranquil but also melancholy melody. You’re able to truly hear the distinctiveness in each member’s honey like voices. Monsta X’s “Myself” is a softer song with a forceful energy all the while maintaining a steady flow. Well, my god, it’s a damn vibe.

—Tam


Also on KultScene: 25 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2018

10. “Stuck On” by Kim Sung Kyu

When Kim Sung Kyu is not leading the dance group Infinite, he’s living out his other passion through his solo career — soft rock. That explains the delicious Richard Marx-meets-Nell flavor in “Stuck On,” the fourth of 10 Stories the artist shares in his first full length album. At the helm of this tonal distinction are an Elysian piano section and ethereal synths, which conflated with the song’s B-side status, make this feel like the LP’s best kept secret. But as much as “Stuck On” feels like a sanctuary, it’s also not as absolute as it lets on. There’s the slightest tint of ineffable sorrow in the way Sung Kyu delivers his words gingerly, asking questions out loud (“We’re definitely living under the same sky, right?/ If we put our heart into it/ We can meet anytime, right?”) in that self-reassuring manner of his. Even in a place far away, Kim Sung Kyu evokes emotions so ironically primal and so profound.

—Shelley

9. “Only One You Need” by Jonghyun

The world is that much less vibrant now without Jonghyun, but his final gift to fans, the album Poet | Artist offered much support in the sleek pop productions. “Only One You Need” starts gently and rapidly grows into a sweeping R&B-EDM hybrid, expressively relaying Jonghyun’s lush tone over tightly layered production. The artist performed the song at his final concert, and revealed it was a tune meant to comfort those suffering because of a loss, adding a poignant note to the already glorious nature of the track.

—Tamar

8. “Somehow” by DAY6

One of the catchiest tracks from DAY6’s Youth Part 1: Shoot Me, “Somehow” grabs the listeners’ attention right from its opening instrumental. This leads to a verse which starts off pretty mellow, but quickly builds (along with Dowoon’s intensifying drum beats) into a chorus that you cannot help but dance to. In their usual DAY6 fashion, the members take turns to sing the chorus, and their unique voices are showcased especially as each member adds an individual twist to this same highlight part. It also proves how equally skilled they are in terms of their vocals, and it is beautiful to listen to this masterpiece, which manages to incorporate the diverse personalities of the members but also represents the teamwork of the band. “Somehow” would definitely not be this enjoyable if the members did not play off and complement each other’s energies, and the experiences they have had together for the past three years certainly shows here.

—Anna

7. “Trivia: Seesaw” by BTS

Every member in BTS is uniquely fascinating, and all of them blew our minds in different ways in 2018 —but no one surprised us more than SUGA. In “Trivia: Seesaw,” his solo moment on the album Love Yourself: Answer, SUGA stepped out of his comfort zone and showed that, besides a superb rapper, producer, and songwriter, he can also sing and handle a full dance number all by himself, as he showed during BTS’ Love Yourself Tour. The funky, soothing track, adorned by the smooth and feminine vocals of ADORA (Big Hit Entertainment in-house producer), fed not only the fans who missed his signature production style, but also the ones who just needed a confirmation that this young man has way more tricks under his sleeve than we know.

—Ana Clara

6. “Anpanman” by BTS

BTS are the undeniable heroes of K-pop in 2018, and their Love Yourself: Tear track “Anpanman” exemplified this, declaring the group as a new sort of superhero in a reference to a decades-old Japanese cartoon character whose very existence is to support those around him. With whistle trills, retro-feeling piano notes, and tinny beats rollicking their way below the Auto-Tuned, exaggerated declarations of the members verses, the song is intensely playful and positive, making it not only one of their Love Yourself tour’s final moments as an upbeat concert closer, but also a fan favorite.

—Tamar

5. “Circus” by TAEYEON

Rounding out the top five is Taeyeon’s “Circus,” a piano-driven emotive number from her 3rd mini album Something New (which we called one of our best K-pop albums of the year). Taeyeon sings about the dizzying feeling of falling in love and experiencing togetherness, promising to “throw” her heart at a new lover. Unlike other ballads and slow songs in the K-pop genre, “Circus” is dynamic in tempo and texture. From “ah-ah” riffs in the prechorus to the steady staccato of the chorus proper, Taeyeon offers the same emotional delivery of a traditional ballad or slow song, but with rhythmic variation in tow. The b-side reinforces some things we already know: Taeyeon is infinitely versatile, and growing increasingly adept at inspiring emotion in listeners with her voice. Hopefully, her future solo releases live up to the legacy she is already building.

—Kushal

4. “Forever Young” by BLACKPINK

The quartet reminded us of their light-hearted personalities with the upbeat, lively “Forever Young.” The track is full of youthful charms as BLACKPINK wishes to remain in the moment with a special someone. “Forever Young” remains true to the overall dance-pop theme of Square Up with hypnotic EDM breaks throughout the chorus. The song’s adlib-filled dance break brings BLACKPINK’s signature edge to the forefront. Aside from attention-grabbing beats, listeners get a glimpse of lead rapper Lisa’s vocal abilities. Together, all the ladies’ vocals and Jennie’s rap create a sweet aura that captures the carefree spirit of love and adolescence.

—Nnehkai

3. “Serendipity (Full Version)” by BTS

Already prefaced in the intro for the group’s fifth EP Love Yourself: Her, the full length version of “Serendipity” continues the wild reveries that the abbreviated one left off. BTS’s lead vocalist Jimin fluidly maneuvers through another round of lulling kicks, snares, and twinkling arrangements, importing into song what the contemporary trained dancer does on stages. To untrained ears, this extension is seemingly a copy-paste of what we have already heard, but mindful listeners will pick up nuances such as the resurgence of the buried acoustic guitars from the first verse or the transition from his head voice to impassioned falsettos like clockwork in the bridge. He doesn’t need catchy hooks or thick layers of instrumentations to be memorable, nor do we need anymore reasons for “Serendipity” to be replayable.

—Shelley

2. “Gravity” by EXO

After 2017’s The War, it seemed impossible for EXO to top an outstanding album with their follow up, the much anticipated Don’t Mess Up My Tempo. And as a body of work, they didn’t, but the one gem that eclipses the rest of the album is “Gravity.” How does one even begin to describe “Gravity” other than saying it’s pop perfection? Made by the certified bop after bop producers LDN Noise, “Gravity” is this sleek Daft Punk-ish, spacey disco marvel with smooth R&B vocals. It’s funky, it’s got an ‘80s synthwave vibe that suits EXO down to a T. Every member has their time to shine, especially Chanyeol who sampled the 1980s classic “Tom’s Diner” for his rap verse. EXO made us wait a long time for a comeback in 2018, and with songs like “Tempo,” “Love Shot,” and “Gravity,” they reminded us why you can’t rush excellence.

—Alexis

1. “Ladi Dadi” by AOA

In “Ladi Dadi,” the 764th (and counting) potential South Korean entry for Eurovision, AOA have crafted something of such simplicity it’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly what is so good about it. Is it the gloriously Europop canned horn melody? The constant bop of its beat? Or the absolutely staunch commitment to the party? It is, of course, all of these things, but particularly that last point. The second “Ladi Dadi” begins it does not let up. It’s a dance track and does not for one moment let you forget that. As Chanmi raps forcefully, “There’s no point in explaining anymore.” There’s nothing to do but succumb to the fiesta.

—Joe

What were your favorite K-pop b-sides of 2018? Let us know you picks and thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

The story of LOONA: yyxy


How do you close out a pre-debut project like LOONA’s? How do you bring the many ideas and sounds contained within the previous 8 solos and 4 sub-unit singles to an outcome? But Yves, Chuu, Go Won, and Olivia Hye were given this herculean task, and came together as Youth Youth by Young, aka LOONA yyxy to be the conclusion of the sweeping story the LOONAverse had been introducing for over two years.

The story of LOONA took a dramatic shift before yyxy. Odd Eye Circle injected a positive, forthright energy to the universe as a direct contrast to what came before them with LOONA 1/3 and yet, it still felt incomplete. Between the two of them they barely scratched the surface of complexity within the idea of girlhood. One could be passive or active, with little in between. To deal with this yyxy took a major lyrical shift and forgoed a more distinct musical identity for their era. In its place the videos took on the brunt of the storytelling while the lyrics focused on one thing. Each of the girls sang not about boys or a general idea of love but of self love. Differing perspectives of self-love combined to give us a more complete idea of what LOONA’s story was.


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: 2018 AWARDS – PART 1

Yves fell from Eden and crashed into our hearts when she began the final saga with the deeply satisfying “new.” It turns the bounding confidence of Odd Eye Circle into something quietly simple. The heavy 80s synths feel immediately powerful. Where OEC were manic and excited, Yves doesn’t waiver, preferring a steadiness of strength felt from within.

This experience and strength of Yves’ voice proves to be crucial. Aided by just a bassy synth and fingersnaps, she convincingly delivers such grandiose lines as, “Willing to get closer to the sun / Flapping of the burnt wings.” “new” is a song about finding oneself through a variety of life experiences. She beings with love of a person, “My heart that wants to be like you / Gets coloured, filled with you,” but moves on quickly. She goes no further in mentioning this person to the point that it sounds more like admiration than love. This is where she deviates from her predecessors. This desire to be like someone else led Yves to consider her “miserable appearance.” In looking at herself in preparation, she took the time to see a new side of who she is. In dropping the pursuit of another and considering a mirror, she sees “the beam inside of my heart.”

Yves understands that the conclusion LOONA seek isn’t in being loved or loving someone but in how you come to make those decisions. It’s the in-between point of figuring yourself out and knowing what’s best for you.

Yves grabbed the LOONAverse by the throat and told it to calm down. All of the yyxy girls’ songs were a response to this and none of them took it to heart quite like Chuu. “Heart Attack,” her solo song, is what happens when LOONA ⅓ are graced with the influence of Yves. Big brass wills Chuu down a difficult path of big vocals and emotions. Her heart is unstoppable, at a level of obsession not seen before in the LOONAverse. “Heart Attack’s” music however, does feel familiar at times so it is up to Chuu to elevate it. None of the other girls matched her on record for pure personality, “This must be what thrill feels like, darling” she bellows in the chorus. Her voice shifting tone depending on just how happy she is.

Her unabashed sentimentality is no surprise given Yves’ influence. It is, at the same time, naive. Yves’ message has been missed by Chuu. She changes her whole life to suit this person, “All of my standards are set to you / Like the moon spinning around the earth.” She’s shoved along by growing layered background vocals and stronger synths to a point of apparent euphoria. Chuu gives everything to her vocal tone, a parallel to how she’ll give everything to the other she sings of. “I’ll give you all my heart /Take my heart,” she pleads. Her feelings are in whiplash. Taking confidence from Yves, Chuu goes too far in changing her “quiet heart.” It’s the response of someone who was waiting for confidence for too long and couldn’t handle it. Chuu never really had a quiet heart, just never had the support to know this.

Someone who really does have a quiet heart is Go Won. On first meeting, the third yyxy girl is slight and mysterious. Her voice is simple, barely going above a talk-sing type for the majority of her solo song “One & Only.” The straightforward synth of the track does well to back her up. It does not undermine her at any stage. It has bright piano chords to prop her up in the chorus and shimmering synths to match her as she highers her pitch rising to the chorus. Her voice is warm and unique but also innately familiar as if everything she sings we all know deep down.

Right from the beginning, Go Won understands the importance of self-love. “When that shadow takes a step towards me / Even the darkness feels bright,” she sees light in everything because she pours light onto everything. She doesn’t need no garden of Eden.

Olivia Hye, yyxy’s final girl, is someone who sees almost no light. She took Yves’ message as a betrayal. Her song “Egoist” is not a celebration of self-love but a lament for the heartache of how she reached it. Olivia still held onto the idea that true fulfilment came only through love of another. She was not prepared to lose them or to hear that her ideals had been wrong this entire time. “I wanted to despise you /But my heart wouldn’t let you go,” she ekes out at the beginning. Her voice, a strained apathy, fits these words perfectly.

The track’s opening piano chord starts a fraction of the way through like we have barged in on her revelation. The piano drops when her sadness turns to anger, though. Her rage slowly distorts the song into a whirling industrial clash of defiant synths and destructive percussion. The melodic whistle from the chorus is coerced into a desperate scream. The song’s expressiveness mocks the cold flatness of Olivia’s voice. To make matters worse Jinsoul follows this. Her self-referential rap is full of temptations about being in an “endless cycle” together. She is a voice that Olivia does not need right now, and it shows. As the song progresses it has nothing to else to offer. Olivia’s voice, still inert, doesn’t convince us of the words she’s singing. She still sings of fate, a fate she fears was taken from her prematurely. Her anger is still focused on the person leaving, rather than her own inadequacies.


Also on KultScene: THE 12 LOONA SOLO SINGLES RANKED

The conflict inherent in Olivia Hye and her song seemed to be a great jumping off point for LOONA yyxy to come together as a unit. Instead they did something strange: “love4eva” is a song made to situate LOONA within the larger world of K-pop. Almost every major detail links them to two other era-defining girl groups of their time, Girls’ Generation and I.O.I.

Starting with producer E-Tribe, even the announcement of their involvement was treated as a big coup. E-Tribe are known for a number of iconic hits like Hyori’s “U-Go-Girl” and Super Junior’s “It’s You,” but none quite as legendary as Girls’ Generation’s “Gee.” Their involvement was a statement but how they used the feature from Canadian artist Grimes locked in the comparison. Much to everyone’s surprise, her only involvement was in the song’s intro. Her English language declaration of LOONA’s finally being together is a riff on not just Tiffany and Jessica’s intro for “Gee” but the many times K-pop has done this the years over. The lyrics as well are a such a generic take on first love that it could be parody. The wonderfully ridiculous line about kidneys comes close to convincing me of that.

Even before Grimes’ part, it’s easy to spot the I.O.I connection as well. The precise, rolling synths immediately recall that group’s best track “Very Very Very.” “love4eva” strives for the breathless energy of that song but can’t quite go past imitation. Right at the end, yyxy go on to refer to the choreography of “Very Very Very” too, as in their ending pose they continue moving along with a heart gesture. It’s smaller than the other references but in ending the track it leaves the imprint of all of those other ideas in our mind.

This all combines to position LOONA as a group following these two. It would be hard to argue that anyone other than Girls’ Generation is the the most definitive K-pop girl group, and I.O.I were the first group since them to change how the industry worked by making competition shows the new most lucrative debut plan. LOONA have decided that they are next, stating that their form of marketing is what future girl groups will be copying.

This, unfortunately, is the final legacy of yyxy. They jumped the gun on the anticipation of their debut by dropping a genuinely interesting thematic exploration in favour of something more palatable for a larger audience. Regardless of quality, “love4eva” and LOONA’s debut single, “Hi High,” are a digression from what made LOONA interesting in the first place, their focus on the girls themselves. It was the distinction between the solo songs and the diversity of sounds and ideas that were used to build characters that made LOONA connect with so many. That yyxy could have four separate songs about self-love, all with different perspectives was frankly beautiful. They worked to define the impossibility of identity, and it sadly remained impossible to carry through to the finale.

What do you think of the LOONA yyxy era? Let us know in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Best K-pop albums of 2018

best kpop albums 2018 18 top k-pop korean

Every year, the world of K-pop gives us new sounds to enjoy and compacts them into pristinely packaged album. And then, the KultScene team puts them together into an easy-to-read list based on our personal tastes. The past 12 months were no different than usual, so we are excited to present our best albums of 2018 list. Unlike our vote-driven songs list, each blurb is based on each writer’s individual feelings towards the album they wrote about and are listed in no particular order. Whether they were albums from brand new acts or ones from the biggest names in the industry, these were what the KultScene loved in 2018.

Love Yourself: Tear by BTS

Even if it wasn’t for its historic achievements (first million certified album by the Korea Music Content Association, debut at number one on Billboard 200, and a Grammy nomination), Love Yourself: Tear would deserve an honourable mention amidst BTS discography anyway. From the opening track, “Singularity” (a solo moment for member V, whose distinctive voice and style make him the perfect vocalist to match the deep, elegant tone of the song), until the last, “Outro: Tear” (BTS rap line’s best collective effort since 2014’s “Cypher pt. 3”), Love Yourself: Tear contains some of the group’s best lyrics ever. It’s also definitely their most experimental album so far. It ranges from hip-hop, soul, R&B, to pop, EDM, and even incursions on rock (“Fake Love”), jazz/bossa nova (“134340”), and latin rhythms (“Airplane pt. 2”). It’s all packed in a way that makes sense for the album’s aim to explore darker and more practical themes than its predecessor, Love Yourself: Her. With tracks like “Paradise” and “Anpanman,” Love Yourself: Tear solidifies BTS’s purpose to be spokespeople for today’s youth, while also cements the group’s rich musicality.

—Ana Clara

Warning by Sunmi

Her first body of music since 2014’s Full MoonWarning portrays Sunmi at her most mature and dominant. The mini-album begins with the bombastic self-written intro “Addict,” her first and only completely English-language song. One of Korea’s most prominent and often most criticized female soloists, Sunmi tells her critics that they’re “already addicted” to her. She asks the repeated question “Who’s running the show?” throughout the song as if to reference haters’ questions about whether she has control of her music and career. Confidently, she answers, “Me,” as the song ends.

Following “Addict,” Warning quickly moves into lead single “Siren,” a pulsing electropop number that scored 30th on KultScene’s 50 Best K-Pop Songs of 2018. Between “Siren” and previously promoted singles “Gashina” and “Heroine” lie “Curve,” a pop track telling a lover to be careful with her, and another album standout “Black Pearl,” a funky R&B-influenced track contemplating her self-image. The tracks reach back to Full Moon Sunmi, who was a bit more sultry than the one who sings “Heroine” or “Siren,” but just as confident and in-control of her sexuality as she is now.

The mini as a whole, which ends with soft rock outro “Secret Tape,” not only explores the different sides of Sunmi we know and love, but also reveals new sides we have never before seen. Most of all, the album stands as a “warning” for those doubting Sunmi’s versatility and skill as a performer and artist. The world is Sunmi’s show, and we’re all just living in it.

—Kushal

Present: YOU & ME by GOT7

Present: You & Me is the GOT7 album we’ve have been waiting for. The repackaged album consists of all the songs that was previously released on Present: You, along with with 12 other “new” tracks. The repackage includes new songs like their Christmas track “Miracle,” the sweet ballad “Take Me To You,” and, of course a classic GOT7 feel good dance track, “Come On.”

What’s most exciting about this repackaged album is that it consists of a few fan favorites that the members have performed during their first and second world tour. Some of the subunits were rather to be expected such as JB and Youngjae’s “1:31AM,” Jackson, Bambam, and Yugyeom’s “WOLO” and “I Love It.” Whereas Mark and Jinyoung’s “Higher,” Mark, JB, and Youngjae’s “Think About It,” Jackson and Yugyeom’s “Hunger,” and Jinyoung and BamBam’s “King” units came as a pleasant surprise. Yugyeom’s “From Now” and Jackson’s “Phoenix” solo tracks highlighted of the two’s strengths; Yugyeom’s being heavily danced influenced and Jackson’s addictive raspy rapping.

Present: You & ME had a fusion of both mellow and high spirited tunes. These songs were examples that exudes the member’s individuality and different styles in music. At this point, is it even considered a repackaged album considering how most of these songs were never released before? Wow, GOT7 really loves their fans.

—Tam

RBB by Red Velvet

You can always count on Red Velvet to deliver a solid album and/or EP, and RBB was no different. The quintet’s discography may already have an EP they christened Perfect Velvet, but with RBB and its five songs and the English version of the single, it’s by far the superior one. Falling on the Velvet side of their concept spectrum, the EP is a more fun and mature follow up to last year’s The Perfect Velvet. The EP is a mix of the fun, electropop side of Red paired with the smoother ‘90s R&B-tinged tracks that define Velvet. Though the single “RBB” and “Butterflies” represent a more palatable Red Velvet sound, it’s “Sassy Me,” “So Good,” and “Taste” that join the group’s repertoire of amazing sultry deep cuts. Velvet Red Velvet is the girl group the people deserve, and though RBB didn’t get as much love in Korea as Summer Magic, it further proves that Red Velvet is currently the most versatile and musically interesting female K-pop ensemble.

—Alexis

Shoot Me: Youth Part 1 by DAY6

DAY6 recently said during an interview that when they work on each song, they regard it as the title track of the album and give it their all. Shoot Me: Youth Part 1 definitely shows this, and this is the only album so far with tracks that I never wanted to skip. The tracks are so different, instrumentation and genre-wise, but they all contain DAY6’s unique colour and signature style. More importantly, they are all musically complex in their own ways and highly enjoyable to listen to. This album saw the welcome return of Jae’s rapping in “Talking To” and brought one of DAY6’s strongest ballads to date, “Still”. Ever since their debut, but especially in the past two years, DAY6 has consistently been churning out good music and I’m looking forward to how they will continue to evolve in the future.

—Anna


Also on KultScene: 50 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2018

The Story of Light: Epilogue by SHINee

Listening to The Story of Light is an altogether Too Much experience. Too much emotions, too much sounds. It begins with aplomb, the bombastic electro pop of “All Day, All Night” bursts with desperate love. It runs into the double singles of “Countless” and “Good Evening.” On that quick flip the passion of the opener is replaced with a confused melancholy. “Oh my god, the melodies ring out” is forgotten in favour of “The cozy darkness.” The deep house of “Good Evening” and tropical flavours of “Countless” betray their original happiness. Of course the context in which The Story of Light was created explains this. A year of comebacks following the death of Jonghyun led to a whole hour of new material for which SHINee to remember him while not forgetting themselves.

Taemin, having once had to try fill the impossible shoes of Jonghyun on “Why So Serious?”, tries again to step up to the mantle. He is more than capable, and yet, one can’t help but hear the old Taemin in everything he does. A child when SHINee first debuted in 2008, the future of K-pop was clear in his bright eyes. He retains that sense of wonder with his more modern self turning up on the absolute delight of synth pop that is “Undercover” and smashes it. Amidst the unpredictable piano of ballad “I Say,” even the utterance of just the words “right now” from Onew could make you cry. No one in his position should have the courage to use such defiant language. But he did and no one could possibly think he’s faking it. Minho’s rap, once a handicap for the group becomes a crutch. His deep voice a warm reliable sound that reminds one of the past, reminds one of a SHINee that has not quite disappeared yet. His work on the jazzy “Retro,” is mightily assured as he remembers a lover, and how easy it was to love them. Key is as exuberant as ever. The mood maker of the group, he can wrap his voice around any sound thrown his way. Key carries on as anyone would so hope he would. He races, wailing and crooning, across the more upbeat housey vibes of “Jump.” His falsetto lights it up and braces SHINee for the end of this story. As the long hour of The Story of Light comes to an end it’s hard, despite the many ideas within, not to see only one thing in its entirety. Every word from the throats of the members, every inflection of sound from all sources, every song on this album is about Kim Jonghyun.

—Joe

Blooming Days by EXO-CBX

One of the greatest things about K-pop is its love affair with highly conceptualized musical experiences, so it’s kind of baffling that it’s taken a while for any of the biggest acts in the industry to create a seven-track EP that coincide with the days of the week. Luckily, 2018 saw EXO-CBX release Blooming Days and give us a sweet soundtrack for any week. The trio spend the entirety of the album serving up funky, harmonizing-heavy pop tunes, beginning from the mellow vibes of “Monday Blues” and ending with the groovy chill of the Sunday-oriented finale in “Lazy.” While each song comes into its own, there’s an overlying warm, almost intimate feel throughout the album as the EXO’s trio of vocalists mellifluously — Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin — guide the listeners through their exploration of lush, retro-tinged pop.

—Tamar

Breathe by MRSHLL

MRSHLL’s Breathe is a R&B EP with hints of house music, soul peppered across tracks, and ingenious collaborations ranging from ph-1 to Lydia Paek. The EP kicks off with “Come Over,” a track featuring trendy tropical beats and light hip hop swagger. While “Come Over” presents an upbeat aura, MRSHLL secures his footing as his own artist by diving into the complexity of emotions and acceptance through the remainder of the album. His raspier vocals express the vulnerability and desperation in tackling loneliness, depression through tracks like “OK” and “Nohanza.”

Everything comes full circle with “Pose,” an ode to the LGBTQ community, which taps into house music and exudes a new found confidence that was lacked in previous tracks. The catchy “Get your life and pose” is a mood we call take with us into the new year. Breathe is a reassurance in going through our struggles, expressing our emotions and reaching the freedom that comes with true ownership of who we are.

 

 

 

 

—Nnehkai

The Connect: Dejavu by Monsta X

Space, time, and entanglement —Monsta X continues to explore these concepts and more in The Connect: Dejavu, an extension of their The Code album released last year. Fronted by lead single “Jealousy,” the EP actually does most of the conceptual grunt work with the second track “Destroyer,” a nu metal song flecked with chilling raps, amplified vocals, and dense electric guitars. Behind every utterance, every inflection, there is an honest determination to conquer against time and fate in the name of reconnecting with a loved one. All things considered, there’s due cause why “Destroyer” was previewed in the time-looping, time-manipulating music film leading up to the album’s release over “Jealousy.”

But neither “Jealousy” nor “Destroyer” can hold a candle to what’s to come next. Coming in third on the tracklist is fan favorite “Fallin,’” whose EDM and deep house influences makes this one that was meant to be enjoyed in a concert hall than through wires and headphones. Only Monsta X can pull braid together such tasteful use of autotune, electrifying synths, and processed vocals while still feeling human. There’s always an order within the lawless nature of the song, something that the final song “Special” seem to try to replicate with its hip-hop leanings but falls slightly short of.

The rest of the album is filled out with delicate, iridescent melodies in “If Only” and softcore pop beats in “Crazy in Love.” “Lost in the Dream” manages to find middle ground between this and the earlier tracks; despite the fervid raps and throbbing percussions, vocal line comes in with a dreamy lilt that saves the song from edgy territory. Clocking in at a little over 26 minutes, The Connect: Dejavu showcases Monsta X’s fluidity as artists and could possibly be their most experimental one yet.

—Shelley

Hyehwa by Jeong Eun Ji

Jeong Eun Ji’s voice is a sweet delicacy for our ears, and in Hyehwa, we not only get delighted by her crystalline vocals, but also get the pleasure to know a bit of her soul. The third solo album from Apink’s main vocalist reflects her musical talents (she was involved in the writing and composition of the whole album, and co-produced three out of eight tracks,) and her stories, as the lyrics address themes such as longings, childhood memories, and personal hardships with discovering and building identity. The stripped-down production, that swings from guitar to piano-focused songs, highlights “Hyehwa” as a candid, almost therapeutic experience in which the feelings conveyed by Eun Ji are the star of the show —with few exceptions when the instrumentals shine just as much as the singer, like in “The Box,” a folk-pop song cleverly built to involve the listener in the lyrics’s persona attempt to break free from limitations.

—Ana Clara

Something New by Taeyeon

In her 11th year as a K-pop idol (and a damn good one, at that), Taeyeon is blunt and unapologetic on her fourth mini-album Something New. Released with no promotion, the album is centered on its title track as the lead single. “Something New” is a funk and R&B-influenced song about breaking the mold of everyday life and searching for a new way of doing things. The song seems personal to Taeyeon, who has openly discussed struggling with mental health issues and acclimating to the celebrity lifestyle in the past. In lyrics, instrumentals, and vocal performance, the song is a notable divergence from previous releases.

The album jumps through different genres as the songs progresses. “All Night Long” and “One Day” are love songs—the former with reggae influences, and the latter with vocal pop delivery reminiscent of some of Girls’ Generation’s earlier albums. “BaramX3” on the other hand, is an angry breakup song, cleverly using the Korean word baram (바람) to refer to both the wind and a cheating lover. An album standout, “Circus” is a piano ballad about the dizzying, sensory overload of new love.

Through and through, the album is open-hearted and introspective about love and self-discovery. Something New tells us that Taeyeon is still exploring the genres, trying to figure out who she is a solo artist separate from her girl group. Going deeper, it also shows us that she’s exploring herself, trying to find who she is as a person after so many years in the spotlight. Her soul-searching demonstrates she is perhaps K-pop’s most versatile artist, but simultaneously one of its most enigmatic as a solo.

—Kushal

Sun and Moon by Sam Kim

With an elegant and soothing voice as Sam Kim, it’s crazy to think that Sun and Moon is only his first full album. His latest album shows influences of pop, R&B, soul, jazz, and folk, all under one roof, which can really set one’s feelings on one hell of rollercoaster ride. A couple of songs had a charming and playful element to it, such as title track “It’s You” featuring Zico, “Make Up” featuring Crush, and “The One.” Meanwhile, others like “Sun and Moon,” “Sunny Days, Summer Night,” “If,” “The Weight,” and English track “Would You Believe” were slow and somber, very much tugging at my heartstrings.

This mesmerizing of an album makes for the perfect playlist for a road trip. There’s something about that soulful voice of Sam that just speaks to all my feelings. Each song on Sun and Moon had its own obsessive flow; pure, beautiful, art. This album is truly genius, completely worth the long two and a half year wait.

—Tam


Also on KultScene: 25 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2018

Eau de VIXX by VIXX

Other than their eye-catching, signature concept singles, VIXX goes largely unnoticed every year when in fact they consistently put out quality and musically interesting albums and EPs. Following last year’s “Shangri La,” it seems like the group have finally outgrown the concept crutch they’ve always leaned on and embraced the eccentricity that has always made them stand out but channel it into experimental music. And with the genre-diverse Eau de VIXX, the male outfit delivered their most solid piece. The album shifts between the moody deep house and electrifying electro pop tracks (“Scientist,” “Silence,” “Trigger”) to the uber sensual (“Odd Sense,” “My Valentine”) to the disco-ey, groovy tunes (“Good Day,” “Navy & Shining Gold”). In Eau de VIXX, VIXX packaged exactly what makes them VIXX: sensuality, weirdness, and a damn good time.

—Alexis

1¹¹=1 (Power of Destiny) by Wanna One

This final release of Wanna One is a bittersweet one, aside from the fact that the songs on this album fit the season and tend towards the ballad genre, it is a sad reminder that a group this musically talented will cease to be together in the coming year. I’ve always loved how the different talents and personalities of the members come together so perfectly to create quality music, and this album is no exception. From nostalgic remakes such as “Beautiful (Part 2)” to more experimental tracks like “Awake,” the album features a diversity of tracks and gives room for each member to shine (for a group of 11 members, this is really a feat). Title track “Spring Breeze” was definitely the most comforting but heart wrenching song of the lot, but it’s wonderful to see Wanna One end their stint on such a high.

—Anna

++ by LOONA

The reveal of LOONA as a 12 member group covered three years, three sub-units, and many more songs. Waiting for them was easy, thanks to this mass of work, actually dealing with the reality of them was more difficult. They came in the form of a mini album, ++, a title that lingers in their pre-debut (LOONA ⅓ + ODD EYE CIRCLE + LOONA yyxy). It is a fast, tight mini that contains a focused but varied number of sounds and styles. Lead single “Hi High” follows the hasty bubblegum pop of songs like “Girl Front” with a smattering of high paced vocals and synths. A perfect and safe opening to LOONA that highlighted their energy over their more unique qualities. They were left to the rest of the album. The pair of “Favorite” and “Yeolgi” have big destructive beats formed around opposing productions. “Favorite” basks in it, working as a pure dance track made to show LOONA’s skills. “Yeolgi” fights back against it, their voices are softer, and along with booming brass and a siren, they call to “reach higher.” It leads nicely into the playful, dainty R&B of “Perfect Love.” Along with “Perfect Love,” the sleek electro pop track “Stylish” closes the short 18 minutes of ++ in predictably good style. The synth hook is sharp and unique. The girls also do the best harmonizing of their short career so far over it. Not one of them is left out of a stunning cap to what is a brilliant debut album.

—Joe

NCT 2018 Empathy by NCT

As overwhelming as some people find the concept of SM Entertainment’s boy band brand NCT, this year’s Empathy showed exactly how the company’s loosely-oriented teams are the perfect way to delve deep into the type of experimental electro-pop that the company has thrived on for years. With each song, from the trippy chants of “INTRO: Neo Got My Back” to the climactic “OUTRO: Vision” and all that is in between, NCT, and SM, use the platform of Empathy to put the emphasis not on the alleged unity of the act but instead on highlighting its diversity.

No two songs have similar styles or structures, and even the obvious choices, like an experimental dance track for NCT 127 and bright retro-infused pop song for NCT Dream, were turned on their head. Instead, we were served up with the Dreamies getting more dramatic than ever before on their anthemic “Go” and NCT 127 going full-on sweet with their sleek, R&B-infused euphoria of “Touch,” and the varied NCT U songs going everywhere from the philosophical alt hip-hop of “Yestoday” to the rhythmic sensuality of “Baby Don’t Stop.” “Boss” and “Black on Black,” the only other two new songs released on the album, were each professions of NCT’s prowess, but the former offered a sleek, thumping sound guided by the group’s aggressive raps and soaring vocals while the latter was all about the performance aspect of it and fittingly oriented on how certain members could capture the animalistic, hard-hitting nature of the bombastic song. The rest of the album features songs fans were already familiar with, like the stand out “7th Sense” and Ten’s captivating “Dream In A Dream,” but are nevertheless as important in showcasing the importance of NCT’s fluidity and potential to consistently reorganize its groups. It may be a bit new for K-pop —organizing artists around songs rather than songs to fit the act but it’s a fascinating attempt at changing things up and Empathy revels in the opportunity its given, offering up a buffet of a soundscape to fit every listener’s sonic palette.

—Tamar

Gemini 2 by Yoonmirae

Growth, love, and joy are at the center of Yoonmirae’s second studio album Gemini 2. The album comes after successfully overcoming the struggles and hardships recounted in Gemini. Yoonmirae still boasts a bravado that reassures listeners she’s still the baddest to ever do it and maintains her signature swagger with tracks “Rap Queen” and “Kawibawibo.” In contrast, songs like “Thin Line,” “Peach,” and “Cookie” give insight to her live as a wife, lover, and mother and the adoration she has for playing multiple roles in her life. “You and Me” is definitely a standout and most commercial of the tracks. The Junoflo collaboration is flirty, coy filled with synth-pop overtones making for a light-hearted vibe suitable for any listener. Gemini 2 is a chill, bright aura reflecting Yoonmirae’s current chapter in life, but she still boasts strong lyrics and an impeccable ability to transition between vocals and rapping.

—Nnehkai

Don’t Mess Up My Tempo by EXO

Don’t Mess Up My Tempo is EXO’s first studio album in well over a year and their first release to feature Chinese member Lay since For Life (2016), but these are not the only reasons why the EP should be celebrated. Several moments feel like blatant pastiches of the group’s earlier works, with “Sign,” an electropop track featuring the group’s signature timbre and dynamic vocals, standing out against the rest. “Damage” is a close second, however, embracing an orchestral section from their heydays and never forgetting the youngest’s penchant for spelling out the group’s name. Perhaps this is also why title track, “Tempo,” is so interesting, technique-wise. It’s not the voice mods or the up-tempo hooks that gives the single its je ne sais quoi, but the acapella-style harmonies — especially prominent during the bridge — done in classic EXO. While the album alternates between everything from Latin pop (“Ooh La La La”) to funk (“Gravity”) to R&B ballads (“Smile On My Face”), there’s never a break in continuity thanks to idiosyncrasies like these. Don’t Mess Up My Tempo is the old friend we never knew we needed.

—Shelley

What were your favorite K-pop albums of 2018? Let us know your picks 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.

25 Best K-pop Songs of 2018

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Compiling the definitive best of a given year is no easy feat —especially for the KultScene editorial team. And yet here we are. As said in our part one of the top songs of 2018, we looked back on another year in K-pop and came up with a list of what we think excelled above the rest.

This year, girl groups exceeded expectations concept and genre-wise, securing spots a the top. Boy groups, both new and old, continued to reinvent themselves and deliver fresh music. Solo artists kept themselves visible and challenged even the better established ensembles. 2018 also birthed more than a handful of classics that someday we’ll surely look back on with endearing nostalgia.

Here are the best K-pop tracks of the year.

25. “Thanks” by Seventeen

Seventeen impressed with “Thanks,” which is a skilful fusion of electronic sounds and a diversity of dance beats. Despite its sweet meaning of gratitude, its lyrics also convey intensity and depth, and is matched by the constantly changing dynamics of the track. The song seamlessly transits between its rap and vocal parts, allowing all the members of the group to shine in various ways. Its hook is also very addictive and caused the song to get stuck in my head when I heard it for the first time. The impressive choreography accompanying the song is just a cherry atop this very delicious release.

—Anna

24. “I Love You” by EXID

Take the usual EXID chart-topper formula and colorful concepts, throw in some repeated samples, and we have the makings of “I Love You.” Following their throwback to the ‘90s with “Lady” earlier this year, the group continued their homage to the recent past with ‘80s-inspired pop synths and fainter drum claps with this single. Long-time producer Shinsadong Tiger and member LE methodically break away from traditional form and do away with a bridge altogether, making the song feel so seamless and digestible. The selling point was the recurring “I love you like lalala,” which besides being an absolute earworm, never felt like a one-off sample. This perfect distillation of EXID is everything we love about the group, and is one for their fans and millennials with a bad case of retromania alike.

—Shelley

23. “Get It” by PRISTIN V

Before debuting the sub unit PRISTIN V, the edgiest thing that the group PRISTIN has ever done was releasing the punk rock influenced “We Like.” And while I have absolutely no problem with the direction the girls were going, the unit, formed by five out of 10 of the PRISTIN members, was a welcome surprise in 2018. PRISTIN V’s first single, the hip-hop oriented “Get It” not only served to showcase the girls’ vocal colours in a more distinctive way, –as it’s especially noticeable in the smooth outro, backgrounded with beautiful falsettos– but was also a chance to explore a different sonority and more mature concept, which, by the way, fits them really well.

—Ana Clara

22. “Shoot Me” by DAY6

Six months after their whirlwind year of releases, trustworthy band DAY6 returned with guns blazing in “Shoot Me.” The title track of Shoot Me: Youth Part 1, it is a tad more aggressive than their usual releases. This song allowed the members to show off fiercer and more charismatic sides of themselves through their explosive live stages. As always, the instrumentation was well done, with Young K’s prominent bass line and Dowoon’s intense drumming enhancing the richness of the track. Wonpil’s vocal range was sufficiently displayed here as well, with his high notes successfully intensifying the song as it reached its climax. Better yet, the music video was not just aesthetically beautiful, it was also extremely effective in conveying the main message of this song, “vicious words hurt like a bullet” through its portrayal of a toxic relationship.

—Anna

21. “Blooming Day” by EXO-CBX

One of the best things about EXO-CBX is that it never takes itself quite too seriously but still serves up the most pristine type of groovy dance tracks. April’s “Blooming Day” moves along with a funky bass line and electronic quirks as the trio of Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin bounce along to the melody before building to the soaring, layered chorus. It’s not necessarily a song to get pumped up to, but “Blooming Day” is an exquisite display of why this trio’s vocal tones blend so so well, and will have even the most straight laced person tapping their foot along to the beat.

—Tamar

20. “Love Line” by TVXQ!

This surprise of a sweet track from TVXQ! was a total turnabout from the duo’s typical styling, but felt like a refreshing spring day where the wind is blowing softly, the sun is shining, and the flowers are all in bloom. There’s a rhythmic bounce to “Love Line” as Yunho and Changmin croon in high tones over the spritely tropical pop beat, plucky strings, and clapping melody. The laid back nature of the song demands repeated plays, drawing listeners in with its perceived simplicity and rewards those who take a moment to relax and enjoy the spritelyness of it all. It’s a bit of a divergent sound for TVXQ!, but with a decade and a half under their belt, it’s just further proof that the duo can pull off and suave, modern sound with ease and make it their own.

—Tamar

19. “Baby Don’t Stop” by NCT U

2018 proved to be a defining year for the NCT project musically and career-wise, and it all started with a handful of singles from their various units, which would all eventually come together for the NCT 2018 Empathy album featuring all 18 members. And back by popular demand, the rotating group NCT U were up first and put out two singles, with “Baby Don’t Stop” being one of them and led by Ten and Taeyong. Being the best performers in NCT, both members didn’t just rely on their crisp dance moves, but Taeyong gave us ASMR gold and, nice for a change, vocals, while Ten carried the sultry melody throughout the song. “Baby Don’t Stop” is an enthralling art house track that further stated the case that NCT is SM Entertainment’s experimental group not only with their group dynamic but musically.

—Alexis


Also on KultScene: 50 BEST K-POP SONGS OF 2018

18. “Hann” by (G)I-DLE

Usually when a song starts, I can tell if I’ll like it within the first five to 10 seconds. It took (G)I-DLE’s “Hann” one second and I was immediately hooked. Who doesn’t love a little whistling? Well, there are probably quite a few people who get rather peeved, but in this particular case it was the instant whistling in the intro that won me over. There’s no reason why this song shouldn’t be put on repeat considering it’s mesmerizing and entrancing melody. Along with the captivating “woo woo woo” that is repeated throughout the song, the moments that were leading up to the chorus would leave one on edge, anticipating the next line, again and again.

—Tam

17. “Boss” by NCT U

This year, NCT U made its long-awaited comeback this year since releasing the groundbreaking “The 7th Sense” in 2016. With a rearrangement of members, the expanded lineup released “Boss” and showed just why they’re the superior NCT unit. Marking Lucas and Jungwoo’s debuts, NCT U left the artsy for “Baby Don’t Stop” and went for a bolder, stronger concept with “Boss.” Full of confidence and packed with a just as impactful choreography, the bass-heavy hip-hop and electro track perfectly blends the swaggering raps with velvety smooth vocals, which ultimately balances out the song so it won’t steer into the “too-much” territory. In “Boss,” NCT U declares themselves as leaders, and with jams like this and other gems the NCT project released throughout the year, it’s looking pretty assertive as we near 2019.

—Alexis

16. “N/A” by Jooyoung

When everyone would rather listen to the latest from a survivor group, “N/A” from Jooyoung can sure feel like our best-kept secret sometimes. Nevertheless, it’s one we are willing to share. It follows this year’s trend of bare piano melodies, just in a more hauntingly beautiful vein. Also naked are the lyrics (few as may be), which reads like an intimate reflection. Jooyoung reverts to being boy whenever he sees the guy in the mirror. He wonders if he sees him too and asks him to hold him because he’s scared and alone. Just as he doesn’t reach a resolution to his internal struggle, so does the song. Instead an incessant buzzing noise picks up to deafening heights and garbles its way into an outro. The result? A catharsis, a purgatory of negative emotions. It may be uncomfortable to listen to, sure, but the psychological rewards are great.

—Shelley

15. “Latata” by (G)I-DLE

(G)I-DLE’s debut track, “Latata” blends tropical-house beats with a fierce hip-hop attitude that allowed the group to add their own spin to the popular trend. The repetitive “I love you” paired with musical breaks allowed us to appreciate the production of the song. “Latata” gave leader Soyeon to try her hand at songwriting with successful results. (G)I-DLE’s husky vocals were a breath of fresh air in the summer rush.

—Nnehkai

14. “Nanana” by IMFACT

After most of the group participated in the rebooting competition TV program The Unit and none of the members made it onto the debut group, IMFACT picked themselves up and put out a chill summer bop. The quintet premiered “Nanana” at KCON LA this year to a crowd of other groups’ fans and ended up blowing everyone away. “Nanana” is a shifting deep-house track that goes back and forth between moody and dancey. Due to IMFACT being a lesser-known group, the song flew under the radar this year. IMFACT has changed their concept many times throughout their career, but with “Nanana,” hopefully it’s a step on the path to cement their place in K-pop.

—Alexis

13. “Lullaby” by GOT7

Every now and then groups come out with a bop, where one or two members take the lead and it kind of becomes “their” song. Luckily, that’s not the case with GOT7’s “Lullaby,” the group’s title track off their third studio album Present: YOU, which they dropped after their second world tour ended this past summer. “Lullaby” has great transitions between all the vocalists and rappers, with each member having their well distinguished parts, attributing to the overall fluidity of the song. With it’s addictive dance beat and deep house integration, one will more than likely not be able to sit still. As if listening to “Lullaby” wasn’t enough in just one language, the group released this in three other languages; English, Chinese, and Spanish (my most listened to version of 2018 according to Spotify)! “Sweet talk to me babe/ it’s magical/ Sweet lullaby” —yup, it sure is and in all four languages.

—Tam

12. “Bboom Bboom” by MOMOLAND

2018 was the year MOMOLAND fully embraced their potential for quirkiness and fun that had presented itself due to member JooE’s charisma, which stood out thanks to fancams and a CF that went viral in 2017. Extending the concept for the rest of the girls, while still keeping their cute, girlie approach, and teaming up with Shinsadong Tiger (a songwriter that crafted some of the most iconic K-pop tunes) turned out to be the best idea for them. MOMOLAND’s first release of the year, “Bboom Bboom” is a disco-pop track whose onomatopoeic lyrics, catchy melodies and sticky sax hook make it almost impossible for you not to dance along. If you are one of those who miss T-ARA (like me) you probably liked this song. And even if you’re new to K-pop or to MOMOLAND, you probably couldn’t resist it either. “Bboom Bboom” is the celebration of the unapologetic fun that makes so many people drawn to the K-pop universe. But also, it’s a song that opened a new era for the group, whose new found identity made sure they continued to shine during 2018.

— Ana Clara

11. “The Chance of Love” by TVXQ!

Once you hear those opening “Woo woos,” they will be permanently singed onto your soul and you will not mind. By now, it’s preconditioned that whatever TVXQ! does, it’s going to be cool and sexy, and “The Chance of Love” is no exception. The song is pop with some jazzy elements mixed in giving it an upbeat yet smooth sound. Although the song sounds very Super Junior, U-Know and Changmin give it enough flair to make it uniquely their own. And with about 15 years in the industry, these guys have not slowed down, still giving us intricate dances that can captivate the viewer with just the slightest moves.

—Katherine


Also on KultScene: DREAMCATCHER TALK CAREER ASPIRATIONS AT LOS ANGELES FANMEET [INTERVIEW]

10. “Light” by WANNA ONE

With the release of “Light” earlier this year, WANNA ONE achieved an all-kill on the Korean charts, even though some saw it as one of the group’s less impactful songs. However, the song made our list for its nostalgic sound. WANNA ONE’s “Light” brings us back to the sounds that reminded us of B2ST and other older boy bands’ sounds back in the day. The track is a mixture of R&B and EDM, and perfectly showcases the band’s dancing skills with the drop of the song.

—Alejandro

9. “Good Evening” by SHINee

Only months out from an earth-shattering tragedy, SHINee finding the strength to release new music is commendable on its own, let alone with a song as striking and beautiful as “Good Evening.” Over a light tropical house beat, the members of SHINee tell their lover that they will go to them in the night. Their vocal delivery is impeccable, fusing emotion and yearning into the breathy, staccato opening verse sung by Taemin and Minho.

The song’s real shining moment, however, lies in the chorus, when the members collectively chant that they will go to their lover “before it’s too late,” echoing each other across building instrumentals. The tension gives way to a dance break and, in traditional SHINee fashion, fuses passion and groove with magical smoothness. While SHINee will tragically never be whole again, “Good Evening” made it clear that the heart of the group is still alive and beating with colorful vibrancy.

—Kushal

8. “Tell Me” by Infinite

After losing a member and pending military enlistment, 2018 was looking to be an ambiguous year for Infinite; but then “Tell Me” was released much to the relief of Inspirits. With a ton electronic and synth tunes, the upbeat pop song presented a much brighter sound than their past few singles. The music video mirrors the sound with vibrant and aesthetically pleasing sets and lighting which provides the perfect backdrops for the boys and their killer dance moves. Going from seven to six members doesn’t seem to be hindering the group in any way. And though I found myself subconsciously placing Hoya into the choreography, it doesn’t take away the fact that the look and sound is still purely Infinite.

—Katherine

7. “Look” by GOT7

Co-written and co-produced by leader Jaebeom, “Look” marked an important era in GOT7’s career. It was the lead single in an EP, Eyes On You, the first in which the members had a strong hand in the production of its entirety. “Look” blends hip-hop into a pop dance track with nu-disco at the chorus like only GOT7 can, making it one of their most layered song in their discography. Just when you think the track is going to a specific place, it changes up the tempo every couple of verses. It’s an ambient, moody track that explodes at the chorus —a true gem. Though Jaebeom had also co-written 2017’s “You Are,” “Look” signaled the group taking a bit of more creative control into their hands, something we saw more of on their follow up album Present: YOU. GOT7’s work in 2018 showed that the members are growing both as artists and a group.

—Alexis

6. “La Vie en Rose” by IZ*ONE

The winning girls of Produce 48, IZ*ONE, gracefully balance their excited emotions on debut single, “La vie en Rose.” Like it’s namesake track by Edith Piaf, it’s a song about intense desire spurred on by the type of person who will make the girls shine forever. The extent of this desire is found in the bouncing contrasts of their voices. They cover all bases with the slight and fragile work of Sakura, Wonyoung, and Minju, the unique and resourceful Hyewon, Nako, and Hitomi, to the crushing powerhouses of Eunbi, Yuri, and Chaeyeon. It’s Eunbi and Chaeyeon who drive the song, their pre-chorus provides the absolute drama of it. Without their capabilities, every other delicate touch of the production would be lost. With them a stunning harmony is felt among the big drums and the elegance of the string melodies. Eunbi and Chaeyeon’s in-between calls of “I don’t wanna make it blue,” keep the track from tipping too far towards total red. A warning that a living your life all in pink is not without its dangers. “La Vie en Rose” is unexpectedly assured and mature for a group only just thrown together.

—Joe

5. “Love Shot” by EXO

Coming in during the 11th hour of 2018, EXO graced the last few weeks of the year with their wonderful Don’t Mess Up My Tempo album, and then followed it up with a repackage and its titular single “Love Shot,” which made the wait that much more worthwhile. Beginning with lo-fi synths and creeping beats as Baekhyun leads off the track with his sweet tone, opening up the song with its crystalline verses, taunting drops, and groovy chanting. Sleek in its subdued nature as it approaches the chorus with a drop before leading into the rolling “na na na”s, “Love Shot” is a velvety smooth exhibit of EXO’s vocals, full of harmonies and layering voices atop one another to create an ambient, sensual effect. Paired with a video that rendered many a fan dead with its jaw-dropping visuals, it’s safe to say that “Love Shot” achieved its aim of being one of this year’s most satisfying releases.

—Tamar

4. “Lo Siento feat. Leslie Grace & Play-N-Skillz” by Super Junior

It’s an undisputed fact that Super Junior is a Hallyu trailblazer, opening up the doors for K-pop in the Chinese market and succeeding in Japan. And at a point in their career when most people would think they’d slow down or transition into other fields (they’re in their 13th year as a group), they did it again. Suju teamed up with Dominican-American singer Leslie Grace and the production duo Play-N-Skillz for the trilingual banger “Lo Siento.” The dembow-pop electro track mixes Spanish, English, and Korean seamlessly. It’s no wonder that “Lo Siento” made waves in Latin America and became the first K-pop song to make it onto the Latin charts. Super Junior successfully pushed the envelope both musically and culturally, collaborating with artists active in the market they were tapping into and drawing from in their music. With all the members being in their 30s, Super Junior upheld their title as The Last Man Standing.

—Alexis

3. “Love Scenario” by iKON

Some people might say it’s overplayed. I say, don’t stop playing it! No matter one’s current mood or state of being, iKON’s “Love Scenario” can cheer just about anyone up. And if it doesn’t, then well, you might be a Grinch. It’s taken over and has become an anthem for all ages, especially elementary aged students. The song has a bright sound from beginning to end which makes for a “get up on my feet” kind of jam. Contrary to some of the group’s previous heavy hitters like “Killing Me” (ranked at #28), “Bling Bling,” “Rhythm Ta” and sentimental tracks “Goodbye Road” and “Apology,” “Love Scenario” could’ve be done even without choreography, as it’s bouncy vibe would’ve been enough to enjoy.

—Tam

2. “Bad Boy” by Red Velvet

Red Velvet kicked off the 2018 with their most impressive “velvet” concept yet through “Bad Boy.” Strong synths and a solid bass pair with trap and ‘90s R&B beats for an intriguing alternative R&B track. The song’s lack of autotuned gimmicks allows listeners to embrace Red Velvet at their best. The ladies trade in their cute ad-libs and usual quirkiness for sultry melodies and a tenacious confidence. From leader, Irene’s “who dat, who dat boy” to the harmonious pre-chorus, the ladies prove how lethal they are in a cat-and-mouse game of seduction. “Bad Boy” solidifies Red Velvet as masters of dual concepts following the success of previous summer hit “Red Flavor.”

—Nnehkai

1. “Shine” by Pentagon

A simple melody goes a long way, and Pentagon illustrates that perfectly with “Shine,” a song that loops the same couple of notes with minimal accompaniments. A few vocal harmonies here and a few rhythmic percussions there provide some complexities, but the unwavering piano never reaches broken record territory. Rather we become conditioned to expect it much the same we do to a metronome; the slight pause at end of the bridge after Jinho belts out that high note is a brilliant example of that. With the chorus’s playful rhyming scheme and overall sing-song quality supplementing the no frills instrumental, “Shine” just has this juvenile charm to it that we cannot help but smile at every time we listen. And though the single would go on to be the last to feature rapper E’Dawn before he bowed out of the group, we will always be able to look back and remember the time he co-wrote one of the most definitive songs of the year.

—Shelley

Check out our video countdown for the Top 25 right here:

What were your favorite songs of 2018? Let us know your picks 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.

50 Best K-pop Songs of 2018

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With another year in K-pop coming to a close, the editorial team at KultScene looked back on 2018, a year filled with amazing music, to decide the absolute best (in our humble opinions, of course). There was not a down nor dull moment in 2018; we saw long awaited comebacks, development in solo careers, and experimentation with new genres from various artists. We also had a couple of heartbreaks due to military enlistments, upcoming disbandments, and, of course, the absence of Jonghyun.

After voting on a pool of about 110 tracks, here are the best K-pop songs of the year numbered 50 to 26.

50. “BBI BBI” by IU

IU’s only release this year, “BBI BBI” is an iconic song to celebrate the decade-long career of one of the industry’s most impactful artists. Right off the bat, IU’s opening line “Hi there!” comes with a layered instrumental backdrop. It is bouncy and light on top, but driven by a deep bass and hip-hop beat right underneath. IU’s vocal delivery mimics this dichotomy—she softly whispers during verses and sings bright melodies in the choruses, but the lyrics themselves are much more revealing than her tonality.

Written by IU herself, the song tells those critical about her personal life or artistry to “keep the distance.” With confidence and dexterity, she brings out the attitude, using emphatic English lines “Yellow C-A-R-D” and “ Hello Stu-P-I-D” to send a clear message to those attempting to denigrate the stature she’s built as one of K-pop’s most enduring idols to simply leave her alone. More than anything, “BBI BBI” is testament to the complex, multifaceted person that IU has become.

—Kushal

49. “Dance The Night Away” by TWICE

Easy, breezy, lemon-squeezy. From the first ‘la la la,’ “Dance The Night Away” proved it was one of the summer’s best hits. Reaped from the same minds behind Red Velvet’s “Peek-a-boo,” the song added a little edge to TWICE’s signature bubble-gum persona. The soft, EDM track mixed a steady bass, light synths making for a catchy, easy to follow song. It definitely had me planning a trip to the nearest beach.

—Nnehkai

48. “Heroine” by Sunmi

In last year’s “Gashina,” Sunmi was cynical and offended at the fact that her lover was leaving her, but with 2018’s follow up “Heroine,” she’s cold-hearted and over it. She declares “the show must go on” in an anthemic britpop extravaganza, paired with an almost humorous choreography. Though she has long proved that she is a force to be reckoned with since her solos under JYP Entertainment, 2018 was the year Sunmi position herself as a top pop girl and K-pop icon.

—Alexis

47. “Woman” by BoA

Can we just say that the opening walking choreography is EVERYTHING! Ms. Kwon has still got it after all these years. “Woman” was released as a part of BoA’s ninth Korean studio album of the same name. This women empowerment anthem has great vocals and the high quality dancing that BoA is known for. The electro-pop dance track has a funky bass that compliments the vocals as the change back a forth between low and sultry and belting out powerful falsettos. The video overall is pretty simple and basically just focuses on the choreography and interesting fashion choices. Despite its simplicity, “Woman” is still a solid song that showcases BoA’s confidence as a veteran artist and songwriter.

—Katherine

46. “Love U” by Chungha

Chungha had a year of strong releases, and the most lighthearted among them is probably this summer bop “Love U.” Her melodious voice with her powerful dance moves creates a lethal combination, and Chungha is definitely poised for greater success and breakthroughs in the coming years. The ease with which she manages the high vocal range of this song while showcasing her best strengths is amazing and definitely shows her talent as a performer.

—Anna

45. “Black Dress” by CLC

“Black Dress” is a masterpiece from beginning to end. An interesting mix of synth-rhythms and drum claps fluctuate at different levels with a booming bass while a slight hint of a dancehall beat is heard in the chorus. CLC’s confidence and sophistication exude throughout the song as there’s something about a little black dress that emboldens you. The boldness of the song is a reflection of CLC’s fearlessness in experimentation.

—Nnehkai

44. “Our Page” by SHINee

A sense of wistfulness pervades SHINee’s “Our Page,” the group’s ambient hymn to both departed member Kim Jonghyun and an end of the group’s career as a quartet. Delicate, ambient synths and twinkling beats open up the track, which puts the emphasis on the foursome’s reflective verses and their impactful verses. Throughout, it’s clear from the SHINee-penned lyrics that “Our Page” is just as much of a promise to continue as it is a tribute, assuring listeners that the story of the group still has pages to fill while reflecting on the brightness that has been brought into the world from the act since May 25, 2008. As the song peaks during the climax, a short utterance of “you did well,” seemingly aimed at Jonghyun, closes a chapter of SHINee’s career in the most poignant of ways.

—Tamar

43. “Kiss Me Like That” by Shinhwa

The acoustics. The guitar loop. Music to my ears, literally. As veterans of the idol industry, Shinhwa has experimented with a bunch of different musical styles throughout the years, but their approach with “Kiss Me Like That” might be one of their best yet as of late. The song is already oozing with enough charisma even without watching the music video. The transitions are effortless and harmonious, and the parts are fitting of each members distinctive tones. Shinhwa kept it light but still provided the listeners with a strong sense of seduction. “Kiss Me Like That” gives a feeling of peace and tranquility; just drop me off on a remote beach somewhere while this song is blaring and I’ll be content.

—Tam

42. “Fake Love” by BTS

Hip-hop is the core of BTS’ sonic and performance identity, and rock is not exactly a new approach for them either, who have experimented with the genre in previous singles like “Boy in Luv” and “Run.” However, never have the group blended the two genres in such a cohesive way like in “Fake Love.” The combination was just the perfect choice to lead Love Yourself: Tear, an album in which BTS explored themes such as illusion and identity crisis. If rock was the main genre to represent young melancholy in the ‘90s and early 2000s –times when a huge part of BTS’ fan base were in their teenage years– today it is hip-hop and trap that best conveys the mourning of the current generation. With “Fake Love,” BTS once again proved their ability to cater to a wide range of audiences. The single became the first Top 10 for a Korean group on Billboard Hot 100, and also the highest entry-charting single for BTS, leading the album to debut on number one on Billboard 200. Between the smart production, multi hook-infused melodies, and raps that are catchy enough to drive fan made chants (“Why you sad? / I don’t know, 난 몰라”,) in additional to official ones, “Fake Love” has the potential to become one of BTS’ songs that will age better.

— Ana Clara


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41. “Touch” by NCT 127

Bright and exuberant with a touch of whimsy in the form of bright future synths and chanting “na na na”s, NCT 127’s NCT 2018 Empathy song turned the focus away from the group’s typically experimental, hip-hop-leaning sound that they’ve explored on the majority of their singles to put the emphasis on the group’s vocalists. Smooth, breezy R&B beats and funky melodies drive the song, which soars with the perky tones of the then-nine members of the act. (Jungwoo joined later in the year). Playful in its lilting, snapping nature, “Touch” is an infectious, groovy song full of energy and layered harmonizing. It’s a smooth, slightly more impish style than what this NCT team tends to go for, but it was a pleasant change that let the singers truly have their time to truly shine from start to finish. While it’s a bit irregular (pun intended), it’d be wonderful to see NCT 127 continue to occasionally lean into this sort of softer side.

—Tamar

40. “Spring Breeze” by Wanna One

One year and three months after they were finally revealed to us, Wanna One said goodbye to many with “Spring Breeze.” A group of 11, there are many perspectives to the way they say their farewells. They’re nostalgic, apologetic, thankful, and above all, hopeful. Jihoon starts them off on a regretful note and the track follows him by being almost oppressively singular. A spacious drum beat, light sporadic guitars, and keys try to weigh them down, to push them into this harmful thinking. It’s not until the first repetition of “we’ll meet again” does the music let up, dropping a dense set of heavy synths to bolster Seongwoo’s emotions. From there the track feels so much more free; a fiery rap from Woojin lights it up. The beat becomes defiant, their vocals more relaxed but bigger. Wanna One struggled, but they found a way of facing up to their huge legacy. The constant assertion that they will meet again is key to their goodbye. “Spring Breeze” uses those repetitions to bring comfort to their lover, their fans, but most importantly, each other.

—Joe

39. “Dally (feat. Gray)” by Hyolyn

“To Do List” was Hyolyn’s first single as a self-managed artist under her own label, BRID3 Entertainment. However, it was with “Dally” that she truly showed how much of a force of nature she is. Not any vocalist can handle such a breathtaking (literally!) melody with so much style! But Hyolyn is also a prolific performer, and the R&B deliciousness of “Dally,” along with the verse of rapper Gray, sets just the right ambient for urban dance, one of the dozens of things she nails as well. Hyolyn’s versatility was never a secret. But in 2018, besides Hyolyn being a singer, rapper, songwriter, and dancer, we also got to see Hyolyn the CEO: a woman in full control of her music, performances, fashion, etc. She’ll surely be great at whatever she sets her mind to do. These boss vibes shine through “Dally,” which is already one of the best moments of Hyolyn’s entire career.

—Ana Clara

38. “What” by Dreamcatcher

2018 has been a busy year for Dreamcatcher. After completing their Nightmare series, the group embarked on a few international tours spanning Europe and South America. Without taking a breath, the group released their third EP Alone in the City with the title track “What.” Sticking to what they do best, the song takes influences of rock and melds it with pop to give Dreamcatcher their unique sound. The arrangement of the song is intense from the orchestra build up to the chorus to the more mellow bridge, plus all of the different instrumentations and vocals combines to create an intricate and rich sound. They may have toned down the horror concept with their latest release, but the creepy urban setting in the video still pays homage to their dark image. The girls are found isolated in different settings, possibly hinting that they are each trapped in their own nightmares. While most of the video is dark, some of the dance sequences are performed with an ice or crystal backdrop, referencing back to the crystal snow globe that is pretty prominent at the beginning and end of the video. This may or may not mean something but I guess we’ll have to wait and see with their next release.

—Katherine

37. “Love Bomb” by Fromis_9

Approaching a first love isn’t much different from attempting to disarm a bomb without any prior knowledge of ordnance. There are so many ways you could go about it and yet, every single one looks equally right and wrong. Of all the rookie girl groups who endeavoured to take on such an idea, none were quite as successful as Fromis_9. At every step of the way, they make the right calls on the jittery “Love Bomb.” This hypothetical bomb of love tries to fool them with an erratic, almost off rhythm beat and an ever changing bed of synths. Each shift threatens to pop in their faces but it only succeeds in making them “beautifully dizzy.” It is no match for the chattering of Nakyung and Jisun, the velvet tones Hayoung and Jiwon, or the peak of catchiness in the best chorus of the year.

—Joe

36. “Honestly…” by Eric Nam

Eric Nam continues to grow as a musician with “Honestly…”. So much stands out about this release, be it the stunning instrumental, which incorporates both acoustic sounds with electronic ones, or the unique lyrics of the song, which are truly befitting of its title. The song is not like most conventional K-pop songs, set in a context of a relationship which has ended or one that is blossoming. Rather, the protagonist of the song has reached a stage where he is tired of the relationship but is afraid to break up. It is refreshingly realistic and honest, and much more enjoyable because of how relatable it is for listeners. Eric continues to showcase his vocal abilities here, and it is no surprise when his trademark high notes pop up at the dance portions of the track. It is wonderful to watch how he retains his musical identity even while experimenting with different music genres and styles.

—Anna

35. “Jealousy” by Monsta X

Ever since Monsta X revamped their sound and earned their first music show win with “Dramarama” last year, the group showed no signs of slowing down and almost immediately followed up with “Jealousy,” a poppy dance track swelling with obnoxious synths and their favorite low brasses. With its multiple layers of harmony, the constant, drawls in the chorus echoing the single’s title stand out from among the rest of the song, which all just feel like fillers in comparison. At the very least, the group was able to sneak in some humor, such as when member Wonho asks why we are talking about leader Shownu (and presumably not him). It’s not every day an idol calls out fans for their lane-swerving ways, and in that respect “Jealousy” feels fresh.

—Shelley


Also on KultScene: K-POP UNMUTED: TALKING MONSTA X

34. “Flower Road” by BigBang

Departure is a hard pill to swallow with BigBang’s “Flower Road.” The dance-pop track was released as a farewell to the veteran group’s fans, V.I.P, as BigBang embarked on a lengthy mandatory military service hiatus. The song boasts calm guitars, bass and soft hand claps while declaring lyrics like “If you are going to leave, I shall let you go” and “If you miss me come back to me, then you can love me again” offer the greatest comfort and reassurance fans could ask in their absence. Whether V.I.Ps stay or go, the artists wholeheartedly understand and will create a beautiful path of flowers no matter the choice. “Flower Road” captures the steadfast bond between BigBang and V.I.Ps.

—Nnehkai

33. “Shinin’” by Jonghyun

Jonghyun’s passing last year took everyone by surprise in the K-pop community. But his post mortem song “Shinin’” came out early this year, giving us the sound that Jonghyun has always been loved for. His passion through his lyrics and sound made us feel like he was still with us and gave us hope after the tragedy. The retro sound and the beautiful lyrics in the chorus stating “Always be with you” was Jonghyun’s hug to Shawols.

—Alejandro

32. “DDU-DU DDU-DU” by BLACKPINK

In 2018, the words “BLACKPINK comeback” came with heavy expectations. Fans and onlookers alike wanted nothing short of an anthem—a club banger complete with choreography, visuals, and confidence that very few other music acts can serve. “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” as a result, was most powerful in the simple fact that it delivered on all of those expectations. Mixing belted pre-choruses with deep trap beats and fast rap breaks, the song fuses traditional K-pop and popular hip-hop seamlessly. While female K-pop as a sub-genre has taken a more submissive, cute, and alternative turn in recent years, “DDU-DU DDU-DU” proves that confident, powerful women still have a place in the Korean music scene, and adds promise to BLACKPINK’s incoming global pursuits. It is no surprise that this song is one of the year’s most streamed, bought, and viewed—such impact is what we have come to expect from a girl group with so much prowess. Hopefully, their catalog of music expands faster in the year to come than it has so far.

—Kushal

31. “See Sea” by Hyolyn

After leaving Sistar and setting up her own music label, Bridʒ, Hyolyn announced her plans to return to the music scene with a three-part solo single project, SET UP TIME, which included the mid-tempo “To-Do List” and the R&B-pop number “Dally.” These all felt like appetizers for what was to come, though. “See Sea,” released in mid-July and the last of the series, sets Hyolyn’s signature airy vocals to a balmy beat rife with percussive claps, rolling drums, and mellow marimbas to match the season. Produced by Black Eyed Pilseung, the busy song evokes our auditory imagination through its sound recordings (e.g., the pop and fizz of a can of cola) and modulated synths in order to paint a tropical soundscape. By the final slowed down repeat of the chorus, Hyolyn’s voice is dripping with sensuality, assisted by a rip-roaring electric guitar that suggests things of heated romance on a beach. Her playful yet mature take on summer love songs makes this an automatic yes to anyone’s summertime playlists. The queens of summer Sistar might or might not have just died so Hyolyn can live.

—Shelley

30. “Siren” by Sunmi

Bringing the quirky yet sexy vibe, Sunmi rounds out her year with the release of her second EP Warning and lead single “Siren.” Every aspect of this song does a fantastic job of narrating the lyrics in which she warns a boy to leave their relationship after she hurt him. Let’s take the title for instance. Sirens in everyday life serve as a warning of danger while in Greek mythology, sirens are half woman half bird creatures that are known for their beauty and song that lures sailors with their song to shipwreck on the shores of their island. Both of these themes are reflected in the music video by the red colors and caution tape as well as the eccentric depictions of sirens in each of the rooms. Even the clever choreography of the chorus follows the lyrics of the song as move is the literal translation to the words being sang. Not only is the video visually captivating, Sunmi’s voice is on point and the pop-synth track does a very good job of complimenting her vocals. Everything has its place; from the lazy yet charming “la la la”s to the abrupt and edgy bridge. It is no wonder this song earned her her second number one.

—Katherine

29. ”Lil’ Touch” by Girls’ Generation-Oh!GG

When news dropped that three members of Girls’ Generation had left SM Entertainment, the prospect of a new subunit that could successfully meld five of the group’s most stylistically and sonically divergent members seemed unlikely. But K-pop fans have (hopefully) learned over time that doubting Girls’ Generation on any front is a mistake. On “Lil’ Touch”, Taeyeon, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sunny, and YoonA sing with sexuality and confidence characteristic of their larger group’s later releases, but the song sounds nothing like Girls’ Generation as a whole. Lifted by a heavily synthesized chord progression and bounce-clapping pulse, the song is a surprisingly welcome departure from previous Girls’ Generation, subunit, and solo releases, capturing a synergy unique only to this combination of SNSD members. The surprise star of this release is none other than Sunny, whose abilities as a powerful and dramatic vocalist come through in the bridge. One of 2018’s most unique songs, “Lil’ Touch” is exactly what the women needed to deliver a powerful contradiction: that they are a completely united fragment of one of K-pop’s most powerful and lasting groups.

—Kushal

28. “Killing Me” by iKON

iKON has this way about them where you’re never 100% sure of what direction they’ll take a song. In the case of their latest track of 2018, “Killing Me,” it felt like a crossover of different music genres. Certain moments, especially towards the beginning, gave it potential to be a mellow song. It adds in a little house influence and then amps it up all within a few seconds, and suddenly you feel like you’re in a club with the deep bass. There were so many different layers to be peeled in the song as it consisted of a rollercoaster of melodies. But in the end, it worked. The meshing of the different tunes are bewitching and no doubt meant to be a “hype you up” kind of song.

—Tam

27. “Now or Never” by SF9

Variety is the word that defines the journey SF9 has been traveling with their music. But, regardless of the genre, what makes their best songs stand out is the smart composition that places interesting elements just when you expect the song to go the easy route. In “Now or Never,” this surprise factor comes in the pre-chorus. After teasing the listener with dramatic vocals at the end of the first verse, and right when you think the song will explode, it unexpectedly goes for a minimalist melodic approach that just keeps repeating the word “질렀어” over a bass boosted beat. As we slide to the chorus, then, the melody brings up a nostalgic feeling that goes surprisingly well with the modern appeal of the instrumentals. If, hypothetically, “Now or Never” should be considered a decisive moment to determine SF9’s career, like the title suggests, I would definitely say the group passed the test.

—Ana Clara

26. “Roller Coaster” by Chungha

Chungha teeters on the edge of her own range and emotions on the blistering electro pop smash that is “Roller Coaster.” Her single from last year, “Why Don’t You Know,” attempted something similar but just about failed. It had little to no momentum and pushed Chungha too far too soon. On “Roller Coaster” she finds her key and belts out her unpredictable feelings of love. The toybox chimes and acoustic guitar give her constant contrasts on which to descend from, crashing into a chorus which she sends into the stratosphere. Her slight nasal tone on the other hand gives everything a sense of warmth. She makes all these “dangerous feelings” she sings of something exciting. It’s only dangerous because it’s changing. Chungha happens to love these tumultuous changes and it’s impossible to doubt her.

—Joe

Stay posted for our best 25 K-pop songs of 2018 (numbers 1-25)!

What were your favorite songs of 2018? Let us know your picks 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.

Life after the ‘Answer’: BTS’ RM embraces uncertainty on ‘mono’

When Korean group BTS released Love Yourself: Answer, in late August 2018, completing an album trilogy that reflected a narrative of self-love discovery through romantic joys and deceptions, it seemed like the septet finally figured out the formula to be in peace with their true selves. “It’s alright, I am my own salvation / (…) My sky is clear / Say goodbye to the pain,” RM, the leader of the group, raps in “I’m Fine.”

But knowing the answer doesn’t mean it’s easy to put it in practice —and that’s what we experience with mono, the latest release of the leader, rapper, and songwriter, born Kim Namjoon.

Released on Oct. 23, only three days after announcing (and merely two months after BTS’ Love Yourself: Answer!) the mixtape —or playlist, as he calls it— is composed of seven tracks all written, composed, and co-produced by RM. He collaborated with artists such as English duo HONNE and Korean rock artists eAeon and NELL.

Playlist or Mixtape

The fact that mono is branded as a playlist instead of a mixtape connects with RM’s personal habit to share song recommendations with fans through Twitter. However, it might also have been a decision that shows RM’s awareness of where the music industry is heading to. It alludes to when Drake (RM has said many times he’s an inspiration) released More Life in 2017, which was labeled as a “playlist” in a move then considered innovative in a industry still based on album releases. (If there’s any truth in Drake having inspired RM, we may add to the list of coincidences the handwritten, black and white, minimalist design of the cover of mono which resembles the art cover of Drake’s 2015 If you’re reading this it’s too late).

At the time More Life was released, lots of music critics emphasized the significance of playlists in the era of music streaming. An album, the NY Times said, is:

[A] creator’s complete thought expressed in parts. A playlist in the streaming era, by contrast, is a collection of moods, impressions, influences and references; it’s a river that flows in one direction, ending somewhere far from the beginning (if it ends at all).

A mixtape, per se, strays from the sense of commitment that an album must have to a concept. So by nature, RM would be free from that commitment with a mixtape. But with a playlist, which theoretically allows even more freedom than a mixtape, it seems that it’s RM’s intention to release the pressure to deliver a work with any congruence at all. As if he just wants to be free to do whatever music he feels like doing.

But, curiously, what we get in mono actually is consistent in its inconsistency, both in sound and lyrics. All seven tracks share the same vibe and, indeed, compose a consistent frame. The sonority of it is more loungy and chill than we’d expect from the rapper. Even if hip-hop influences are present, the playlist flows between lo-fi and alternative genres, with a few (amazing) moments of synthpop, a genre RM has shown before to be perfectly compatible with, like his & BTS’ Jungkook’s cover of Troye Sivan’s “Fools.”

As for the lyrics, it makes sense to contextualize mono as a continuation of RM’s path along with BTS in the group’s previous works; there is a connection between everything. And because RM worked in the lyrics of everything he sang and rapped, then, all lyrics written by him can be used as material for us to ask: How is the leader’s life after he found the Answer?

Credits: Big Hit Entertainment


Also on KultScene: BEING A FAN OF BTS & THEIR YOUTH-ORIENTED MUSIC AS AN ADULT

RM before “mono”

Who shall I be today: Kim Namjoon or RM?

Airplane pt. 2

The lyrics above came from one of BTS’ darkest albums, Love Yourself: Tear, in which the group addressed the deceptions faced after the happy-go-lucky illusions of the previous album, Love Yourself: Her. The Love Yourself trilogy was completed with Love Yourself: Answer, a more upbeat album in which BTS suggests to have finally learned that, in order to find love anywhere, you should first find love inside yourself. But would that lesson be enough to make them happy?

To be fair, it’s worth pointing out that in Answer: Love Myself, RM says: “Maybe there is no answer / Maybe this isn’t the answer either / (…) I’m still finding myself.” However, one could think he was content about that if things ended there. From the album design to the sound of all the original tracks, everything about Love Yourself: Answer is more about joy and lucidity than pain or sorrow. Even “Trivia: Love,” RM’s solo moment on the album, has a joyful vibe. If not having all the answers is the answer, then we’re ready to move on and live a happy life, right?

Life is not that simple to anyone, of course.

This leads us to mono. Interestingly enough, either sonically or lyrically, mono recalls more the RM of “Reflection” (the one who said “I wish I could love myself,” in BTS 2016 album “Wings”) than any other thing we’ve seen from him after that. So, was the whole path to the Answer not worth it then?

It’s not that it wasn’t worth it, it’s just that, from what it seems, it’s still not enough for RM. Understanding that it’s okay not to have all the answers is still not enough for him to be okay.

Journey from “Tokyo” to “forever rain”

The first two tracks of mono are named “Tokyo” and “Seoul,” making us feel as if RM is literally traveling, trying to find himself in different places.

A fun fact is that mono was released one day after BTS announced their partnership with the city of Seoul, in which each member has its own themed-playlist to represent what they most love about Korea’s capital. It’s not all love, though. In “Seoul,” produced by HONNE (a group who’s also familiar with the theme of seeking love in different places), RM, a native of Seoul-satellite Ilsan, seems overwhelmed by the city that became his home.

In clever wordplay (a tool RM is famous for), he sings: “If love and hate are the same words, I love you Seoul / If love and hate are the same words, I hate you Seoul.”

Ironically, “Seoul” is pronounced similarly to “so.” Then, by speaking out loud his love-hate relationship with the city, it’s almost as if he’s also speaking to himself, trying to find himself through the city.

Not having found himself in either Tokyo or Seoul, RM reaches for the moon in “moonchild,” a track that references the lyrics of “4 o’clock,” a song previously released on Soundcloud with his band mate V.

Some of the best lyrical moments from RM happen when he uses astronomy analogies (like “Magic Shop,”) and “moonchild” is indeed one of these moments: “We are each other’s night sceneries, we are each other’s moons.” Again, RM might be talking to himself the moon (him) is both the cause of his sadness (“born in the moonlight,” “born to be sad,” “all the pain, all the sorrow is your destiny”) and his relief (“only you, no one else, gives me that sense of comfort).

RM lands in “badbye,” another clever wordplay with the word “goodbye.” The depressive, short, repetitive lyrics suggests an RM falling into reality no more using Tokyo, Seoul or the moon to escape. He now has to face reality, kill the illusions and face himself: “Kill me softly / Make me into pieces of fragments,” he and aEeon sing. As the dark atmosphere of the song suggests, this process hurts. No wonder, the next track, “uhgood,” has the most painful lyrics: “All I need is me / All I need is me / I know, I know, I know / Then why do I feel lonely?” RM’s production skills also shine in “uhgood,” along with the touch of producer Sam Klempner (who previously worked with BTS in “Best of Me”). With mysterious synthesized sounds opening the song, the mood is set for RM to use his deep voice to lead us into an introspective experience, which the use of reverbs help make it even more ethereal.


Also on KultScene: BEST BTS SOUNDCLOUD SONGS

The transition from “uhgood” to “everythingoes” is one of the most brilliant moments of mono: after telling himself some of the hardest-to-swallow truths, RM seeks to rebuild himself by saying that “everything goes, at one point, for sure… everything goes by.

The constant repetition of the line “everything goes,” through a four chord progression tailored in the technique of tension-release, summarizes the whole mood of the song: whether if you’re in the highest or lowest point of the curve, whatever you’re feeling shall pass one day. It’s all temporary.

And just like that, mono ends with “forever rain,” another great lyrical moment of RM justifying his love for the rain since it is both a friend who helps him hide (“In the rain, the umbrella covers my sad face” / “In the rain, people are busy minding themselves”) and be found (“When it rains, I get a feeling that I have a friend / That keeps knocking on my window, asking if I’m doing well.)” Just like in “moonchild,” in “forever rain” RM seeks to understand himself through events of nature. And, just like in all the other tracks that led to this one, we still don’t have any solid conclusions.

The overall mood of mono is one of uncertainty and solitude  not the type of solitude of not being surrounded by enough people, but the solitude felt between one’s many selves and conflicts. But it is also a mood of continuity.

From the lowercase stylized fonts, to the lyrics full of honesty about RM’s doubts, everything about mono reflects a journey that is still incomplete, towards finding identity, love, and acceptance a journey that could be anyone else’s.

The next steps of the journey will surely be portrayed in BTS’ upcoming works. In the meantime, we can appreciate mono not only for RM’s musical versatility, but also for his courage to expose, through so many beautiful songs of uncertainty, that knowing the “Answer” is way easier than knowing what to do with it.

[Lyric translation credit: SPOTLIGHTRM]

How did you like RM’s mono? Let us know your picks for fave songs and overall thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.