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25 Best K-pop Songs of 2018

kpop k-pop k pop songs tracks best topt 2018 18

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


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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

top kpop songs tracks best 2018 18

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.