Compared to last year’s K-popcalypse, artists in 2015 came back with a vengeance and with something to prove. This, of course, was awesome for fans, given that we were treated to a year filled with some of the best Korean songs released in recent years. 2015 saw the return of many esteemed groups, the rise of non K-pop genres in the mainstream and popularized abroad, fresh debuts, and a lot of vintage sounds in the songs, a nice detour from the heavy electronic trend from recent years. So after a long consideration period and fights and disagreements among the KultScene staff, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of 50 of the top songs out of Korea this year. And without further ado, here it goes.
50. 9Muses – “Sleepless night”
9Muses scrape onto our list with their last single of the year “Sleepless Night.” At first listen, “Sleepless Night” is difficult to get your head around. Its chorus is not immediately obvious and the members sing in a hushed tone that is unusual to modern pop music. With each new listen, the song grows though; the drum beat intricacies and vocal infections become more pronounced. This is a group making great use of their weaker vocals, it gives the deeper voiced Sojin a chance to sing a chorus, but not go beyond her own vocal means. The structure brings the song together conceptually, making it jittery and restless. Matching a concept when it’s something as unsatisfying as a sleepless night is not exactly a great commercial choice, but thankfully it works so well artistically.
49. BoA – “Kiss My Lips”
K-pop’s queen BoA is known for her eternally youthful voice and image, but this year she changed things up with “Kiss My Lips” by trying something sexier. As a result, we got a dreamy, minimal electro-pop song that featured the diva singing provocative lyrics in a sultry, deeper voice more adequate for her age bracket. Because in an industry where the sexy girl groups are a dime a dozen, this woman put out a smooth jam that enchants the listener with her sultry vocals full of yearning — with SM Entertainment’s signature feminine and discreet sexiness. Hopefully the singer will stick to this mature concept and won’t make us wait another three years for a comeback.
48. Zion.T & Crush – “Just”
Zion. T quickly sets the tone for “Just” with his smooth R&B voice. From the moment that he starts singing, hearts instantly melt. Zion. T’s honey vocals are divine and sweet, easy to make just about anyone fall for him. And that’s what Zion. T does, he gets in your head and makes sure to stay there. If you’re slightly or very much so acquainted with Crush, then you knew he was going to fully deliver with his singing, but his rapping was a complete surprise. It was fresh, different, and he did a marvelous job. The feelings that were behind the lyrics as he rapped and sang were properly presented. Everything from the harmony and the way the two play off of one another through the transitions of choruses truly bring joy to our ears (and heart). Moreover, there’s always that possibility that when two solo artists collaborate, one will outshine the other, but this wasn’t the case. These two compliment each other very well; it’s almost like they’re the missing pieces to one another’s puzzles.
47. MFBTY – “Buckubucku (feat. EE, Rap Monster, Dino-J)”
The hip-hop legends, Yoon Mirae, Tiger JK, and Bizzy, who together form MFBTY will have you saying “Buckubucku” while awake and even in your sleep. The backbeat puts you in a trance, one in which will have you continuously bobbing your head, so much that it’ll feel like you’re doing an intense neck exercise. Each artist’s flow is spot on and the transitions are perfect. Usually, the only female, Yoon Mirae, always shows up to win, and she did indeed do that. Her rhymes are absolutely flawless and she always shows great strength and women empowerment. On top of this already head banging track, the featuring of artists like EE, Rap Monster, and Dino-J gave this track an extra oomph to an already killer song. This is where the term “squad goals” comes into play because, seriously, wouldn’t you want a to be around a group of people like them all the time? Right? Right.
46. Red Velvet – “Dumb Dumb”
If you could find a song of the year that is more addicting than Red Velvet’s “Dumb Dumb,” you’re deluding yourself. With the repetitive chorus and the highly danceable bridges, the brassy song is a mashup of colorful beats and vocal belting. The tip of the nod to Michael Jackson and his countless songs make it clear that the song is influenced by American retro pop hits, and it’s the perfect move for a song that was built to be blasted from the radio. It isn’t dissimilar to Jesse J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj’s “Bang Bang” with it’s building, ‘80s driven sounds, and this is just the thing to be listening to at a summer dance party. Each member is given their moment to shine, and Wendy’s belting in particular brings “Dumb Dumb” to another level. Red Velvet is still new to the K-pop scene, but their talent and hit-making factor can’t be denied and you’d be a “Dumb Dumb” to not take a listen.
45. Cheetah & Jessi “My Type (feat. Kangnam)”
What’s a producer to do when you have the best two contenders on “Unpretty Rapstar” competing for a feature on the same track? You put both artists on it, of course. That’s the route Verbal Jint took with “My Type,” having Cheetah and Jessi drop bars while Kangnam lent his mellow vocals for the chorus. What made this song interesting was the stark contrast between the lively and fun beat as a backdrop for Jessi’s husky voice and Cheetah’s fierce rap and lyrics about dating a confident and strong woman. However, Kangnam’s smooth verses brought the song together and made for a cool gender swap, having two women rapping and a guy singing the chorus about loving his boss lady and being ok with the criticism. “My Type” allowed listeners to see and hear a new side to Jessi and Cheetah. Because even if they killed it with their raps and they were still their fierce selves, they gave into a fun and quirky song about dating.
44. Keith Ape “It G Ma (feat. JayAllday, Loota, Okasian, Kohh)”
While everyone was eagerly awaiting CL’s crossover to the American market, Korean rapper Keith Ape came out of nowhere on the first day of the year and dropped fire with “It G Ma” and ultimately beat her to it. “It G Ma,” a Korean-Japanese homage to American rapper OG Maco’s “Bitch You Guessed It,” features Korean rappers JayAllday and Okasian, and Japanese rappers Loota and Kohh, together with Keith yelling about money, clothes, and weed, making it probably the most authentic and trendy piece of Korean hip-hop to date for its sound and theme. The track spread like wildfire in the US for its Southern trap beat, but was largely ignored in South Korea. However, that didn’t prevent it from starting a trend there, where every other Korean rapper “emulated” OG Maco and Keith’s style (um, Zico, anyone?). The success of “It G Ma” abroad even lead to a remix featuring American rappers A$AP Ferg, Father, Dumbfoundead, and Waka Flocka Flame. One could argue the political connotations of “It G Ma,” both the original and the remix, featuring rappers from different countries, especially Korea and Japan with their grim history, but, in essence, it’s just a ratchet song to turn up to.
43. Super Junior D&E – “Can You Feel It? (Chok Chok Dance)”
Super Junior has long been known for their addicting dance tunes, and this year’s “Can You Feel It?” courtesy of two of the group’s main dancers is just what the doctor ordered. The song fits very safely in Super Junior’s discography, offering up a highly danceable beat with a fun-filled dance routine, with some nice vocal melodies from Donghae and Eunhyuk. Along with being a pump up song that will have everyone throwing their hands over their head doing the dance, the electronic, arcade-style beats sets “Can You Feel It?” firmly into the “this is weird and experimental but I love it.” The song’s a fan favorite, and was performed by the entire group at KCON LA 2015, because it is absolutely impossible to sit down when you hear the first “chok” coming out of Eunhyuk’s mouth to kick off the retro-synth dance tune.
42. Red Velvet – “Automatic”
Going off of the “Be Natural” vibe under their red side, Red Velvet came back this year with another ‘90s R&B track titled “Automatic.” Like its predecessor, the song has a jazzy, sultry feel, which they paired up with their honeyed vocals to sing about how a guy made them feel. Yes, let your imagination run wild with that one. Because before they released their title single “Happiness 2.0” (that would be “Ice Cream Cake”), the girls put out a mature, womanly, and elegantly sexy song that offered an interesting alternative to whatever the overtly sexual girl groups and the overtly sugary ones (or their other personality, for that matter) were doing this year. It also served as the introduction for new member Yeri. And even if her purpose in the group is not clear yet, the rest of the members carried that song perfectly and she seems to fit in nicely.
41. Hyukoh – “Wi ing Wi ing”
If “Comes and Goes” was the song that shot Hyukoh to fame in South Korea, “Wi ing Wi ing” was the band’s representative song of 2015. The song, with a slightly softer sound and the gentle “wi-ing w-ing” and “bing bing” chorus, is a more mellow take on the beach-gaze style that Hyukoh does best. The song begins with simple crisp guitar tunes and Oh Hyuk’s melancholic voice before picking up and turning into a jazzier take on a rock break up song interwoven with the tale of someone with nothing to do with their life. Hyukoh’s style and straightforward storytelling makes you feel like you could write this song and play it with a bunch of your friends, but the quiet complexity of the musical arrangement meshed with Oh Hyuk’s outstanding, building vocal performance makes “Wi ing Wi ing” something so simple and yet so out of the ordinary.
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40. G.Soul – “Crazy For You”
I read something a little while ago as someone was trying to describe G.Soul’s voice. They said, “his voice is smoother than a baby’s bottom,” to which I couldn’t help but be in awe as to how accurate that statement really is. G.Soul as an artist is a beautiful blend of The Weeknd, Years & Years, Michael Jackson, and Zion. T, vocally and musically. The usage of his buttery voice in “Crazy For You” almost seems effortless. Each word uttered along with the accompaniment of the smooth electronica beats will captivate your soul and will leave you yearning for more. The song has a retro, house music kind of vibe, one in which can be heard while shopping at clothing stores like Zara, H&M, and TopShop. Nevertheless, “Crazy For You” is incredibly smooth and overall yummy to the senses.
39. Twice – “Like Ooh Ahh”
The latest craze to come out of JYP Entertainment is spunky rookie girl group TWICE. After appearing in their very own survival contest show SIXTEEN, the lucky girls that were chosen went on to debut. Their debut track, “Like Ooh Ahh,” is a color-pop dance song that is young and vibrant. Each girl does their small part to contribute to the group as a whole, but it’s their leader and main vocals Jihyo that slightly outshines the other girls with her powerhouse voice. That doesn’t go to say that the other girls are lame in comparison, especially with the chorus and hook of the song, which makes you want to get up and jump around. The girls do an excellent job reeling in the listeners, getting them addicted to the light and fun song. In the short time since the group has have risen in popularity rather quickly; not only reaching almost 20 million views on their “Like Ooh Ahh” music video in only two months since debuting, but also snagging best new female artists and other rookie awards on award shows. TWICE definitely has the potential to become a great group as they grow and mature; they certainly are on the right path to do so.
38. Lim Kim – “Awoo”
This isn’t a Primary song, per say, but the heavy-handed producer’s style appears clearly in this cat-themed take on the modern girl’s guide to flirting. The pounding, dub beats and horns beneath Lim Kim’s sultry voice create a heavy sound before the playful, catcalling chorus kicks off, giving this pop-dance track a feeling unlike most other releases from 2015. The lyrics describe a person playing coy while flirting, pretending to make mistakes, and the naughty, confident tone of Lim Kim’s hallowed voice brings across the song’s meaning even without a translation. The song is one of the best electronic songs of 2015 by far, and contains distorted EDM elements without being overwhelming to create a whimsical, trippy banger. “Awoo” is a little bit electronic pop, a little bit R&B, and all good.
37. IU – “Twenty Three”
Apart from the nation’s little sister, controversies were relatively rare this year. IU had to contend with more hate from Korean netizens, thus meaning her music was overshadowed somewhat. This is a shame as “Chat-shire” was one of the best albums of the year and its lead single “Twenty Three,” one of the best too. “Twenty Three” is a song about growing up and the significant trials this poses a female celebrity. IU’s growth is evident also in her music. The song sounds like an updated more mature version of her usual songs. She mixes scratchy disco guitars and keys in the verse with joyous strings in the chorus, allowing a diversity to grow in the song much the lyrics. Conceptually, all of these elements combine to show an artist at work, someone who is ready to take risks in order to make a point. We think those risks were well worth it.
36. Super Junior-D&E – “Growing Pains”
For their first full-length Korean album “The Beat Goes On,” the Super Junior subunit Super Junior-D&E blew us away this year with “Growing Pains.” With Eunhyuk being one of the main group’s rappers, Donghae a non-main vocalist, and together forming the dance line, we’ve come to love their funky pop releases like “Oppa, Oppa” from back in the day, mainly focused on the choreography and the fun of it all. However, this time around, D&E released — not another dance track — but a medium tempo ballad co-written by Donghae and pulled it off. Songs featuring the rapper and backup vocalist singing doesn’t always work out, much less in a ballad, but “Growing Pains” with the guys’ airy and pretty vocals paired with the strumming guitar and piano melody proved that Suju’s dance line is able to hold their own, even with a style atypical to them.
35. Kim Sung Kyu – “The Answer”
While the year is filled with high energy fist-pumping dance songs and overly sexy concepts, Kim Sung Kyu decided to go a different route. From his sophomore solo album, Kim Sung Kyu (better known as the leader and main vocalist of Infinite) released two title tracks; one of them being “The Answer.” The song is a mid-tempo ballad that starts out pretty mellow but gradually builds as the song progresses. The melody of the track is beautifully simplistic which allows the vocals to shine. Sung Kyu does a good job conveying the emotion of the lyrics with the dynamics of his voice, mixing just the right amounts of gentleness and power at just the right moments. And although the ballad is full of heart-wrenching lyrics of longing, the music sounds bright and uplifting, leaving the listener feeling hopeful for whatever may come their way.
34. CL – “Hello Bitches”
After a whole year of waiting for her highly anticipated American debut, CL is still not ready. However, she threw eager fans a bone by releasing a “street single,” “Hello Bitches.” If this track is a teaser of what we’re all to expect from this album, we can see that CL plans on mixing the East and West in every form possible. Whether it’s with her lyrics, CL sings and raps alternatively in Korean and English about jet setting around the world and even mentions Korean and Asian products (Kakao, Hello Kitty). Musically, “Hello Bitches” is another now classic YG Entertainment resident producer Teddy trap hip-hop hybrid with massive stompers. CL is sticking to her roots and displaying them on the world stage instead of leaving them behind, as many fans dreaded would happen with a crossover. Moreover, the 2NE1 leader is known for her self-empowering anthems, both with the group and solo, but “Hello Bitches” saw a freer version of CL and offered a unique take on pop in the West.
33. Seventeen – “Mansae”
Seventeen encapsulate everything I love about K-pop. From the infectious personality of all thirteen members, to the sheer invention they bring to a live stage; I’ve loved everything they have done this year. However, none more so than their second single “Mansae,” a song as fun as the boys themselves. Like their debut “Adore U,” it is a song in the traditional pop vein. Glittering guitars lead orchestral sounds in short sharp bursts throughout and it has two obvious hooks to be found in the chorus and chants of the song. In a year that saw the best releases since I began listening to K-pop, even if it was also littered with a multitude of new sounds, Seventeen were a reminder of what got me into K-pop. Despite not being the best song of the year, no song made me happier than “Mansae.”
32.Primary – “Don’t Be Shy (feat. ChoA & IRON)”
Deny it all you want, but how often do we come across a Korean song with such straight forward and borderline provocative lyrics as that in Primary’s “Don’t Be Shy?” As a producer, Primary created a great masterpiece. Not only are the lyrics suggestive, but there’s something immensely addictive about this reggae-influenced beat. You will find yourself swaying to its gentle rhythm and mesmerized and wrapped up in ChoA’s seductive voice. Although “Don’t Be Shy” felt more like ChoA featuring IRON, his voice played well with the reggae beat. And despite his part being short, he left a lasting impression and delivered an impactful message. Both ChoA and IRON’s attractive and sensual voices delivered the lyrics in a way in which will have the listeners feigning for more.
31. Brown Eyed Girls – “Brave New World”
2015 saw a lot of funky releases by male K-pop groups, channeling their inner Michael Jackson and even Bruno Mars. However, Brown Eyed Girls slayed them all by actually sampling the king’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” while still making the song their own in their comeback single “Brave New World.” Like the original, “Brave New World” is a throwback to the early ‘80s, late ‘70s with its groovy disco influences paired with fantastic violins and electro beats. And even if this mix sounds like it can be an outdated catastrophe, the production had a contemporary spin and BEG pulled through with their amazing vocals and ferocious sass. It’s a shame that “Warm Hole” was the single, given “Brave New World” is flawless and less gimmicky. Not to mention it makes you instantly want to get up and dance.
30. BIGBANG (GD & T.O.P) – “Zutter”
This year, BIGBANG released a slew of awesome hits, but a nice surprise was “Zutter,” marking the return of the subunit GD & T.O.P after four long years. “Zutter” is zutter, meaning “dope” or “sick” in Korean, with its throwback hip-hop beats mixed with trap snares. The song, like most of the other releases by the subunit, focuses on the guys’ contrasting spit and flows. This was definitely a nice gem and change in mood among the rest of BIGBANG’s releases this year.
29. Teen Top – “Ah-ah”
Teen Top continues to grow with their release “Ah-ah”. This song is the embodiment of what you would think a nice breeze on a hot fun summer night would sound like, cool and refreshing. The funky electro-pop track is highlighted by Teen Top’s quick foot-work; reminiscent of the dance from their 2013 release “Rocking.” But unlike the more frantic sound of their previous release, “Ah-ah” is smooth and relaxed with upbeat raps from L.Joe and C.A.P laced throughout the song. If this mature sound is what we can continue expect from Teen Top, there is no doubt that their future will be bright.
28. U-Know Yunho (TVXQ) – “Champagne”
TVXQ has always been a stalwart of K-pop, but this year’s “Rise As God” album was the first time that each member of the duo was given a chance to really shine. Once known as the rapper of TVXQ, leader U-Know Yunho had everyone tapping their feet to this funky drinking song. With clapping and brass beats, “Champagne” continues the trend of last year’s TVXQ songs, while also bringing in a bit of a Michael Jackson dance feel, which perfectly suits Yunho’s style. The jazzy rhythm of the song utilizes Yunho’s vocal range, offering falsetto at one point but mostly utilizing his deeper range. As a fun, drunken look into what Yunho is capable of as a soloist, “Champagne” was released a day before the TVXQ member enlisted in the Korean army (mandatory for all able-bodied men) and is the perfect way to send him off while he fulfills two years of military service.
27. Super Junior – “Magic”
If “Devil” was their statement that they are now a group of mature, well-seasoned artists, then Super Junior’s follow-up “Magic” is their return to their fun and boyish roots. The funky song has the members mystified as they try to figure out their dream girl, using magic as a trope to do so. It also uses a very standard band ensemble – horns, pianos, bass, drums – as its backing; nothing sounds computerized, which is a rarity in today’s K-pop. Perhaps this is why the song sounds so fresh and polished. Of course, the members’ clear and smooth vocals might also have something to do with this as well. I mean, the whole track just falls into place, and while this might mean that there is not any great build-up, it’s still a stalwart in its own right. A pretty classic song from the boys to celebrate a pretty great 10 years.
26. OH MY GIRL – “Cupid”
By the time “Closer” came out, it felt like OH MY GIRL were hardened veterans of the K-pop world. The maturity shown there was clear, and showed why they are the best rookie girl group of the year. The highlight of their year, however, was their debut single. “Cupid” is a raucous blast through adolescent love with marching drums, chanting, and surprisingly impressive rapping. The drums steal the show, they give the song an unhinged quality, seemingly always ready to tumble into hysterics. It holds together though, leaving us with one of the best debuts in recent times.
25. SHINee – “Married To The Music”
After diverging from their normal dance tunes and introducing the lighter house track “View” earlier this year, SHINee followed up with this fun dance track. The funky, retro-inspired dance track “Married To The Music” is like an ode to the ‘70s and ‘80s (and the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”), and only a group as skilled as SHINee could pull this off. The vocal harmonies and random strings and brass elements are in line with what SHINee’s agency, SM Entertainment, has been producing in the past two years. However, the introductory hip-hop elements and strong beats slipped into “Married To The Music” grounds SHINee in the R&B roots their early songs were inspired by. “Married To The Music” is SHINee at their best, with multiple musical influences coming together with their vocal harmonies and raps to create a perfectly bouncy hit.
24. Yezi – “Solo (feat. Jay Park & Loco) (Remix)” + Jay Park – “Solo (Feat. Hoody)”
Without a doubt, the revelation of the year was Fiestar’s rapper Yezi, who took everyone by surprise by actually being a good rapper and lyricist and showing her skills on “Unpretty Rapstar 2.” And even though she didn’t take first place, she did land one of the songs the contestants were competing for, a remix of Jay Park’s “Solo.” On “Solo Remix,” Yezi and Loco rapped on Cha Cha Malone’s beat and kept Jay’s vocals on the chorus. Yezi, known for being a “crazy dog” and dropping hard hitting bars, kept it softer, rapping about hoping the person she likes is single. Coming from an unpopular girl group, Yezi blew everyone away by being hella talented, which led to her releasing her solo song this month, but her work in “Solo Remix” showed she can adapt to anything.
Moreover, we couldn’t just exclude the original. Even if the remix is better, Jay Park’s original “Solo” showed a softer and rawer (yet still douche-y lyrically) side to the AOMG boss. On this version, Jay featured female singer Hoody, who’s vocals provided a tender touch that made the track a lot smoother. Besides — dare I say it? Jay’s better at singing than as a lyricist and rapper, which makes “Solo” one of his best songs to date.
23. MFBTY – “Bang Diggy Bang Bang”
MFBTY is truly a family affair. The intro of “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” is of Jordan, Yoon Mirae and Tiger JK’s son, cutely setting the vibe for what’s to be an upbeat and fun song. “Bang Diggy Bang Bang” had great usage of hip-hop and incorporation of Indian music, because as soon as the music started, as someone who does not dance whatsoever, I wanted to get on up and start moving my arms, hips, and get fancy with my footwork. It’d even be great as an OST for a Bollywood film one day too, wouldn’t it? What’s so inspiring about MFBTY is the fact that their music is universal; it’s suitable for everyone and anyone. But even with that said, they still maintain and stick to their unique hip-hop roots. These guys are pure geniuses and it definitely transcends into their music.
22. EXID – “Ah Yeah”
EXID makes an appearance on our list with their sexy moves in “Ah Yeah.” Like their previous breakout hit, the song contains a catchy hook accompanied with sexy dance moves. The song bounces back from coquettish vocals to LE’s intense rap verses, keeping the song interesting while the chorus of the song explodes with strong vocals from Hyerin and Solji. The group seems to have found their niche style and no one should be complaining. With their fun and sexy releases, EXID will be around for a while.
21. INFINITE – “Bad”
This year must have really been a popular year to explore new sounds as even INFINITE went down this road. The group came back with “Bad,” an orchestral and trap laden track that strays away from the retro sounds they’ve adopted over the years. But traces of the INFINITE we have grown to love still remain when we consider how theatrical it is. The dramatic strings and flitting synths cue in the verses, in which both the vocal and rapper line powerfully deliver their lines about a femme fatale. Even the pre-chorus, whose augmented cadences varies with the fast paced verses from before, mesh well in creating a climactic performance. Perhaps this is one song in which its build-up actually shadowed the hook, which was nothing more than a flat repetition of “bad bad bad bad bad girl.” “Bad” was not bad, but in comparison to their other works of art like “Last Romeo” and “The Chaser,” it was also not INFINITE at their best. Lucky for them, their artistic intentions (i.e., their emotional vocals) were able to save them and land them a place on our list.
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20. EXO – “Love Me Right”
After losing yet another EXO member Tao, the group decided once again that a change of atmosphere was much need with their synth-y pop track “Love Me Right.” Something inherent in the dance number, which features blaring horns and a thumping bassline, sounds dated, but in the charming ‘90s Seinfeld-type of way. It’s a sound that is not popular in the K-pop industry, so when it comes to originality, the boys deserve a star. But at the same time, it took some couple of listens before the song could grow on me because it was so different from what we’re used to hearing from them. In any event, the upbeat chorus begging you to love them right will eventually grow on you. And fans are sure to appreciate the equal line distribution (for once!) in this one. I mean, just check out member Sehun’s lengthy rap at 0:37. If there is one upside to the diminishing size of the group, it would certainly have to be this.
19. DAY6 “Congratulations”
After appearing on programs such as SBS’s “K-POP Star” and Mnet’s “WIN: Who is Next,” the highly anticipated members of DAY6 made their debut with “Congratulations.” Unique to the usual instrumental band, almost all of the members have active vocal parts, which creates a more dynamic sound with their different vocal ranges and sound. The members take turns singing their verse in the sad pop-rock song about overcoming heartbreak, showcasing each of their talent and musicality. The song starts off soft and slow then picks up as it reaches the climax of the song where the boys sing with so much emotion that the lost and hurt can almost be felt by the listener. With their popularity soaring despite not actively doing broadcasting promotions, DAY6 is definitely a group to keep an eye on.
18. miss A “Only You”
It was a busy year for many JYPE artists and miss A was no exception. Breaking away from the ultra-sexy image of their last release, “Only You” is a catchy pop song where the girls show their cute girly side while still emitting that bit of sass that they are known for. “Only You” starts out with a sexy and demanding vibe but quickly turns upbeat and flirty. The only thing that took me off guard was the random screeching noises throughout song. They are a bit strange, and the first time I heard them, I thought I was witnessing some sort of paranormal activity. But once you overlook the out of place background noises, the song remains bright and fun making it still a good listen.
17. 4minute – “Crazy”
I think it was when 4minute released their trap banger “Crazy” that I realized K-pop had recovered from the disaster that was 2014. The song’s energy is quite obvious, but what made it so palpable and essential was how it seemed to reinvigorate a whole genre of pop music in less than three and a half minutes. This type of dance music had become prevalent not only in K-pop, but in world music. Thanks to Gayoon’s measured vocal, Hyuna and Jiyoon’s biting raps and all manner of electro sounds, “Crazy” became an instant dance classic.
16. Wonder Girls – “I Feel You”
In a year full of throwbacks, nobody did it better or more comprehensively than Wonder Girls. “I Feel You,” their take on ‘80s synth pop, has details that somehow immerse you in a retro setting while always retaining that modern touch. An intoxicating riff carries the song and serves as its chorus over any vocal flourishes. The fact that they used period correct instruments pushes this song into truly great status. The electronic drums, keytar, and flattened guitars add a layer of texture that some over-produced songs of today can miss out on. It’s a staggering modern twist on older sounds.
15. Big Bang – “Bae Bae”
Big Bang’s was probably the most anticipated comeback of the year and was the most expansive in terms of singles, yet they rarely disappointed. One of the major highlights was “Bae Bae,” where the five boys brought a weirdness to their sound that was always present in their visuals. The song’s mix of hip-hop beats, pianos, and even country-like guitar riffs don’t give off particularly romantic images. But thanks to its tender, sexual lyrics, “Bae Bae” becomes sweet in its own way. Most of all, it’s a surreal trip to Big Bang’s sexual fantasies, which could not be anything but amazing.
14. Super Junior – “Devil”
To mark their 10th debut anniversary and the return of their main vocalist Yesung after his mandatory enlistment, Super Junior released “Devil” this year. With all of its members being well over their mid 20’s and even early 30’s, SM Entertainment has to find a way to market this massive boy group and make it compete with the younger groups each year and they have found it. Suju’s thing is the dance track as a single, and much like “Mamacita,” “Devil” showcases a more mature and cool side to the guys, both musically and personality-wise. However, “Devil” stands out on its for its funkiness and the members’ smooth harmonization at the chorus, devoid of any cheesy, though endearing, gimmicks as seen on “Mamacita.” This song was Super Junior’s statement that they’re not a bunch of guys in a boy band anymore, but a group of mature, well-seasoned male artists who have fun with their music.
13. Seventeen – “Adore U”
2015 was not only the debut year for Seventeen, it’s also been the perfect year for this multi-membered K-pop boy band. With thirteen members, Seventeen’s debut track “Adore U” could be a pop mess, but is anything but. The guitar-based dance track is bright and energetic and perfect for a new group. The light, powerful sound of “Adore U” is refreshing in the world of electro-synth music that’s been most popular in K-pop in 2015, and “Adore U” keeps itself from becoming too much of a bubblegum pop song by throwing in raps from numerous members. “Adore U” is filled with a back and forth style of singing and raps that isn’t common in K-pop groups. Rather than distracting from the music, this playful interplay between the members reinforces the group’s unity despite its large size and helps distinguish the members’ individual skills before coming together in an upbeat, hook-filled chorus. “Adore U” is an adorable, lovesick song that is K-pop at its very purest.
12. BTS – “Run”
Probably one of the most anticipated comebacks of the year, BTS’s “Run” definitely lived up to expectations. It continues the same hopeless romantic thematic that “I Need U” employs, but rather than wallowing in love’s misery, this song encourages us to push ourselves forward and harder. Musically, it contains some rock undertones, as evident in its use of guitars and gruffer vocals. I want to single out leader Rap Monster’s part in the beginning in particular, because while he is known for being able to rap like a champ, most are still unaware about his singing capabilities. Yes, his range isn’t as great as the other members, but he was able to use his deep voice to the song’s advantage. There’s something very alluring in his tonal color that helps set up the rock infused track, captivating listeners right away. The other members’ passionate raps and vocals all seem genuine enough as well, performing the rest of the magic to hold our attention. “Run” is all around pretty solid, and is one of those tracks that would be a quick favorite upon first listen.
11. Hyukoh – “Comes and Goes”
Hyukoh could do no wrong this year as the garage band that took South Korea by storm. “Comes and Goes” was the song that first captured the attention of South Korea. Vocalist Oh Hyuk’s expressive voice acts as the perfect venue to tell the story about growing up, while the clearly resonating band elements are so different from the normal highly-produced Korean songs that it’s almost impossible to turn away from “Comes and Goes.” The unique artistry of Hyukoh is most well-described as laid back rock, and “Comes and Goes” makes the most of this, adding in some wailing, tapping beats, and a message about growing up and getting used those we love leaving us. “Comes and Goes” is a dreamy, energetic song that offers something for even the most discerning music fan.
10. Monsta X – “Trespass”
The aggressive, rap-heavy “Trespass” introduced many people to Starship Entertainment’s newest group earlier this year. Monsta X’s rapper Jooheon takes center stage in “Trespass,” with powerful horns and synths creating a backing to the rest of the group’s melodies, particularly Kihyun’s smooth vocals. While Jooheon and Kihyun set the tone for Monsta X’s style, “Trespass” gives each member a chance to shine (except perhaps Wonho) and gave this rookie group their claim to fame for this year and hopefully many other years to come. The song is all over the place, in the best way possible, with a building chorus that only comes after the tone of the song is well under way and bridges that seemingly make no sense but go oh so well together. Shownu’s dance break, I.M’s song-ending rap… This song is a warning to Monsta X’s future rivals in the K-pop world.
9. BTS – “Dope”
After coming back with “I Need U,” it seems that BTS could not ditch their dynamic and energetic sound that they are best known. Released as a follow-up track, “Dope” is an entertaining number about the trials and tribulations that the group undergoes while their peers are out partying in clubs. And while it would be easy to complain about their situation, the members spin the song into one brimming with life lessons and encouragement. Sure they are overworked now, but ultimately, they are the cash cows, so who are the real winners in life? The instrumentals, which make use of exotic saxophone sounds and rhythmic claps, also back up their bold statements and help keep momentum going. Even member Park Jimin’s high note during the bridge is monumental in itself. Considering how the hip-hop group rose to fame after debuting from a relative small company, “Dope” is truly a testament to their success.
8. GOT7 – “Just Right”
Leave it to Park Jin Young, Mr. Asian Soul, to create a cute and playful pop/hip-hop song that actually works. But don’t get it twisted, the excellency of “Just Right” lies solely in the hands of GOT7. After releasing the futuristic sounding “Stop, Stop It” last year, GOT7 went back to their cute concept we saw in “A” and released “Just Right,” a silly track about telling a girl she’s pretty just the way she is. The genius of this song lies in JYP finally distributing the song verses in a way that allowed each member’s fortes to shine; Youngjae’s angelic vocals and high notes at the hook and JB and Jr.’s sugary voices on the chorus is truly the perfect formula for them. Not to mention that the group’s non-Korean members finally eased into their raps and don’t sound so unnatural anymore. “Just Right” is no doubt a fan service song. But even so, the catchiness and overall happy vibe it emits captures the listener immediately, repeating the chorus and the-easy-to-follow oh oh oohs. The beat is sweet, the vocals are sweet, even the music video is sweet, but instead of giving us a diabetic coma, it does the exact opposite and revives you of the mundanities of life.
7. EXO – “Call Me Baby”
Following the departure of members Kris and Luhan, EXO came back earlier this year with the ‘90s boy band inspired pop track “Call Me Baby.” With this song, EXO delineates away from their signature overproduced sounds and experiments with classic brass, finger-snaps, and bass lines, perhaps in an attempt to announce a fresh start to a bad year. That is not to say that “Call Me Baby” is not up to par with EXO standards, though. Quite the contrary, the catchy “call me baby” of the chorus is an earworm of fun and exactly the hook needed to have listeners returning to the song time and again. Production-wise, it is beautifully held together by shortened string plucks, subtle at times but noticeably audible during the verses, and terse harmonies. With the exception of the slow tempo bridge that was needed for added interest, everything about “Call Me Baby” is exciting and flashy. If this is the rebranded EXO, then I think I will be sticking around for more.
6. f(x) – “4 Walls”
With the departure of former member Sulli, f(x) came back stronger than ever with the synth-pop track “4 Walls.” The group has made their way in the K-pop world with their unique electro pop brand of music, and “4 Walls” introduces the listeners to a house track that lets the four members show off their vocal harmonies in a way that has been lacking from their previous singles. Amber’s raps are tighter than ever and vocalists Luna, Victoria, and Krystal have their own moments to shine before the group comes together as the tone drops to make way for the sleek chorus. The anxiousness of the lyrics are depicted by the building, raspy voices of f(x), then hidden behind a bass-synth mashup during the chorus. “4 Walls” has an element of slightness to it that keeps it firmly in the realm of house dance music while also being the most chill single f(x) has dropped since their debut in 2009.
5. SHINee – “View”
SHINee’s reign of stand-out singles continued in 2015, starting with “View” off of their album “Odd.” The electronic-house song is a more mellow take on their previous dance tracks, but the song is very much a SHINee song, with an addicting chorus. It helps that “View” was composed by SHINee’s Jonghyun, a step in the right direction for the idol group to prove its worth as artists. The techno elements offer us a retro infused dance track that feels like SHINee’s matured from past hits like “Ring Ding Dong” and “Lucifer” to something much more. “View” keeps the danceability factor that SHINee’s fans have learned to love, but the smooth electro tune is able to keep the attention of even the most discerning pop music fan.
4. Block B Bastarz – “Zero for Conduct”
Not to be outshined by fellow members’ solo releases, Block B’s first sub-unit BASTARZ made up of B-Bomb, U-Kwon, and P.O exploded onto the scene with their title song “Zero for Conduct.” With the title track being composed by Block B’s main composer, fellow member and leader Zico;,the song mimics Block B’s style but has a more stylish and dark sound and image that makes them a completely different entity. The song opens to sirens and a very addicting in-your-face beat that mellows out and builds back up, molding to each member’s different style and comes together for a great track. BASTARZ does well to stand up without the other members, incorporating each of their unique styles to create something that is loud and refreshing.
3. BIGBANG – “Sober”
For a song that doesn’t sound like anything we’ve come to expect from BIGBANG, there’s a lot of depth and personal meaning to “Sober.” It sheds light on the most inner and deepest thoughts of each member, reworded in a way to sound a little less depressing than what it really is. For a song that seems to be filled with such high energy from beginning to end, the lyrics are rather gloomy and disheartening. “Sober” can have one feeling all sorts of emotions; it’ll make you feel sad and empty on the inside, wind and hype you up, lighten your mood and put a smile on your face when you’re having a hard time in life. Even though this song gives off a number of different feelings, some good, some bad, in the end you know, you can always count on it to make your day somehow.
2. BTS – “I Need U”
Since debut, BTS has been known for their hard-hitting songs centered on themes such as rebellion, passions, and hormones. So when the septet came back this year with “I Need U,” it was a pleasant and perhaps needed change from the hip-hop sound we are used to hearing from them. The melancholic song about loving alone in a dying relationship features a synth line that ebbs and flows with a percussive hook throughout the song, setting the tone for the just as equally back and forth quality of the lyrics. As much as you can hate your significant other for letting things fall apart, you still keep coming back. Each of the members immaculately convey either the pain or the vulnerability that comes attached to the words “I love you,” a phrase they were careful not to use in their prior songs but made an exception for in this one. Indeed, the members are maturing and developing a more mainstream sound in the process. The song was so well received that the group was even able to snatch their first win on a music show. Without a doubt, “I Need U” will always hold a special place in both the hearts of BTS and their fans.
1. GOT7 – “If You Do”
Topping our list we have the ever so charismatic boys of GOT7 again, this time with their manly track full of angst “If You Do,” which is probably their best song to date. It starts off slow as Jr. slowly reels you in with his lustful voice, to a distressed JB in the chorus, an aggressive rap shared between Mark and Jackson, then to a sorrowful Youngjae who’s afraid of getting close to love. It doesn’t matter whether or not the members of GOT7 have encountered the problematic situations with relationships like the lyrics are stating because you can feel the raw emotions and genuine feelings in their voices, and that’s what makes this song great and cements their position in the K-pop game. They can successfully convey emotions they most likely haven’t experienced in a long time or even ever. “If You Do” incorporates the diverse set of skills that each member already excels in: vocals, dance, personality, and charisma. Moreover, this song showed off their maturity, sound and personality wise, and that they’re able to take on different concepts and not just the typical cutesy image that K-pop usually is. 2015 saw some of the best releases by male groups to date, so the competition was fierce. Regardless, GOT7 excelled with a melancholic, dark bass-driven dance track which showed that they can do any and every concept out there. So, other male K-pop groups beware, for there’s no stopping GOT7 now. 2015 truly was their year.
What was your favorite Korean song this year? Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.