This year was filled with a lot of downs, but fans of Korean music definitely didn’t miss much in terms of song- it was a year of different concepts and discovering of new artists and genres of music.
I have collaborated with two friends- all at various stages of listening to Korean music to bring to you our various top 5 picks of Korean music this year.
First off we have our baby k-popper Tikvah.
I am a Kpop new born baby, having only started paying attention to Kpop in July. With some help from Foyin, Chanyeol, Punch, and BTOB, I found my way into the fantastical world of Kpop. I must say, this world is not for the fainthearted, when you overlook the company and fandom toxicity, you’d realise that K-Pop BANGS, hard! I love RnB, but in the past few months, I’ve opened myself up to so many other genres and I am simply in awe.
While I have so many faves, I have managed to curate my all time favourites – these ones, I am always in the mood for.
- Chanyeol, Punch “Stay with me“
We might all remember this tune from the world famous Goblin: The Great and Lonely God. This song not only got me into Kpop, but also got me through writing my essays, thus, it takes the prime spot of numero uno.
2. BTS “Anpanman”
There is hardly a millennial or Gen XYZer who hasn’t heard about Grammy-nominated Kpop Stars, BTS. Anpanman is that girl who lives a stress-free life! You know, just Vibes and Anpanman.
3. EXO “Tempo”
Although I am a newbie, it didn’t take long for me to realise that EXO may as well be Kpop’s vocal kings. As an RnB lover, it wasn’t hard to like EXO. Tempo is a song that requires glued down edges because that acapella bridge is NOT a joke. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you are bald.
4. BTOB 4U “Show your love”
This song is a cute dance song. Whenever I listen to it, I just want to let my hair down and burst into laughter while dancing, like that one Scarlet Johansson meme.
5. BTS “Pied Piper“
Look, I’m not gonna say much on this song, but Suga and J-Hope verse, wahala. When my little cousin recommended this song, I was filled with distrust. But this song is a tune and a half!
5.5 The Rose “Sorry“
This song has all the feels! I think more shine should be given to K-bands. You can feel the pain in the vocals AND the instrumentals. Even if you’ve never been in love, it will make you feel like you once were.
- Ddu Ddu Ddu by BlackPink
- Punch by NCT
- With You by SuperM
- Answer by Ateez
- Replay by Shinee
- Look by Got7
- Dream in a Dream by Wayv’s Ten
- What if by EXO
- Lit by Lay
- Goblin by ACE
Next up is Bunmi’s list. Her relationship with K-pop had been off and on until she gave it a try in 2017 and she hasn’t looked back since then.
- Kai ‘Mmmh’ (음) (and the entire album TBH)
I wasn’t expecting this album to be this good and I think this is why this song definitely tops my top 5. We’ve always known Kai as ‘EXO-dancer Kai’ and never ‘Vocalist Kai’, however this album shows us a completely different side of Kai’s personality and his musical influences. I really loved how Kai was able to showcase his vocal dexterity as a vocalist and beyond EXO and I also felt that the choreo for this song perfectly matched the overall vibe of Mmmh.
- SuperM ‘Infinity’
When SuperM first debuted, I was beyond excited. My first excitement came from finally getting a sort of ‘Kai-Taemin’ collaboration for an extended period of time and after listening to their first album, I knew I wasn’t wrong in having that initial excitement. However, the first time I listened to Infinity on their Super One album this year, I was crazily blown away. I swear I play this song at least 3-4 times a week since I first heard it. I love the strength of the rap line and the vocal line, which you get for the entire 3 minutes and 53 seconds of this song. Like why is Infinity not the title song please?!
- SuperM ‘Big Chance’ (can you see a pattern here lol)
Funny enough, I heard this song before mustering the courage to listen to the entire Super One album. What I particularly love about this song is how the entire song progresses- especially Lucas and Mark’s climax rap lines before the song descends into the final chorus- absolute perfection. Really, it’s one of those songs you hear and immediately vibe to no questions asked.
- GOT7 ‘Last Piece’
My list would never be complete without a GOT7 song. Not because of my bias, but because generally, one thing that has always drawn me to GOT7 is how experimental and versatile they are with their sound. It’s like you know how there’s 7 colours of the rainbow, but red can be burgundy when it’s toned or pink when it’s tinted- this is the best way I can describe GOT7’s sound and they always deliver this versatility whenever they release any music for me. The vocals, to the way the music progresses, the beat- it’s the everything for me.
- GOT7 ‘Aura’
Aura was a song from GOT7’s DYE that I honestly did not expect. The moment this song got stuck in my head was the time they did the choreography BLINDFOLDED. Aura is one of those songs that you vibe to while drinking very expensive wine (lol). I love how the rap is not hardcore in this song and the vocals are smooth and easy.
Lastly is the veteran on here-FOYIN. I started listening to Korean music in 2013- soundtracks of the Korean dramas I watched, but I really got into it in 2015- by that I mean creating a playlist solely for Korean music. I have had more time to explore other groups than my faves due to the break the world had due to the pandemic which made narrowing my top songs for the year a very hard task, but here we go.
- GFRIEND ‘Mago‘
I rarely get hooked on songs from their teasers, but Mago did just that. This is the first song of GFRIEND I have enjoyed so much that I’m even tempted to learn the dance steps. This was a seal on the retro concept that Bighit Labels seemed to adapt for almost all their artists this year and it was truly a big hit to me.
2. BTS “Dynamite”
Definitely no way I can create a list without BTS- except its a bad list. This song is entirely in English. It had the retro concept and paid homage to the King of Pop-Michael Jackson. It usually takes me at least a second or third listen to like a song, but I fell in love with this immediately. Its just a fun song that seeks to uplift one’s mood and I’m here for anything to make me happy.
3. Hyo(Feat. Loopy, Soyeon) “Dessert”
Like I earlier mentioned, this year was for discovering new artists and Hyo was a good discovery. I knew her as a member of Girls Generation but never paid attention to their solo music, but guess I’ve been missing out. Instagram introduced me to Hyo who collaborated with Soyeon (a well known female idol rapper of (G)I-DLE) and Loopy. The chorus is top notch and the choreography goes so well with the beat.
4. Hwasa “LMM“
I mistakenly stumbled on this song and fell in love with her vocals. I checked out the album to listen to the title track “Maria” which everyone seemed to like but came across something even better. Its a slow song which just gives you the feels- especially towards the end. Her voice reminds me of Ave Maria by Beyonce and trust me Hwasa’s voice is topnotch- undisputed fact.
5. KANG DANIEL (Feat. SIMON DOMINIC,JAMIE) “Waves”
SIMON DOMINIC carried this song on his back-sorry Kang Daniel. It was a smooth blend of Simon’s rap, Jamie’s singing and Daniel’s dance moves. I knew of all of them individually but never checked out their music so this was a very pleasant surprise- especially Simon Dominic’s voice- just wow.
Honourable mention will be Black Swan by BTS– just a classy performance determined to take you in.
Here you have it, our top picks for this year. Our various picks illustrates the diversity of K-Pop as we know it- from retro concepts to ballad and rock, from solo musicians to groups and collaborations, therefore there is something for everyone looking to go into K-pop but is not a fan of the idol groups being shoved in our faces by the media.
Thank you for reading our article and we hope to bring more recommendations in the coming year.