2016 is over, so what better time to talk about my top 10 Korean songs of the year? KPOP in 2016 was notably consistent, with a inexorable string of above-average releases that came for months on end. As a result, I listened to SO MUCH KPOP this year. This made it all too easy to pick 10 songs for my end-of year list. Putting them in order was shockingly simple too, everything nicely sliding into a slot on my list in a neat progression of increasing quality and impact. This is a hell of a list, maybe one of my favorite overall lists since I started doing this in 2013. If you agree, or disagree, please leave me a comment. Or if you have a favorite that I didn’t mention, feel free to post it here--I’d love to hear it!
10. Shut Up & Groove - Heize ft. Dean
Shut Up & Groove, as you might expect from the name, is a stellar groove. The production’s thumping beat and bassy tones make for a nice, gentle ride. Vocally, both Heize and Dean nail it in their own way. Heize’s low voice is pleasing to the ear, with superb flow through her verses. I also really enjoy the hypnotic rhythm she gives to the chorus. Dean’s smooth vocals are the real highlight of the track, though; his sultry voice fits this song perfectly. They compliment each other especially well, making for a playfully ethereal trip that I listened to frequently through the summer, not to mention the rest of the year.
Also from Heize: And July
9. High Heels - CLC
High Heels is the perfect example of a track that I recognize as being not great but still enjoy anyway. The production is a bit plain, but the trebely synth is surprisingly effective. Similarly, the vocals aren’t spectacular, yet there are a few truly solid moments, such as the sleek bridge and the gentle “oooh” that ends the track. What really kept me listening, however, is the deceptively catchy refrain: I had “So whatcha wanna do?” stuck in my head for MONTHS after this song came out. The video is super adorable as well, with fun outfits and a radiant use of color. This isn’t some fantastic classic, sure, but I still appreciate its upbeat energy and charm.
Also from CLC: No Oh Oh
8. Trick or Treat - Grace
I absolutely love how raw and filthy the production on Trick or Treat sounds. It manages to tread just on that edge of being annoying or unpleasant. Grace adds some splendid vocals here, mixing her pretty singing voice with tightly rapped lyrics. She transitions flawlessly between the two all while spitting attitude-laden lines like “shit or sugar.” The chorus, despite being simple and repetitive, is strangely catchy, especially with the nasty beat underneath it. I also really admire her look in this video, which showcases her stylish blue hair, flashy outfits, and confident swagger. This is a deliciously grimy track from start to finish.
7. Free Somebody - Luna
Free Somebody is a terrific showcase of Luna’s main strength: her voice. Even though it’s an electronic track, there are plenty of opportunities for her to show off her talents, especially during the gorgeous vocal runs. The production is no slouch either, using a sharp house composition with delightfully bubbly synth. The video is incredible, with some dazzling usage of color and well-framed shots. There’s even some interesting animation in the video that stylishly transitions back into reality. Luna is the best part, though, showcasing her beauty in snazzy outfits. I admit that the structure is a bit typical for the electronic pop genre, but Luna’s talents are what make it seem anything but.
6. Fight Day - Bolbbalgan4
I enjoy acoustic guitar in nearly any form, but I utterly adore it in Fight Song. It’s an incredibly pleasant composition that now ranks among my favorite acoustic tracks. There’s a superb flow to it, a driving throughline that gives the song its addictively steady pacing. I’m also smitten with the singer’s vocals. Her voice is unbelievably lovely: high and sweet and refreshing. She also has impressive range and uses it well throughout the song. Either of these performances would be astounding; the two of them together make up the most delightfully charming track of the year that never fails to make me smile like a moron. It’s a very simple song overall, sure, but the execution in both the vocals and instrumentation are so enchanting that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.
5. Why So Lonely - Wonder Girls
From the group that brought you the wonderfully 80s-inspired I Feel You last year, we now have Why So Lonely, a remarkably chill reggae-inspired track. The whole production has this great lazy feel to it, making me just want to lounge around and do nothing. This song defined my summer this year and was on constant repeat The breathy and disinterested vocals just add to the lethargy, aside from the groovy rap verse which bites with glee. For the chorus, the song takes on a more Caribbean feel with croaky lyrics and funky instrumentation. The video is really well done as well, using a sublime color palette that nicely reflects the reggae sound. Oh, and it’s entirely crazy. No other song this year was so enticingly soporific.
4. Don’t Believe - Berry Good
Don’t Believe is an instantly striking song. The production uses a tropical-house sound, which is very distinctive for KPOP. The unique style caught my attention from the first time I heard it, especially the breakdown sections and their elegant usage of backing vocalization. The lyrics are mesmerizingly delivered, with many powerful moments of beauty and emotion. I really like the “mercy” section in particular, which I think perfectly highlights both the production and the lyrical strength of this track. The video is very dreamlike, with many moments of odd beauty and strange logic; it’s got a great oversaturated look as well. This song has a feel to it that is unlike anything else I heard this year, a strange blend of poignancy and euphoria that I find endlessly fascinating.
Also from Berry Good: Angel
3. Exquisite! - CocoSori
Exquisite! is pure saccharine energy in musical form. It feels like a mix between an upbeat JPOP song and the style of Orange Caramel, an addictive combination for a fan of both like myself. There’s a splendid driving beat that never lets up, which makes the song a relentlessly exhausting trip. As you might expect, the lyrics are sweet and catchy. The repetition is particularly effective, making for a track that is hard to forget once you’ve heard it. Tying it all together is an absurdly adorable video that makes absolutely no sense but is still a lot of fun to watch, especially the heartfelt performances from the duo. It’s one of those stupidly fun songs, and it fills me with joy every time I hear it.
Also from CocoSori: Dark Circle
2. Need to Feel Needed - Amber
f(x)’s Amber is, without a doubt, my favorite KPOP artist. Not only is she extraordinarily talented and incredibly beautiful, my time watching interviews with her have shown that she’s a great person too: truly, she is a gift to KPOP and I love her to death. Need to Feel Needed is maybe not her most creative or personal solo release, but it’s a warm track that I find entirely pleasurable. There’s a soothing sound to both the vocals and the production that is relaxing and endearing. Amber kills it vocally as she always does, delivering a sublimely emotional performance that is still upbeat enough to remain fun. The video is excellent, with a simple concept: Amber filming herself and her friends being silly and enjoying each other’s company. It’s a video that feels remarkably human and feels all too perfect for this song. Need to Feel Needed is one of those songs that I hate finishing, simply because I don’t want to leave the content place it brings me to.
Also from Amber: Borders
1. All Mine - f(x)
f(x) has been on an unreal streak for the past few years, with three incredible albums in three years. Despite their past success, they managed to top themselves yet again in 2016 with stellar solo releases from both Amber and Luna and the breathtakingly amazing All Mine. The production is delightful, sounding happy and fun and stunning all at the same time. It only gets better during the breakdown sections, climbing in intensity and adding in a strikingly cheery synth line. The vocals are astounding as well. Each member nails it during their verses, and the group comes together gracefully for the chorus. I particularly enjoy Amber’s tight “rap” verse, which leads into the final powerful minute of the song--complete with even more energy and an impressive key change. The video was conceived and directed by Amber. Each member went off individually to film her part, giving each section its own feel and style. They all give adorable performances, looking utterly captivating and clearly having a lot of fun. It may be clearly faked for everyone but Amber, but the tight camera angles still give the video a more intimate feeling that I adore, especially Amber’s backstage shenanigans as she bumps into fellow KPOP artists like Henry. All Mine is an utter marvel in every facet of its creation. It’s also completely and utterly my favorite KPOP song of 2016.